Joseph Strider:
where he's supposed to be

Joseph Strider was happy when the phone rang and interrupted his work.

"I'm working on a set list for Friday, and I hate doing it," he said, with a good-natured growl.

"I just want to play everything," he said. "If I could get on the stage and play for four hours, I'd be a happy camper. So when I'm given two hours ... well, it's difficult choosing."

Strider was making selections for a First Friday performance from 7 to 9 p.m. today at Building Character, at the rear of 432 N. Queen St., Lancaster, Pa.

Perhaps the bigger deal is next Friday, however, when winners of this year's Native American Music Awards -- also referred to as NAMA, or "The Nammys" -- are announced in Niagara Falls. Strider is up for "debut artist of the year," contending with fellow artists Chris Ferree, Cody Sunbear Blackbird, Marc Brown & the Blues Crew, Samantha Crain and Victoria Blackie.

But Strider said neither Friday event has him worried. "I used to be jittery and knee-knocking" before a show, he said. "But I believe in things happening for a reason. When I'm on stage, I am supposed to be there. The Creator and Spirit has put me there.

"I feel the same emotionally whether I'm fixing my bed or making some coffee or performing in front of 1,000 people. That's where I'm supposed to be in life," he explained. "There's order to the universe. I'm here for a reason. So are you." As for the Nammys, "I'm honored to be considered. It was an honor to be chosen by my peers. But I don't think I'm going to win."

That means he isn't preparing an acceptance speech, he said. "I'll ad-lib it if that's the case."

Strider admitted he usually doesn't watch award shows, much less attend them. "If an artist moves me, he moves me. I'm not concerned with how many trophies he has," he said. "But this is a celebration honoring hard-working musicians. I get to go see a show. I get to be with my peers. I'll meet some very good performers. It's exciting."

Strider was signed to Spirit Wind Records almost immediately after his NAMA nomination was announced. He has released two albums, Meanings Within Meanings, Within Meanings in 2009 and Little Bird in 2010. He's working on a concept album titled The Journey and an untitled instrumental album.

Strider, 48, grew up in Texas, entirely unaware of his native heritage.

His musical journey began with an AM radio, and the Beatles. "I was always singing along," he said.

He got involved in choruses and choirs, singing soprano and mostly in Latin. He even got to sing with the San Antonio Symphony and the Canadian Ballet Co. As he grew older, he drifted into a hard-rock vein. He tried his hand at wailing on an electric guitar, but "I wasn't very good. Fortunately, I could sing."

Well enough for him to go on tour with several bands ... until he got tired of it all.

"I put things away for a while. I went through a number of years of reflection, and I didn't want to play rock music any more," he said. "Then I got an acoustic guitar. I started listening to Spanish guitar, to jazz and acoustic music."

He learned of his native roots -- Strider is part Lipan Apache -- but didn't pursue it at first.

"As a child in Texas -- I don't know how it is in Texas now, I haven't been there in 18 years -- they lived by the old adage, 'better dead than red,'" he said. "So why would you want to draw attention to yourself? I am who I am. I didn't think it was cool or not cool."

It wasn't until he left Texas, he said, that he really began exploring his roots.

"I started to work myself more into a spiritual walk," Strider said.

"I'm trying to write beauty. So I try to see things that are beautiful," he said. "We need to think in one consciousness, so we can help one another. If I can touch one person, that's good.

"I keep thinking about these things."

He also ponders the Earth, and nature, and people's place in the world, all in the context of Native American spirituality.

"The Earth is our mother, and when we're still we can hear her heartbeat. How can we not think the Earth is alive?" Strider said. "When I'm in Manhattan, I look for that one linden tree that someone planted on Fifth Avenue. I like the idea that Central Park was put there. People want nature, they need it."

Strider works as a Native American spiritual adviser at a state prison. "That's another gig for me that's really helping me to see things," he said. That doesn't mean he's wrapped up in Native American symbolism, however.

"I don't dress up in regalia. I don't dress in deerskin or wear feathers in my hair. Occasionally, I play a drum song," Strider said. "I don't really write 'native' music. I'm a native who was born running through cities. I'm not a rez kid. I do have a song about my first vision quest, though. And I wrote a song about the Trail of Tears."

He describes his music as "modern indigenous alternative."

"I don't do that 'rock all night, party all day' thing. I used to do that, but it seems like that was someone else," he said. "Walk in beauty. That's what I'm trying to do."

Strider moved to the Lancaster area in February.

"The bottom line is, there's a woman," he said. "It's been a really good thing."

He can't resist making a plug for girlfriend Liz Mallin, who plays violin for a local Celtic punk band, the Kilmaine Saints. It's almost hard to get him back on the subject of his own music. And that gets him thinking about his gig this Friday, and what he should play.

"There are some covers I do really well," he said, almost muttering to himself.

"There's the original material I want to do. And some instrumental stuff." He sighs, and wishes he knew in advance the makeup of his audience so he can tailor his set accordingly.

"Who's going to be there? Who's going to be listening?"

[ visit the artist's website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

6 November 2010

what's new