The true, yet widely unknown, 1896 American folk story of Helga Estby is one of a courageous woman that takes on, literally, the United States. Her tale is of immense courage, willpower, and love for one’s family. In 1896, Helga Estby set out on a journey on foot from Spokane WA to New York City in response to ad claiming that those that accomplished this trek would receive $10,000. In a desperate attempt for money after the financial 1893 financial panic, Helga set out for NYC for seven months with her 17-year old daughter, Clara. When Helga and her daughter arrived at NYC on Christmas Eve, they were told they missed the deadline and were refused the prize money. Helga and Clara returned to Spokane without the money, only to learn two of the Estby children had died in their absence.
Thom Joseph has written a song, Helga Estby, which honors her as a tragic hero instead of a failure like many are quick to do.
In this interview spotlight, we speak with Thom about his latest release, challenges, what motivates him and more.
Full Q&A along with links and streams below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I’m originally from Medina, OH, nearby Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, it’s THE Ohio State University, the Browns suck, and LeBron James is flawless. Anyways, after graduating from OSU I moved out to Seattle, WA for work. I found very quickly that waking up, going to work, and playing video games or watching Netflix ad Infinitum sucked.
So, I ventured out to Open Mics around Seattle, and exposed myself to hundreds of other local artists, all on the grind with their own unique styles. I ended up developing a sort of fusion style of music, where I pulled elements of indie, folk, hip-hop and even some pop together. I like to integrate artists that I’ve met in my local scene on tracks as openings arise as well.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to keep going?
Like many suburban Americans, I was forced into Piano lessons as a kid. I played, but I never truly enjoyed it at the time. Most of the music I could listen to was also very heavily curated by my parent’s approval and tastes.
As I got older, I got into electric guitar, which ended up clicking with me. I started by learning the guitar riffs of 70’s and 80’s classics, eventually attempting to emulate Slash. The more I got into it, the more my style evolved, and the more motivated I was to pick up additional instruments.
What motivates me is the experiences that randomly arise each time I play live, the chance for my songs to be heard, and the chance to meet interesting new people. I can’t stress enough how many times I’ve thought to myself I guess I’ll play an Open Mic tonight, and have connected with at least one other musician in the area. As well, there’s a real sense of reward in sharing art that you’ve created with an audience, be it captive or voluntarily.
How is this new release different than previous ones? Were you trying to accomplish anything specific?
Previous releases have always been part of a group, be it a band, trio or duo act. I’ve also never put out a project where I didn’t half ass any of the tracks. That’s right, you heard it from me. All five tracks on the Say It Out Loud EP are full-assed.
This EP started out as an idea for a demo as I got my footing back musically, but it quickly expanded into a full project, with no song sounding quite the same. For example, the title track “Say It Out Loud” is a fun acoustic/indiepop song about drunken shenanigans and self-reflection. Immediately following up this song is “Helga Estby”, the true story of a tragic hero who walked across the United States in hopes of winning money to save the family farm.
Basically, I wanted to use this EP as a showcase for my breadth and depth as an artist. I wanted to demonstrate that if I want to make a hip-hop song, I’ll make one. If I want to write a five-and-a-half-minute song about a woman who walked the literal United States over a century ago, I’ll do that too. I plan for my next release to fit a specific genre a bit more closely, but for this release, the purpose is to highlight my range.
Name one or two challenges you face as an indie musician in this oversaturated, digital music age? How has technology helped you (since we know it does help)?
I like this question. The relatively obvious answer is promoting in an oversaturated market is by far the toughest challenge to face as an Indie musician without a manager or label backing. I hear a lot of how music and media platforms, such as SoundCloud and YouTube, have allowed for a lot of “crap” music to surface, and how it’s a challenge to get your music out there with all of the “crap” in the way. I’ve noticed, however, that what makes things tougher is just how many talented and quality musicians are out there, and are all competing for people’s limited attention. There’s only so much time in a day to go hunt down new artists without a marketing team placing them right in front of you.
Platforms such as SubmitHub have made it quite a bit easier to get your stuff in front of people that may not of heard it otherwise. By getting a Soundcloud repost or Spotify playlist from an upcoming or established blog, you are signaling that it’s worth listening to your stuff. It’s mostly a shot in the dark, but it beat’s sifting through google searches and hoping a blind email will elicit a response.
A less obvious answer is as a transplant to Seattle, I knew absolutely no one upon moving here. If you are part of a local music scene in the same area that you grew up in, you may have a more built-in network that can come to your shows, promote, etc. In my case, I’ve had to build from the ground up.
Without the technology of the digital age, I wouldn’t have social media platforms to connect with those I meet on. Those documented connections are especially critical as a transplant.
Where is the best place to connect with you online and discover more music?
Spotify! It’s my favorite music discovery app and I love sending potential new listeners over to my page, it makes me feel more important than I am!
I do have a SoundCloud and YouTube channel as well. I’m not very active on YouTube yet, but once the music videos are published, I will be.
Anything else before we sign off?
Check me out on Facebook to see my upcoming shows in Seattle!