There are four things fans of Joywave should know in order to understand the motivations of the Rochester, New York indie rock quintet.
First is that Rochester is the home base of Eastman Kodak Company, whose employees numbered many thousands and essentially ruled the city before the company suffered what singer Daniel Armbruster refers to as an “economic Chernobyl” in the early aughts, and the city floundered. The parents of all of the band’s members — including guitarist Joseph Morinelli, bassist Sean Donnelly, keyboardist Benjamin Bailey and drummer Paul Brenner — all worked for Kodak at one time and another, so the band members understand hard times and things not going according to plan.
Second, Rochester is home to many metal bands, which freed Joywave to be true to themselves but also proved to be an inescapable influence, and third, Armbruster co-wrote the number-one radio single “Dangerous” with someone other than a Joywave member — Alan Wilkis — while both were in a duo called Big Data. After the earworm was already on the radio, Joywave signed to Hollywood Records, and Armbruster let Wilkis pursue Big Data on his own — the song was retroactively credited to “Big Data featuring Joywave.” Finally, while picking between an indie label and Disney-owned Hollywood Records, they decided primarily on doing the opposite of what was expected from an indie band. As a bonus, they had their wish of sampling animated movies on last year’s debut album, How Do You Feel Now, granted. We sat down with Joywave prior to their set opening for Metric at the Masonic in San Francisco for Noise Pop on Tuesday.
RIFF: Tell me something new that has happened to you guys while opening for Metric.
Daniel Armbruster: Sit-downs. There’s a lot of theaters. The theater in Seattle, the Moore, was seated all the way to the front of the stage.
Sean Donnelly: There was room to stand up in the front, but they set up these shitty wooden folding chairs so everyone could sit.
Armbruster: I felt sorry for the guy sitting front and center, because he was there right at doors (opening) and some of the other people weren’t. I could tell he didn’t want to make eye contact. I talked a little more than usual to put people in the front at ease, but I still felt bad for the people in the front. If you go to a comedy show, you pray you’re not sitting in the front row, because someone’s gonna talk to you.
Donnelly: Unless you’re a natural born heckler.
Do you get asked often what it’s like being from Rochester and how it has influenced your band?
Donnelly: It’s a pleasant question to answer.
Armbruster: It’s cool; there’s a lot of metal bands — not any other bands like us. It helped with our development to do whatever we wanted and not really feel pressured to do the thing the band next to us in the practice space was doing. It was metal, always.
Donnelly: Everyone else in Rochester is very aggressive with the music they make, which has seeped into our music a little bit. Some of our songs have an edge to them. The production is a little aggro, like “Parade” live.
Paul: A lot of that (difference) comes through listening to Joywave recorded versus live. We all want to instinctively rock out.
What is the overarching theme of your album?
Armbruster: Figuring out post-college life inside the great recession. I graduated college at the absolute worst time. I graduated in 2007, and everyone I went to school with did not get a job. They all work in call centers —
Donnelly: You get health care, which is kind of like a thing.
Armbruster: Yeah, but if you went to college to be a teacher, and you’re working at a call center, it’s not ideal. You have to keep doing it to pay back your college loans, so you can’t go after the thing you want to go after. [The album] is dealing with expectations when you’re growing up versus reality. They’d make us do all these projects in middle school, where it was like, “Go through these magazines and cut out a picture of your wife, a picture of your car, and a picture of your house, and make a collage of the way your life is going to be.” None of that happened to any of us. When we were making the record, I was still sleeping in the same bed … since I was 5 years old. “Wow. This is not what I thought was going to happen.”
You’ve got some songs that sample Disney animated classics. How did you make that happen?
Armbruster: We had an offer from a really small Brooklyn indie label and we had an offer from Hollywood Records, which is owned by Disney. Most indie bands would sign with the small indie label and be anti-corporate stuff. Our thing is about doing the opposite of what people are expecting. Would it be crazy if we were the only indie band on this insane, Demi Lovato pop label? Our other thought was that we could probably sample a lot of the Disney catalog if we deliver a record that everyone is happy with. In a way that’s interesting and clever that they’re excited about. We guessed right. We finished the record and then just asked the president of the label at one of our shows. … He spent two seconds stroking his beard and said it was alright.
I want to talk about the Big Data connection. Daniel, you were in Big Data, but you left so you could do Joywave. But you wrote hit radio single “Dangerous” as both Joywave and Big Data. How did that work?
Armbruster: Big Data was originally me and Alan Wilkis. We did the first EP together, which we called “1.0.” Big Data started getting all this attention for “Dangerous,” and Joywave got signed at the same time, which was crazy because I spent 15 years with nothing going right in my life. And all of a sudden these two things happened independently of each other. It was not really possible to do both, so I decided to let Alan do his thing with guest vocalists, and we retroactively [labeled] the song “featuring Joywave.” It was already on the radio when “featuring Joywave” got added.
Do you feel that song gave Joywave a huge boost?
Armbruster: We don’t play it live, but there are a lot of people who discovered us through that song.
You’ve got unique fashion sense and style — Daniel has the wide-framed glasses and mustache. Then you wear matching pink suits on late-night TV, playing “Destruction” on Jimmy Kimmel’s show.
Armbruster: Did you read the comment section on that video?
Benjamin Bailey: Some were brutal.
Armbruster: It’s pretty funny, though. We just wanted to do something that made people a little uncomfortable. Especially those who didn’t know what the band looked like at all and had heard us on a rock radio station.
Donnelly: It was the heaviest song we have, so we wanted to do the softest-looking thing we possibly could. Pink head to toe was the answer.
How do you describe the image of this band and how important is that image to you?
Armbruster: I guess it’s not important because it’s constantly changing. It’s just whatever it feels like today. … Everyone has their own idea of how they should dress themselves in the morning.
Donnelly: Until we go on TV again.
Paul Brenner: Then it’s soft pink suit time.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.