Hello and welcome to DIY’s introducing feature, Get To Know… which aims to get you a little bit closer to the buzziest acts that have been catching our eye as of late, and working out what makes them tick.
This week, we meet Joe Sutkowski - aka Dirt Buyer - whose emotive, grunge-tinged recent album ‘Dirt Buyer II’ acts as a document of the past three years’ deeply strange times. Completed by bassist Tristan Allen and drummer Mike Costa, Dirt Buyer recorded the LP back in February 2020, and it sees Joe attempt to ground himself amidst a storm of personal chaos (an eerie premonition, perhaps, of the global upheaval to come). Listening to it now, then, is somewhat meta: it’s a deeply personal exploration of the passing of time, coloured by the temporal distance between when these songs were written and the present day.
To mark the release of ‘Dirt Buyer II’, we speak to Joe about early memories, evocative imagery, and advisable email etiquette.
What's your earliest musical memory?
I grew up around a lot of music, so I don’t really remember anything specific from childhood. I remember my family going to see my dad sing with the Glen Miller Orchestra when I was really young. He was singing with a few different big bands back then. I don’t know a lot about his career, but I was exposed to live music at a super young age. My mom would play his CDs at home and I would yell into the speaker system because I thought he could hear me. I started playing piano when I was maybe in 3rd grade and I hated it. I wanted to play guitar solos and metal riffs. I stopped playing and picked up guitar in middle school and lost most of my touch as far as piano goes.
You grew up in New Jersey and live in Brooklyn - how do their music scenes compare? What influence have they had on your output?
I wasn’t involved in the music scene in New Jersey, but I spent a lot of time going to shows when I was 19/20. I didn’t start writing songs until I was in college. I really fucked with the emo bands and I loved anything with twinkly guitar. Something about east coast emo music always really resonated with me and it’s a staple in my writing even now. I can’t really compare the two scenes because I was a lot younger when I was living in NJ and engaged with music and life much differently than I do now. Music has definitely become more 'job-ly', but the way I appreciate it is always growing and changing, and I love it just as much as ever.
Your upcoming album, 'Dirt Buyer II', was written and recorded while you were on tour just before the pandemic. How do you relate to its songs now, three years on from their conception?
My whole life is a lot better now for the most part, so listening back to these songs sometimes feels like I’m listening to somebody else express their experience. I dunno, it feels like I’m listening to it from the perspective of whatever is between that version of myself and this current version of myself. The songs are very much mine and they’re written about very specific experiences that I had, but they just seem so far away. My relationship with this record has changed a lot over these past few years, but I’m back to really loving the songs that I wrote and the way that it all came together. It’s a very special album and I really hope that people will get behind it and relate in their respective ways.
The album's themes include the passage of time and fate. How do you go about distilling such broad concepts into a single track?
I think the overarching theme of the album is broad, but the songs are all pretty pointed, lyrically. Maybe I’m just saying that because I wrote the songs. I haven’t really thought about this. When I’m writing lyrics, sometimes I’ll keep books around for reference. Flip through and find a word that I like or some imagery that I think is really pretty. When I’m sitting there writing the thing, I’m generally referring a specific experience or idea or thought or feeling and doing my best to convey it in words without being too on-the-nose. I’m mostly thinking about form and fitting the right words into the right notes and making sure it flows nicely. I hope that means something.
Tell us the best piece of advice you've ever been given as a musician.
I think it’s really important to remember that we can’t be creative all the time. We need time to do nothing or not play music or write. Like, definitely try and make things everyday if you can, even if they suck absolute ass, but have empathy for yourself and try and be ok with the fact that you’re not always gonna write bangers every time. I try and make SOMETHING at least everyday, but there are some days that I just can’t. And I’ve learned to accept that that’s just a part of the process. Just be ready to catch your wave when it comes. Also my friend Ruben’s dad once told me “never send an email when you’re angry.”
If you could be in a band from the past two decades, who would you pick and why?
I would love to play with any of the bands from The Elephant 6 [Recording Company]. They’ve all been such a huge influence on my writing and the way that I approach music. I feel like I’d learn a lot from them. I think those guys were always down to just make anything all the time and they were always true to themselves, even still. I have a lot of respect for Elephant 6.
Finally, we're coming round for dinner - what are you making?
I’m gonna make some robot food for adults. A Soylent smoothie with frozen strawberries and banana with oat milk.
'Dirt Buyer II' is out now via Bayonet Records.