Joesef is sitting in the bar at Saint Luke’s. Just yards away is the stage where his career began, when he was discovered performing at an open mic.  

Six years on, he’s there discussing his debut album days after supporting Paolo Nutini at the OVO Hydro and being interviewed by Elton John on his Apple Music show. 

As he promotes his highly-anticipated LP Permanent Damage, Joesef is clearly keen to make the most of those opportunities.

“It’s an opportunity to win people over and show them what you’re made of”, he says. “What better place to do it than the Hydro in front of my hometown? Paolo’s crowd were amazing. They were very open and very warm. It was such a big stage. I was absolutely s***ing myself, but as soon as I went on I just fell into it. It’s exciting and you don’t want it to end.”

The Herald: Joesef backstage at the OVO Hydro with Paolo NutiniJoesef backstage at the OVO Hydro with Paolo Nutini (Image: Joesef/Instagram)

Stylish in an understated way, Joesef is engaging company as he talks passionately about his music. That work being recognised by the Rocket Man was surreal for a young man who grew up in Glasgow’s working-class Garthamlock.

“I didn’t know what was happening. It was like white noise in my brain. Growing up where I grew up, you never imagine you’re going to be in proximity to people like that. It’s just such an otherworldly universe that you’re never, ever going to be a part of, so when you’re dropped into it, it’s such a f***ing weird feeling. I couldn’t ever imagine I’d get to this point where I’d be having a conversation with Elton John.

“It was amazing just to hear him say that he liked my voice and he liked my music. I was actually flabbergasted. He doesn’t need to do that. He doesn’t need to do what he’s doing.

"His finger’s on the pulse, and he knows exactly what he’s talking about and he’s got a love for music. It’s such a f***ing amazing thing that he’s doing, giving young artists a platform to sell their music. I can’t thank him enough.”

Recorded in Brixton, Permanent Damage draws on such diverse influences as Motown, Kendrick Lamar and Tame Impala, while retaining a distinctive voice throughout. He stands apart from the vocal-and-acoustic stylings of some of Scotland’s biggest acts, and his lush sound has drawn comparisons with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill.

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Lyrically, Joesef brings an insightful eye to the minutiae of modern relationships. 

“When I used to read musicians saying ‘oh yeah, it was really cathartic’, I thought it was a bit w***y, but when you spend so much time writing and sitting with your feelings, it gives you a lot of clarity. Before I had music as an outlet I would just get on it for days and not address my feelings. I was more of an avoidance kind of guy.

“When I finished the album it was a very cathartic experience, because I had sat with my feelings and got over it. It’s a much healthier way of dealing with it.

“It was always a thing for me to try and be honest in my work, especially with myself, because I need to sing these songs forever, and I want to be on stage and feel it every night and not just be dead behind the eyes like a lot of people are.

“In specificity, there is the universal at the same time. I identify with really specific writers so much because I can intersperse it with my own experience.”

Joesef’s upbringing is key to his outlook. “The album is inherently about Glasgow because my perspective and viewpoint is of a person who was raised the way I was raised, which is working-class, East End of Glasgow”, he explains. 

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“Being from the East End of Glasgow, it’s a very specific type of person.

"My mates call me s***e every time I see them, in a funny way, and that’s the dichotomy of Glasgow. It’s like ‘we’re so proud of you, but don’t get too big for your boots’. It’s nice, I like that. That’s what I love about Glasgow. It’s a place where they’ll get behind you totally, but if you want to order a latte at a bar…

“There’s just something in the water here. Being from where I’m from, people don’t expect much from us or from people like me, and I think there’s just that aspect of ‘I’ll show you what I can do. A lot of people are like that here, and it’s always been like that.

"People haven’t been taken seriously, but time and time again we’ve proved we can do whatever we want to do.”

The Herald: Joesef pictured outside Saint Luke's in GlasgowJoesef pictured outside Saint Luke's in Glasgow (Image: Herald Scotland)

Did his background affect how people viewed him in the world of London’s musical elite?

“It’s like you’re a wild animal sometimes. You’re in rooms with people and you can just tell they don’t understand what it is to put everything you have, all your workload, all your energy physically and mentally into something that’s your only shot at doing it. 

“A lot of these people come from nepotism or have rich parents. They just fall into it and they can try other things, but when me, Lyle and Nathan (Scougall and Dunphy, of Joesef’s representatives Manana Music Management) got into this, we only had one shot at trying it and were all working 40 hours a week. We collected all our money together and put it into marketing. 

“It was difficult, but it was also class at the same time, because we had such a positive viewpoint – ‘what else are we going to do?’. Everything’s amazing, because our lives could have been bleak otherwise, and we’re having so much fun doing something that we love every day.”

It was Scougall who discovered the singer at that fateful open mic. 

"I think I drank nine pints", recalls Joesef. I was like ‘f*** it, I’m going to sing a song’, and I got up and sang California Dreamin’, and he was like ‘oh my God, you can sing’. It didn’t feel like a big thing for me, but in hindsight it was probably a really pivotal moment in my career, because he saw something in me that I didn’t really see in myself.

“My brothers all sang and my mum sang karaoke, but it was never like ‘oh, I’m going to be a singer’. We just liked to sing, but I never took it seriously, and I think that stems from where I was brought up. It’s not really a viable career path for people from the East End to be a f***ing popstar."

“It’s getting easier to cope with, but I don’t think it’ll ever go away.”

Acknowledging an “impostor syndrome”, the soulful musician says: “You don’t feel like you deserve to be in these spaces or be part of this industry that is very hard to get access to when you’re from a working-class background, and that only gets amplified when you get any sort of success. 

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“I always think I'm s***e. I’m always critiquing the way I’ve sounded or the way I’ve acted, and there comes a time where you need to say ‘you know what, I deserve to be here’.

“Even after the Elton John interview I was like ‘oh my God I sounded like a f***ing idiot after that’. It’s a good thing, because it keeps you in check, but there comes a point where you can be so self-deprecating to the point of self-sabotage, and that’s where you need to draw the line.”

What does Joesef want his rapidly-growing army of fans to take away from Permanent Damage?

“I want them to feel their own feelings, whatever it is they’re going through, to be able to connect with it in that way. 

“Above all else, I would just like it to be a bit of escapism. That’s what music’s always done for me. It takes me away somewhere else when I don’t want to be where I am. The album feels like that to me. It takes you somewhere and then it drops you back off at the end. 

“Hopefully people feel a wee bit less alone in their feelings.”

Permanent Damage is out now. Joesef’s tour of the UK and Europe begins in March.