“We take pictures so we remember who we are”: NJ’s Joe P Talks Memory, Photography, & His Impassioned Anthem “Birthday Baby”

Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine
Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine
New Jersey singer/songwriter Joe P talks memory, photography, emotional baggage, and his achingly impassioned new anthem “Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile),” a song of raw humanity, self-preservation, and intimate connection taken off his forthcoming sophomore album, ‘Garden State Vampire’!
Stream: “Birthday Baby” – Joe P




I‘ve become the family photographer, like my mother before me and her mother before her.

It’s not just because I like taking pictures, which I do; whenever there’s a special event, I make sure to document it – capturing it for posterity, so that it lives on not only in our minds, but also in a physical freeze-frame. Life is long and filled with special moments big and small, and I’ve found that we (I) tend to forget most of them; that they all sort of bleed into one another when I’m not looking, especially when they lack a reference.

So I take pictures to remember who I am and who I’ve been. We take pictures to remember who we are.

Joe P’s latest single hits especially hard, bringing with it a trail of happy tears and heartfelt memories. An impassioned, anthemic song of raw humanity and intimate connection, “Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile)” aches with the weight of love and loss, time and change. It’s a candid, cathartic reflection on life cycles: The things we pass down from generation to generation, how we hold onto those who came before us, and all the ways we remember those who have gone from our lives.

Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile) - Joe P
Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile) – Joe P
Well happy birthday baby
Everybody’s here for you
Happy birthday baby
Six candles lighting up the whole room
Outdated kitchen full of smiles
Everyone’s standing around
We take pictures so we remember who we are
25 years from now
And I remember towers coming down
First grade September
I remember wondering
“why am I going home now?”

Daddy’s crying, I ask “why”
as apples turn to ash

We take pictures so we remember who we are

Released May 31, 2024 via Neon Gold / Atlantic Records, “Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile)” aches from the inside out with raw emotion and radiant energy. The latest single off Joe P’s forthcoming debut album Garden State Vampire (out August 23) finds the New Jersey-based multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter deep in a state of reverie, remembrance, and reckoning as he unpacks bits of his own history, family heritage, and the thin veil between life and death.

He swaps back and forth between his past and present, reliving life (and reviving loved ones) through old family photos – ultimately spilling the heavy contents of his heart and soul in an impassioned, emotionally charged chorus:

But you curse like your mother
And you act like your father
Your sister called back,
but your brother doesn’t have your number
So you drove by his house
Now he’s got a daughter
and they named her after you
The girl with no smile,
the girl with no smile
Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine
Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine

“I wrote this song as a result of coming across a lot of old photos in an attic one day,” Joe P (full name Joe Parella) tells Atwood Magazine. “They were photos from the ’90s that my parents took when I was a baby… or in some of them, I wasn’t even born yet. I got a bittersweet feeling while having this realization that, at the time, I wasn’t old enough to be present and really realize who my parents, or who the people that were adults in my life, were.”

“Now that I’m an adult, I can look back and see them for the people they were and for their humanity, and it was just this bittersweet feeling of wishing I could have realized that in the moment… but that’s why we take photos.”

That’s why we take photos. Remembering our past can bring us pain, but it can also haunt us in the sweetest ways. Parella allows himself to dive deep into nostalgia’s wombs as he gets lost in thoughts about what is and what came before, who we are and who came before us; what is yet to come and who he is yet to be.

He never explicitly says what happened (or happens) to the “girl with no smile” or who she is, nor does he have to; this song is an ode to her memory, keeping her spirit alive:

You hide your heartbeat
In a box under the bed
But it makes too much noise down there
So you swallow it up instead
Now a pounding headache keeps you awake
As you daydream through the night
We take pictures so we remember who we are
But you curse like your mother
And you act like your father
Your sister called back,
but your brother doesn’t have your number
So you drove by his house
Now he’s got a daughter
and they named her after you
The girl with no smile, the girl with no smile

As Joe P explains, we’ve all got a little bit of “the girl with no smile” within us. She is our purest, most blameless self.

“The girl with no smile just represents the innocent versions of people that are immediately affected by the past of the people that came before them,” he says. “Usually this is our family, considering we grow up with them from day one, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. It represents all the shit you didn’t choose or cause, yet are now expected to navigate.”

Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine
Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine

I lost my mother in 2017, when I was 25 and she was 57. She was the family photographer, always ready to snap a photo with her Canon point-and-shoot camera and, later on, her iPhone. When she died, I assumed that responsibility, taking over that role instinctively and unconsciously – because like her, I want my loved ones to have an archive through which they can return to, remember, and relive the past.

Myself included. I take pictures to remember who I am; after all, every photograph is another precious moment of our lives – a memory forever enshrined.

And now, my mother lives on in pictures and memories.

Someday, when this life’s done, I’ll come back as something you love,” Joe P sings, his dynamic voice hot on the mic in a spirited, climactic bridge. “I’ll come back as something you can love.” Life isn’t always as long as we expect it to be – and even when it is, it goes by so fast… “Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile)” is, for me, a reminder to cherish those in your present, recognizing that one day, we’ll all be in the past.

I don’t want to know what it feels like
To be the rain in Seattle
I don’t want to know what it feels like
To be the wind in Chicago
And I don’t want to know what it feels like
To be the sunshine in LA
Someday, when this life’s done
I’ll come back as something you love
I’ll come back as something you can love

Atwood Magazine recently caught up with Joe P for an in-depth conversation about “Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile),” photography, self-preservation, and living in the past, present, and future. Dive into his stunning new single in our interview below, and stay tuned for the release of Garden State Vampire, out August 23!

“I hope people listen to it and just feel some sense of peace in knowing they have no control over what came before them, and barely any over what’s coming in the future,” the singer/songwriter concludes. “Or maybe that’s terrifying? I don’t know. Maybe that’s it. Terrifyingly peaceful.”

Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying this song’s beauty, weight, and depth. As we near 2024’s halfway mark, I feel confident in labeling “Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile)” one of the best songs of the year.

Well happy birthday baby
Everybody’s here for you
Happy birthday baby,
One candle lighting up the whole room
Outdated kitchen full of smiles
Everyone’s standing around
We take pictures so we remember who we are

— —

:: stream/purchase Birthday Baby here ::
:: connect with Joe P here ::
Stream: “Birthday Baby” – Joe P



A CONVERSATION WITH JOE P

Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile) - Joe P

Atwood Magazine: Great to chat, Joe! “Birthday Baby (Girl With No Smile)” is clearly a very special song, and I want to dive right in. You've talked about being inspired by old photos in an attic. Can you share a bit more about who you saw there, and how seeing them affected you?

Joe P: I can’t remember if it was a certain person that I saw in the photos that sparked the inspiration and I don’t even think I came up with the concept until days after honestly. That’s usually how my brain operates. Something happens and I don’t realize it until days, weeks, months or years later.

Tell me about the idea of taking pictures “so we remember who we are.” Are you a big picture taker yourself? What role do photos (family or otherwise) play in your life?

Joe P: I think the realization of how important photos are is another element that sparked this song in the first place. As a little kid I used to flip through the physical photos my family kept in a box in the upstairs closet so when I came across them in the attic years later it was the first time since childhood that I was doing it again. Once we all got smartphones, the reason we take photos started to change a bit.

I lived in Westchester, just outside the city, like you, and I also have my own intimate relationship with 9/11; I was in 4th grade at the time, and being sent home that day, and I remember worrying if I would ever seeing my dad again... I'm curious what inspired you to put that verse in, if you don't mind talking about it or sharing your story?

Joe P: I really have no clue what made me write that verse about 9/11. I think for us it will forever be the first day of our lives where we had to grow up faster than scheduled. It was just such a weird day to be that age. Too young to understand what was happening but old enough to know something was wrong. That makes for a very blurry memory that slowly comes into focus as you get older and can understand more.

What can you tell me about the “girl with no smile”? Is she real; who was she, to you?

Joe P: The girl with no smile just represents the innocent versions of people that are immediately affected by the past of the people that came before them. Usually this is our family, considering we grow up with them from day one, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. It represents all the shit you didn’t choose or cause, yet are now expected to navigate.

