September 26, 2023

Northampton singer-songwriter That Joe Payne [ex-The Enid/John Holden/Tai Phong/Zio] will independently release his third solo album Bread & Circuses on September 22nd, 2023. The album shows off a timeless approach to songwriting, with all tracks designed to emulate your favourite movie soundtracks, whether it be James Bond, vintage Hollywood musical, or ’80s teen-sensation. Showing every facet of his five-octave vocal range, and running a musical gamut ranging from club to classical, it will dazzle the fans who knew him as an award-winning vocalist with The Enid while delighting an entirely new crop of admirers. With lyrics challenging current socio-political topics such as Brexit, the climate crisis, gun law, and the general demise of public morale. ‘This is an album everyone can relate to,’ says the singer. ‘The world seems to be falling apart all around us, and it’s stressful. But sometimes the best we can do is laugh at the things we find ridiculous, and that’s been my objective with this record.’

Joe in best ‘New Romantic’ mode

Written by Payne and co-produced with Max Read (also ex-The Enid), most of the album was created in the last year, riding the creative momentum set by his 2022 Christmas album, Ding Dong. Having previously suffered a creative dry spell since releasing his debut – By Name. By Nature – in 2020, the singer had struggled to work out where to go next with his music, feeling ready to loosen long-held ties with his prog rock past. ‘I went a bit mad in 2020/21, and how much of it was a mental-unravelling that came from releasing my debut, vs having long-covid, I really didn’t know… What I did know, however, is that I no longer cared what anyone thought of me. That’s an incredibly freeing thing, except for the fact that my own self-consciousness was actually the driving force of everything I’d ever done, previously. So, I had nothing feeding my creativity for a while. Luckily, as a way of staying busy, I dipped my toe into Christmas music, triggering an explosion of silly festive songs, and thus began my journey into dark humour as I began to write about what I saw in the world around me.’

Opening with Prog Magazine ‘Track of the Week’-winning single Falling in Love is Easy, the album is split into two halves. The first four tracks, though eclectic, have a very contemporary feel, taking the listener back through all eras of the ’80s, from synth rock to electro pop. The first track, inspired by the impact of Brexit on touring musicians, gives a sense of bands such as Asia and Toto with its punchy guitar and synthesizer mix, catchy chorus, and wild modulation. In contrast, the following track, River Run Dry, has quite the opposite effect, being purely electronic, apart from a single power chord from guitarist Jushua Ryan at the start. Influenced by the mass migration of people being seen across the globe, the song builds tension reminiscent to Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight.

The Bond-theme inspired My Heart then takes the reigns, launching with a bang, creating psychedelic imagery of visions down the barrel of a gun, syncing nicely with it’s true theme – American gun crime – a topic which has continually haunted the news in recent years. Part one of the album then closes with the poppy Plastic Grass which focuses on the angst felt by many artists in a fast-changing music industry, likening it to all things artificial, represented by an entirely programmed club-banger arrangement.

Photo: John Savage

Part two of the album (or side B if this were a vinyl release) takes a more old-fashioned approach, writing music in a style you might have expected to see before the modern idea of pop music (or even chart music) was born. It opens with the Cabaret-styled Live the Dream. This song was actually written for a Lottery-funded British film – Fortune Cookies – which is yet to be released, in which Payne and the song appear in the opening credits. It’s followed by the crooner-esque Despite Everything; a song about people’s loyalty to their favourite politicians. ‘I’m always amazed when people say things like ‘Yeah, but what’s the alternative’ despite the evidence that the person they’re voting for is a complete knob.’

Then, suddenly, you find yourself in the twinkly setting of a child’s music box; the kind with the little ballerina figurine that spins around. It’s an unlikely sounding song to match the name Fucking Fucked, but humorously mocks itself with a kind of Julie Andrews style delivery. The whole album finally comes to completion with the title track – Bread & Circuses – in which the grandiose nature of Beethoven joins forces with rock, producing what can probably be considered the closest match to Payne’s symphonic rock roots. Complete with circus act noises, a guitar imitating performing animals from lions to elephants, and references to astrology (rhyming ‘Circuses’ with ‘Tauruses’), this piece really lives up to its name, and matches the cover art brilliantly.

‘I’d say this is my best work; it’s the most ‘me’ I’ve ever had the chance to be! It’s queer, it’s fun, it’s unapologetically explicit. It’s me just making music for the love of making music, and I think that carries across to other people in their enjoyment of it, which is rewarding to see. We only get one life, and we could all die tomorrow, so let’s not waste any time being miserable.’

The musicians featured on this album have all played in the singers full-band line up at some stage, including Oliver Day on guitar (Ms Amy Birks/Beatrix Players), Moray Macdonald on trumpet (ex-Crimson Sky/Ghost Community/Godsticks) and Josh Green (Rolling Thunder) on drums, all of whom performed on the single Live the Dream ahead of a line-up change in 2022. Since then, the rest of the album has been made to feature Esmeralda Edwards (Tom Grennan) on bass, Jake Perrett (Aderyn) on drums, and Joshua Ryan (Chargr) on guitar. The album artwork was created by multi-award winning, internationally renowned Northampton-based photographer and digital artist, Jack Savage.