INTERVIEW: Joyce Manor | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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When pop-punk quartet Joyce Manor announced their upcoming return to UK shores, it was met with feverish excitement. Since forming in 2008, the Californians have garnered one of the most ardent followings in the underground rock world, comparable to fellow emo revivalists Modern Baseball. There’s no explanation other than the fact that Joyce Manor’s short, suckerpunch bursts of power pop are just so damn loveable. Not since Blink 182 has a band produced such anthemic, sing-your-heart out, simple pop-punk slices of perfection. Take Heart Tattoo, from their third record Never Hungover Again, for example. It’s a straightforward, under two-minute ode to getting a heart tattoo to demonstrate your love for someone. In theory, it sounds pretty underwhelming, but in practice, it’s a blissfully honest, infectious tune that elicits breathless sing-alongs. So it’s no surprise that the slightly different approach Joyce Manor took when creating their latest record, Cody, had some fans scratching their heads.

Make no mistake, Cody is still very much Joyce Manor. But it’s a more pensive, grown-up version. While Never Hungover Again had a sense of youthful urgency, Cody is characterised by a pervading sense of melancholy and a somewhat reluctant acceptance of growing up. The sun-kissed end of summer vibe is still there, but there’s a hint of sadness to it, rather than a sense of promise. There’s even an acoustic ballad, Do You Really Want to Get Better, about a friend struggling with addiction. This more serious side to Joyce Manor is partly down to the inevitably of getting older, given several members of the band, including lead vocalist and guitarist Barry Johnson, recently turned thirty. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to make this record darker and more serious,” says Johnson. “I think shit just gets darker and more serious as you get older. I write about feeling old a lot on this album. I think about how old I am a lot and it annoys me. I think I’ll get used to it eventually but for now I’m just always thinking “damn I’m old!””  

Sonically, Cody is Joyce Manor’s most expansive, polished album to date. There’s less thrashing and more attention to their song craft. For the first time ever, the record features a track that is over four minutes long, although they haven’t strayed too far from what they know, with most of the tracks still coming in around the two-minute mark. “It just comes naturally to me to write that way”, explains Johnson. “They say to write what you know and I don’t know much!” The band also took a different approach to recording with their latest effort. Where they had previously got things done and dusted quickly, this time around they took their time, holing up in the studio for two months with producer Rob Schnapf, who has previously worked with Elliott Smith and Guided By Voices. “A lot of the rough edges were smoothed out and a lot of little things were tweaked that made a huge difference as far as making the songs I had written for Cody sound more like “real” songs. Working with Rob was great. He brought a lot of wisdom sonically and some great production ideas that I would have never thought of in a million years. He is a genius and very fun to record with.”

Though Cody is certainly more of a slow burner than previous records, it’s much more of a nuanced, rewarding listen. While it’s less lightning-quick pop-punk, more a blend of indie and alt-rock, Cody’s sense of reflection and vulnerability makes it all the more endearing. Evidently, growing up isn’t really all that bad when it comes to channelling your anxieties into a stellar alt-rock record, but with such a young core fan base, was Johnson concerned about how Joyce Manor’s die-hard fans would react to the change in direction? “I was a little worried that it would be too rock oriented for our younger fans who aren’t into Big Star and shit, and we did see some people kind of looking puzzled when we first put it out. I’m noticing crowds warming to it the longer we tour on it though, which is how it was for Never Hungover Again as well.” 

Regardless of UK fans’ reaction to Cody, Joyce Manor’s upcoming live shows are still utterly unmissable. Though a typically blasé Johnson states that they’ll consist of “the same old bullshit”, a Joyce Manor gig is a hugely cathartic, passionate experience. These shows will be all the more special given that local pop-punk heroes Martha will be providing support. “We’ve been trying to tour with Martha for years”, laughs Johnson. “We are huge huge fans of them musically and as people!” Indeed, never has a tour seemed like such a match made in heaven. It might be time to get that heart tattoo.   

Joyce Manor play Durham Student’s Union on Sunday 9th July with support from Martha.

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