Last time we spoke with Joyce Manor’s guitarist/vocalist Barry Johnson, a lot of things were still up in the air. His band had just released it’s debut album Joyce Manor, and the album was already receiving a great deal of hype. By the end of the year, the band would have signed to punk rock powerhouse Asian Man Records, and it was being labeled as the album of the year by various publications. Now, with its sophomore album Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired seeing its release via Asian Man, Johnson took some time out to discuss how much things have changed in the year since we last spoke, and what the band has coming up from here on out.
Pop ‘stache: What was it like to have Mike Park [Asian Man Records founder] show interest in your band?
Barry Johnson: I first met Mike Park when he played a show in San Pedro, on the beach. Then after his set he was like, “Hey, I need a ride to the airport. Can anybody give me a ride to the airport?” And I immediately put my hand in the air. I was expecting a bunch of other people to want to give him a ride to the airport, but nobody did. So, I drove him to the airport and I was super nervous because it’s Mike Park, you know? I was just super nervous, but it was really exciting. And years later, after the first record came out, we played in San Jose with Shinobu, who are on Asian Man, and he came out to the show. And I was like, “Oh God, Mike Park’s here. Mike Park is gonna watch us play. This is insane.” Then after the set I went up to him and was like, “Hey, man. Do you remember me? I gave you a ride to the airport?” And he was like, “Oh, hey. What’s going on?” So before I left I gave him a copy of our record and said, “Hey, I just want you to have this. You’ve put out so many records, and you’re really cool, so I just want you to have this.” Then, a couple days later, he sent me a message on Facebook just saying, “Hey, I can’t stop listening to your record, I really like it and it’s really good.” Then I just said, “Well, do you have any interest in putting anything out?” And he said, “Absolutely. I’ll call you in a couple of days.” So he called me, and we talked for an hour, and we didn’t talk for one second about putting out the record. We talked about Screeching Weasel, and the Tempur-pedic mattress and how he wanted to get one. We were immediately just really good friends. So when I said, “So, do you want to do the record?” He was just like, “Alright, cool. We’ll do a record.” And it’s amazing. It’s incredible to have him put out the record. It’s a really cool feeling to say, “Yeah, this is the label my band is on now.”
P ‘s: Did you feel any pressure being on a label that was a bit more established?
Johnson: No, I think there was a lot more pressure with the first record, because 6131’s a pretty established label and he was taking a chance on a band that no one had really heard of. So it was like, “Man, I don’t want this guy to have a ton of these records sitting around in like 10 years. I really want to make a good record.” Mike is just down to put out bands he likes. He’s not like, “I like this, but I don’t know if it’s going to sell.” He just puts out what he likes. And it’s good, because he likes there record, and there was no pressure, actually.
P ‘s: The new album seems to have a lot more songs you guys probably can’t play live, like the acoustic songs and whatnot. Was that deliberate?
Johnson: I’m really, really happy with it, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time I wish we would have just done a punk record. We went in to do an even more punk record. It was gonna have melodies, but we just wanted it to be so hard. We wanted to almost bum people out in the other respect, you know what I mean? Like, really, really blown out and almost too punk, and then it was like, “What are we doing? I’m not that punk, and we’re not that much of a punk band.” So we just kind of ended up going the other direction.
Like, “Let’s just make these really thought out pop songs.”
If we would have had more than three days it could have been a little better, and I think we did a good job for recording a record in three days, but there’s a lot of hype for this record and a lot of people pre-ordered it, and that’s really exciting, so I’m a little bummed it’s not an incredible album. I think it’s good, but I think what the first record had going for it was that no one expected it to be good. Like, “Oh, who is this band? This is really good!” But with the second record people are like “Now impress me. Show me something.” And at the very least, I think we can catch people off guard, like, “Oh they can do this too.” But I think that’s only one part of it, but I think it would have been cool to put out a much better album than our first album. I don’t think it’s fully good, but there’s always the next record. We’re already writing new songs and stuff.
P ‘s: As we talk now, we’re in this weird realm where the album leaked, and it’s out there, but it’s not available for sale. How do you feel about things like that, knowing that people will make decisions well before the product could even exist?
Johnson: It’s just inevitable. You make a record, it’s gonna leak. I know that we’ve sold more records since the record leaked. Once the record leaked we sold a lot more records. We sold a lot beforehand too, but once it leaked there was another burst of sales. It could be good, but it depends on whether or not people like your record. It could either work for or against you depending on whether or not people like it.
The interest in vinyl is really great. It’s having it’s second, or third, or fourth, or fifth wave. People have been more interested in vinyl lately. You can’t download that.
P ‘s: The Asian Man release is a 12-inch LP, but the U.K. pressing is a 10-inch. Do you like doing weird variants with your records?
Johnson: I think that’s awesome, and doing various pressings is exciting. I think that stuff like silk screened covers or a cassette release is all awesome. But I think, at the end of the day, the record’s gotta be good before any of that comes in. I think some people kinda get bummed out about it, because they’re buying it for the fact that it’s limited instead of because they want the record.
P ‘s: There’s definitely an influx of people buying vinyl and not owning a turntable.
Johnson: That’s what I mean, when it becomes more about collecting Pokemon cards.
Which is fine, I collected Pokemon cards and they didn’t do anything, they were just awesome to have.
