As frontman of The Rifles, Joel Stoker has released a host of acclaimed albums, the most recent two of which achieved the highest chart positions of their career, as well as playing numerous riotous sold-out tours, and picking up famous fans including Paul Weller, Madness and Ian Broudie. Now he introduces a completely different side of his creativity with the news that he will release his debut solo album ‘The Undertow’ on September 1st via Cooking Vinyl. The first taste of the album is provided by its lead single ‘My Own War’.
‘The Undertow’ sees Joel raising his artistic bar to a whole new level. Both effortlessly melodic and unflinchingly honest, its eleven tracks see him entering completely new sonic territory, the ’70s funk-flecked grooves, festival bangers and fiddle-assisted stomps reflecting touchstones ranging from Bob Marley and Fleetwood Mac to Dexys through to Arcade Fire and Michael Kiwanuka. Thematically, Joel’s lyrics hold nothing back as he reveals his experiences with anxiety and mental health issues, his overwhelming struggles with OCD dating back to childhood.
Joel says, “I’ve always just written songs, they’re usually written on an acoustic guitar, and they’re usually quite slow. We tend to kick them up the arse for the band. So it was nice to do it all myself. Sometimes a song doesn’t need a clever bass line. It was a really lovely experience, and I’m going to keep doing it. I realised that all the songs I was writing were about one thing: anxiety and mental depression. I knew they couldn’t be Rifles songs, but I thought I’d carry on and see where it led me.”
Joel introduces the album by sharing the lead single ‘My Own War’ - a song in which yearning, melancholic Americana and the cinematic flourishes provided by brass feels more in tune with the moodier moments of Lambchop or Calexico than anything The Rifles have ever released. While its title hints at the emotional turbulence of the album, the devil is revealed with the detail of its lyrics: “I play superior, but only for the show / I feel inferior with nowhere to go, and it’s cutting me down to the bone.”
The idea of a solo album emerged during lockdown. For the first time in a decade Joel was anchored at home with his family in Woodford, East London. He started writing songs in the studio at the bottom of his garden and was compelled to write his most introspective lyrics. As a musician from a generation where his male peers would rather hide their anxieties behind a wall of geezer-ish bravado, it also provided an outlet for him to address the issues that usually remain unspoken. The songs were subsequently further developed at his own Right Hook Recordings studio in Walthamstow. With drummer Brendan O’Neill and Rifles pianist Dean ‘Deano’ Mumford having laid down their parts, he added lead guitar, bass, harmonies and percussion himself, with the addition of brass and strings enhancing the widescreen feel.