By Jaci Jedrych
Award-winning artist Joe Downer was born in the United Kingdom, but calls the DMV home. He moved to the States when he was young and settled in the DMV area, where he’s lived ever since.
At 15, he got his first guitar, and “life has never been the same.” “For the first time, I was able to really find my avenue of self-expression. I played in bands all throughout high school and college, and started playing solo about 5 years ago.”
Downer loves the area, and attributes a big piece of how his sound and self has developed to the DMV area and community. “The community of artists here is so vibrant and supportive,” Downer said. “We all just want to see each other succeed, and that kind of support and camaraderie makes all the difference.”
“I think D.C. is one of the best music cities in the world. I would say my sound has been influenced by this being such an open and supportive community. Most of my friends in this town all have their own unique style. Rather than try and copy one another, I love that we can enjoy each other’s authenticity for what it is.”
Downer’s sound has very unique origins. He began his career as a hard rock and heavy metal musician, but he was also deeply influenced by some of the blues greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. “I can attribute my eclectic influence, at least in part, to my friend/former bass player Josh – he and I were best friends growing up, and he exposed me to so much I never would have found on my own.”
Currently, Downer has an Americana, indie folk sound, inspired by bands like CAAMP, Paper Kites, Gregory Alan Isakov, and the Lumineers. “But I still retain some of my harder rock/punk edge,” Downer says. “Frank Turner, for example, may be my favorite artist!”
Another love of his that grows his creativity is spending time outdoors, especially through backcountry hiking and camping. “There’s nothing like removing yourself from society for a few days and living off the land. Nature is your playground, and your survival is in your hands. It’s humbling and empowering. I definitely seek that kind of solitude from time to time to recharge and re-center myself.”
Downer says his music helped him to overcome some difficult periods of his life. Several years ago during the COVID-19 quarantines, he found himself furloughed from his job, his performing gigs canceled, all in the midst of an intense and deep personal crisis of faith and belief.
“When I asked for help from those in my life that I looked up to, I was met with condemnation and judgment…That was a hell of a time where I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide… It took a while for me to dig myself out of that ‘pit of despair,’ but I can say that I am stronger now as a result of that experience.”
Many of Joe Downer’s songs deal with ideas of lost love and overcoming darkness, and come from this dark time in his life. Downer’s use of music helped him to work through some of his issues and express his feelings.
“I am happy to say, though, that I am doing much better in terms of my mental health,” Downer said. “I can attribute some of that to music as a refuge and an outlet. Music was always there when I needed it. From that time, and those trials, I’ve become a much stronger and more confident person and musician.”
Keeping these experiences with him is an important part of his sense of self, and keeping true to that is crucial to his sound and his authenticity.
“My identity comes from my story – the dark times and the light times in my life that made me who I am today,” said Downer. “I do my best to market myself. I put in a lot of work and research to try and find folks that will like my music. But ultimately, I want to market something real, rather than something manufactured.”
At the end of the day, Joe Downer loves music. His authentic self loves doing what he loves with other people and for other people. “Music is arguably the most relatable form of art and expression that has the power to bind all of humanity,” said Downer. “I love playing a song and vibing with the energy of a room.” For Downer, music is an honor and privilege to perform.
“As performing musicians, we’re people playing to people. In my mind, it’s such a level playing field and an honor to have a mic in front of me, and for people to listen to what I have to say. It’s often surprising and humbling to see when someone else is touched by your music. It makes you realize that you’re not necessarily alone in the rough things you’ve been through in your past. Everyone has been through something, and music is a great healer.”
Most recently, Downer released a new single, “honey,” on July 1. The track is classic Americana, warm and sweet. Ideal for sipping lemonade on a hot day, “honey” is the track of the summer. Downer is also working in the studio, and is excited for the release of his new tracks.
Jaci Jedrych is a World Politics student at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She loves going to concerts and exploring different genres, and has a passion for arts and news writing.
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