So there’s that element of it, but it sounds way better. It’s more rich. Our record actually sounds really good because it’s so short on both sides and it’s a 45. And it’s all to tape, so it sounds way better on record. With digital you can drop out a lot of frequencies, and it can sound a little bit dead.
P ‘s: What made you decide to record to tape on this one?
Johnson: When we did the first record we did as much as we could on tape. But the guy that recorded it, Alex [Estrada], was just like, “Yeah, we should just record bass and drums on tape,” because that record’s budget was around $1,000. So we had enough time to do bass and drums to tape, and because vocals take fucking forever – they take a long time, and it’s just because I’m really, really picky and not a very good singer. I get a couple of takes, and then I get confident, but we didn’t have time to do all that to tape for the first record. He was just like, “Dude, it really doesn’t matter with guitars and vocals whether you do tape or digital.” So we were like, “We really want to do our record with you but all your stuff is digital, and we really want the warmth of the bass and the drums.” So he was like, “Why don’t we do half and half, we’ll do bass and drums to tape and guitar and vocals to digital?” It sounds pretty cool. You can’t really tell, but you can kinda tell, you know what I mean?
P ‘s: You’d have to have a super fine ear, but it’s got a weird feel once you know that.
Johnson: Someone would be fuckin’ hard-pressed if I didn’t tell them that to be, “Oh, it’s obvious bass and drums were recorded to tape and the guitar and vocals are digital.” But when you know you can kinda tell I guess. There’s some separation there.
P ‘s: After knowing it that makes sense. The record has a unique feel and I guess that is part of it,
Johnson: No one fuckin’ records like that. When he mentioned it I was like, “Oh, bands must do that all the time.” But they never do that. I don’t know a single band that’s ever done that.
P ‘s: Shifting gears, but you guys are about to head out on tour with Andrew Jackson Jihad. What other touring plans do you guys have for the year?
Johnson: We’re doing the west coast by ourselves, then we meet up with that tour with Jihad, then we do that whole tour all the way to the east coast with Jihad. Then we come back home and then go to Chaos in Tejas, which is that punk festival in Texas. Then we don’t have anything until July. We’re doing another U.S. tour by ourselves, and then we meet up with Algernon Cadwallader in Chicago and then tour with them. In September we’re gonna go to Europe, and we’re gonna do Europe for two and a half weeks.
P ‘s: So this will be your first time going to Europe, right? How are you guys approaching this much more touring compared to last year?
Johnson: This will be our first time, and we’re pretty fuckin’ stoked. But are you asking like, have my feelings changed about touring? Because I wasn’t super stoked on it before.
P ‘s: Yeah.
Johnson: No. I do it because you kind of have to, you know? I’ll regret it later if I don’t. While we have that window, we might as well go do it. And how long can you be a band on tour? Not that long. It can be fun, but I gotta do it. I like being home a lot. Tour is rough. I don’t like talking to a lot of people I don’t know.
P ‘s: It has to be awkward when a lot of the interactions can feel forced.
Johnson: Yeah, and it’s that people are kinda nervous to talk to you sometimes. And that just sucks, when some kid who is like 15 is scared to talk to you. I feel bad because I remember being exactly like that kid. That’s a big chunk of what your social life becomes. I have like, four or five friends, and I hang out with them all the time, and I hang out with my girlfriend a lot, but it’s kind of uncomfortable when you see people are kind of nervous to talk to you. You can’t really have a good conversation, and you can’t really hang out when they’re all sweaty palms and don’t know what to say.
P ‘s: It could be a bit awkward.
Johnson: You don’t have any common ground. And you’re at a show, and there’s no like, TV to watch or a game of Jenga to play. Sometimes you can just kind of drink a beer and hang out, but you’re always addressing a bunch of people and there’s no central theme to talk about, there’s no icebreaker. You just stand around in a circle and talk, and I’m not great at it.
P ‘s: Despite all the positive reviews and remarks you’ve gotten, you’ve also gotten your fair share of backlash. How are you dealing with some of those negative statements?
Johnson: That’s just kinda, to me – and this is gonna sound crappy – but that’s just the sign of a band that got really popular really fast. That’s how it was with Against Me!. It was just like every record they put out, it was like, “Oh, this sucks compared to the last record.” But it was like, “That’s what you said about the last record!” It doesn’t matter which one came out. Or there will be people like, “They always sucked,” you know what I mean? People love to hate on stuff that’s popular, and maybe some people don’t like it and it frustrates them that bands they do like aren’t getting attention, and a band they don’t like, like us, are getting attention. That bothers them for whatever reason. But it’s not that weird, I see people losing their minds over bands I’m not that into. I mean, I guess it bothered me more when I was younger, and it doesn’t really bother me now, to be honest. It’s inevitable. It’s totally inevitable when your band gets popular.
Our first review on Punknews, when you’d read the comments they were all super positive. It was really flattering, but there was a point where I realized, “OK, a lot of younger people are getting into this, and this is going to be uncool any minute now.” That’s kind of the direction we’re heading in now, but it’s inevitable when a band gets popular, especially when a band gets popular quickly. Maybe a band that slowly, slowly gained momentum, I don’t know, like, Alkaline Trio never got it all too bad. But they started getting into make-up and nail polish and all that shit so, they kind of asked for it after a while.