Joyce Manor have had to learn a few new tricks for album four.
Words: Steven Loftin.
“Up until now my process has just been to trust my gut. I’ve known when it’s right; there were some ideas that were really ‘no trust me on this’, where I was like ‘this feels wrong’.” Joyce Manor have been doing things alone for so long that they know no different. Everything has been self-sufficient, bar a little label help. So for their fourth full-length, ‘Cody’, they decided to get some help in. Producer Rob Schnapf enabled the band to find their next step forward, building on the raw, relatable pop punk that has made Joyce Manor both a band’s band and one with a diehard fanbase, into this fully-formed, more approachable sound.
The album sessions saw frontman Barry Johnson entering a whole new territory within his craft. “It felt like I was ruining a song,” he says, “and then I’d spend time and get used to it and Rob was right. It was weird to go against your gut and have it be the right thing to do.” He excitedly talks about his favourite cut from the album; the introductory look into this new material, ‘Fake ID’. It’s a song which sums up the new Joyce Manor sound perfectly. “I love that song, I think it’s really infectious and really fun, but I could see people hating it… I fought [for it] to be different and I was wrong, really wrong. When I listen now to the demo version and the one we have it’s just no question, he was right.”
In addition to this richer sound, ‘Cody’ sees the worlds of pop punk and pop culture collide – in particular, where Barry sings: “What do you think about Kanye West? I think that he’s great / I think he’s the best / I think he’s better than John Steinbeck / I think he’s better than Phil Hartman.” “Usually when a melody pops into my head it comes with lyrics attached to it, and those were the lyrics that came with that melody,” he explains. “I was like, those can’t be the lyrics. And then the more I thought about it, those have to be the lyrics. It’s genius, but it’s just not. It’s gibberish, but in a good way. I’m really proud of it. It’s really antagonistic, there’s something I just like about it.” But what does Barry really think about Kanye West? “He’s an amazing producer. He has some great songs, but sometimes his lyrics make me cringe a little bit. But yeah, I’m a fan – I don’t think he’s the best, but I’m a fan.”
Proving ‘Cody’ to be the band’s most thoughtful work to date, there’s even a soft acoustic number referencing a friend’s choosing of addiction rather than help, ‘Do You Really Want To Not Get Better’. Discussing this brief departure from the fast-paced action around it, Barry offers: “We wrote that one a while ago and then didn’t really do anything it. We had this other fast pop punk song on the album, that kind of sounded like ‘Dude Ranch’ Blink-182, and by the time we were getting into the mixing stage we decided to not use the fast pop punk one, and to try recording the acoustic one. It was kind of a nice way to maybe introduce a bit of seriousness, I don’t know, I just kind of liked the melody and Chase [Knobbe’s] guitar part. I like that it doesn’t go on and on, it’s just this brief little snippet to kind of break things up a little bit.”
Adding in songs that touch on the darker side of life was a tough choice. “I think it introduced a little bit of emotion weight, without over doing it and ruining the pacing of the album. I didn’t want to go too far in either direction where it’s too serious, but also I don’t want to be just a pop punk band. I love the genre and playing in that style of band, but you want to kind of push yourself to do more than that without losing what’s so fun about playing in a pop punk band.” Like Blink-182? “They went too far,” he laughs. “I think once they kind of tried to be a little bit more serious and go with that Angels and Airwaves vibe, it lost some of what made it human and made it relatable.”
The future is something the band don’t really look to: they’re here to enjoy the ride and see what happens next. “I don’t think I really think that far ahead, I always just focus on what I’m making at the time. I don’t do ‘where do you see yourself in 10 years?’” It’s a concise summation of the Joyce Manor ethos, one that has seen them build up their successes all through gut instinct and own knowledge. “It forced me to push myself to learn how to make songs work with the limited knowledge I had, and people seemed to like it.”