Joe Pug On Touring In a Hand-Me-Down Van and an Expensive Line-Item From His Music Budget

February 10, 2015

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

We tour in a Chevy Express 15 passenger that will hit 300K miles by the end of the tour.  We bought it from Tim Fite about five years ago and it’s been our steed ever since.  Although I think she’s getting retired after this current tour.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Beans and rice & Rice and beans.  No chinese food, no french fries.  Never miss an opportunity to drink some water.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

The most expensive damn thing I go through are harmonicas.  When I first started playing they were 25 bucks a piece, and now they’re about 50 with tax.  I go through about 4 a month, so it ends up being a pretty expensive line item by the end of the year.

Where do you rehearse?

In the back of my house in Austin I have a little project studio that I write and record in.  When we’re off the road I keep all of the band’s equipment there too.  I’ve got the walls covered with different paintings or quotes or poems that are inspiring to me.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

When I was twelve I wrote a song called “Corporate Rock Song”.  I had no idea what the fuck I was talking about.

Describe your first gig.

Sixth grade dance.  Mom drops the band off with the minivan.  Foo Fighters covers.  100 dollar paycheck.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last day job was working for a company called Salvage One in Chicago.  I would go into building that we’re about to be torn down and salvage any unique architectural features like crown molding or bathroom fixtures.  My favorite day job was working as a framing carpenter in Chicago. We did a lot of work in Wrigleyville and Lakeview.  It’s the type of work where at the end of the day you can look over what you’ve done and feel satisfied.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Our main source of income has always been live.  I expect that as streaming becomes more ubiquitous we’ll see some more revenue from there.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

Don’t take anything- success or failure- personally.


After dropping out of college the day before his senior year, Joe Pug moved to Chicago and started writing the songs that would eventually become the Nation of Heat EP.  Three years later, with tours with Josh Ritter, M. Ward and Steve Earle to his credit, his thoughtful, moving and literate songs have put him at the forefront of the indie-folk movement.  He has also earned a reputation for being a powerful live performer, which has only grown following his appearances at festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, The Newport Folk Festival, Telluride Bluegrass, and the Cambridge Folk Festival.

Windfall, Pug’s newest album, will be released on 10 March 2015.  You can find him online and on the road.