Once in a while, you have to be a little out of tune to find your way. This was the case for folk troubadour Joe Pug, anyway, as he toiled away in a quest to create the songs that would comprise his upcoming LP, Windfall — and, in particular, the wistfully-strummed ballad “If Still It Can’t Be Found,” premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone Country.
“I had been in a bit of a songwriting rut, just sitting in my house with the guitar in my hands playing the same chords over and over,” Pug says. “To wake myself up, I went out and got one of those ‘free-if-you-move-it’ Craigslist pianos. When I got it back to my place, I sat down and ‘If Still It Can’t Be Found’ just kind of flowed out. A week later, I hired a piano tuner and he just laughed when he played the first note. It was so out of tune, that it was a half-step flat. The demo I recorded was in B flat, but I thought it was in B.”
The final song is anything but flat, however. With help from a little mellotron playing by Wilco’s Pat Sansone, who turned Pug’s initial key-based melody into a striking backdrop for his vulnerable vocals, it showcases the singer’s unique and achingly honest point of view that spins lyrics into folk poetry.
“Joe has the uncanny ability to write a song that feels like it’s been there always, and ‘If Still It Can’t Be Found’ is one of those,” says Sansone. “I was really honored when he asked me to contribute to the recording of this truly beautiful and deeply soulful song.”
Out on March 10th, Windfall is Pug’s third studio album, but it almost never came to be. After years of touring relentlessly, he’d come to a crossroads: His music was connecting with fans, but he was losing touch with himself — with his personal relationships, his writing, even his general sense of happiness. It took decamping to Lexington, Kentucky, for the recording process — after a sizeable breather — to refocus on exactly what it was he loved about being an artist, and to open himself up to the cathartic impact that the creative process can hold.
“[If Still It Can’t Be Found] was one of the first ones that I wrote for the album,” recalls Pug, “and I think in a strange way, it was an unconscious set of instructions for myself.”
With lyrics such as “If it’s not around this corner, it’s around the next,” the introspective song urges listeners to cling to what matters but let go of the rest — and it proves that there’s sometimes no such thing as the wrong key.