Flanked by the cool clatter of wind chimes, the Torrance, California quarter Joyce Manor are quietly confident before their show at London’s Bush Hall. The venue’s hanging chandeliers, high stonewalls and red velvet curtains aren’t your typical setting for watching a ferocious pop-punk band shred their larynxes, but the four men who make up Joyce Manor – Barry Johnson on guitar and vocals, Chase Knobbe on guitar, Matt Ebert on bass and vocals and Jeff Enzor on drums – are more than up for it, as is evident throughout their triumphant 45 minute set. The entire crowd are in a frenzy, passionately howling along with every word, breaking the venue’s ‘no crowd-surfing’ policy and generally getting swept up in the infectious energy Joyce Manor bring to every show.
Joyce Manor’s idiosyncratic approach to the genre – guitars that range from jarring to beautiful, pounding rhythm sections and bittersweet melodies with thoughtful, poetic lyrics – has built them a committed following organically over the past few years. “There’s been no overnight shock. We haven’t woken up and been like ‘oh my god, these shows are huge’. It’s been very gradual. Our first tours were pretty good but they’ve obviously gotten better,” laughs Matt. “We’ve always had something. We’ve never gone anywhere and played to no one,” Barry tells me, “we’ve been lucky in that respect and it has always been rewarding. With every record it’s gotten bigger.”
Have the band experienced a difference in the crowd reaction between their home turf and the UK? “The US and the UK crowds are actually really similar. I honestly don’t think there’s a huge difference; they’re both really responsive and really fun to play for.” It’s the band and the audience’s shared passion that links them all together, whether they’re playing someone’s house or a stone-built theatre such as Bush Hall. “Our song ‘Schley’ has been going over really well, I really enjoy playing that way,” Barry tells me after I ask him which songs the band enjoy playing. “I love playing ‘Falling In Love Again’,” adds Matt – and these are both songs that the crowd really reacts to later that night. Barry then summarizes his approach to writing a setlist. “I like playing songs that people want to hear. I love playing ‘Constant Headache’ as that always gets an amazing response; people want to hear it. That’s really important: it’s 50% the crowd, 50% the band. When both are firing on all cylinders you can’t compare it to anything else.”
“It’s really important to me to try and write something that surprises me. I’ll read it back and be like ‘I didn’t realize that I had that in me’.”
Watching the band, it’s obvious that the crowd really care about each lyric they sing back to Barry. Does he have a theory as to why his lyrics connect so well with such a range of people? “I think it’s because I spend a lot of time on writing lyrics. It’s really important to me to try and write something that surprises me. I’ll read it back and be like ‘I didn’t realize that I had that in me’. I don’t like to be too straightforward. If you can write something that impresses you than usually it’ll resonate with someone else.” It’s evident from the passion and excitement from the London crowd assembled that the band’s lyrical content resonates entirely and powerfully.
The music that surrounds Barry’s lyrics is hard to pin down; there are elements of alternative rock, pop-punk and even the jangly guitars of ‘80s indie bands all present in the band’s brief and exciting bursts. There are a lot of influences bubbling beneath the surface but Joyce Manor is able to pull it all together: “I think that one of the main things we focus on is having songs exist in a space that’s neither major nor minor. If it was too major it sounded too poppy and minor and sounded too broody and serious. We wanted to find a middle ground that encompasses an emotional whole. We want to cover a large emotional scope.” Matt then chimes in, adding in that there have never been any creative differences between them. “We’re lucky that we like a lot of the same things – we’re completely on the same page with the music we like and we’ve never really disagreed.” The band’s instinctive musical connection is heard in their multi-faceted and literate pop-punk which continues to be so rapturously received.
“Maybe I need to find something else to be insecure about. Might need to find some more adversity before the next record.”
The band is obviously driven with an extensive touring schedule and three albums, each with a distinct feel, but consistently punk. Usually, punk is a reaction to something and I wonder what they were reacting to. “I think, in the beginning, there was a lot of anxiety about never doing anything else. I was in a space of ‘what am I doing and what am I going to do with my life?’” says Barry, when talking of what drives him. “I didn’t go to school and didn’t have any employable skills and was working in a restaurant. There was a lot of fear and anxiety about that in beginning and it made me really want to push forward and push being in a band. Joyce Manor was something to do with my life, and now we are doing this I’m trying to figure out what drives me now and what’ll drive me to write songs. I guess I’m still figuring that out.” Were there specific goals that the band was aiming for from their first practice? “A goal of ours from the beginning was put out vinyl and so we achieved that. We also wanted to tour Japan. I grew up with a lot of Japanese bands and was enamored with their culture so that was a huge goal and now we’ve done both of those things. Anything else is just extra.”
After extensive tours across the globes, vinyl releases and a committed fan base, have the band found these experiences shaping them as people? “Joyce Manor has afforded me a lot,” replies Barry instantly, “I’ve been able to travel the world. I tried to do something and it worked! It’s hard to know how I would’ve grown doing something else… It’s given me a lot of confidence as a person. I was a lot more insecure before this band was successful.” Barry pauses for a second and wryly ponders, “I don’t know if that confidence is good or bad; maybe insecure people make better music. Maybe I need to find something else to be insecure about. Might need to find some more adversity before the next record.” It’s been a really unique experience watching Joyce Manor grow as a musical outfit, and here’s to that growth continuing – with a couple of difficulties along the way, of course.
Words by Joseph Fuller