Spirited Americana singer/songwriter, recording artist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Farren composes warmly-layered tunes about heartbreak, first love, sacrifices, memories, joy and other realities of humankind. His narrative lyrics and sincere performances reveal life’s extraordinary moments and his own vivid, personal adventures.
His creative mission is clear: “When I’m driving late at night with a thousand concerns going through my head, and a song like ‘The Dance’ or ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ comes on the radio, everything just disappears. I strive to write that perfect song that makes the hair on your neck stand up, the goose bumps appear, the tears come out of nowhere – that love song that makes you stop for a minute and brings you back to the beginning. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. It’s a constant calling and a pressure, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Farren grew up in Portland, Maine in a home that vibrated with the harmonious grooves of country, folk, pop and R&B greats like Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, Jr., Elton John, Steve Winwood and Bruce Springsteen. His instinctually-impeccable musical ear allowed him to accurately identify singers on the radio at a young age. Once his fingers began to explore the keyboard and the guitar, he found those 50s rock blues riffs with ease and began to emulate his favorite players.
His enthusiasm was also fueled by some unexpected mentors: “The first song I ever learned on guitar was The Eagles’ ‘Peaceful, Easy Feeling.’ My mother had hired a painter to work on our house when I was about 13. He taught me that song and showed me how to properly tune the guitar I had stolen from my older brother. He also passionately explained to me that music is something no one can take away from you. He told me not to hold back – to just ‘strum that guitar and sing.’”
Farren tested the limits of the piano and guitar until his love for rhythm and tone pulled him towards the gravity of percussion. With encouragement from his band teacher, he bought a $40 second-hand drum kit and started lessons, learning quickly to coordinate his different limbs until he was a fast, proficient jazz and rock drummer regularly playing drums, keyboards and guitar in bands throughout New England. During his senior year in high school and for several years afterwards, he played keyboards in the rock group Shufflin’ Tremble, which performed at shows, fairs and clubs and opened for renowned bands including the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, God Smack, Veruca Salt and the Rustic Overtones.
The power of exposed, emotional lyrics overtook Farren the first time his heart broke. He started to put his own feelings into poetry and melodies as he soaked up expressive songs by bands like Counting Crows and the Dave Matthews Band. While studying music at the University of Maine, he never fully connected to the classical- and jazz-centric curriculum. So, he continued to learn as much as possible about blues, folk and rock music and taught himself the intricacies of digital recording by capturing recitals, concerts and demos for local musicians and by hanging out in the university’s recording facilities after closing so he could write and record his own material into the wee hours. After his band parted ways, he decided to participate in an exchange program in New Orleans. He sang in the college gospel choir, played on the streets for beer money and sat in with some local bands while soaking in shows by jazz greats like Ellis Marsalis.
Farren’s discovery of the thriving local band scene in Portland as well as of alt-country dynamos like Ryan Adams and The Jayhawks and contemporary country artists like Phil Vassar and Keith Urban finally inspired him to believe fully in his own ability to tell relatable stories through beautifully-rendered Americana music: “When I discovered contemporary country music, I fell in love. I remember the song that did it: Jason White’s ‘Red Ragtop,’ as recorded by Tim McGraw. I like a lot of the New Folk music artists like Ellis Paul, Patty Griffin, Mark Erelli, etc. But I mostly listen to country music in search of those inspiring, perfectly-crafted songs.”
He met Maine-based songwriter Tom Acousti while attending Acousti’s local songwriting workshop in Portland. The two collaborated on Farren’s solo debut album ‘Til the Day in 2007. He toured up and down the East Coast in support of the release, with dates at colleges like University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Bates College, as well as at bars, clubs, coffee shops, and the State Theater in Maine. He was also featured on the Maine Songwriter’s Association songwriter stage at the annual Old Port Festival and received spins on national college radio stations as well as on Portland’s 98.9 WCLZ and on 102.9 WBLM.
Since moving to Florida in 2011 Farren has maintained a rigorous gigging schedule, playing at venues including the Ritz in Ybor City, The Hideaway Café, The Vinoy, the Don Vicente and many others while feverishly writing fresh material. He first traveled to Nashville in 2011 in order to get closer to the energetic, expert songwriting in Music City and on return trips has played at Bluebird Café and Douglas Corner Café. It was during that first trip to Nashville that he met hit songwriter Steve Seskin, who motivated him to put together his sophomore album, Open Skies, produced by guitarist Jason Roller (Kelly Pickler, Winona Judd). Acousti along with bass player Lance Hoppen (Orleans) and a slew of talented Nashville studio players also contributed to the recording process.
“A good, natural-sounding acoustic guitar, a cup of coffee and a notepad is the way I write best. I was able to focus more as just a singer and writer on Open Skies than I had on Til the Day, in part because I didn’t have to focus on playing all the instruments as well. Working with these guys in Nashville allowed me the freedom to just strum my guitar, play the piano and sing the songs. They had my back at every corner.”
Open Skies offers an animated, imaginative soundtrack to Farren’s spiritual and physical travels during the past several years: “These songs are universal stories and experiences. ‘Who’s that Standing in my Shoes,’ for example, is about anybody’s first love. I stumbled across my first flame’s wedding pictures on Facebook, and that’s what planted the seed. Through the beauty of the songwriting process, I went from someone just looking at a computer screen from the outside, to a character invited to the wedding.”
Open Skies plays like a musical book of character-driven short stories that range from serious, to humorous and wild, to sweet. It provides evidence that Farren has matured into a master at the songwriting craft and a man who freely lives in the moment.