Permanent Damage is one of the most eagerly anticipated releases from a Scottish artist in some time. 

Having gone from being discovered performing at an open mic to receiving praise from the likes of Elton John, Joesef is now a fixture on BBC Radio 1’s playlist and looks set to have a momentous 2023 in store. 

Having released his debut album on Friday, the Garthamlock-born singer takes us through the inspiration and influences behind each of its 13 tracks.


You should hear it/The quiet sound of knowing there is nothing left to say

“It’s a short intro to the album. I’m a big fan of a body of work. You feel like you’re at the start of a story that has a beginning, middle and end. Permanent Damage is very much the beginning of the story. It opens with these big, lush strings, with just my vocal, a piano and a string ensemble. 

“It’s setting you up for the themes of the album. Permanent Damage means indefinite change. Whatever way it comes, good or bad. It all just stems from this relationship I was in and how I’ve been changed indefinitely. 

“It doesn’t go into it much in the intro, but it takes you there over the course of the album."

‘Lush’ is a word that could be accurately applied to much of Joesef's music. Did that happen organically?

“When I moved to London, my goal was to advance my sound and evolve it. I came from writing songs in my bedroom, where I was using samples to affect the sonics of the production, but there’s only so much you can do in your bedroom. 

“When I moved to London and started to make an album, I had access to things like a bigger studio and a string ensemble which I’d never had before, which I was f***ing c***ing in my pants over.

“I wanted to evolve my sound, because I think you’re only as good as your last game. I could only better myself. I’m a big fan of records like What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, the way they sound. It just feels cinematic, and I’ve always been a big fan of that aspect of music.

“I think it was Inner City Blues for me. My mum used to listen to it all the time, and it all feels like the one song. It all flows into each other, and it’s mad that it’s still so relevant thematically and musically. 

“He’s got one of those voices, and the production is timeless.”

READ MORE: Arctic Monkeys and 30 great Later... with Jools Holland appearances


Why is it my heart is open, only when the red light’s glowing?

“This is one of the first songs that we wrote for the album, when I moved to London and met Barney Lister, the producer that I wrote the album with. 

“We were searching for a long time, for the production we wanted and the songs we wanted to write, and then we just stopped trying and just wanted to have fun, and that was the first song that happened. It’s got a Tame Impala, Kylie Minogue influence.

"The lyrics are about me being at a party and meeting somebody that I used to be with, and he had a girlfriend. I was really depressed at the time, and every time we were alone together he was trying it on with me. My defences were down and I was just letting it happen, which is a really terrible thing to do. 

“It’s more about how when you’re in a dark place, your moral compass is a bit off, so it’s been a little heavy lately. That’s what the lyrics are like, it isn’t fair that I’m submitting to this.”


Permanently on my own, I think I miss Glasgow

“Most of the album was written in a wee tiny room in a studio in Brixton, and we hit a wall. We got the opportunity to go this studio in the middle of f***ing nowhere, on this farm. It was very Midsommar vibes, everybody was drinking kombucha, no shoes or socks on. It was very isolated and I was very much missing home. I was in a relationship at the time, and it felt like the world was ending but we had each other. 

“The song is about my relationship with my hometown, and my relationship with that person, and how even though I felt so isolated I could always return to what I knew, which was that person or that place, which was Glasgow. 

“It’s a kinda weird song. I didn’t really know what I was talking about until I got to the Glasgow bit, and I was like ‘oh, this is what it’s about. I miss my family and don’t really know where I settle in anymore because I’ve been travelling so much'. 

“It’s probably one of the more uplifting songs on the album. It’s about finding home in somebody else instead of a place.”


Still I’m drunk enough to play the game/I lean in and you move away, but I still love you all the same

“I feel like a lot of my songs stem from being at a party…I went to a party and my ex was there. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of months, and I was a bit drunk and went up to him, and realised there was this disconnect that I’d never felt before. 

“I quickly realised that he used to carry a wee torch for me and it just wasn’t there, and that life was over. It’s basically about realising that change in somebody and each other and just wanting one last night together. 

“I wrote that in Glasgow. It’s one of the first songs I wrote for the album, before I even knew I was going to make an album. I knew when I made it that I was going to keep it. I just felt that it was special.

“It made me cry every time I’d listen to it. When I sing it now, it still makes me feel the same, even though I’m past the situation."


