Most people would be satisfied with a full scholarship to play quarterback at a Division 1 University, but for Jef Joslin, this road seemed more like a detour than an open highway. Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of Johnson City, TN, football looked like the most natural choice for those who knew Joslin. But he had other things in mind. Only a semester in, he made the choice to give up his scholarship and transfer to Murfreesboro, TN to pursue a childhood dream of making music. Studying audio engineering and music production, he played the Nashville club scene and developed his lyrical sense and studio chops in the songwriting capital. He taught himself to play guitar, bass, keys and drums heavily during those years, allowing him a full range of sounds in the studio and on the stage. We had the absolute honor of interviewing Jef about his songwriting process, and below is that interview.
BTS: What was the reason you started writing songs?
Jef: I think for the simple fact that you can create something out of nothing. It’s like giving birth to a baby or planting a flower. The satisfaction of having created a new song is an irreplaceable feeling that you can continue to have whenever you want. I think it just stemmed from a need to create. Drawing and writing were things I spent much of my time doing already, and I loved music, so I guess it was just a natural progression.
BTS: What was the first song you ever wrote about?
Jef: The first song (rap) was about a caveman I discovered in my refrigerator while going for a late night snack. Some seriously revolutionary stuff. I think I was like 5 or 6.
BTS: What is your most current song written about?
Jef: My current release is simple tune called “Do What You Wanna Do”. It’s an inspirational tune pointing out the fact that whatever it is you want to do with your life, you can do it. Success isn’t some unattainable future ideal. It’s the now moment, and you can choose to make the most of it.
BTS: Where do you derive inspiration from?
Jef: I used to derive a lot of inspiration from relationships and faith. Writing a song about a girl is easy because the emotions are there and real and accessible. With regards to my faith, growing up in the church, there was always a weight or responsibility to say something hopeful or inspire, so much of my writing is intended for that purpose. Lately though, I’ve been diving a bit deeper into simply writing by viewing the world through my lens and letting that be the dialogue, rather than trying to change the way people think.
BTS: Who were your musical influences in the beginning of your songwriting?
Jef: Early on, all I was allowed to listen to was CCM music, so some of my early influences were Jars of Clay or Michael W Smith or Steven Curtis Chapman. Other than that, my grandfather would play Motown tapes, which later in life I discovered the names of the artists and the songs that I actually already knew. This definitely deepened my music vocabulary.
BTS: Who are your musical influences now?
BTS: Do you have a method of writing; place, vibe, setting, and instrument you prefer to write on? And why?
Jef: I just like there to be a laid back vibe in the room. Something comfortable and warm feeling. Other than that, I’m pretty open. I usually start on guitar, simply because I’ve played it the longest and get to chords the quickest. But different ways of writing produce different results. Starting with a drum track in Pro Tools will cause me to write something completely outside of my usual tendencies.
BTS: What are the elements that you believe contribute to the making of a great song?
Jef: Melody is king. Almost everything I do revolves around the melody. Sometimes I’ll have lyrics first and lyrics produce the melody, but most often I start with riff and start humming a melody. Words will slowly creep in the midst of the gibberish and that’ll give me an idea of where the song will go. Sometimes you have to steer it in a different idea lyrically, but the melody to me is what dictates the song.
BTS: How do you push past writer’s block?
Jef: I’m not sure I’ve ever had writer’s block. I usually don’t force something that’s not there. Co-writing helps. Between the two or three of you, someone can surely come up with something. Every song doesn’t have to be great; it just has to be a song. If it’s not good, I can usually tell pretty quickly and just leave it alone til something sparks. Most of the time though when I get inspired, I pursue it til it runs out then wait for it to come back around. I’m not someone who writes everyday. If I did, I’d probably get writer’s block more often, but I just like to let life tell me when something is important enough to write about.
BTS: What would be your advice to a beginner songwriter trying to make their way and trying to express themselves musically?
Jef: Just do it. Listen to everything and try to write everything. You’ll find your niche. It’ll probably sound like you’re copying people at first, but as time goes on you’ll develop your sound. As long as you are true to you and write stuff that makes you happy, you can’t go wrong. Also, study the greats, the timeless classic records that have stood the test of time, and all the people those guys were listening to. Try to get better each song. One at a time. Oh, and don’t give up or listen to people who use words like ‘can’t.’
Jef is truly an up and coming star. He’s got a unique voice and sound. Check him out on tour this summer and connect with him on his website at www.JefJoslin.com.
Check out his song, Come Out West here: