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Fuck You, Mom, Joyce Manor Is a Real Band Now

The Californian suburban kids dropped out of college to go on tour. And it’s finally paying off.
July 25, 2014, 2:20pm

Photos by Miyako Bellizzi

There was a rare lull in Joyce Manor’s set during their record release show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday. Guitarist Barry Johnson popped not one, but two strings and since the show was a one-off—a fly-out-and-meet-the-New-York-media assignment from their new label, Epitaph Records—they didn’t have any spare guitars. So re-stringing it was. “Well, the rest of the set is going to be fucking terrible!” Johnson said, the audience half laughing and cheering.

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It was an awkward sight to see the crowd standing there with their arms folded, patiently waiting while busted strings were swapped out for new ones. Just five minutes ago, you would think you were at a Harm’s Way show. Kids were killing each other in the pit, finger pointing, stagediving, hardcore dancing, pretty much anything you would expect a bunch of pissed off teens to do no matter what the music. In our interview the day before, I mentioned the sort of discord that goes down at their shows, to which Barry said, “When hardcore kids started coming to our shows, and head-walking and jumping off speakers, it was like,’Yo, what fucking song are you hearing? I’m playing open chords to a mid-tempo rock song!’”

It’s not hard to see why Joyce Manor is so well-liked with a dedicated-as-hell fanbase. They tour super constantly, put out regular and consistent releases, and they’re genuinely nice people. Seriously, if you talk to them after a show, it’s like talking to a buddy you haven’t seen in forever. There’s a zero percent chance of them ever becoming shitty rockstars. With their new record, Never Hungover Again dropping Tuesday, the band has truly arrived. They’ve kept their trademark snappy, minute-short songs, except now every section of the band sounds massive. Guitar sections shift and slither around each other, complimenting instead of repeating. Drum fills are way less focused on being incredibly busy and instead, work on the simplicity necessary for a great song. Bass is just as groovy too. The record marks the band’s first release on major-indie label Epitaph, and with a full fall tour lined up, 2014 is going to belong to them. We recently grabbed a few beers with them to talk about their growing fan base, stagediving, and rowdy fans.

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One of the things I’ve noticed about going to your shows prior to this new one’s release was you guys weren’t really playing anything off your second record, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. Looking at that one objectively, what’s your opinion on it?
Barry: I like it, but I think it was definitely a little too reactionary to our prior success. When we wrote and recorded our first record, it was before “Defend Pop Punk” and that type of shit. Once it came out, we were very embraced by that community, and we weren’t necessarily comfortable with that. So we kind of made this reactionary record where it sort of focused on what we weren’t good at, and trying to succeed that way. But yeah, you should just make a record you want to make and not think about people’s expectations.

It’s weird thinking about you guys lumped in with pop punk bands like that. You guys listen to a lot of different music, like Guided By Voices or Weezer. The new record’s indicative of that I think, some guitar parts seeming almost like post-rock in places. You guys aren’t very “Tumblrcore” when it comes to that.
Chase Knobbe: A lot of it has to do with our live show and also we were on 6131 when we started, which was at the same time when a lot of the pop punk was happening. So when that turned into something people were looking for, we were there.

Matt Ebert: We were pretty tacked onto Touché Amoré for a bit.

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Barry: At the end of the day, we’re some fucking kids from the suburbs that like pop music and hardcore. It’s not that different from liking pop punk bands that are full of hardcore kids. It’s different enough, it’s in the nuances and subtleties. But to a stranger who’s unfamiliar with this kind of stuff, it’s not that much fucking different. We can sit here and act like we don’t have anything in common with the Wonder Years or Such Gold, but to an outsider, it sounds the same.

What stands out to me is that the production seems really meticulous. Your new record sounds like a Joyce Manor record, but just way huger.
Chase: That’s definitely what we wanted. Signing to Epitaph wasn’t really any change in what we wanted to do with a record. Because those songs were pretty much done, we were working on the record for a while before signing.

Barry: It kind of lit a fire under our asses like, “Oh a lot of people are going to hear this, let’s make sure it’s really good.”

Matt: But as far as production goes, we finished a record before we ever signed a contract. For the most part. Epitaph helped us out with mixing which was super important.

You all played in the same room when recording it, right?
Barry: Yeah, it was very fun. For a lot of it, we were pretty wasted. Four of the takes we got in a row, while we were very drunk and high. Half the record was tracked, like we did some takes and then we just tapped into something. We were kind of wasted, rocking out.

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Chase: Yeah when you’re drunk and you do a good take, it’s like, “Fuck, let’s do five more.”

Matt: Kind of got to the point where it felt like, “Fuck, dude, we’re never going to nail these songs,” and then we have a few drinks and it came together.

Kurt Walcher: Stress level was way down on this record.

Are you able to do more stuff with the help of Epitaph than previously? I mean, Matt’s face is on a bench now.
Matt: It’s on 35 benches! [Laughs]

Barry: Yeah, with the last few, we didn’t really do anything. Just put 'em out and let the internet do its thing. It’s our first time here.

Chase: Production-wise, Epitaph has so many more resources than we had access to prior. And the whole marketing team stuff.

Barry: They let us be pretty particular about ourselves too, like we have to approve everything that gets put out and how we’re presented. We have kind of an aversion for things to be sensationalized. We don’t like gimmicky or promotion-like tactics.

You’re not going to fake your own death?
Barry: Probably not.

A lot of people seem to connect a lot to your lyrics which get pretty personal. Is it ever strange to have people know a ton of stuff about you?
Barry: No, I think the goal of a pop song is to communicate a feeling, and if you write a good one, it does. So that’s just basically like, “Hey, cool song, good job.” There’s no room for being misunderstood in a pop song, if you write a good pop song, people understand what you’re trying to say. It’s always humbling and flattering, but it’s never too strange. That’s the goal—like, I succeeded in expressing a feeling.

