The ‘Viral’ fiddlin’ of Joe Majerus

I’m truly embarrassed that it has taken me this long to catch up with this guy. The fantastic jams that I’ve been a part of with Joe are too many to count. He’s not only a fantastic fiddle player, but he’s also taken his instrumental ability and forged a creative outlet with it from his house. After at least 8 years of not seeing this guy, he’s graciously taken the time to talk about his music with me. Joe thank you so much for joining me today. Would you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Joe Majerus. I work full time for the school district here in Springfield, MO. I devote all my free time to music. That includes teaching lessons, playing fiddle for several different artists (studio sessions and live shows), writing and producing music in my home studio, and playing solo shows where I live loop the fiddle and vocals. 

JED: Tell us a little bit about your beginnings. Your origin story, so to speak. How did you get into music, and what made you choose this path over others?

I started fiddle lessons when I was nine years old. For a few years I had seen Kyle Link play fiddle and he just made it look like so much fun that I wanted to learn how to do it. He taught me contest-style fiddling, but after a few years I transitioned to playing more bluegrass. After playing bluegrass for a few years, I began listening to jazz and newgrass, which had a tremendous influence on me. I still play music today because of Kyle’s excellent teaching, and because his brothers Ben and Aaron learned music at the same time, giving me a couple best friends to jam with in high school.

Man having good musicians to jam with and push you to be your best is such a wonderful aide for an aspiring musician. Our mutual friends John & David Meyer were those guys for me. We spent so much time playing together in our high-school years. That was an extremely beneficial experience for me.

Photo by Sarah Storer.

JED: What are your favorite 5 albums, and do they influence your work? If so, in what ways?

Allen Stone – Allen Stone

Allen’s singing has had a massive impact on my vocal style. When I first heard him it was as if my mind hated his style but my gut was super into it. I kept listening and noticed that my singing style began to reflect his without me even thinking about it. That was when I realized I really do like soul music. 

Confluence – Strength in Numbers (not the newgrass group)

One of my very first forays into jazz. In high school I would play this album from start to finish every time I made the 30 minute drive into town. Eventually, I started to scat the horn solos note for note. I was also jamming a lot with the Linke around then, and so the jazz forms were making their way from my head to my fingers through what I feel was an unconscious kind of osmosis. 

A Lesson Unlearnt – Until the Ribbon Breaks

This album is extremely well made. I see it more as a whole than as its individual songs. It’s only 40 minutes long, but in that time it takes me through a whole spectrum of emotions, and leaves me with a profound sense of closure at the end of the final song. Really, an amazing piece of work.

Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

Coming from a bluegrass background, I was blown away with the funk rhythms in this album, as well as the creative melodic lines – two things which my ears were training to hear as a young bluegrass picker. This album was perhaps my first encounter with great music outside of bluegrass, and it has been a favorite ever since. 

Pretzel Logic – Steely Dan

I only started listening to Steely Dan within the past couple years, but I have now gone through their entire catalog several times. This album stands out from the others in my mind. Maybe it hasn’t had a formative influence on my playing, but it has still played a part in what kind of sounds come out of me today.

JED: You know Matthew Davis is who first exposed me to Steely Dan. I was playing guitar for a time with Thomas Cassell’s Circus No. 9 and The Royal Scam was one of the band’s roadtrip listening favorites. It’s cool that you mention Random Access Memories; Aaron mentioned that as one of his favorites too.

That just speaks to how our music began to align. They got me into that album, and that album helped us all grow so much. It was a quality influence at a formative time in our lives.

Photo by Abi Mitchell.

JED: Very cool. Which part of your music career do you enjoy the most – live performance, recording, writing, etc.?

I love getting to sit down in a controlled environment like my home studio to record my videos, but live performances are where it’s at for me. The immediacy of that type of moment demands that I go hard. I almost always end up pushing my own limits that way, because it’s do or die.

JED: What are three musicians today do you think are underrated or deserve more notoriety for their art?

Louis Cole’s timing is freaky. He’s slept on partly because he’s so edgy. I love him!

JED: Yeah man his work with Genevive Artadi (KNOWER) is really really cool. Have you seen their Lady Gaga mashup? That and “Hanging On” are two of my favorites by them.

I haven’t seen the mashup, but dude, “Hanging On” is a total banger. I’ve mostly been into Louis Cole’s solo stuff, so I haven’t seen the majority of KNOWER’s content yet. I’ll get there.

Yussef Dayes is putting out a ton of amazing stuff. He’s near the heart of a new generation of jazz music. I have been loving the projects he’s been involved with. His YouTube game is on point, I could get lost in all the videos he’s involved with. His drumming is super tasty, and he brings that crackhead energy we all know and love. 

BJ The Chicago Kid has the alchemist’s touch, turning everything into gold. His oh so tasteful vocal layers take projects he works on from great feeling grooves to goose bumps and internal screaming. Some of his work with Anderson Paak in particular is just so right. ‘Feel the Vibe’, ‘The Waters’, and ‘Sweet Chick’ would be great tracks to start with. 