I really love the breakdown, when you sing, “I don’t want to know what it feels like to be the rain in Seattle.... someday when this life’s done I’ll come back as something you love.” What inspired those three lines about the cities, and can you also talk about that last phrase, “I’ll come back as something you can love”?

Joe P: These are my favorite set of lines I’ve ever written. I think I just was obsessing over the idea of reincarnation one night and arrived at this concept of how nice it would be to have the chance to come back without any of the baggage you were born with and get a second chance to be in the lives of people you know. I also just thought it was a devastating concept to have the chance to come back as something totally removed from human emotion, like rain / sunshine / wind, yet still choosing to go through all the pain of being in love.

Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine
Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine

I thought it was a devastating concept to have the chance to come back as something totally removed from human emotion, like rain / sunshine / wind, yet still choosing to go through all the pain of being in love.

So much of this song is wrapped up in memory and remembrance, for me. Where, for you, do those emotions stem from? Are they constant feelings you carry with you?

Joe P: It’s funny you say it is wrapped up in remembering when because while it definitely is partially that, I feel it as a song about the future and being aware I have now lived some life and picked up some baggage of my own that eventually someone else will either have to carry, or at least learn to leave behind.

Sonically, what were you going for with this song? What was your vision for it, if any?

Joe P: This song started with the acoustic three chord progression and the first verse vocal so I was immediately in that basic atmosphere. It took me so long to finish it because everything I tried adding to it just scared away that sincerity that it had initially. Once I had the chorus, I knew it had the ability to have a little power to it and not be a full on sad acoustic guitar ballad. I already know this one will be one of the songs that grows some muscle for the live show and hits hard.

Do you have any favorite lyrics or lines from this track?

Joe P: The entire bridge is my favorite set of lyrics, I would say.

I don’t want to know what it feels like
To be the rain in Seattle
I don’t want to know what it feels like
To be the wind in Chicago
And I don’t want to know what it feels like
To be the sunshine in LA
Someday, when this life’s done
I’ll come back as something you love
I’ll come back as something you can love
Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine
Joe P © Jimmy Fontaine

It took me so long to finish it because everything I tried adding to it just scared away that sincerity that it had initially.

You've been releasing songs off Garden State Vampire for quite a few months now. How do you feel this album introduces you and captures your artistry, especially compared to your EPs?

Joe P: I didn’t really think I was doing anything that different from the EPs honestly when I was making these songs because the process was the same as it always has been for the most part, but after a few weeks of having it just done and sitting there, I can feel that I got a huge chunk of me out onto these recordings. Sometimes you finish a song and you hope people will like it, and other times you finish a song and hope other people will like it, but it doesn’t matter if they do or not because you know you couldn’t have produced anything other than what’s there.

That’s how I feel about this body of work. It was exactly what I was meant to create, and I can’t feel bad if someone doesn’t like it, because it would be like someone not liking the way I walk or something.

Why the title Garden State Vampire?

Joe P: Garden State = New Jersey. Vampire = I spent most of my time making it in a dark basement in the middle of the night when I probably should be asleep.

Garden State Vampire - Joe P
Garden State Vampire – Joe P

Wrapping up, what do you love most about “Birthday Baby (Girl With No Smile),” and what do you hope listeners take away from it?

Joe P: I love how the song doesn’t feel too formulated and instead just asks the listener to follow wherever it decides to go. I hope people listen to it and just feel some sense of peace in knowing they have no control over what came before them and barely any over what’s coming in the future. Or maybe that’s terrifying? I don’t know. Maybe that’s it. Terrifyingly peaceful.

In the spirit of teasing listeners, what else can fans look forward to off the new album? Anything we can share to start getting folks excited?

Joe P: I am really excited to get the rest of these songs out now that I’ve released “Birthday Baby.” I usually don’t know what a song is even about or how much of myself was put into it until it is released and a few days go by, which is exactly what happened here, so I’m just stoked to keep putting more and more of myself out there for people to hopefully connect with.

— —

:: stream/purchase Birthday Baby here ::
:: connect with Joe P here ::
Stream: “Birthday Baby” – Joe P



— — — —

Birthday Baby (The Girl with No Smile) - Joe P

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? © Jimmy Fontaine

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