Interview: Joe Camilleri

The Black Sorrows

We talk to Australian music legend about life on the road, and his upcoming UK tour dates.

We talk to Black Sorrows founder and frontman about his incredible career and talk about his love for music and the tribulations of a touring life on the road.


It's been far from an easy journey for Joe Camilleri, with his relentless quest to make music and perform to people who want to hear his songs, yet he's the primary component of one of Australias most successful touring bands and has a highly acclaimed career spanning nearly 50 years. We're glad to find out he's still going strong and not only that, he's continuing to create new music with a brand new album, and is bringing his tour to the UK.


What can you tell the uninitiated about the Black Sorrows

That's a hard one as there's so much to say, but underneath it all, we're just a good hard-working band with a fist full of good songs that people appreciate. They're the fundamental parts of what made us attractive and valuable. You've got to have something to say, and be able to say it in a certain kind of way. We just keep on pounding the boards! I'm writing songs and performing and so nothing much has changed. If people came to see us, and they stumbled into one of our gigs, they would think we're pretty damn good!


You're a relentless tour junkie and are almost constantly out on the road. How do you keep your energy up?


It's always hard, but I've resided myself to it, as it's what I'm all about and enjoy doing. I did 170 shows last year, that's working 4.5 days a week, so a pretty big commitment. I don't want to abuse what I love, so I come to play and that's where my joy is for me. I'm living for the now, rather than focus solely on the hits from the past. That wouldn't work for me, I need to be in the now, pushing myself and moving forwards recording new songs and playing new music. There are loads of bands who just drag out the old favourites and that's just not my thing! Embrace the past, but look to the now. I don't want to be solely recognised for the past.


In the UK and Europe, I'm quite invisible from the past, so it's a great opportunity to experiment and play more varied setlists. It's a challenge to navigate the gigging terrain, but the drive to perform and entertain keeps me going. 








You've always approached your music and gigs as an independent self-funded artist.


  I funded the first 4 albums before I got a deal, and I've funded the last 16 albums. I've made 49 albums throughout my career. That's something I guess, but you're only as good as the music you make. My interest has always been the blues, as that's what I was into, but it wasn't always that popular and didn't get the most airtime. 


Do you enjoy studio time and the creative process as much as touring? You strike me as someone who gets their "hit" on the stage.


It's important, but yeah your right, it's onstage where I get lost, and love to perform. In the studio, it's a bit of a thankless job, and I love it. I like to record fast, and I love the writing process, it's always exciting. If you find a good thing, then you want to share it, and get it down on a record. They are the things that drive the rest of it. I enjoy the process and I love writing, it's always exciting.


Can you tell us about your recent album Citizen John?


I loved the whole process, it's always hard though. I've written over 400 songs and the first 20 were easy! You have to look at what it is you want to say and how you want to say it. It was fun, but difficult. Your songs are always a reflection of who you are, and you want your songs to represent the best of you. The recording process is still always a lot of fun. Sometimes I record too many songs and have too many choices. I think I ended up with 23 songs, and you never know if you put the best ones on the album. 


How do you find the modern music industry? You've had your fair share of shit with the big music machine in the past.


Back in the old days especially the 70s they were really good, the labels would honour their commitments and they wouldn't bury you after a few albums. They gave you space and support to find yourself as a musician.

As the years rolled on it was quicker, and they would give you the deal, but they wouldn't fulfil their commitment, they had all the power. I got caught up into that, and legal stuff that just fucked me really. They know how to do that really well and they're callous and cruel. They don't want anyone else to have the control but they don't want to do anything either. Unfortunately for me that was the time when I couldn't capitalise on any successes around the world, and I couldn't fly anywhere.



Nowadays you have to do things that perhaps you wouldn't want to do. There are pressures, but you really have to blinker yourself to all of it and say to yourself, this is where I want to go, and this is how you should approach what it is. Follow the things you love and not get pulled to the sides. You want to tell the story, I have a co-writer Nick Smith who's gorgeous and me and Nick want to be cinematic so you can almost see what's going on. We want to talk about characters, and try to make the songs as well rounded as they can be and give them justice. There's also the pressure from fans, as you want to give them stuff they enjoy. 


There's an incredible amount of heart and soul that goes into it. I don't know a lot about the solo artists who come in and just sing and do as they are told, I don't understand that type of process. I'm a guy that has a bunch of guys that I pay to perform and a good friend who I write with and we have a lot of fun doing it. There's a genuine love for it! We're not trying to ring the bell, but just to do good things.


You've done so many gigs, but would you be able to pinpoint your best and worst gig?


Everyone has a worst gig right! My most recent worst gig, was back in 1980 in San Francisco, we were with some heavy bands like Black Sabbath and a few other bands of the day. We can out first, and in America, they do this thing which I've not experienced anywhere else, they bring bags of tomatoes and even shit bags. Why would you take a bag of shit with you! 

Anyway we started playing and we were just bombarded with rotting vegetables and shit bags and I remember saying to them, I don't know how I got to this quote but it just came out, and I said to them " Is it any wonder your parents lost the Vietnam war" they weren't hitting us, they were missing a lot! All of a sudden all hell broke loose, and we had half an hour and we kept playing. We stayed there, and I'm surprised nobody shot us, I'm pretty sure that was the worst gig of my life! I still don't know to this day who takes shit bags to a concert. I think the best gigs are the ones where you walk away and feel like something happened. It doesn't matter if there were 10 people or 10,000 people, there's just something special. We've done many of those. Sometimes there are gigs which you think are going to be so special, like playing in front of the opera house, and whilst it is great, it might not play so great. It's all about the people and how you create the energy between you. 


Talking more about gigs, what can you tell us about the tour?


The tour kicks off in Western Australia, and we fly over there. I just did a big launch, we're weekend warriors for the first bit, then we go to Sydney and have five shows then we head to Byron Bay to a really big festival, and then we get on a plane. I'll be more invisible in Europe, I don't have a song list, but I'll be able to play less of the songs that made me really popular in Australia, but we'll play the best of what I've got. Sometimes that comes off and sometimes it doesn't. You've still got to navigate your way through a gig. It does give me an opportunity to be what I want to be, and if I'm brave enough to do it, that's what I'll be trying to achieve. I really believe in the band, they are great players and we like each other which is really important when you're on tour. We just do the best we can. I would rather die by the sword and have a go. It means a lot to me to go and to be the best I can be. We don't have much time to look around, we pretty much sleep and repeat. We're doing 9 shows then we're back in Melbourne I've got 19 shows in 3.5 weeks, it's full on. We're a working band and we work hard. I want to be there, I signed up for it.


I think I know the answer to this question already, as it seems like you have no appetite to slow down. What's next?


No not really! I just really want to play and try to make a seamless record. That's the holy grail. I'll just keep going. The guy from Sony said it best, he said "there's no finish line for you" I hate him, but it's probably true!

I hope that people enjoy what I do, there are better singers and songwriters out there for sure, but do they want to be there! I can make a fucking $10,000 guitar sound like a $5 guitar (laughs). I love the struggle and hate the struggle! But inside the struggle, you find your true worth. I'll keep trying to be better. 


Joe may be hard on himself, but his huge fan base and enormous discography, and epic live shows should be what measures him the best. You can see the man himself and the rest of the Black Sorrows on two UK dates of their tour.


Thursday 25th April - Maidstone Live @ Pizza Express

Friday 26th April - Nells Jazz and Blues, London


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