Photo: Dan Monick
When Joyce Manor’s 2016 release, Cody, weighed in just short of a mighty twenty-five minutes, they were in uncharted territory. With the influence of producer Rob Schnapf, a de facto fifth band member for the duration of the album, it was almost a double-LP compared to 2012’s bijou Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired.
Not only did the album occupy the listener’s attention for longer, but it also reflected a much lengthier recording process, as singer and guitarist, Barry Johnson explains: “It was the first time we really used the studio to our advantage. I felt like I could get a better grasp on what we could do. We always recorded like a punk band – go in and lay ‘em down! Just get good takes! – and this time we tried a lot more.”
The usual ten-day blast gave way to a two-month gestation, and an evolved sound that Johnson describes as “power-pop, with some indie and emo influence,” a gentler, steadier tone. Joyce Manor suddenly seemed less restless, more contemplative and more comfortable in their own skin. At four whole minutes, ‘Stairs’, was greeted with borderline disbelief, but could well indicate the shape of tracks to come. Johnson attributes the expansiveness to, “not listening to as much punk at that point in my life, as well as the influence of working with a producer.”
Sonic innovation is the necessary metamorphic risk that bands have to take. When asked whether the die-hard punk aficionados had got on board with the new sound, Johnson mused: “I dunno if our fans were ever super punk… These days, it’s totally normal for a guy in a Cro-Mags t-shirt to be listening to Carly Rae Jepson. On the other hand, I think if Cro-Mags started sounding like Taylor Swift, people might be scratching their heads.” Thus speaks a man with no qualms about covering The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’.
Age may be just a number, but three-quarters of the band turning thirty in quick succession marks yet another milestone for Joyce Manor. Johnson rates being thirty as, “Not too bad, actually.” “I feel a lot more comfortable being myself, which took a lot longer for me than I think it does for most people,” he continues. “I have mellowed over time. My life isn’t that different from when I was twenty-two, except I go out less. Maybe going out less is reflected in the music.”
The opening track on Cody, ‘Fake ID’, espouses cynicism towards the emptiness of many of the social interactions around which we build our own fake identities. I asked how often their line, “What do you think about Kanye West?” had been repeated back to him recently. He smiled wryly: “I’ve been asked ‘How sick of it are you?’ or ‘How many times have you been asked?’ even more. I think he has some great songs. He was impressive when I saw him live. The lyric works because everyone has an opinion of him.”
Alongside making introspective songs about loneliness, Joyce Manor are still consummate shit-stirrers. The album cover is a photo of a red-eyed, badass-looking dog, glowering at the camera whilst gnawing a disembodied mannequin’s head. I asked how they could possibly follow that up: “Gotta find a better photo next time. It’s going to be a challenge!” Johnson sounded more than ready for that quest.
Bringing their ethos of, “Strong tune, serious feeling”, Joyce Manor visit the UK and Ireland this month, with their penultimate show at the Exchange on the 13th. “This is our third tour of the UK. Audiences are great and remind me a lot of the American crowds, except they’re often more interesting to talk to.” Johnson rates their finest-ever gig as “Melbourne, 2013, at the Gasometer. It was the perfect blend of a chaotic show and us playing insanely well.” Perhaps we can rustle up some Bristolian chaos and help them top that 2013 experience.
Joyce Manor play The Exchange on 13th July. Their album Cody is out now via Epitaph Records. Check out ‘Last You Heard Of Me’ below.