Joe Keery can’t stop talking about Stanley Tucci. We’re 20 minutes from our cafe on the Lower East Side, and because the Tooch is one of my favorite topics of conversation tooit hurts me physically to get the conversation back on track.
Direction. Let’s talk about the realization. We were talking about getting behind the camera when Keery started gushing over Tucci, whose 1996 film Big night inspired young people stranger things actor to pursue cinema. Then there’s Tucci new memoir, To tastea mix of recipes and autobiography, which led Keery to the idea of a cookbook album concoction – like maybe one day, somehow, create a project that mixes recipes and his music.
“Well, not a cookbook,” Keery says. “How can we mix genres? What he does there, in a really great way, is: how do you mix a cookbook and a story about your life? No one has done it the same way, not that I’ve read. (As a dedicated rom-com lover, I tell him to read Stomach pains by Nora Ephron.)
Keery makes a long list of films he would like to make one day. A moving family story like Big night. An original adventure film. Or even a sizzling thriller like Somnambulist. I tell him to combine the three for something original, a mixture of genres like To taste– and he seems eager to take up the challenge.
Still, as exciting as all of this is and as excited as I am about Keery’s passion for directing, we’re here to talk about his new album. DECIDE-yes, the popular actor also makes music – and stranger things.
Despite just turning 30, Keery can’t help but unleash his inner child when something excites him, spinning conversations with buzzing energy and a carousel of topics to discuss with enthusiasm. The actor is calm and gentle, except when talking about his idols (Charlie XCX and Stanley Tucci, of course) or reminiscing about his college days in Chicago.
Propelled to fame in his early twenties, thanks to his goofy smile, flowing hair and crush-worthy charisma on stranger thingsKeery has now adopted the stage name “Djo” (pronounced “Joe”, as Django Unchained) for his musical career.
“It was a way of releasing music under my name without people knowing directly that it was me. It’s very confusing,” Keery admits, siding with all of us who thought Djo might be a DJ named “O.”
So, is Djo different from Joe? The names are similar. Homophones, in fact. He tells me that his most memorable role, stranger things‘ the charming teenager Steve Harrington, is similar to his real personality, but Steve is not him. “It’s not hard to get into character,” Keery says. “Because we spent so long working on this show, it feels like a shade of me.”
Unlike his more notable screen roles, as Steve, Kurt in the fast-paced road thriller Partyor the “dirty stripper cop” in free guy, Keery’s musical persona isn’t actually a character in itself. It’s just a name he came up with for Spotify to make sure those who listen to him don’t think of Steve fighting the Demogorgon every time they hear him sing odes to his youth.
“It’s not like I’m singing all this music from a character’s perspective. It’s all me,” Keery says. “It was just a way of disassociating myself from myself. I feel like with the show, I’m kind of a character, because of the internet. I didn’t want this character to affect people when they listen to the music, so releasing it with its own character is a way to give it its own space.
But if Djo is his musical character, and Steve/Kurt/Stripper Cop are the screen versions of the star, who is Joe Keery?
He’s definitely more than our internet boyfriend. In fact, Keery is a little tired of being reduced to one aspect of his life. Yes, it’s her hair. No, he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.
“It’s really ridiculous. It’s not something I have control over,” he said, shouting his stranger things stylist. “It’s just internet fodder being carried over and now attached to me. I can’t really kick it. I have a career, so I have to say, ‘Who cares? I’m taking it.’ But that’s not something that interests me at all either. Yet people seem to really care and fixate on it, for some reason. It’s so stupid, honestly.
Almost every interview Keery has done, including this one, has a few paragraphs devoted to his hair. Usually the hair take the whole first paragraph. He did securities when he confessed that he didn’t wash his hair. Keery has put up with these interviews and trending pieces over and over again, but clearly, he’s had enough of his mane taking precedence over his performances and his music.
Throughout the first part of our interview, he leaves his hat. It is only after overcoming this hair debacle that he takes it off to let his tousled moppy breathe. He wears hats around Manhattan to protect his identity.
In his next album DECIDE, Keery riffs on that hairy frustration in one of the tracks. His new single “Gloom”, a fast and angry song in which Keery shares his frustrations about bad friends, he references the speech: “Your insults don’t affect me with my favorite coat / I know my hair was beautiful in the bathroom at the bar,” he sings.
