Fête & The Bowery Presents
with Mannequin Pussy
Wednesday, February 8th
Tickets: ADV $16 • DOS $18
Joyce Manor was conceived in the back of a car in the Disneyland parking lot—the kind of beginning California dreams are really made of. It was the fall of 2008 over a bottle of cheap booze when co-founders Barry Johnson (guitar, vocals) and Chase Knobbe (guitar) decided to team up. They formed a power violence band where everyone would have Johnny Thunders-style glam-names … like “Joyce Manor” named after an apartment complex Barry walked past every day. But when longtime friend Andrew Jackson Jihad suddenly asked Barry if his old band wanted to open for their LA show, he scrambled to say yes.
“I was like, ‘We have a new band!’ ‘What’s it called?’ And the first thing I thought of was … ‘Uh, Joyce Manor!’ We didn’t even have a band. But they put it on the flyer.”
So Joyce Manor made their debut as an acoustic two-piece, with Chase and Barry quickly learned that they were really a pop-punk band trapped inside a folk-punk duo—too many songs just demanded bass and drums. “Playing loud is just more fun,” explains Barry.
By the end of 2009, they’d made a new friend in new drummer Kurt Walcher and welcomed old friend Matt Ebert back from Portland to play bass. (“He moved back like, ‘Dude, wanna start a band?’” says Barry. “And I said, ‘Wanna be in THIS band?’”) With their line-up settled, they attacked their songs with new enthusiasm and neurotic precision, discovering their own kind of beauty in simplicity and pursuing heartbroken punk perfection.
Their first self-titled album in 2011 exploded out of nowhere and their second in 2012 landed them on the storied Asian Man Records, home of all of Barry’s first favorite bands. Across these two albums, they discovered what Joyce Manor really sounded like—the speed and sense of melody of fellow South Bay band the Descendents, the artfully bittersweet lyricism of Jawbreaker and the undeniable heart-on-sleeve honesty of the first two Weezer albums. By the close of 2013, they had the experience, the discipline and the inspiration to make one of those rare albums that redefines a young band—Never Hungover Again, on Epitaph Records.
Some of these songs, they’d been working on for years, says Barry. Joyce Manor never demos. They just mercilessly rehearse, chopping and editing and reworking songs until there’s nothing left that lags. (“I just know when it’s right,” says Barry) Guitarist Chase had graduated to a co-writing position with Barry, pouring new ideas and techniques into the songs, and while their first two albums were learn-as-you-go experiences, they started Never Hungover Again with a vision, a budget and two whole weeks to make exactly what they wanted. (That’s a long time in Joyce Manor world.) Friend and Philly producer Joe Reinhardt took the controls in Hollywood’s analog dreamland the Lair. They assigned the final mix to Tony Hoffer—the guy who found the definitive sound Supergrass, Belle and Sebastian, M83 and Phoenix.
Together, they made an album of pop-punk in paradox, right down to the title and photo on the cover. It’s something like believing the impossible, says Barry, or at least the too good to be true: “Those people look wasted—yeah, there will definitely be a hangover! There will be pain!’” (Referring to the cover art). It is ten precisely put-together songs about how things fall apart, with some of the saddest lyrics you’d ever shout along to from the front row.
There are broken homes, drunken nights, faltering relationships and the kind of numbness that makes you want to feel anything at all, even if it hurts. Naturally, there are some Morrissey-esque moments in there—like “In the Army Now” about watching friends grow out of music and move on. Or in “End of the Summer,” which somehow puts a Big Star-style intro in front of Moz-ian vocals and a chorus that’s pure blue-album Weezer. “Heart Tattoo” is a pop-punk stormer (think Lifetime or Dillinger Four) about what really happens when you get a tattoo—“What about the regret?” asks Barry. And “Catalina Fight Song” is maybe Hungover’s definitive song, about hanging out on the cliffs that overlook the Pacific—what locals call the end of the world—and thinking “What the fuck am I gonna do?”
If there’s a feeling to Never Hungover Again, says Barry, it’s a feeling he can’t quite pin down—some complex thing that’s part anger and part sadness. It's the loneliness when you’re surrounded by people and that lostness when everything you’ve wanted seems to be right in front of you. And if there’s a single moment that defines Never Hungover Again, it’s the way “The Jerk” ends with feedback and a chord ringing over Barry’s last shout of “It all goes wrong!”—because despite the confusion and sorrow and resignation, it somehow sounds so right.
Christmas Island, the 5th album proper from Andrew Jackson Jihad, is a little bit silly, a
little bit serious. It’s a record that’s irreverent yet somber, full of humor and full of pathos, its twelve songs combining the two to create a record that – truly – cuts right to the bone of the human condition. Whether it’s life, love, death, loss or Linda Ronstadt, this record has it all,
delving into the most profound of emotions, reaching deep into the heart of humanity,
unveiling universal truths through the most unlikely of scenarios.
Of course, if you’re aware of Andrew Jackson Jihad – comprised of founding members Sean Bonnette (vocals and guitar) and Ben Gallaty (bass), with Preston Bryant (keyboards, guitars) and Deacon Batchelor (drums) and album/touring cellist Mark Glick – you’ll know that the Phoenix, Arizona outfit have been doing exactly that for the last decade. In fact, they’ve built a significant cult following since their inception in 2004, one that knows just how heartbreaking, heartwarming and inspiring their shambolic songs can be. This record – their first for SideOneDummy Records – is no different. And while Bonnette acknowledges it’s their most cohesive to date, it wasn’t the easiest to write.
“One or two of these songs,” he explains, “I’d started writing before our last album was out. And then there was a bit of struggle to write, a battle against self-doubt that I eventually won, with the help of [producer] John Congleton. He definitely helped coax out songs. He told us, ‘Write as many songs as you can and send them to me, and I’ll tell you which ones I want to record.’ Since then, I’ve started to adopt that method, not so much worrying if a song is a good song, but just making sure that I write a song. It was a really fun process, after the battle against self-doubt was won.”
You can hear just how fun it was when you listen to it. Recorded by Congleton (Murder By Death, The Mountain Goats, Okkervil River, The Thermals) at Elmwood Studios in Dallas, Texas, Christmas Island’s twelve songs are good songs – actually, they’re great songs – and they combine to present a vibrant vision of what Andrew Jihad Jackson is all about; blurring the lines between the ludicrous and the earnest, reality and surreality. Take, for instance, ‘Linda Rondstadt’, a plaintive three minute ballad about the power country/soft rock singer. ‘Today I lost my shit in a museum / It was a video installation of Linda Rodstadt,’ opines Bonnette in the first verse, before the chorus kicks in: ‘I almost made it through a year of choking down my fears / But they’re gone for now, all thanks to Linda Rondstadt.’ It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a true story.
“That’s one of the songs about something that actually happened,” says Bonnette. “I was living back in Phoenix, Arizona after living in Chicago for a year with my girlfriend. So I was really homesick, but I was at home, and we went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona as chaperones for my uncle’s high school ESL class, but as soon as we got there we fucked off and didn’t supervise any of those kids. We just walked around, and I found an installation of Linda Rondstadt’s music, of her singing in Spanish. And it was at that point that I just lost it. All of the homesickness hit me and I just started weeping. The weird thing is that I wasn’t even that big a fan of Linda Rondstadt until that moment. I’d always thought positively of her, but she’d certainly never made me cry before”
While that song might relate to one specific moment of overwhelming grief, there’s an underlying influence that runs through all of them – the death of Bonnette’s grandfather. Last track ‘Angel Of Death’ references it explicitly, but his grandfather’s presence is in all of these songs.
“A whole lot of the record,” explains Bonnette, “is about pre-grieving. He passed away about a month before we went in to record it. I flew in after a solo tour and made it just in time to watch him die and be with him. The next week we started practising to record. So he was pretty much with me the entire time, and was obviously playing on my mind. A lot of these songs are about grieving before you need to grieve and making your peace with it before anything happens. I had my worst night before I flew home, before he’d even passed away. But there’s another theme, too – which is pretty heavily handed in the song ‘Deathlessness’ – and that’s that forgiveness is a pretty wonderful thing. After my grandfather’s death, I realised that there were a couple of people I’d been holding grudges and ill will against and I decided to forgive them, and I feel a lot better about it now.”
That tension between fury and forgiveness, between anger and calm, between love and hate and life and death, isn’t just thematic, but weaved into in the sonic fabric of these songs. In ‘Deathlessness’ itself, the jaunty, minor chord melody rages against the inevitability of death, the tune restless and agitated until the key refrain – ‘How can I live without ever knowing the beauty of forgiveness?’ – tempers it with grace and, yes, beauty. Opener ‘Temple Grandin’ is scuzzy yet melodic, while the tense euphoria of ‘Children Of God’ is as beautiful and disturbing as the song’s incredible imagery (choice example: ‘I found a weird calling card in a puddle of body parts inside a bowl of angel hearts that the children were eating’). ‘Kokopelli Face Tattoo’ – which has been floating around for years in various guises – thrashes with fuzzy, catchy energy, ‘Coffin Dance’ is fragile yet frustrated, worn down by life but desperate to kick out against it, and closer ‘Angel Of Death’ brims with a confidence that bravely defies its subject matter.
“We’d just finished touring as an electric band,” says Bonnette, “and we were kind of ready to make an electric rock album. I’m so glad we didn’t do that. Because John wanted to make a mostly acoustic album that was really brutal, that was sonically very distorted and over-driven and almost painful to listen to. Almost as if to prove that acoustic music can be heavy. But he also wanted me to write songs from the heart.”
These are certainly songs from the heart, but ones as unusual as they are traditional. It’s a record that’s raw and gentle, hummable yet abrasive and downright weird and wonderful. It’s a little bit silly and a little bit serious, full of sad humor and hilarious pathos. Because Christmas Island – it’s far from a random title, but it’s also kind of a secret – is simultaneously ridiculous and sublime in the way that Andrew Jackson Jihad always have been. It’s a record absolutely in keeping with their bold and brilliant past – the one their cult following has been following for years – but it’s also a bold and brilliant step forward. That’s something Bonnette, in his typically modest, playful way, almost agrees with.
“I’m mostly happy with it,” he chuckles. “I think our next record will be better than this. At least, I hope that it would be. But if I died tomorrow, I’d be really happy that this was the last thing I recorded.”