Remember what you love me for, even when I’m on the floor

“This was the last song I wrote for the album. It's probably the hardest song to talk about.

"I met this new person after this old relationship and I realised quickly they were so unconditionally loving and very open and looked after me, but I was so f***ed up from a previous relationship that I just didn’t know how to accept that kind of love. 

“I’d never been with somebody that wasn’t f***ing shouting in the street or very tumultuous or crying outside nightclubs. This one was very safe, and it was just 'right person, wrong time'.

"The theme of the album is about being changed indefinitely, and I realised from that relationship that it’s because of this (previous) relationship that I couldn’t accept that love from that person. It’s basically just about not being able to be the version of yourself that that person deserves. 

“It’s probably the quietest moment on the album. The production’s airtight, and with the vocals it feels like the mic’s up my arse, it’s that close.

The Herald: 'I wanted to evolve my sound, because you’re only as good as your last game''I wanted to evolve my sound, because you’re only as good as your last game' (Image: Herald Scotland)

“There’s this impulse to make things bigger and faster when you write a song on guitar, but it just never felt true to the story and we just went the other way and made it as quiet and close as possible, and gave the writing room to breathe. 

“It’s a headphones song. The way that the backing vocals are mixed is very strange. It’s probably one of my favourite songs on the album.”


You should have never trust a man who's broken-hearted

“It’s like a ‘f*** you’ song. Basically, I had done something bad in a relationship and I was just being made to feel terrible for it, constantly. I’m not downplaying it, it was pretty bad, but there’s only so long that you can apologise for something.

"It’s basically just saying 'I don’t really care anymore, take me or leave me. I don’t know how to love you anymore when you’re treating me like this'. 

“It’s probably the funkiest song on the album. Upbeat, and kind of like King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar. Dry drums and a wurlitzer, and the strings are f***ing unbelievable on it as well. It’s definitely my ‘f*** you’ moment. A lot of the album I’m on my knees, and trying to make things work, and there’s only so much you can do.

“We played it at the Hydro, and at a couple of gigs, and you can see people instantly get into it.

"It's one of my favourites as well. I love it so much.”

READ MORE: John Lennon, 2Pac and the history of insult songs on You're So Vain's anniversary


It's hard to let go 'cause I can still feel you by my side

“It’s about being in a hotel room, thinking about…when you break up with somebody and you fall asleep and wake up and feel like they’re still there. It’s about the lingering after effect of this specific experience where somebody left me and I just felt a sudden burden of loneliness, as if it was another person in the room with me. 

“It’s a very lush song, like a Burt Bacharach moment. It’s very chill. The studio that I work in, it’s like a wee family in Brixton, and one of the guys that works there is Guy Garvey from Elbow. We became mates over the course of making the album. We’d always get a wee wine and sit together. He’s got so many amazing stories. 

“Barney (Lister) was really close to Guy. The album was almost done and he was like ‘should we ask Guy to sing on this?’, and I was like ‘I mean, aye!’. I think he was eating a curry at reception and he came in and sang on the chorus. If I didn’t tell you that you’d maybe not know he was there, but it’s another wee texture. It was such an amazing experience to hear his voice in a really quiet room like that.

“His voice is so beautiful. He’s a very big man, but it just comes out of him like a wee cherub. I’m a big fan of his writing. Build a Rocket Boys! (Elbow’s fifth album) is one of my favourite albums. The writing’s just jaw-dropping.

“He told me not to change who I was. We just had a laugh together. He’s a normal guy as well and had so much success. He’s a very normal human being, a very chilled man.

"He’s very inspirational as well, because amongst all his success he’s just a normal person, which is very inspirational  because you meet a lot of d***heads. 

“(On Apt 22) There’s strings, there’s horns. It’s a song I’ve always wanted to make. Motown vibes.”


Trying my best to forget you/Are you doing the same on your own?

“That’s a song I’ve had for quite a long time. I used to have sex in the shower with this person a lot. It was our thing.

"Like Apt 22, it’s about the lingering presence of somebody’s absence, in really mundane aspects of your life, like having a shower or sitting on the edge of your bed. It would always take me back to these really visceral experiences in my life. 

