Joyce Manor: “It’s not healthy to start painting yourself into a box… it’s better to just f*cking get on with it”

Joyce Manor have never been a band to spend too long dwelling in the same sound. But on sixth album 40 oz. To Fresno, Barry Johnson found the perfect middle ground between forward-thinking and a bit of reflection. It’s resulted in a record that – in his words – slams…

Joyce Manor: “It’s not healthy to start painting yourself into a box… it’s better to just f*cking get on with it”
Huw Baines
Dan Monick

When everything stopped happening a couple of springs ago, reminders of scrapped plans were easy to come by: Google Calendar notes for birthdays that would pass in isolation, invites pinned to fridge doors for parties and weddings that didn’t happen. In San Jose, California, the marquee at the Ritz featured Joyce Manor’s name for months and months and months, advertising a phantom show.

As tours with the Format, Jimmy Eat World and Dogleg fell by the wayside, Joyce Manor settled into COVID inertia for a time. Initially, guitarist-vocalist Barry Johnson filled the empty space with six packs of IPA, weed and video games. Then he got really bored. But he couldn’t summon anything new from the void, so he returned to a tactic that had worked before and began looking backwards. “It didn’t feel particularly inspiring to me, feeling kind of cut off and isolated,” he recalls.

“So I started with odds and ends I had lying around. I edit a lot when I'm writing so I'll get rid of stuff that I like. Just because it's good doesn't necessarily mean it belongs on a record, you know? It's like when you're editing a movie. You have to take out certain scenes because they're fucking with the pacing of the film. You have to make harsh edits. I ended up with a pretty decent graveyard of songs to start digging through, trying to reanimate them.”

The result is 40 oz. To Fresno, Joyce Manor’s sixth LP and the follow up to 2020’s Songs From Northern Torrance, a collection record that brought together material from their days as an acoustic folk-punk band. Its slight frame – nine songs in 15 minutes or so – is a rebuke to the potential for bloated pandemic pieces as much as it’s an emblem of the band’s firm grip on the mechanics of their music. “But I feel like we've got backlash for every record for changing,” Barry counters, turning the idea of an established pattern over in his mind. “Literally, every fucking record.”

It feels like any venom directed their way has probably been fuelled by the sort of toxic, weird love that follows influential bands around. Another, more sympathetic, view would be that Joyce Manor have always been exciting precisely because they have always been good at moving on quickly. Within their first few years they traded out that early folk-punk sound for the emo-revival blueprint of their self-titled debut, and then dismantled that on the oddball Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. Since then, they have been in cycles of refinement, becoming more melodically and compositionally daring even as their song lengths have largely stayed at the 90-second mark.

Due to the fact that its bones span a decade of Barry’s life, 40 oz. To Fresno feels like a reflective statement – it readily digs into the Weezerisms that have cropped up throughout their history and ends with Secret Sisters, an offcut from 2014’s Never Hungover Again that was in turn left off Songs From Northern Torrance because it sounded odd in that context. Having been passed over twice, it elbowed its way in again and provided a pivotal creative spark. “I was like, ‘It would be sick if we did a whole record like this, that was a little more aggressive,’” Barry says. “We haven't really done the Weezer thing in a minute, that six-eight thing. I was like, ‘It’d be cool to do a whole record that slammed a little more.’”

The title’s Sublime riff is a dumb joke that reminds him of the band’s early days in the van, which is also a space he readily associates with chewing over their music in a wider context. As an artist you can search for what’s next your whole career, but your past will always be nipping at your heels. “I wish it was more like ‘I just did some good work’ and then got on with it,” Barry ponders. “But there’s a couple of things at play. I guess you do interviews like this, where people are prompting you to think about yourself and your process and your catalogue. And then, also, there's a side of me that likes to be kind of self-indulgent and think about it.

“You know, when we're in the van and it's just us band members, we talk about it a lot – too much I'd say – because it's fun. It's fun to think about your arc and your career, where you've been, and where you hope to go. It's just very natural for us to talk about that, and what felt like pivotal moments song-wise, like, 'Oh, yeah, when we wrote that, I felt like we set a new bar' or something. But it's not the most healthy thing as a creative person to start painting yourself into a box. It's better to just fucking get on with it and to not think about that. The less you think about your own work and your own stuff the better. It's not good for being inspired or being artistic.”

40 oz. To Fresno was recorded at Mant Sounds in Glassell Park, California, in a few blocks between the summer of 2020 and early 2021, with regular producer Rob Schnapf behind the desk and Motion City Soundtrack’s Tony Thaxton on drums. Its disparate threads and provocative choices – it opens with a cover of OMD’s Souvenir, ends with an eight year old B-side – are held together by easy chemistry and songs that, in Barry’s words, slam.

Joyce Manor continue to make interesting structural calls, ditching verse-chorus-verse in favour of moments such as the single Gotta Let It Go, which uses a guitar break as its essential hook, and Did You Ever Know, which moves in a straight line without repeating any element. On the other hand, Don’t Try is 100 seconds long and features four choruses. “I don't know that there is another song like that,” Barry says. “Maybe Song 2 by Blur, but that’s two minutes.”

“One of our most popular songs is Beach Community, and it only has one chorus,” he continues. “But it's so obviously the chorus that even when it only happens once, it doesn't feel like that. At all. It feels like the song builds towards this chorus and then it resolves.

“It feels totally, completely thought out.”

40 oz. To Fresno is released on June 10 via Epitaph

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