No Joy Slip Into Something a Little Less Comfortable
Nouveau shoegazers mix pop accessibility and difficulty on their third full-length More Faithful.
"I was really into [nu-metal/post-hardcore producer] Ross Robinson and how he would be recording and throw a chair at somebody to get a more aggressive performance," says Jasamine White-Gluz when asked about her influences for the new No Joy album, More Faithful. At the Drive In, whom White-Gluz cites, is a surprising touchstone for a band most often compared to shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive and whose third-full length clears the fuzz for a strikingly pop oriented sound. Yet White-Gluz says it was all about moving outside her comfort zone.
No Joy finished its latest album in an isolated farmhouse in Costa Rica, stuck for days on end without wifi or television. The farmhouse belonged to producer Jorge Elbrecht's family, and while Elbrecht was no chair thrower, he did push White-Gluz and her fellow band members into surprising places.
White-Gluz, who asked her producer to make her uncomfortable recalls, "I would have to sing my vocals with no reverb and do them over and over again and in front of people. On the last record, I was singing in a dark room and alone and you couldn't really see me. It made me uncomfortable." By the end, she says, "I kind of regretted wanting him to push me, but, I asked for this."
Why? "I wanted to have that mix of feeling of the uncomfortable or something that I was not used to, but then have it be married with something that was super pleasing on the ears or super poppy. Those two things can go really well together," she says.
No Joy has been making music since about 2009, when White-Gluz and co-founder Laura Lloyd started trading files by email. White-Gluz was living in L.A. at the time, while Lloyd was in Montreal. The two knew each other from growing up in the same Montreal scene. "In Montreal, if you play music and speak English you basically know everybody," White-Gluz explained. "We played in bands together. [Laura] was touring with me when she was underage and not able to get into the clubs. So we've known each other for a decade, playing music together."
The pair released the first No Joy album Ghost Blonde about six months after they started writing together in 2010. A fuzz-drenched, guitar-driven thing of beauty, the album elicited comparisons to landmarks of inchoate sound: Say Anything , Psychocandy and others. The Wire noted "an ineffable quality to No Joy's music that truly works."
A grueling tour followed, and the band, at the time White-Gluz, Lloyd, and drummer Garland Hastings (who was playing in a Green Day cover band when they found him) reconvened to record in 2011 with the Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner. Says White-Gluz, "We were like, 'Let's try this!' 'Let's do samples and sound like Animal Collective!' We were trying to do something that was not our strength. Just because something's different doesn't mean it's good."
The band ended up scrapping that whole album and starting again. The second time, they came up with Wait to Pleasure, an album that made significant strides towards clarity. PopMatters' Benjamin Hedge Olson gave it an eight out of ten, and observed, "This is music for drowsing in the sun, and for getting a summertime party started. It has energy and intimacy. It is dark and happy simultaneously."
Focus and Preparation
For More Faithful, No Joy took a different approach. "Every time we'd gone to the studio before this record, we'd always kind of scrambled a little bit or spent a lot of time writing and experimenting in the studio," says White-Gluz. "This time we wanted to go in as a band and as a tight band and we wanted to know the direction we were going in and all the songs, so that when we were in the studio, we could just be a full band and not just make stuff up as we go."
The band had also evolved over four years of touring. Both Hastings and bass player Michael Farsky had become more involved in shaping No Joy's sound, and both would take a hand in writing the new songs. For example, the song "Judith", which closes the album, had its origins in a demo White-Gluz wrote for Ghost Blonde. "I gave it to Michael, and he sort of rearranged it and wrote some new parts to it. And then it became another song," she says.
Farsky also brought in the idea for "Moon in My Mouth" with its tricky time-signature and unusual structure. "You want to challenge yourself. As musicians, we just wanted to do something that was a little bit more interesting for us to play, which would make us uncomfortable or that we had to practice a lot or was not easy to do," White-Gluz says.
Yet while More Faithful is, indeed, clearer and hookier than Wait to Pleasure, it is also quite accessible. You can even hear the words a lot of the time, and that's another element that makes White-Gluz antsy. "I never was someone who liked sharing the lyrics, even with the band," she explains. "It was kind of a selfish thing. I just wanted to keep something about the songs for myself and not let it all out. Whatever the subject was, I would know, but not necessarily everyone else."
She adds, "The songs that I gravitate to are the ones that I don't know what it's about and I can just kind of make it relate to me, or I just don't care what it's about. That's what we were striving for on the first couple of releases."
But More Faithful is different. "This time you can really tell what they are," she says. "For better or worse, but we wanted to do something that challenged ourselves and that was part of my challenge, to get over the shyness of sharing lyrics."
Recently, No Joy took to the road, sharing its music (and lyrics) with audiences in the UK and Europe, and had a surprise encounter with royalty. "We walked by a garden party that was letting out. We were just standing by a driveway. There was no one else there, and Charles and Camilla drove up, waved at us and drove into their apartment. That was pretty cool."
And perhaps, a little uncomfortable?