Musician Joe Shields Blends Humor, Cartoons and Triumph into a Tapestry of Songs
Singer-songwriter Joe Shields (aka Joe Cartoon) never thought he would end up as an award-winning musician. As an animator and cartoonist, Shields was doing just fine until he hit a wall one day, creatively, along with a major health scare that set him back a few years.
Shields will perform at the Orchard Street Pump House March 17 at 7:00 p.m. Fellow Michigan-based musician Steven Trosin will open the show.
“In 2000 and into 2001, cartooning and animating got old for me after an adrenal tumor landed me in the hospital.” Shields said. I was burnt out, and I floundered for years. It was 2008-2009 when I bought a guitar and the creative flame became reignited.”
At the urging of a friend, Shields was encouraged to attend the Lambs Retreat for Song Writers, an artists’ retreat in Harbor Springs, to help get the creative juices flowing again. It worked, and he has yet to look back.
“The retreat was way out of my comfort zone,” Shields said. “It was extremely challenging, and I had a blast. It was that retreat, and returning every year since, that has kept me inspired and motivated to write songs.”
As a cartoonist, Shields is best known by his characters “The Gerbil,” “Lumpy the No-Legged Dog,” a fictional family known as “Thuh Greenfields,” and “Joemamma.” Often in a blender, or in a microwave. It’s not uncommon to find everyday pop culture characters in a blender, or in a microwave, but it all plays into Shields’ blend of dark humor, which also comes out in his music.
The Alto, Michigan-based Shields also records under the moniker Cousin Joe Twoshacks, and his most recent project, “Rocks and Toads,” features twelve of Shields’ songs with twelve different animators.
Shields cites Muddy Waters, Neil Young, and Iggy Pop as some of his influences, and it shows in his blend of bluesy-folk Americana. Most of his songs are about having a good time with trout fishing, beer, and lost love. One song in particular tells the story of a one night stand gone awry, and someone losing a kidney.
“There is, in fact, some truth buried in my songs at various levels.” Shields said. “Sometimes it might be obvious, and sometimes it may be subtler. I write songs about love lost and found, hippie-chicks, the Brooklyn Bridge, and stolen kidneys. You know, the regular stuff.”
The backwoods based humor, combined with Shields’ masterful guitar picking landed him the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Festival award in 2016, an award Shields found validating.
“Kerrville was completely unexpected, and I am still amazed that not only did I end up at the top, but I also got to do a tour with the five other winners,” Shields said. “They are all amazing, and brilliant singer-songwriters. It was an honor for me to share the stage with them.”
Regarding Kerrville, Shields went on to add:
“I am extremely proud of the accomplishment as well, because, man, I just never thought in a million years that this could happen.” Shields said “It is a songwriting contest, and they want good songs. So, it was validating to say the least.”
The singer-songwriter recently wrapped up recording a new album in Texas, which Shields assures is on its way soon. Until then, expect to see Shields touring around the country spreading his humor in songs.
Dudley “Smitty” Smith and partner Kristin McCool help to book shows for the Pump House. Both were initially surprised at the quality of Shields’ music, and decided he was a must-have for a show in East Lansing.
“We’ve known of Joe Cartoon the great animator and humorist for a while, but only recently discovered Joe Shields and his singer-songwriter self,” Smith said. “We were surprised by the dark humor of his songs, combined with very strong songwriting.”
“These are not just funny little ditties.” Smith added. “They stand up to some of the best songs we have ever heard.”
What should patrons of his show at the Pump House expect, exactly? According to Shields, you will not leave disappointed.
“A Joe Shields show looks like a guy on a stool with a guitar, but it feels like a train about to leave the tracks at any moment,” Shields said. “If I do my job right, you might laugh a lot, cry a little, and at least one time later that week, you will quote me. Trust me, you will be admired for it. Come on out and let me tell you a few stories.”
More information on concerts at the Pump House, is available here.
The Pump House is located at 368 Orchard Street. Doors open at 6:30, Music at 7pm, and there’s a suggested donation $15, with all money going to the artist
Shields will also appear at The MSU Broad's Acoustic Lunch on March 17th at 12:30. Admission is free.