Below, you can read our interview with Joe Stanton of Merit Maker. Check out our full music review of Quarantined, HERE.
Q: Great to be speaking with you, Joe! You’re based in Philadelphia – what’s the music scene like there for punk-based music these days?
A: Hey, really awesome to have this opportunity to talk with you as well! I am based in Philadelphia, PA. As far as the punk music scene goes here currently, it’s hard to say at the moment. There hasn’t exactly been a “scene” for over a year now due to covid. However, there are plenty of Philly punks of all kinds that I’ve known over the years. This city is a pretty big place and it’s home to a diverse crew of hardcore punks, street punks, metal punks, pop punkers, alt. rockers, emo’s, and plenty of others! I’ve jammed with dudes from all different backgrounds of punk-based music. I don’t really know what a lot of them are up to these days though. Hopefully they’re writing/recording cool new music or something since most live shows are still on hold! Once it kicks back up, I’m sure that we’ll see many of these people return to the scene, along with all new faces. There are always new artists showing up!
Q: You’ve been a musician for much of your life in a number of different bands and groups. At what point in your life did you discover the influences that lead you to create the kind of music you make today?
A: I have been a musician for most of my life, starting with piano playing when I was in grade school. Prior to that, I was absolutely fascinated with audio recording and sound from a very young age. I actually haven’t played in THAT many bands. I’ve been writing songs for years, but I’ve only really been a member of a couple of different local bands. Creatively though, I found myself at odds with the other band members. I had a bigger vision for my music and the groups that I was briefly a part of didn’t like to think outside the box. The songs they wanted to write and play were much too formulaic and bland. I couldn’t stand it. Totally lacking in passion and originality. I had to break away from it. As for the point in my life when I discovered the influences that led to my current sound, it dates back to middle school. The first time that I ever really listened to punk rock music was, like many who grew up in the 90’s/early ’00s while playing the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. The soundtrack on that game introduced me to a whole new world of music. I was a 12 year old skater and the songs I heard immediately struck a chord with me.
Q: Are you enjoying the artistic freedom that the solo direction of Merit Maker has allowed you?
A: Absolutely! As aforementioned just previously, I had to get away from the small minded mentalities of the musicians that I used to perform with. In fact, it was by far one of the best things that I have ever done as an artist. If you have a true artistic vision for your music, you should NEVER compromise it. Don’t ever let anyone hold you back or sway you from what you’re about and what you believe in. It’s so easy to just give into that “group think” mindset when you’re part of a band. That’s what I experienced anyway. Unfortunately in the groups that I was a part of, no one other than myself wanted to branch out and try something new. They only wanted to create and play what they felt was “conventional” music, following a strict and rigid formula for song creation, specifically in regards to the genre and style. Needless to say, no one really cared about any of those songs and after the groups fell apart, some of these guys just ended up playing in local cover bands instead. That wasn’t for me. That’s never what I’ve been about. I’m an original songwriter and I wasn’t going down that path. Some of the other guys ended up falling out of the music scene entirely. That wasn’t for me either as I sure the hell wasn’t about to give up on music!
Q: You have two releases out as Merit Maker – the EP Quarantined and the LP Judgement Calls – along with another upcoming full-length release. How do you feel your sound has evolved across these projects?
A: Well, Quarantined and Judgement Calls are stylistically two very different releases. While they both are firmly rooted in punk and share some similarities, they take a drastically different approach. As a musician, I have been influenced by such a wide range of various sounds and styles. It’s my goal as a music artist to showcase and convey these many different sides through my songs. Judgement Calls focused more on melodic/alt rock/pop punk vibes with hardcore elements fused in. It’s an album that was very much inspired by a lot of the skate punk that I grew up listening to. Quarantined took those hardcore elements that Judgement Calls had in it, made them the focus and then added in heavier elements, fusing with a metal sound. It crosses over into really thrashy territory and overall has a much more dark/aggressive feel to it than the debut release. This was a natural evolution for me, as after first discovering punk music I later found metal music. I was especially into thrash metal and crossover bands. I had to get that out in this release as it is a genre and style that has been very influential to me in addition to my punk rock roots.
Q: You’ve told us your next full-length album is currently in the works. What’s the timeline for its release? Are you working with any of the same musicians from your previous releases?
A: The next full length album is most definitely in the works! In fact, instrumentals have already been tracked in full. Still touching up the lyrics a bit, but they’re nearly complete at this time. I’m anticipating either a summer or fall release for this one, but can’t say totally for sure yet. Just know that it will be out sometime in 2021. As for the line up on the upcoming release, it is exactly the same as the line up on Quarantined, with one exception…..there will be a new backing vocalist featured. Stylistically, the songwriting is a bit more similar to the direction on Judgement Calls although unique and different at the same time. You’ll hear when it drops!
Q: Your songs convey uplifting stories and themes with an undeniably sharp punk rock edge. What’s your songwriting process like?
