Jim Farber of the New York Daily News wrote: "In the songs of Joe Firstman, sensitive young men prowl the hills of Los Angeles, searching for fame and beauty, only to find self-destructive behavior and egos gone wild… While Hollywood's peaks and pitfalls have been prominently charted by songwriters from Don Henley, Stevie Nicks and Jackson Browne to Warren Zevon, Firstman aims to reinvent the milieu for his own generation."
Raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, the son of a professional opera singer mother and a "lazy genius" dad, the now 25-year old Joe Firstman gravitated towards the family piano at the age of 12 and quickly developed an insatiable love of music - from the melodic genius of Elton John and the Beatles to the lyrical complexity of Dirty South hip-hop heroes like Outkast - and soon began penning original songs. Putting to rest his father's hopes that he might pursue a career in sports, Firstman began singing and playing piano in his first band while still in high school. Despite their loyal local following first in Charlotte and later in Raleigh after a year at Western Carolina University proved to him that academia didn't hold the same allure as music, he found himself a big musically unfulfilled. With Izabel Sol (later renamed Firstman) "we were playing jam-bandy Dave Matthews rip-off college pop," he says, "which was cool for a while, but we weren't doing anything new or pushing the envelope."
He used inspiration from the Allman Brothers to Jackson Browne to bluegrass music to broaden his horizons, but it was meeting his first love Shannon Marie that perhaps had the most effect on his writing. Their magical and rocky relationship "was adulthood in Technicolor," he says. "I'm a big believer that if you're going to write a lyric, you can't beat around the bush - I want to see it and I want to feel it. And that time and those experiences definitely gave me more ability with that level of expression."
After a one-way Greyhound bus ticket landed him in L.A. in 2000, the tireless self-promoter took the city for all it was worth. "We had it down," he says. "We sacrificed every bit of door money, any money we'd get to keep, to put people on the guest list. I would go out to the bars seven nights a week, shake hands, meet girls, and say 'My band's playing tomorrow night at the Whisky, I'll put you on the VIP list.' They'd tell their friends, 'This kid is putting me on the list, let's go to the Whisky.' I'd end up with a guest list full of young, pretty girls, and where there's girls, there's going to be guys. Where there are guys, there's going to be drinking. And when you're selling drinks, the club owners love you. So every time we played, the place was packed. And once we got people in the room, we won them over with the music."
Firstman's emotional sound and powerful performances soon became the buzz around town. In 2001, he was named Singer/Songwriter of the Year at the Los Angeles Music Awards. Signed to Atlantic in early 2002, Joe went to work with producer Rick Parker to record his debut album. Paving the way for a full-length premier was an EP called "Wives Tale" released in 2003 which Firstman called "just a collection of music recorded in a nonchalant fashion during the making of the LP." Later that year, came "THE WAR OF WOMEN" which put him on AAA radio with "Breaking All The Ground", gave him the chance to explore and mold all sides of his musical personality with a terribly vast array of materials from piano-driven ballads to sophisticated pop to rollicking roots-rock, and was a fitting premiere of an exceptional new American artist. He was quickly featured in the Sundance Channel's original documentary series "Keeping Time: New Music from American Roots". His segment, a personal exploration of the creative songwriting process, is part of the episode entitled "Art of Song"
It also put Firstman on the road for the next two years, both playing his own shows, and supporting everyone from Jewel to Lisa Marie Presley to Willie Nelson to Sheryl Crow. "His brief, eight-song set earned him a standing ovation - unheard of for a warm-up act," enthused the New York Post in its review of Firstman's Radio City Music Hall performance. "His 40-minute set walloped the audience with its energy and its promise of what this young singer-songwriter may accomplish," said the South Bend Tribune; while The Des Moines Register lauded: "The band vibrated with the sense that they had something to prove… Firstman appeared every ounce the promising star. The audience hung on his every word." The Ft. Myers News-Press described Joe's set as "amazing… Firstman's bluesy voice worked perfectly with the roots rocker numbers, and, when he shifted to piano, the band sounded like a mix between Lowell George-era Little Feat with a dash of The Band and a touch of the Black Crowes."
While not touring, Firstman's also been collaborating with other songwriters including his hero Bernie Taupin with whom he penned "Tin Cans and Tear Drops" for a recent Willie Nelson project. He's also been spending time between writing for his next album as the "house band" on "Last Call with Carson Daly" on NBC.