Joyce Manor SummerStage interview
[Photo by Merissa Blitz]

Joyce Manor are celebrating. This year marks a decade since the California band’s beloved self-titled debut that set the tone for the early 2010’s emo revival movement that’s very much still going on today. It can even be said that Prince Daddy & The Hyena, the first opener for Joyce Manor’s SummerStage in Central Park show, is a result of that special era. This concert is an ode to that self-titled record, and some thousands of fans have gathered to take part in this commemoration.

Since that album, Joyce Manor have been cultivating their fanbase with a good amount of compelling material: 2012’s eccentric Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, 2014’s mesmerizing Never Hungover Again, 2016’s more pop-leaning Cody and 2018’s catchy Million Dollars To Kill Me. During the pandemic, they kept listeners interested with a remastering of their original compilation album, retitling it Songs From Northern Torrance and pulling previously unreleased songs into the spotlight. 

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Lead vocalist and guitarist Barry Johnson, bassist and back-up vocalist Matt Ebert and guitarist Chase Knobbe are hanging out backstage, which is really just a bus with air conditioning and couches separated from the bands doing soundcheck. It’s hours before they hit the stage; they’re planned for 8:35 p.m., after Prince Daddy & The Hyena, Turnover and the last-minute-added act Surf Curse

With AltPress, the three guys discuss the drive behind remastering their first album, the struggles of the pandemic and the details behind their yet-to-be-announced forthcoming record.

How did the pandemic affect the band at the beginning? Did you guys have to cancel anything?

MATT EBERT: We had a run of shows with the Format that were supposed to happen March of 2020. Then we had a West Coast tour with Dogleg and a full U.S. with Jimmy Eat World. All of which we had to cancel. 

I remember people being really upset about that tour with Dogleg getting canceled because that lineup is great.

EBERT: The show in San Jose, they had “Joyce Manor” on the marquee. When everything shut down, it just stayed up for a full year. But it was very sad. It was scary; I didn’t know if we were ever gonna do anything again. It felt that bad. But we made it work. We managed to make a record during that time.

You’re talking about Songs From Northern Torrance?

BARRY JOHNSON: No, we wrote and recorded a new one. 

When did you start recording it?

EBERT: July 2020. We recorded part of it July, part of it January 2021.

JOHNSON: We were just bored. I have so many half-songs and little bits of songs. I just started with what I had laying around. So these guys are like, “Oh! It’s that part! Glad you used that part!” I’m actually surprised at how good it turned out, considering it was just a lot of ideas I had laying around. I didn’t find the pandemic at all inspiring. I found it the exact opposite. So I was just working with stuff I had laying around, but I ended up really liking it. The Rolling Stones record Tattoo You is like that. Mick and Keith weren’t getting along anymore, but they had such a prolific era in the ’70s that they had so many half-worked on songs laying around that they made into Tattoo You. Great record. This is our Tattoo You.

I noticed that Neil Berthier from PHONY and Donovan Wolfington joined the band. Were you searching for fifth person?

JOHNSON: I wanted to have him do the auxiliary stuff at The Palladium. There was some harmony stuff that Matt can’t do because of what he’s playing on bass, so it’s very difficult to play a more intricate bassline while singing harmony. So we needed somebody who could sing and to do the synth parts for a couple of our songs. It was for The Palladium to have a bit of extra production. But he started coming to practice, and I liked the energy he brought to the band. He’s like a labrador. He’s so positive and happy, and he fills the room with excitement and fun. It feels really nice to have him around. We’ve known him for about 10 years. He set up a show for us in New Orleans in 2012. So we’ve been friends with him since. He’s living in L.A. now, and he was the first person who auditioned. He sounded great.

So one of the reasons you’re playing this SummerStage is for the 10-year anniversary of your self-titled record. Did you read the Pitchfork Sunday review of it?

JOHNSON: Yes. It was flattering.

Yeah, I wanted to ask what you were thinking when you were reading it—especially the part about how it’s this staple of the emo revival that inspired and influenced many bands after and was formative for an entire subgenre.

JOHNSON: It was such an interesting little pocket of time. It was after people were buying CDs but before Spotify. There was that Tumblr or MediaFire blogs window of culture, when that was how people found out about bands. There wasn’t as much of an algorithm. It was interesting because it was by the kids for the kids, which was nice. It wasn’t as icky as it is now—with major labels and payola and Spotify. I like that we’re one of those bands that was alongside Title Fight and Tigers Jaw, that era of emo revival. None of us knew each other or anything, but we were all doing a similar thing. I think it’s just a result of having grown up liking the same stuff. Something was in the water, or in the air, or in the ether that we were all channeling. None of our bands sound that much alike, but there is something about it that is similar, and we’re all pulling from similar things. I think it’s liking Against Me! at a certain age, liking blink-182 in 1999, and just these cultural touchstones. 

How do you think people get into Joyce Manor now? 

JOHNSON: Probably some Spotify playlist, or I don’t know how people find out about us.

EBERT: I think word of mouth is still really powerful. Just friends telling friends. I gotta assume that Spotify and TikTok and all that shit has gotta play a role.

Does that ruin it at all for you?

