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'Mars' a destination on Portland indie rocker's new album

It’s Monday in Portland and Tuesday in New Zealand, and Jerry Joseph is walking in Auckland and talking about his music career that has taken him to every continent except Africa and produced more than 30 records and 250 original songs with bands and as a solo artist and ... there must be a song in there somewhere, huh?

After all, Joseph’s latest album, “By the Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars,” was partly written in Afghanistan while he worked with local boys who wanted to play heavy metal on guitar. Pretty random stuff.

It was during his time in Afghanistan, volunteering at an underground music camp, as well as visits to Paris and Ireland, where Joseph went all existential, remembering when his young son told him that he would be in heaven by the time humans even arrived at Mars, “a sobering thought” for his 54-year-old self (and he turns 55 on April 19).

But he doesn’t doubt humans can reach Mars before he dies.

COURTESY: TONY MOREY - Jerry Joseph, a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, returns to Portland, his home, to launch album 'By the Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars.'“I’ve always been good about writing about darkness, and I think I’m good at it,” says the indie rocker Joseph, a 2015 inductee into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. “My heroes are Nick Cave and Elvis Costello, and I’m trying to write things more spiritual and magical.”

So he wrote songs for the album, including “Mars.”

“That song originally came out of how fast technology moves. The difference between my parents talking to me about going to Mars — and my dad was a renowned scientist — as if it was science fiction, and now I have some friends — big investors, with Elon Musk and SpaceX — who are banking lots of their money on us being on Mars in 20 years. When you’re a 5-year-old and he wants to go to Mars, it’s a reality.”

Just think about what his Lebanese grandmother went through, for instance, having lived through World War I, World War II and the inventions of the automobile and airplane. “God willing, if I get another 20 years ... I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in another 20 years,” Joseph says.

Joseph returns to Portland, his home for most of the past 27 years, for the album release. Put out by Voodoo Doughnut Recordings and Cosmo Sex School Records, and recorded at TRI Studios in San Rafael, Calif., it’ll go on sale Friday, April 15, and at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 16 (Record Store Day). Joseph will play an album release gig at Voodoo Doughnut Too, 1501 N.E. Davis St.

Joseph has raised four kids in Portland — two in their 20s, and now a 6- and 3-year-old. But, he tours around the world playing music.

“I’ve traveled my whole life,” he says. “Part of it, it’s in my bones. ... I decided I was never going to be a big rock star. Nobody was inviting me to play, I decided to do it on my own.”

While also working on a documentary film, he toured Southeast Asia, Lebanon and Israel, and then Afghanistan and “rewrote my narrative.”

He adds: “I don’t know how my wife feels about it, but I’m getting more well-known for going places and playing weird shows. I’ve just done a long tour of Australia and New Zealand. It’s been affecting my music quite a bit, how I write. This new record, a lot of it was written in Afghanistan and Ireland and Paris. It’s been a weird position, being in my 50s and having sort of a chapter I didn’t anticipate. There are a lot of those chapters I didn’t anticipate. I’ve had little kids, I just bought a house in Portland.”

In Afghanistan, as he tells it, words were put on paper behind big walls while listening to the daily call to prayers and American Blackhawk helicopters. “I wanted to write about magic and God and humans being human,” he says, and not war.

“I said this in my Hall of Fame induction speech: I believe this is the most exciting time in history to make art, except maybe when they made the color blue on a wall for the first time. You can make a song, put it on the Internet and millions of people can hear it. It’s weird to be 55, it’d be an excellent time to be 20.”

Joseph, who has released solo records and albums with bands Little Women, Jackmormons, Denmark Veseys and Stockholm Syndrome, says it’s been his quest to tour the world.

“I really want to play in Africa, and I’d like to play Iran. But I don’t know if they have a club.”

Then again, Joseph might fit in. He’s Arab-American, with a grandfather from Syria and a grandmother from Lebanon. He was raised Lebanese, because in the 1960s Syria aligned itself with Russia, so such an association with Syria wouldn’t have been prudent.

“My grandmother came through Mexico, from Lebanon, and crossed over as an illegal Mexican,” he says. “For Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, I’m everything they’re afraid of.”

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