After spending the past decade as a devoted follower of Major League Baseball, Ross is reconnecting with songwriting and performance.
“My serious pursuit of the songwriting craft went on hiatus when I began teaching and then become addicted to baseball,” admits Fredericton musician Joe Ross. “Before that, my early to mid-twenties were quite fulfilling. I recorded an EP, formed a band, and played a number of shows.”
His self-imposed hiatus found Ross shifting his focus from playing music in half empty bars on weekends to teaching and coaching student athletes in soccer, badminton, basketball, and volleyball on a near fanatic level.
“I refereed over 80 games of basketball from Minto to McAdam to squirrel away money to buy an engagement ring,” said Ross. “I don’t remember that year at all. The stress likely snipped away at those synapses which would help me to think back and laugh at it now.”
All this happened back in the fall of 2007. The following summer after that exhausting school year, Ross’s interest in music remained largely on the shelf and baseball become all-consuming. A chance encounter with a Jay’s game on the radio led to a seven year baseball bender that he’s still feeling the effects from.
“We didn’t have cable, so one evening, when I needed a break from my book, I flipped on the radio and stumbled upon a Blue Jays broadcast and caught a few innings of Allan Ashby’s colour commentary,” said Ross. “Before I knew it, 2015 hit. That was the summer I watched or listened to every single game. With 162 games averaging at least 2 and a half hours each, I spent roughly 455 hours consuming baseball.
“I think back to that and can get a little disgusted, however, I still contend that Dan Shulman calling nine innings falls only slightly below Frank Sinatra singing Strangers in the Night. If I do catch a game now, I need to catch the whole game. When one’s favourite team is down a few or many runs for eight innings, no work of Sophocles or Shakespeare holds more cathartic power than a two out rally,” he said.
Somewhere between his days, evenings and weekends spent teaching – and of course his cherished time with the teams of the MLB – song ideas continued to present themselves.
“There were always song ideas needing attention, but I started to know more about Wins Above Replacement than the theoretically correct chord needed to write a proper bridge,” said Ross. “Every fall I would walk around during Harvest, and think ‘come on man, pull yourself together. You have songs tugging at you.’ That, just as the cannon of another school year was set to fire me up into the air for 10 months before I crashed on the ground, rolled around, and looked through the dust to see the Blues Tent up there again.”
Through all the exams, lesson plans, and ninth inning nail-biters that occupied his past decade or more, Ross did occasionally made it out to play a few songs on local stages as long as he could be back at home in time for the first pitch.
“Last spring I willed myself to focus on my song writing again,” he said. “It takes a tremendous amount of work to shape an idea that seemingly comes from the air into a finished product. I employed the use of syllable and metrical patterns to my writing, and this gave me the discipline to drag all of the melodies that for years bounced around in my head into a new batch of songs.
“I also become more serious about my tone and made some additions to my meagre gear that resulted in a sound with which I am happy,” he said. “This past summer was the real turning point though. Instead of thinking that the world owed me some free time after a rigorous 10 months as an English teacher, I set aside a big chunk of time each day to practice. I then tracked many of my songs onto an old digital recorder, and workshopped different arrangements. I would share some of these with my younger brothers to pretend I had an audience.”
With another season of baseball slowly winding down, music now occupies a bit more of his time. This weekend Ross returns to The Capital stage for a show on October 13 with Digital Circus and New England noise rockers Weakened Friends.
And while his fanaticism is now in check (he admits to only watching two Jays’ games over the summer), there is still a part of him that wonders if the Jays could have had a better year if only he was tuned in and was a bit more supportive.
“They sucked, no big deal, right? Not quite. I followed that team religiously since their hopeless years, and willed them to move from mediocrity to the wonderful 2015 and 2016 seasons, Pat Solitano from Silver Linings Playbook like,” he said. “So, in fact, I feel tremendously guilty I was playing my little songs instead of willing the Jays to the Wildcard game. If I was all in, maybe Josh Donaldson wouldn’t have torn his calf muscle, maybe Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman wouldn’t have fallen off of a cliff, and maybe Troy Tulowitzki wouldn’t have gone all David Wright on us. I don’t know.
“I do know I’m proud of my songs, though, and look forward to October 13.”
Joe Ross+Digital Circus+Weakened Friends | Oct. 13 | The Capital Complex | Doors at 9 | Show at 10 | View Event