Joe Camerlengo and Ozzy Lee Hall
Joe Camerlengo and Ozzy Lee HallCourtney Hall

Joe Camerlengo is ready for life to begin

On the musician’s tender album ‘New Things,’ due out digitally on Wednesday, March 29, he addresses the deep love ignited within him by parenthood.

The relentlessly creative Joe Camerlengo has released music under a number of monikers: This Is My Suitcase, Van Dale, Blanket Boys, Classical Baby, the Shtty Btles. For a handful of years in his 20s, he even recorded as Joseph Anthony Camerlengo, though he said the name felt as detached from his existence as many of those songs do now.

“That was me as a 24- to 28-year-old psychopath, and I was mentally and emotionally distraught,” Camerlengo said in a late March interview. “And that project was and sounds like intentional chaos. And I’m not saying I’m embarrassed of it or proud of it. It’s just some other version of me that exists. But even in doing that I picked the full version of my name, which I don’t really identify with as a person. I don’t call myself Joseph Anthony Camerlengo. It always reminded me of a classical composer – some guy whose name you were going to forget.”

But for his most recent album, New Things, out digitally on Wednesday, March 29 (Camerlengo’s 38th birthday), he has, for the first time, released a project under what he termed his “actual” name: Joe Camerlengo. 

“It’s what they call me at work and what you call me and what everyone I know calls me,” said the musician, who will celebrate the record with a release show at the Needle Exchange on Friday, April 14. “And the first time I felt I could ever use that name was this moment in my life. … It’s taken 37 years to just be Joe Camerlengo. But now that I’m here, I’m like, 'Okay, I can start.'”

A large part of this shift can be attributed to the person Camerlengo can be seen cozying up to in the photo that graces the album cover: Ozzy Lee Hall, born Jan. 27 to Camerlengo and his partner, the musician and artist Courtney Hall. Now just two months old, the youngster's presence resonates throughout the five stripped-down, heartfelt tracks that populate the record.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for life to begin,” Camerlengo sings warmly on “Life Might Begin,” later adding, “and then I saw your eyes open.”

Camerlengo said the first part of that song arrived overnight when Hall was in labor. “I remember looking up in the bathroom mirror, and I saw myself, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is probably the last time I’ll see what I look like before this happens,’ and that kind of just blew my mind,” Camerlengo said. “In my discography, there are certain songs that started when I accidentally saw a mirror. There’s something about my psyche where there are certain moments when I look up and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what I look like right now.’ … But that was a moment where I looked up and was like, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for life to begin.’"

Prior to becoming a parent, Camerlengo said he imagined life as a pie chart, where only so much time could be dedicated to any particular pursuit. After having a child, he reasoned, the responsibilities of parenthood would become the dominant slice of pie, shrinking or completely obliterating the time he might have to dedicate to other pursuits.

“So, when people said your priorities shifted after becoming a parent, I always thought it meant, ‘Oh, well you’re going to cut down on your other pieces of the pie. And now the art pie is gone, and the time pie is gone, and you just have the baby pie. And that’s all it is, and they fill the whole chart,” Camerlengo said. “Then we had Ozzy, and while I realize I don’t have infinite amounts of time ... a lot of what I had going before is very much still there. I’m more artistically inspired than ever, because I’ve never felt as positive or as strongly about anything as I do being with Ozzy and Courtney. Having that little family is the most incredible environment, and I’ve been creating like crazy.”

This loving home life resonates throughout New Things, from the opening “Lighthouse Song,” on which Camerlengo presents his homestead as a beacon amid the dark, to “Comin’ Home,” inspired by the joy the musician said he feels each time he makes a return from the outside world to his newborn. “Running through the door,” he sings, “just to see your face once more.” As the song closes, Camerlengo directly addresses Ozzy, who sat cuddled in Hall’s lap, listening in as Camerlengo recorded: “That one got a little smile!”

“I know that every person who hears that is going to be like, ‘What an idiot!’ But everybody is going to know what’s happening, and it makes me sound so exposed that I thought it was a very nice way to make it sound like I’m not sweating it too much,” said Camerlengo, who allows atmospheric sounds to bleed in throughout the recording, such as the chirping birds that usher in “Comin’ Home.” “It’s hard to be a white guy and come out with an album of acoustic songs, most of which are about love and loss, and not have people be like, ‘Go fuck yourself.’

"At least if there’s one moment that shows what I’m actually doing, which is sitting with my baby in my backyard with the birds singing and me playing acoustic guitar, then I feel like it makes it a better release for some people, because they’ll understand contextually that I’m not like, ‘Listen to how important I am right now.’ It’s more that I’m just playing these songs for my baby, and if you want to listen too, that’s fun. That’s more the idiot-vibe.”

Despite the occasional noise that bleeds into the recording, New Things is easily Camerlengo’s most unadorned record, from its eponymous title and the (mostly) acoustic instrumentation to the musician’s lyrical approach, which favors minimalism rather than the seemingly paid-by-the-word maximalism he said he adopted on early in his recording life.

“In my earlier writing, I think I felt like I needed to say a lot to have anything to say, where now it’s easier for me to write three lines and a couple word chorus and go, ‘That’s a really special thought.’ And I don’t need to go back and wonder if it’s too simple or if it was written the wrong way. It came out the way it was supposed to come out,” Camerlengo said. “Trusting the process was freeing in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt making music. I think I’ve always tried to fix everything as I go, or to add things. I always went, ‘Okay, I hear my voice. That’s a problem.’ So, let’s add some crazy guitars and let’s add a million keyboards and let’s put distortion on my voice and run it through a tape machine.

"This is really just my voice and the songs I wrote in an honest moment, and my attempt at a decent performance, and there’s something special about being able to comfortably release music like that. It’s way more therapeutic than I expected my post-dad music to feel. I expected it to feel like pulling teeth, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a baby and I can’t write songs now.’ But instead, it’s the opposite: ‘I’ve got a baby and I can’t stop writing songs now.’”

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