It’s been 25 years since Joan Osborne was all over the radio with her ubiquitous hit “One of Us,” off her 1995 solo album Relish. Since then, she’s cemented her status as vital songwriter and thrilling live performer, releasing a string of genre-bending albums, touring with the Dead, and doing a stint as the lead vocalist of the band Trigger Hippy.
On Friday, the 58-year-old Osborne releases her 12th album Trouble and Strife — her first record of all new material in six years. Like its title suggests, it offers a stark assessment of the state of the country and the world at large. Ahead of the album’s arrival, Osborne premieres a music video for the track “Hands Off,” which superimposes the song’s defiant lyrics over images of protest marches.
The video for “Hands Off” interweaves the lyrics with images of various protest marches. The song isn’t about any one specific cause though, is it?
It is about corruption in general and me just being sick of all the corruption that’s on display. Whether that’s the oil companies taking land that doesn’t belong to them and pumping pollutants into the atmosphere, or whether it’s Harvey Weinstein or any of these other guys who have been using their positions of power and influence to abuse the people that they work with.
It was me getting to the point of saying, “This is ridiculous and you need to call people out for this. You can’t just sit back and say nothing.” So that’s where the song came from. As we were talking about [the video], everything was starting to happen with George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives movement and people getting into the streets. I felt like even though the song was not specifically written about the Black Lives movement, it did include that in its message. And it could be a useful tool in this moment to speak about that.
You say you wrote it a few years ago, but it could have easily been written last week. Sadly, we’re still on that same path.
Yeah, that’s the situation that we’re in right now. There’s a lot of people who are very corrupt, and we as a citizenry have to do whatever we can to combat that corruption and to get rid of the people who are abusing their power. And then we can get to work to try to fix all this stuff that is staring us in the face, like climate change.
Your last album was a collection of Bob Dylan songs. Trouble and Strife is your first record of original songs in six years. What inspired you to return to writing?
It was partly just feeling like I needed to respond to this moment in our country’s history. I’m a citizen and I can do a lot of things that any other citizen could do, but I’m also somebody who makes music and there’s something about the power of music that I think can be very useful to us in this moment. I felt like it was part of my responsibility as someone who can do something, who has a platform, who has a certain amount of privilege. I need to use that in order to try to create some kind of positive change…. Music can be a place where you can renew yourself and you can be re-energized and then you can go back and face the challenges that we’re all facing.
It’s worth noting that the album isn’t devoid of fun. You put a capstone on your stint with the band Trigger Hippy by including “Meat and Potatoes,” an unreleased song you recorded when you were still in the group.
That’s the oldest song. Sadly, that situation ended up not working out because they needed somebody who could be there all the time. And I couldn’t move to Nashville. I have a kid at school up here [in upstate New York]. It just wasn’t going to work out, but it was great fun to do it while it lasted. And it was great fun to write this with Nick Govrik. He’s got such a natural ability to come up with these amazing grooves and greasy, funky stuff…. I really wanted to use the song for this record and they were very generous to let me have it. A lot of the other stuff on the record is a bit weightier. I didn’t want you to sit down and listen to this record and feel like you were hearing a lecture. We had a lot of joy here and a lot of fun, so that’s why I felt like this belonged with the others.
You’re have a socially distanced outdoor concert coming up. Have you performed since the pandemic?
No. This is going to be our first show with an audience since March. We’re partly petrified because, do I even remember how to do this? But we can’t wait to get back at it.