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What song do most people connect to?
Barry: “Constant Headache.” That’s probably the best song I’ve written in that regard. There’s some songs I like more on the new record, but I knew when I was writing it how good it is. I showed it to friends, they thought it was insane.

I think that’s what I like about the band, you talk about deeper stuff but I would never feel bummed out after listening to your records.
Barry: It fucking blows my mind, people are always like, “I’ve noticed all your songs have to deal with loneliness and things falling apart,” like what else is there to write about? If I’m having a good time, it’s never like, “Hey, I should write a song about it.” I don’t want to hear that shit. I thought it was normal to write stuff like that. But I feel like sometimes we get treated like some sort of a freak show.

“Oh my god, are you OK?”
Barry: [Laughs] “Why are you guys on the verge of fucking suicide all of the time?” That’s when I feel like writing a song.

So I’m guessing it’s never emotionally exhausting to sing that stuff.
Barry: Nah. It’s fun! Kids are all serious as fuck, you get all serious back. I’m always surprised how much I’m able to tap into what I was thinking or feeling how I was writing it. Because at band practice, it’s like I’m just saying these words. When kids are into it, it’s like, fuck yeah, I hear the song as if I never wrote it, almost. If the room had never heard of us, it’s completely on us to bring it, and then I sort of realize what I’m saying when I’m singing the lyrics rather than memorized lines.

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Chase: Sometimes you see bands talk through the intro of a song. And I think the way you should write songs, there should never be a moment where you’re not performing.

Barry: There’s definitely some characters. Once we were playing on the floor, and there’s a part where the song starts back up, and this kid jumps up, and wraps his arms and legs around me. I had to like, hold his weight. I let go of my guitar because I thought he was going to beat the shit out of me, but I had to hold him like a child. Fucking awful.

Did you throw him off?
Barry: I didn’t know what was going on! I was in the zone, and then this dude just jumps up on me. It’s a funny story, because we were playing a Murder City Devils cover, and after the show, that kid was like, “That’s my favorite song ever written,” and I was like, “Yeah, we love Murder City Devils,” and he was like, “What?” “Yeah, it’s a cover” and his face died. I was like, “Well we changed it up a lot.” But he looked so heartbroken.

What’s the worst shit you’ve seen at a show?
Chase: Usually bigger dudes crowdsurfing.

Barry: In Connecticut once, this dude jumped feet-first into this younger girl. I was like, “Are you a fucking sociopath? That was so uncalled for.” And he was looking at me like, “Fuck you.” No, dude, fuck you. People were like, “Hey he just likes your band.” I mean, I get it, this is what you do, and everyone has to deal with it, but it was so deliberate. It was such a 6’ 2” 210-pound man step on a 15-year-old girl. It was like watching someone beat their girlfriend. I feel like in some weird way, I facilitated it, cause he was like, “Check this out!”

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Chase: It’s never like a whole town like, “Fuck that town,” but it’s usually just one bad seed trying to be the center of attention.

Is it kind of surprising seeing your fanbase skew younger?
Barry: Yeah, because when we were first starting, people that would come to our shows were super No Idea Records kind of older guys, and they’d always say, “Yeah you guys sound like Jawbreaker, I love Hot Water Music!” kind of stuff. Very Fest kind of demographic. That was fine, but I remember being dissatisfied with that. I don’t want to be some nostalgia band, I want young people to be excited about our band. And now that young people like the music, I can see both sides of it.

What’s the biggest sense of affirmation you’ve gotten from playing music?
Barry: I was working as a host at a restaurant, and my mom called me and was like, “Hey, the DMV is hiring,” and I was like, “Alright, are you going to apply or something?” And she’s like “No, they pay well and there’s good benefits. You should go.” And it was just like, fuck you, mom. [Laughs] It was before anything had really happened with Joyce Manor. And now she’s all proud of me and doesn’t tell me when Costco’s hiring or anything, and now she’s just like, “My son’s in this band and was on NPR!” That’s pretty cool. I can hold it over her. [Laughs]

Chase: Yeah, I dropped out of college to do this and I told my parents, like, “Look, this is pretty crazy but…” Because at that point, I didn’t want to go to college and just wanted to be in a band. And telling your parents that is fucking crushing. I told them, “By this time next year I want to be touring.” It took longer than that, but just being able to do that.

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Barry: Yeah, my mom was pretty much like, “Look, I don’t believe in you at all and you’re going to fail.”

Chase: Not failing has been the biggest sense of affirmation. [Laughs]

Matt: Getting on Asian Man was pretty affirming, and going to Japan. I’d been dreaming of going there for years.

If you were to give the record to somebody, and they would go into a room and listen to it, how would you hope they react?
Barry: I think it’s such a case by case basis. I feel like overtime, where we have insane fans because we’re those kind of people. My whole life, I had bands I was obsessed with, and knew insanely weird details about. Literally obsessed. I feel like we’re going to be one of those bands, in the same way kids stagedive and go crazy to, I behaved that same way. So the fact I was so obsessed with those bands growing up, I think we’d see that in our fans. I wouldn’t say we’re really a band for a “casual listener.” There’s certain people who will totally latch onto what we do. I don’t really care what the casual listener thinks, I think it’s more important that there’s freaks out there like me that will be like, “Your music means everything to me!” That’s the kind of band that we are.

John Hill has never applied to work at the DMV either, but he's thought about it. Follow him on Twitter - @johnxhill

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