2011 is shaping up to be the year of Joyce Manor. The California quartet released its self-titled debut album through 6131 Records in January and already has some claiming it to be one of the year’s best.
“It’s flattering that people think we’ll be included in those lists,” says Joyce Manor’s singer/guitarist Barry Johnson, “and I hope that we will be.”
Formed as an acoustic duo in November 2008, Johnson began working Joyce Manor into a full band. After joining up with bassist/vocalist Matt Ebert, the two stabilized the band’s lineup with guitarist Chase Knobbe and drummer Kurt Walcher. Together, they would begin creating one of the most unique sounds in music today.
By mixing Weezer’s best material with the chaotic aggression of Eternal Cowboy-era Against Me!,
Joyce Manor has carved out a sound that makes it catchy without hesitation.
“I grew up on Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins and shit like that, so I like that kind of care in songwriting where the songs are very aware of themselves and intentional,” says Johnson, “But I really love Minor Threat and Black Flag, which is the opposite of that almost.”
This mixture of styles piqued the interest of Joey Cahill, owner of 6131 Records who signed the band despite its not-so-hardcore approach, “Even the pop-punk bands they have are like hardcore kid pop-punk. No band on that label sounds anything like us,” Johnson says. Regardless, Johnson says the band feels at home on 6131.
The 10 songs on Joyce Manor boast huge hooks, punk bitterness and highly impressive performances. Opener “Orange Julius” hooks the listener by mixing tightly wound neuroticism and infectious pop sensibility. Better yet, it does so in just over a minute. “I’ve always been drawn to shorter songs,” says Johnson, a fact that Joyce Manor’s sub-19-minute running time proves.
“You’re taking the time to listen to my band … so I’m not going to have the audacity to bore the shit out of you.”
Effective in that motto, Johnson leads the band in a way that makes use of every second. “I want every part to be necessary to the flow of the album or the flow of the song,” said Johnson. “I don’t like having anything extra. If it doesn’t need to be there, you cut it.”
This method allows Joyce Manor to create songs that are not only abrupt, but are packed with attention-grabbing moments. “It’s like a bite-sized candy bar,” says Johnson, “If there was too much of it, you’d get so fucking sick of it, but because it’s just that little bit you keep going, ‘I want another one of those.’”
It’s a tactic that has proven successful. One listen to Johnson’s declaration of “I’ve realized it’s true/Everything reminds me of you” in “Beach Community” displays the band’s ability to reel you in with a pop hook and then abruptly end the song before it becomes overwrought.
Given the brevity of Joyce Manor’s songs, it would seem as if they were created in a relatively quick time span, something Johnson disproves. “Some of these songs are old, man. ‘Beach Community’ I wrote when I was like 19 and ‘Derailed’ when I was like 20,” says Johnson, 24.
However, there are always exceptions to this manner of songwriting. In the case of closing track “Constant Headache” (the only song on Joyce Manor to hit the three-minute mark) it came together almost serendipitously.
“We knew we needed a slow one to end it,” says Johnson. “I wrote that song on the bus … It was one of those where it all happened in one go. I had the idea for it and it came out really quickly. I came home and just kind of chopped it up.”
The song’s slower tempo focuses less on the instant gratification of the rest of the album and steadily builds to an emotional climax. “It’s not as volatile as the rest of the record. It’s a lot more vulnerable,” says Johnson.
With Joyce Manor garnering positive reviews, one would think the band would be ready for some long-term touring in support.
“Everyone wants to tour really bad, but it’s kinda scary,” says Johnson. “I love touring, but I don’t know what the fuck I’d write songs about anymore. You meet people so briefly; you don’t really get to know people aside from the people in your band. Would I write songs about missing people when you’re on the road? I’m so fucking sick of that.”
Then, Johnson seems to find the solution he’s been looking for the whole time, “I’m pretty sure we’re going to do this shit. Then when we get home we’ll get jobs again, get back in the swing of life and write a record.”
Recently, the band announced a split 7” with Oakland’s Big Kids, but this doesn’t keep Johnson from worrying about Joyce Manor’s future output. “The record is getting good reviews and I’m really excited about that,” says Johnson, “But I will be fucking damned if we put out something that sucks next!”