“That’s the difficult thing about relationships. It’s the really mundane, quiet parts that are the most heartbreaking. Really devastating things like having a shower. You can’t have a shower without thinking about somebody.

“I’ll walk through the high street and somebody will walk past me who’s wearing the same aftershave as somebody and I’ll be absolutely catatonic for two days. I’ve always been obsessed with the really minute aspects of break-ups. It’s not the big things, it’s the really small things that devastate me the most.”


Cause this is not a ship that could pass in the night/It’s a wreck and I’m drowning, been here all my life

“It’s a song I wrote on the guitar and it’s basically about the negative relationship I’ve had with myself. A lot of the album’s about somebody else and that song’s just about me. 

“I’ve struggled with an inner critic from a young age. I don’t know where it comes from, I’ve just always been a control freak and a perfectionist. The song is me addressing myself, ‘how much do I need to do before this settles?’. 

“I took the song to Barney and it was so depressing, and he was like ‘let’s speed this up, let’s get some Fleetwood Mac drums behind it’, and it just became this euphoric, uplifting track. It’s such an amazing thing about music. Even at your lowest moments it becomes this unifying experience.

“I didn’t really know about Joe for a long time. I just felt it was a bit too close to the bone for me, but now I love it.”


Pick up the speed and cut the brakes

“It’s another quiet song. Blue Car is about realising how much of a relationship revolved around partying and alcohol, and just doing silly things. When you remove that aspect, how much do we even have together?

“It’s a very specific story about a thing that happened. It builds and builds and builds, it’s very cinematic. There’s a lot of strange production aspects. I just like how weird it is. 

“The way we processed the sounds was very unusual. We were putting it through old amps, f***ing them up and putting them through filters, and it just became this weird thing that existed.”


Did those nights even happen at all?

“Moment is about when I got back with somebody that I was with, and quickly realised that it was never going to be the same. There was a change between us. 

“There were wee moments of how it used to be, but then it would always go back to something not making sense. 

“The production is f***ing mad. It’s so upbeat, and probably the poppiest track on the album. It was something that we wrote on the guitar. I was listening to a band called The Radio Dept, and they had a song called Pulling Our Weight. 

“Moment is way quicker. It’s very synth-heavy. I found it a bit weird at first to put it on the album because it’s quite different, but I think it’s a tune.”


Look at the sky as it falls over you/I'm still walking away

“Last Orders is about emotionally checking out of a relationship and just knowing that it’s done. It’s over. It’s about walking away from the relationship. 

“The production of that is a song I’ve always wanted to make. You know that song My Boyfriend’s Back? A bit Motown, with handclaps. 

“The way that the album was built, it’s like me on my knees, and then in the middle getting up, and in the end realising that I can get through it and I’m okay.”


They build a wall around your favourite place/They'll bury you beneath a parking space

“The tracklist is in chronological order in terms of when we wrote them, so the experiences that I was having were start to finish. By the end of the album process, on All Good, I was at the end of it and I was over it, and it was fine.

“The intro of the album opens with strings, and All Good is very string-heavy as well. I wanted to feel like the album was picking you up, holding you close then putting you down, and All Good is the moment when it puts you down, like it’s all going to be okay. 

“That’s what that song is about. The lyric is ‘Even though nothing’s ever easy, I can promise you it’s all good’, and I think I just needed to hear that at the end of this album.

The Herald: Joesef holding a copy of Permanent Damage, which came out on Friday January 13Joesef holding a copy of Permanent Damage, which came out on Friday January 13 (Image: Joesef/Instagram) 

READ MORE: Joesef: Scotland's soulful star on 'cathartic' new album and Elton John's support

“It was quite devastating to relive all these experiences writing it, and at the end just be like, even though all that’s happened and it’s terrible and very traumatic, I’ve come through the other side and it’s all going to be okay. 

“It’s kinda Northern Soul. It’s a drum sample and very string-heavy, and there’s horns and backing vocals. I didn’t realise how much of the album had been affected by the music I listened to when I was a kid. A lot of Northern Soul and Motown. There is a little thread of that going through the album, along with the more indie stuff. 

“I just think it’s such a beautiful song. A guy called Sam Beste played piano on it, and it’s just f***ing unbelievable. There’s a solo at the end when the strings are coming out and it’s just jaw-dropping. He played keys for Amy Winehouse.

"It’s just the best thing ever.”

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