JED: Tell us a little bit about your current rig – what does your “rig” consist of?

Right now I’m still using David Meyer’s fiddle that I borrowed 6 years ago. Thanks David! Let me know when you need it back. I love the thing. I use a pickup called The Realist, which is a piezo pickup whose transducer is just the right size to slip under the bridge. I’m wireless now, using the X-Vive U2’s. My pedalboard is the SKB PS-45, which provides isolated AC/DC power and has an analog routing set up. I plug my X-Vive receiver into the routing hardware and then go straight from there into the Audio Acoustix ToneDexter DI. This DI uses impulse response technology to emulate the sound I get through my AKG C3000B microphone. It analyzes the mic signal and then boosts and limits specific frequencies in the signal from my pickup to mimic that signal. It has been a complete game changer for me, coming from the L.R. Baggs Venue DI, which was useful, but lacked the accuracy I needed. I go from the ToneDexter into a few Boss pedals, which from start to finish are RV-6 Reverb, CS-3 Compression/Sustainer, ME-50 Multi-Effects, OC-3 Super Octave, and RC-30 Loop Station. The looper is last so that I can get all the other effects in there. Then the signal goes back into the DI, and back out to the routing hardware. From there it goes to the board. Also, just after my DI, but before my first pedal, I split in a microphone for vocal loops.

JED: That is definitely the most advanced rig of any fiddle-player that I’ve interviewed yet. Man how did you get started experimenting with pedals and effects processors? Was there a particular person who got you started experimenting or did you one day just think “hey I’m gonna try this?”

Photo by Isaac Kenneth.

I first got the idea that pedals would be cool when I played an electric fiddle through some pedals at a music store back in 2015. Growing up I had watched looping artists like Bernhoft, Reggie Watts, and Casey Driessen, but the connection between their music and what I could do with pedals of my own wasn’t made until I was walking the streets of the French Quarter in NOLA and happened on a looping violinist. She was playing through a vintage bass amp and using a Venue DI. Her playing was absolutely brilliant, and in that moment a bunch of stuff just clicked for me. She let me try out her rig and I was hooked. Since getting the looper and the DI, I’ve been adding pedals to my rig one by one whenever I find one that I think will help me round out my sound.

JED: If you were given an unlimited budget for an album production to record your dream album, what would it look like?

I’d bring in Allen Stone to help me finish writing a few songs, and then I’d hire Vulfpeck to spend a month tracking every day in Joe Dart’s living room. Jack Stratton to engineer. That is my final answer.

JED: I would definitely want to hear that. What is your favorite album or recording that you’ve made to date?

I haven’t done very much studio work for other artists. The work I love the most so far is the looping I do. One in particular, named “Wholesome” is probably my favorite. The full video is up on Instagram and YouTube, and the audio is available on my SoundCloud.

JED: What are you currently working on?

One of the main things I do is solo looping, and that’s where most of my video content comes from. I’m working on having a better social media presence by improving my content quality and regularity. This spring I’ll be doing some recording with Hudson Freeman, a Springfield, MO singer/songwriter. I think I may be working with another Springfield local, Brian Bulger, as well. I’m also working with the Chapman brothers on an Acoustic Swing Jazz band. We’re learning all the old Grisman and Rice stuff note for note. The plan is to do a few shows in 2020. I’m also playing fiddle for Isaac Kenneth, a country artist here in Springfield. We have rehearsals and track demos in my basement studio in preparation for going into the studio this summer. Another project I’m excited about is my work with The Dirty Strings, a bluegrass group with some really incredible players. We play a lot of classic rock covers bluegrass style. I also play with a group here in Springfield called MarleyGrass. We play Bob Marley songs bluegrass style and it is a killer show. When I’m not gigging I’m either working social media or connecting with bands for potential one off gigs.

JED: Man you are killing it on the social media game. I watch your TikTok videos all the time. You’ve actually had one get some viral attention here lately! I remember when I first was getting familiar with the platform and I searched “#bluegrass.” As I was scrolling through the results, I saw you and was like “hey I know that guy!”

Thank you so much man. I’m going for it online! Too much potential to sit this out. That is awesome to hear! I never know who I’m reaching on there. I’ve really benefited from putting out content on a more regular basis. It’s like school deadlines, you work harder than you would otherwise.

Photo by Sarah Storer.

JED: It is a real statement of your discipline to stay consistent putting out videos man; I’ve tried that and know how taxing and difficult it can be. Joe it has been wonderful to get to catch up with you after we’ve gone so long without seeing each other or picking. I hope we can get together and play some music sometime soon. Thanks for taking the time to interview with us, and I’ll keep watching you on TikTok and Instagram for the latest and greatest.

Sure thing, Jed! I hope we can pick again soon as well! I appreciate you reaching out for an interview. I’m loving the whole idea of AcoustiCult, and I’m excited to see you continue with it!

You can find more of Joe’s music and happenings on his Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Soundcloud. Featured article image by Sarah Storer.