The story of Joe’s Truck Stop and its founder Joe Macheret is an inherently American story. A first-generation American who found a profound love of American music at an early age. From bluegrass, to country, to funk, Macheret, a son of Russian and Romanian immigrants, fell in love with the tradition of telling stories through music and songwriting.
His bluegrass and country tunes aren’t these grand love letters to America nor these false idealistic stories. These songs are experiential. They are true stories about Macheret and his life, from the mundane to the exciting tales from the road while touring with Joe’s Truck Stop and his other band, The Tillers. He writes about the beauty he finds in life's little moments throughout this country.
Now, on their second record, Joe’s Truck Stop expands on those stories and their sound. Compared to their 2018 debut, American Dreams, their new album titled, Yonderings focuses on the stories of travel for the musician over these past few years.
CincyMusic got to catch up with Macheret to discuss the new record and what he and his band have been up to since we’ve last heard from them.
What has Joe’s Truck Stop been up to since your 2018 release, American Dreams?
“Well, we did a whole bunch of touring,” said Joe Macheret, the namesake and founder of the bluegrass/ Honky Tonk act. “Really, up until the pandemic, we were hitting the road pretty hard… We were constantly working, and I was writing new songs this whole time. I had a tour booked up through April of 2019, and then, of course, everything shifted and changed as far as goals and expectations for us.”
I know you’re also in The Tiller’s, so what makes a Joe’s Truck Stop song versus some of your other work?
“I’ve been in The Tiller’s since 2015, and we’ve released one album since I’ve been in the band,” said Macheret. “It’s interesting, The Tiller’s have such an established sound that I love, and it’s part of the reason I wanted to join the band. However, I don’t write any of the songs for The Tillers. I contribute more as an instrumentalist. That’s not to say we are going to be playing songs of mine in the future, but Joe’s Truck Stop is solely my own original work. A lot of it comes from real stories I’ve lived, moments of my life that I may have twisted certain details to take the stories to new places. The other difference is that in its simplest form, Joe’s Truck Stop is me and can also be a pretty big band. I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of talented friends who I’ve been able to work with over the years, and that’s really the difference between Joe’s Truck Stop.”
One of the significant differences between American Dreams and Yonderings is the showcasing of the different musicians you’ve brought into the studio. This album seems to focus more on the traditional instrumental aspects of bluegrass. Is that something you set out to do on this record?
“Well, I came into music and performing as an instrumentalist,” said Macheret. “And when Joe’s Truck Stop actually started, I didn’t front the band. I was a sideman more than anything. When it started, it wasn’t necessarily “my band.” I was one of the founding members, but it wasn’t just me… and over the years, I began to focus more on the songwriting aspect. So when I began writing songs for Yonderings, I began thinking to myself how much I love old bluegrass, country records, or even old funk records where there would be these amazing instrumentals alongside. I loved that, and I don’t see a lot of that today, so it’s something that I would love to continue the tradition of.”
After listening to this record, you can hear those Outlaw Country Funk influences and the Bluegrass influence. What were some of your main influences while making this record?
“Within the fold of Outlaw and 70s’ country, I also really like more of the singer-songwriter country artists,” said Macheret. “I love those Texas songwriters like Blaze Foley. I love James Tally, and Townes (Van Zant). So as far as songwriting goes, that’s a lot of my influences. Artists like Billy Joe Schafer and of course Willie (Nelson) there’s a lot of them. As far as the Bluegrass, that’s been a big part of my life. That’s a lot of the music I fell in love with at an early age. Joe’s Truck Stop started as a straight traditional Appalachian String Band. We just played fast fiddle and banjo tunes and rocked out. So this time around, I wanted to strip things down and have a bare-bones sound for the album. So that was something I wanted to incorporate, along with some of that country funk stuff. I’ve always sought out that intersection where country and funk meet. You look at the first Parliament record, Osmium, “Little Ole Country Boy,” and Sly and The Family Stone are yodeling on “Stoned Cowboy,” I always wanted to find those moments.
Those are inherently American sounds, Funk and Country. However, Appalachian music is also deeply American. What has been your experience as an Ohio artist carrying on those Appalachian traditions?
“I think it’s a really common misconception in the area,” said Macheret. “I’ve had people ask me where I’m from on tour, I’d say Cincinnati, and they’d be like, Ohio? How’d you learn about bluegrass?” Internet aside, I live across the river from Kentucky…. Then they’d meet other members of my band who were from Kentucky but were born in Ohio, and it’d confuse them. People have a lot of misconceptions about Ohio. I think whether or not you believe Cincinnati’s a part of the Foothills of Appalachia or not. You cannot deny the influence of Appalachian culture on this part of the country. Because a lot of people from Appalachia moved to Cincinnati, it really changed the culture of this city… I think it’s sometime unfortunate that Cincinnati doesn’t get seen for what it is as a part of Appalachia.”
How did you come to fall in love with this sound?
“Well, my mom is from Romania, and my dad is from Russia,” said Macheret. “They weren’t very much aware of these different American music styles. But when I was a teenager, I was playing the fiddle, at the time I called it a violin and I wasn’t enjoying playing any classical music. At the time, I saw a pamphlet for a “Fiddle Camp,” at the time it just looked like something else I could do with the instrument so I went down to Tennessee to a Fiddle Camp and that was my introduction to bluegrass.”
“Still and Silence” and “Midnight on the Ohio” are those personal songs? Or are they just odes to Ohio and experiences you’ve had here?
“Still and Silence” is a true story pretty much all the way through. “Midnight on the Ohio,” was a true story and a song written by me and my buddy Joe Wunderle. Him and I wrote that last February. There was a blizzard and we walk down on the river drinking a big jug of wine and we just kind of hung out… We started singing this song and went home and wrote it the next day.”
What has stopped you from going down to places like Nashville and trying to make it there? Why is Cincinnati so important to you?
“I have some of my closest friends here,” said Macheret. “Before the pandemic, I was also playing in the Northern Kentucky Bluegrass Band every Tuesday. You know the Pandemic changed a lot for everyone. I don’t see the same musicians anymore. Our music community has been spliced up a bit, it's detached. That isn’t something we can’t come back from though. It’s gonna be tough, in other places where the music scene is a bigger part of the local economy like Nashville it's a lot easier… For now though I’m happy with Cincinnati and I’d love to help see (our music scene) get back.”
What’s the overarching theme of Yondering’s?
“The first record had a lot to do with being a first generation American… This was the dream of my Grandma,” said Macheret. “For me to be traveling on the road and to do what I love for a living. I feel like on on this album, the concept of these songs and the overarching theme of this album is traveling. Whether its traveling across the country to new places, like in the songs “Wishin’ on a Star,” or “Still and Silence.” I’ve realized its not all one dimensional, traveling across the country. It’s also about traveling between life and death, its about rebirth with nature. There’s a song about my Grandma traveling across the ocean looking for a better living. I just realized sitting at home one day that the theme was about traveling. I looked over at my bookshelf and saw the Louis L’Amour book about traveling on the frontier called Yondering, and I thought, “That’s it, thats gonna be the name of the album.”’
Is “Gas Station Sushi” a metaphor, or is it a first hand experience?
“It’s all the metaphors,” Mecheret chuckled. “It’s about existential crisis of sorts. I’ll spare you the whole shpeal. It’s really about finding ways to except who you are and the mistakes that you’ve made, the person you’ve been and the person you can be. It about finding things that make you feel good about yourself. To make due in this world you really have to find love. If it works for you to think, “Man I’ve messed up at times but at least I haven’t eaten gas station sushi.”