Joe West is a man of mystery but also one of talent. So prolific, in fact, is the local troubadour that he simply cannot keep his creative output wrapped neatly in one package and must instead create offshoot projects and personas to handle it all. From his enigmatic time-traveling glam rock character, Xoe Fitzgerald, and his utterly adorable kid-rock anthems to his work in super groups like the Santa Fe Revue and Santa Fe All-Stars, West is always working toward something and doing it well.
"I just kind of can't help it, and I do crazy shit all the time," West tells me on a recent blustery mid-morning on the Cowgirl patio. In all the years I've written for SFR, West and I have never once sat down one-on-one, but news of the upcoming third iteration of his musical Theater of Death, subtitled The Tequila Plays, spurred me into finally making that happen. And I'm glad it did, because I learned something very important about West—the kind of thing that could serve all musicians on earth well: He doesn't take himself too seriously.
"If one of the things I do ever takes off, and I become famous for doing it, that'd be great," he says with a laugh. "But I don't know that I'd stick to that one thing; I don't know if I could stick to being AC/DC my whole life."
First and foremost, West is approachable. For a man of such staggering talent and high volume of creativity, this is not only refreshing but surprising. I mean, ask any local musician, and they'll tell you that West is held in the highest regard as a colleague and mentor, but he doesn't let that go to his head.
"I think about it like, all artists have this need for their ego, and my expression of myself is creating things," he says. "I certainly came by it honestly, because that's how my father is, and it's like, if you're not doing it, you don't exist, but at the same time, there's this little boy inside my head saying that if I'm not getting my jollies creating something, it's time to move to something else, [and] a little bit of the variety in my choices makes that easier."
This is exactly why he always has something cooking. He gave up touring long ago after seven solid years and the cultivation of a decent-sized fanbase.
"I just don't have that hunger," he says of his choice to keep it local. Sticking close to home also allows him to flex his branding muscle with ease. This has meant the aforementioned projects as well as forays into music publishing, providing music for film and, of course, Theater of Death. Following in the traditions of the French theater's Grand Guignol, the annual event provides a tongue-in-cheek take on horror tropes, as written by West and performed by the man himself, alongside Lori Ottino, Westin McDowell and other locals.
"I see community [theater] as more important than ever right now, as a human connection, as communities telling stories," West says. "It's extraordinary; it's seeing a Hopi Indian dance; it's people in your community getting up and taking the roles of gods and telling the story of the human experience…it's a much more heartfelt experience than pro theatre."
West notes that Grand Guignol appeals to him as the sort of antithesis of melodrama, in its lack of overall moral compass. "Melodrama always has this moral tale, and Grand Guignol was born out of reaction to that," he says. "I'm breaking the convention of the melodrama, and I love the idea of playing with my characters in an immoral world."
And though he describes Theater of Death as "not friendly for kids under 12," it's still the kind of event that is great for families in its absurd humor and trademark Joe West musical weirdness. If nothing else, it proves incontrovertibly that West will always be trying new things and providing his fans with multiple avenues through which they can enjoy his creativity.
"To make it as a musician, you have to do a little bit of everything," he says with a charming air of authority. Amen, brother. Amen.
Joe West's Theater of Death:
The Tequila Plays
8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays,
3 pm Sundays, Oct. 16-Nov. 1. $20 ($10 Thursdays)
Engine House Theatre, 2846 Hwy. 14, Madrid