A: Have heard that before! I’m really glad to, because that’s one of the things I set out to do with this music project. I wanted to create music that has an overall positive message which resonates with the listener. Music can evoke many different feelings and emotions and I try to showcase them all in the songwriting process. It’s all relatable. There’s nothing superficial here and yes, of course it’s all done with an undeniably sharp punk rock edge. As far as constructing these songs goes, each and every one first began with a bass riff. My primary instrument, aside from my voice, is the bass guitar. I’ve been playing it routinely for 10 + years now. Many of the riffs that appeared in both Judgement Calls and Quarantined were ones that I had originally written in my early days of bass playing. I reworked and tweaked them up until reaching the point that they are now in these Merit Maker songs. I then collaborate with a drummer and guitarist to put the songs together in full. For the most part, the musicians I collab with play along to the riffs I have written and add in a bit of their own style as well. Some synth is usually added here and there on certain songs. Once the instruments have been tracked in full, I then begin writing the song lyrics. Sometimes I pull lines from sheets of lyrics that I’ve written in the past, but the majority of them I write fresh once I hear the instrumentals together in their entirety. Finally, I get behind the mic and do the vocal tracking.
Q: What was your first guitar? Do you still have/play it?
A: I definitely do not still have my first guitar, nor would it be worth still having. My VERY first electric guitar I got at age 15 and it was one of those basic starter guitars. I can’t even remember what brand it was. A year later when I turned 16 I got a Squier Strat. That guitar was actually pretty nice, but I don’t have it anymore either. For the rest of my teenage years, I played guitar. I didn’t even ever pick up a bass until I was about 20 years old. However, once I did I quickly transitioned from guitar to bass and it became my primary stringed instrument. I never looked back. It just instantly clicked and from that point on I was a bass player. Unfortunately I no longer have my first bass, or the one after that. I actually only currently own one and it’s the bass that I’ve used to track all the Merit Maker songs thus far, an Ibanez Cimar bass. It rocks!
Q: Perhaps in some unspecified amount of time, your musical career explodes in the best of ways. What does that look like for you?
A: I mean, this music project has already gained a pretty big following on Soundcloud and Spotify. I’m really stoked to see that. SO many people have listened to and enjoyed these tunes and that really means a lot to me. I actually feel very accomplished with how far it’s come. The next big step for this project of course would be to begin playing live shows. Due to the current situation with the ongoing pandemic though, I’m not sure how far off live gigs might still be. Also, the music industry keeps rapidly growing and evolving so quickly in this day and age. It’s hard to say what it will even look like a year or so from now, covid concerns aside. Given the excellent reception this music has received so far though, it’s definitely something worth holding out for! These songs were an absolute blast to record and I can only imagine how fun they would be to play to a crowd. Merit Maker live would be a hell of a set! Once that ball starts rolling, who knows where it might go next. You can for sure bet that I will be riding the tide. This project, these songs…..they aren’t going anywhere. It’s just the beginning.
Q: You get to collaborate with anyone of your choosing. Who is it?
A: Oh! That’s a REALLY tough one. Any artist? I have A LOT of big influences. If I had to choose one artist to collab with though, probably would be AFI(A Fire Inside).
Q: Your favorite album of all time? (Yup, you gotta choose one.)
A: Urghhhhhh. These kinds of questions are the WORST! I have FAVORITES. Lots of them, but picking just one is soooooo hard! Okay, here goes….The Offspring – Ixnay on the Hombre.
Q: Your favorite song of all time? (Again, only one!)
A: Another KILLER question. Ahhhhhh. No, I’m sorry. I can’t answer this question. It was hard enough trying to pick only one album. I can’t do the same for a song. To many. I literally have hundreds of favorite songs.
Q: What would you like fans to know about you that they’re most likely unaware of?
A: Hmmmm. Some may be unaware that I’ve been shadowbanned across all FB products since 2019. This explains why there is currently no social media presence for myself or this project on either Facebook or Instagram. Several years ago, I worked with Roger Lima from the band Less Than Jake remotely at his studio “Moathouse Recording Studio”. He had advertised that he was up for working with artists on his social media platforms, so I decided to reach out and try to contact him via messenger. Initially, I was skeptical. I had grown up listening to a lot of ska punk music, especially that of Less Than Jake. The thought of having a musician that I had been a big fan of in my youth work on my songs was exciting and uncertain at the same time. As it turned out, I really wish that I hadn’t worked with Roger. After he listened to some earlier demo recordings of mine, my music seemed to have piqued his interest and he agreed to do the mastering for a project I was working on, one that later became the debut Merit Maker album Judgement Calls. However, he became unresponsive to messages as the time grew closer, blatantly ignoring them and he ended up completely blowing off me and the project. It was a major let down at the time and I was very critical of him and other LTJ band members publically on social media. Not long after that, my accounts were suspended and later entirely shut down. I have been unable to use any FB product since, therefore Merit Maker, as of now can only be found on streaming services and music platforms. You will not find an FB or IG account. Censorship is at an all time high right now and it’s a big problem!
Q: Any shout-outs you wanna make?
A: A very big shoutout to EVERYONE who has been a part of this music project especially all of the musicians and engineers that put in lots of hours and helped to bring these songs to life. Also, a special shoutout to each and every person that has streamed, listened to, and rocked out to these tunes. THANK YOU.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: A list of just some of my biggest influences in no particular order…..The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Misfits, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Die Kreuzen, Suicidal Tendencies, United Mutation, Slayer, Municipal Waste, Static X, The Cure, AFI, Bad Religion, The Offspring, Sum 41, The Casualties, Blink 182, Green Day, Alkaline Trio, Bayside, Rancid, No Use For A Name, NOFX, At the Drive In, Comeback Kid, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!, and many, many more!
(Want to be interviewed by The Ark of Music? Click HERE.)