Folk troubadour Joe Pug's gritty, narrative songwriting invites comparison to Bob Dylan and John Prine. But the former playwriting student says he also looks to literary figures like John Steinbeck and Walt Whitman for inspiration.
While working as a carpenter in Chicago after dropping out of the University of North Carolina, Pug wrote and recorded his debut EP, Nation of Heat. In 2010 he signed to Nashville indie label Lightning Rod Records for a full-length debut, Messenger. The label released its follow-up, The Great Despiser, in 2012 after Pug moved to Austin.
Pug stopped by for a live session at the Isthmus office on Jan. 21, a few hours before a Barrymore Theatre performance in support of the Devil Makes Three.
"We've been to Madison many times before," the Maryland native told the assembled Isthmus Live Sessions audience. "The first place I ever played in Madison was called the Tornado Room. Or the Corral part of the Tornado. It's whatever is the part in the basement."
Shouts from the crowd confirmed that the basement is indeed dubbed the Corral Room. "So it's the Corral Room within the Tornado Room," Pug joked. "It was a great gig. I was just the guitar player in that band. I was with basically glorified gutter punks."
Pug recalled the show's aftermath, nearly 10 years ago.
"They converted an airport shuttle bus into a tour bus. We went and we parked it in a neighborhood of Madison, turned the generator on and just partied until four o'clock in the morning. And we were literally chased out of town by Madison police that night."
Pug will release his third album, Windfall, on March 10 and will return April 10 for a headlining gig at the High Noon Saloon.
Produced by Isthmus, the above video was directed and edited by Justin Sprecher, with additional camerawork by James Kraus and audio by Chris Winterhack. Listen to the complete four-song, 20-minute set below including tracks "Burn and Shine" and "Stay and Dance" from the forthcoming new album