When Joe Pug snuck into a Chicago studio in 2007 to record his debut EP, he had more misgivings than songs. “My most vivid recollections from those sessions,” he says with fifteen years’ hindsight, “involve sitting in the studio between takes and thinking to myself, I have no idea what I’m doing. I can barely play guitar. I can barely play harmonica. I can barely sing on key. I can barely keep time. But there was still something about these songs—something extra about these songs.” They were austere and rough, wounded and bruised, yet they were full of vivid, visceral imagery and turns of phrase both clever and caustic, all delivered in a voice that came across as convincing precisely because it was so untrained and guileless.
A lifetime later, Nation of Heat remains his most popular release, with more than 20 million streams on Spotify alone, and he keeps these songs in his setlist even now, as though he’s still trying to puzzle out their implications. That’s partly why he decided to revisit and reinterpret them from a place of experience and perspective. Nation of Heat Revisited sounds livelier, rowdier, punchier, but also more sophisticated, headier. “It’s how I would’ve wanted the record to sound in the first place if I’d had the money and the ability to do it this way. But I knew this album couldn’t just be the original songs with a bar band behind me as I played an acoustic guitar. I didn’t want to just add a rhythm section. It had to be a complete reimagining.”
Nation of Heat Revisited isn’t meant to replace Nation of Heat. Rather, Pug intends this new album to comment on his debut and to sum up everything that has followed it. It’s more thoughtful than a greatest hits package, more revealing than a memoir, and it retains the extra-ness of these songs. “I’ve never been far away from them,” he says. “These songs are how I’ve paid my rent and my mortgage. They’re how I’ve bought my kids diapers. When I got out on the road, these are the songs that people want to hear, and they’re the songs I want to give people. I’ve spent more than a decade playing them in different cities all over America, all over the English-speaking world, and I trust that they’re able to convey what I want them to convey. For a certain type of listener, I know they’re going to connect.”