JOHNSON: No. I don’t really think about it that much—just when we’re playing shows. I look at the kids, and I’m like, “Where the hell did you guys come from? Who are you people?”

EBERT: I just feel so grateful that we’ve been doing this for like 12 or 13 years, and there are still 20-year-old kids getting into our band. Every year there’s a new crop of 20-year-old kids coming to our shows. It’s so fucking cool. It’s the most exciting time to be a music lover.

JOHNSON: If you’re an indie-rock band with a little bit of hype, it’s so common for that to die down after three or four years. Your fans age along with you and age out of even going to shows. Bands you think are really successful and critically lauded—you go to [their] shows and nobody’s there. We’ve been so fortunate to have a really loyal live fanbase. It’s been fun playing the first record, too. 

Why did you want to remaster it? 

JOHNSON: We did that record in 2010. To the guy who recorded it, Alex [Estrada], we were like, “6131’s gonna put out our record. They’re giving us a little bit of a budget to record.” They gave us a thousand bucks. We were like, “You know what we should do? We should make it sound like Pinkerton.” And I was like, “OK. Yeah. Fuck yeah. Pinkerton. For sure.” But Pinkerton is not fast. It has these big, roomy drum sounds, but that works if you have midtempo songs. Our songs are fucking fast. So we got the same drum sounds as Pinkerton. Like, at the beginning of “El Scorcho” when he hits all the drums, we just tried to match it all. Then Kurt [Walcher] starts playing blast beats and shit. It’s just really stupid.

The record sounds fucking insane because of things like that. On the vocals, I was really self-conscious about my voice. I kept making him make my vocals all distorted. He made them really distorted and then dialed it back a little bit. But maybe I was trying to cover my voice up a little bit because I was insecure. So that record has a very unusual sound. It’s been out for 10 years, though, so I think people have an emotional attachment to how it sounds. Even though it’s pretty objectively bad-sounding. But that doesn’t matter because you have an emotional attachment to the way it’s supposed to sound. 

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Alex, during the pandemic, wasn’t working, so he remixed “Derailed” and sent it to me. He undid all of the stupid shit we did—the Pinkerton drum sound that doesn’t make any sense, and cleaned up the vocals, and there’s some fazing issues on guitar that he worked out. So it sounded like a normal record. It sounds more like the Constant Headache EP that we did before that. With that, he didn’t have any preconceived notion of trying to make it sound like Pinkerton or me being like, “Can you distort my vocals more?” He just recorded it normally. Anyway, I just thought it would be interesting to hear what that record sounded like if you could fuckin’ hear it, if it was more audible. Some people really liked it; some people really didn’t. We left the original up.

EBERT: The idea was never to replace. Just to give people a different lens to see it through.

JOHNSON: Yeah. This is what it could’ve sounded like if we had not gone in with this idea that didn’t make any sense.

The last time I spoke with you [Barry], you mentioned having a new mindset about your songwriting process. I have this quote from you where you said you wanted to make “10 songs that are unfuckwithable instead of padding it out with songs [you’re] less excited about.” I was wondering if that holds up for this new record you brought up. 

JOHNSON: We recorded 10 songs and got rid of one. It’s a nine-song record.

EBERT: We really liked it.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I really like it. I’m not sure what people are gonna think.

EBERT: I think the new songs we recorded are very exciting. They have cool energy.

JOHNSON: They’re more energetic. 

What were you guys listening to while working on it?

EBERT: What am I always listening to? Country and Jimmy Eat World. 

JOHNSON: I don’t think I really listen to anything that influences my songwriting that much.

CHASE KNOBBE: I wasn’t even listening to a ton of music in general. 

EBERT: Yeah, NPR. [Laughs.]

KNOBBE: It was early pandemic, just watching TV.

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JOHNSON: Well, I finally got into Marquee Moon by Television. I always thought that that sucked and was for guitar players and was self-indulgent, guitar player music. Then, before the pandemic, I heard the second song, “Venus,” at a bar, and I thought it was a new band. I was like, “What the fuck, this is so good. What new band is this?” They were like, “Dude, this is Television. Everyone knows this and likes this.” So I picked up that record and got really into that and listened to it over and over again. I think it affected the songwriting a little bit. We recorded it with Rob Schnapf, and he likes Television a lot too, so we talked about them. We tried to have a lot of interweaving parts, just because Television do. Every instrument is doing something different, but it all fits together. There’s quite a few moments on the record where every instrument is playing a different part, and it all works together. Is that true?

EBERT: I think so.

JOHNSON: That part in “Don’t Try.”

KNOBBE: There’s definitely more of that stuff. Intentionally trying to make things do different stuff than the other parts. Rob is also really good at pulling that part of the instrumentation out of it, too. 

Why are you guys sitting on it?

JOHNSON: We just finished it.

EBERT: It’s been a slow process. 

JOHNSON: It just got mastered, and I had to change a couple sequence things. Also, we’re doing this, finishing up the little victory lap for self-titled. But we’re gonna put it out and then tour on it. 

EBERT: There’s crazy vinyl manufacturing delays and shit, so everything’s taking long. We’re in no big rush. Sometime next year.

JOHNSON: Sometime next year we’ll put it out. Not sure when yet. But I’m happy with that.