February 8, 2017

Joyce Manor's Barry Johnson Talks Kanye, Growing Up and Letting Go

Monday, Feb. 13 @ 40 Watt Club

After going from dorm rooms to sold-out shows, nobody understands growing up quite like Joyce Manor. The California punk band isn’t afraid to accept change—in fact, it welcomes it. On its latest album, Cody, Joyce Manor explores pop culture and media trends while embracing a new, slicker sound—and the emotional baggage that comes with getting older.

The buzz started around the release of Joyce Manor’s self-titled album in 2011. The group quickly gained status because of its combination of SoCal punk, bouncy guitar riffs and seemingly nonsensical lyrics. A sophomore release, 2012’s Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, offered the same raw approach—not to mention a pop-goes-punk cover of “Video Killed the Radio Star”—but it wasn’t until 2014 that Joyce Manor took its brand of punk to a new level. After signing with Epitaph Records, the band released its third studio album, the highly acclaimed, indie-rock-inflected Never Hungover Again.

For last year’s Cody, along came a new drummer—Jeff Enzor, who replaced Kurt Walcher—and producer Rob Schnapf, whose discography is sprinkled with names like Elliott Smith, Saves the Day and FIDLAR. While previous albums featured scratchy vocals and thrashing guitars, Cody expands into full pop mode, with lyrics that alternate between nostalgia and despair.

Barry Johnson, the band’s co-founder and lead vocalist and guitarist, credits the changes to the personnel additions and his own musical maturity.

“Kurt was definitely a punk drummer, so I tried to write in a way that would suit his drumming. I would change the way I sang,” Johnson says. “My voice used to be more harsh, and maybe it’s just getting older, but I wanted to try singing a little cleaner on this record. When we were recording the first record, it’s not like I could sing and decided not to—that’s all I had to offer. Now, I’ve gotten more control of my voice.”

Cody’s sound is due in large part to Schnapf. “His fingerprints are on it. He’s just that kind of producer,” says Johnson. “When we first entered this world, we were really snobby… we were too cool for everything. On [Cody], we just tried stuff. It was getting outside of our comfort zone and letting the [producer] do what they want to do, and not having control over every aspect.”

Yet, lyrically, Cody feels freer. Album opener “Fake I.D.” tells a story of a young, goofy romance that turns darker with the death of a friend. The first hook in the song features the now-infamous lyric, “What do you think about Kanye West?/ I think that he’s great/ Yeah, I think he’s the best.”

“Whatever words came to me when I wrote the melody, I’ll [usually] say, ‘Those aren’t any good, I’ve gotta write some good lyrics’ and swap out,” Johnson says. Yet “there’s something about [the Kanye line] that I really like… it’s kind of unnerving. My gut reaction was that I had to change it because people would laugh. It was stupid. But it resonates with me, and I can’t change it.”

For those who are interested, Johnson likes Yeezus for its blown-out punk feel, and respects 808s & Heartbreak, although it took some time to get used to.

“Everyone has an opinion about Kanye West—your mom, your P.E. teacher. Everyone loves it or hates it,” Johnson says. “He’s so polarizing, and there’s just something universal about it, which is why it works.”

Though Johnson isn’t sure where Joyce Manor will go from here, he makes no apologies about having given up so much control over Cody. “We let go of the sound to the producer, we let go of having music videos made, but in the songwriting, we’re still in control. It’s what I care most about,” he says.

“It’s an experiment in picking people who we admire and think are talented, and trusting them with everything to see what the results are,” Johnson says. “I think we can achieve something we wouldn’t be able to alone.”


  • Monday, February 13

    40 Watt Club

    7 p.m. $15 (adv.), $17 (door).

    Joyce Manor, AJJ, Mannequin Pussy

    JOYCE MANOR Buzzworthy pop-punk band out of Torrance, CA. See story on p. 14.

    AJJ The Arizona band formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad plays energetic folk-punk.

    MANNEQUIN PUSSY Garage-punk band.