“It’s like a cheeky nod to the camera. Everyone asks me about it. It’s kind of…” he puts the back of his hand under his chin, “moment. This song is kind of like a stiff attitude track on the upper lip.
And yet, Keery keeps talking about those clumps, because he knows that’s what people want to hear. He also knows that his self-esteem is not limited to his hair. In the last line of his upcoming album, Keery sings about wanting to be “somebody”, but he says he only found fame when he sought inner peace.
“Really, what it’s about is that everyone wants to be respected, you know what I mean?” he explains. “But it’s kind of an endless journey, if you’re trying to get other people’s approval. Because this ambiguous approval? You will never get it, even if you reach the highest of peaks. It has to come from somewhere inside.
The album will be released on September 16 and is the perfect set of funky tunes to listen to on brisk autumn walks. He doesn’t explode in anger, but plenty of lyrics grapple with the tedious task of growing old. Keery spent the last months of his twenties developing the album, an ode to his more playful younger years.
“You think about your life in different times, I guess. It’s easy to define them by location, for me. I think back to my time in Boston as a kid. I think of my time in Chicago as a young man. And then I think of my time in Atlanta, my beginnings in professional life,” he says. “I feel like the thing that took me a long time to realize is that it’s not like you’re a kid and you’re growing. You’re still growing. You’re still growing. to change.
“He is now the Internet’s boyfriend, but after his new role in Fargo, he may become the Internet’s husband.”
Keery sees aging as evolution, and that’s what it’s all about. For example: he is the Internet’s boyfriend now, but after his new role in Fargomaybe it will become the internet husband. In the first song from his new album, “Runner”, Keery sings “People never change / But I gotta try”, a farewell to some of his younger days, but a celebration of his own personal growth.
Keery misses his days in Chicago, where he came into music with his band Post Animal, alongside alternative bands like Twin Peaks and Whitney. He wouldn’t be the performer, musician, or person he is today if he hadn’t spent some of the most important years of his life in the city. But now, when he returns to visit, just as he has grown and changed, so has the city.
“It teaches you to appreciate this time in your life,” Keery says. “It’s also like: wake up to your daily life and appreciate what you’re going through right now. It could end at any moment. But easier said than done, man! That’s one thing to do. full-fledged that you will have to try to do.
The actor had to venture to Los Angeles, the most recent “era” of his life, to record this album. He can’t wait for fans to (hopefully) listen to him again and again to find new sounds hidden in the nooks and crannies of his psychedelic beats; I definitely went back and listened to his Tame Impala-esque tracks after our interview. Listen carefully to the album’s final song, “Slither,” and you’ll hear a cup tinkle. It’s the sound of him tapping the famous Marvin Gaye urinal in the legendary Sound Factory in Los Angeles.
“There are some fun sounds here,” Keery said simply, laughing. Again, that inner child comes out.
There are a number of pop culture influences on the album: the humor of Tim and Ericas good as Nathan Fielder; Jacob Emrani’s ubiquitous LA billboards; and Breakup for his creepy, pale/neon office. Butstranger things is not one. Keery is surrounded by a handful of young musicians on set (Maya Hawke and Finn Wolfhard…even Gaten Matarazzo and Sadie Sink have had their turn on Broadway), but they rarely collaborate. Instead, Keery sees his days act out stranger things as an energy drink for the musical side of his brain.
“You do the acting thing and you’re a little piece of a big puzzle. You can release some control,” he says. other side. It’s like, ‘Okay, I want to do this now, have total control and take this into my own hands and see it through to the end, and understand it.’ So they feed off each other.
Keery is much older than his character Steve, especially since stranger things took long breaks between seasons. It is difficult for him to act upside down. “I feel a bit disconnected from this age, because I’m 10 years older,” he admits. “So that’s a little weird.”
The actor has to go through several periods of his life, all the way to Chicago, to enter into the state of mind of a freshly graduated high school student. It is not easy. It’s hard to pretend to be young when you miss your university years. Keery’s new album is about that: mourning your youthful days, but finding ways to cope with growing up.
“It’s sad for me in many ways, to look back on things that have passed and realize they’ll never come back,” he says. “It took me a long time, especially thinking about Chicago, to say to myself, ‘Man, it was amazing to be part of this team and this community. It won’t be the same. It’s a sad fact, but that’s also the way life works, and that’s a beautiful thing too.