Lyricist, track and field coach and non-fiction author, Joe Puleo has joined forces with singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, Big Star, R.E.M) for a five song EP, Ten Years To Home: Ken Stringfellow Imagines Puleo to be released June 18th. The collaboration between the two songwriters began during quarantine -- they digitally sent music back and forth as they created the smart, melodic, pop songs that would become the EP. The Posies drummer Frankie Siragusa sent his contributions from his studio in LA, adding percussion to four of the songs.
Joe Puleo has been a writer all of his life. While Ten Years To Home is his first sonic release, he’s been working on crafting songs with local Philadelphia musician, Eli Wenger (Los Halos) for the past seven years for their band’s (Bannister Effect) debut release this September. However, none of the songs have come together as quickly and easily as the material he’s written with Ken Stringfellow. Inspired by track and field national champion, Gabriele Gruenwald and her battle with and ultimate passing from cancer in 2019, Joe was moved to write about her courageous memory.
“Our first and initially the only song I planned to work together with Ken on was the song I wrote in honor of Gabriele Gruenwald, ‘Not Today,” says Joe. I had read a story about her death that included the anecdote regarding when the doctor told her husband that Gabriele’s vitals were poor and she was probably going to die soon, he relayed the message to her. She responded, ‘Not Today.’ The voiceover before the song is a quote from Gabriele, ‘I hope people see that you can still make something beautiful and powerful out of a bad situation."
“With ‘Not Today’ I just heard the guitar, like it is now, as soon as I opened the text file from Joe for the first time,” remembers Ken. “Same key, same tempo. Kind of a Dylan vibe which was a great way to get those unorthodox and inconsistently sized lines to flow. I swear as soon as I opened Joe's mail with the lyrics on the day I was scheduled to work on that song for the first time, the music was there... as fast as I could read his words for the first time I heard the melodies, chords... everything. A bolt from the blue. It was all I could do to find the chords on the guitar as fast I could hear them. But it's like I knew the songs already.”
“After hearing how well Ken handled ‘Not Today’ (I cried the first time I heard the final chorus), I asked him if he would collaborate on some more songs, Joe recalls. “Maybe we could do an EP using the same working template we did for ‘Not Today?’ Ken asked, “more songs like we just did, producing them from the ground up?” My answer was, “Yes. You can create them anywhere the lyrics lead you.” His reply, “incredible.” Ken was on board and the EP, Ten Years to Home became a reality. I sent him six lyrics to review. He selected four and he had carte blanche to change the song’s lyrics and only made a few small edits.”
And thus, an official collaboration between the two writers was born. “There's a lot of freedom in just letting a lyric be what it is,” muses Ken. “I edit myself quite a bit, and there are so many turns and phrases here in Joe's lyrics I probably would not have been brave enough -- especially some of the busier lines -- to keep if it were me as the author. The speed with which everything came together is a great example of how to not overthink. And I love the results.”
The EP opens with the jangle pop, “Overcoming Gravity.” “I wrote this song in response to a writing challenge with our house painter/friend/musician,” says Joe. “I thought it would be cool to write an EP called the House Painting Chronicles, so we agreed to finish a song each by the time he finished painting the kitchen. Ultimately, I completed the song (he didn’t.) At the time the song was finished, I wasn’t sure what it was about or where the idea came from. Ultimately, it’s about owning your own shit and maturing. I still have little understanding of why I wrote the lyrics at the time I did.”
“To actually overcome gravity you need velocity, so it seemed like an up-tempo song, and it's easier for me to write up-tempo songs on the guitar rather than piano,” enthuses Ken.
Piano driven, “The Strongest Man in Town,” "came after ruminating on the future of the relationship I was in at the time (and still am),” Joe recollected. “I met my current fiancée and we started dating. She was recently separated and struggling through a divorce. I respected her deeply and really cared for her and her children’s well-being once I got to know her. She was reticent to jump into a relationship with someone who wasn’t necessarily her type. Her friends asked, ‘how did your type work out the first time?’ This song is my rebuttal to her ‘type-casting.’By the way, I have lots of tattoos, just not barbed-wire ones."
“Measured in Threes’ read like a ballad, for which piano is well suited; I heard the melody for the first line in my head before I even started playing... so it was a matter of trying to keep my fingers up with my head,” enthuses Ken.
“It’s about my divorce and choosing my kids (three) over my marriage, says Joe. “Definitely the correct choice, my kids’ love saved me from slipping into depression. I think Ken got it perfect with the piano and the soaring chorus.”
“My Odyssey’ could be the title track and references the ten-year trek Odysseus took home from war,” recalls Joe. “It’s been ten years since the end of my marriage. What I realized is that the Odyssey is actually a story about father and son, so I kept that in the back of my mind until I was ready to write the song. I used some direct bits from Homer’s Odyssey.”
The EP closes with the first track written and recorded for the project, “Not Today,” Puleo’s moving tribute to Gabriele Gruenwald.