Joe Coonan is a senior in high school, but that’s only his day job. By night, he plays gigs across the Mid-Atlantic and makes magic with his smooth riffs and angelic voice. Joe conforms to neither the standards of his high school, nor to those of the music world. He and Madison sat down and talked about his visions for himself and music as a whole.
Q: When did you start singing/playing music?
A: My first memory of me picking up a guitar was when I was like six years old. It was in my dad’s office, and I picked up his acoustic guitar, and ever since then, I’ve just been interested in music. I’d say I’ve been playing for about 11 years.
Q: What kind of musical influence did you receive from your family?
A: My dad introduced the whole idea [of music] to us, and my brother played guitar when he was younger. I wanted to be like my brother, so I just started playing guitar, and I just got really into it. My dad is even more interested in music than I am, if I can even say that, but all of the genres he’s listened to in the past, and all of the good old soul music— that’s all the music that I like now. I said I would never like the music he listened to—like the old-timey stuff— but now, that’s what I like.
Q: Overall, what did you grow up listening to, and do you think it has had an impact on your style, aspirations, or the kind of music you play or sing?
A: I was largely influenced in my younger years by my brother’s style of music, which was hardcore music. We’re talking, like, Screamo, Thrasher music. I would always be interested in that; I was always dreaming of being the screamer of the band. I was more into more hardcore style, more rock and roll. My style has just progressed slowly [since] that, but I think starting off [listening to] such a unique genre [that was] widely looked down upon has given me a big gateway to open up into many other genres.
Q: Which famous musicians do you look up to?
A: My top [artists] right now—and probably forever— [are] Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s just [about] the soul that they put into their music. It’s not about the technicalities, the notes, and the chords. It’s just how they feel. That’s what music is really all about. It’s just feeling the process and feeling the emotion that goes into every chord.
Q: What are you listening to right now?
A: Right now, I’m really into the blues—reggae, blues, soul, rock. I pretty much listen to everything, honestly. I like to keep my mind open to genres. Even if I don’t like a genre, I’ll still investigate into other artists because there [are] other artists that take a genre, and they kind of make it into their own.
Q: Where do you see yourself in a few years?
A: Hopefully, I’d like to be touring and playing every night. That’s my dream, honestly. Living-wise, I’d like to be somewhere in California or somewhere along the west coast, but yeah, I hope to be playing music every night.
Q: What’s your favorite performance memory?
A: I was doing a talent show at my old school, and I was playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. Two of my teachers were actually up there playing with me. One was on rhythm guitar, and the other was singing the lyrics. Everybody in the school loved it. I remember getting a standing ovation. It felt pretty good, so I think it was right then and there [that] I knew what I wanted to do.
Q: Where can we find your music?
A: I have some stuff on SoundCloud, I have videos on YouTube, you can find my music on Facebook, I [have] some little clips on Instagram— just all around. More music will be coming soon to SoundCloud.
Q: Are you planning on releasing an album?
A: Eventually, yeah. Right now it’s kind of [about] developing myself as an artist and where I want to go with my music. I’d like to have more of a following before I release an album so it could get more attention.
Q: Do you play music primarily for yourself or for others?
A: I’d say like fifty-fifty, maybe moreso leaning towards me. I mean, music has just been an escape all my life—not even just an escape; just like an [outlet], whether it’s just listening to music through my headphones or writing a song or sitting down with my guitar and playing. It’s just always been an [outlet] for me, and I love to see the smiles on people’s faces when I play for them, and the joy it brings them.
Q: A lot of kids at PHS are very similar to each other in how they dress, what they’re like, and what they do in their free time. In what ways do you think you stand out?
A: I’ve just always been myself, you know? I’ve been becoming more myself every day. It’s just a continual process of finding myself. I think a lot of kids are trying to be like other people instead of trying to be who they really are, and that’s what leads to conformity and a lot of kids just acting the same way as each other. I’ve just always kind of been an outsider. [I’ve been] trying to develop who I am, and not really worry about what other people say about me.