“Bands Should Know When They Suck”: An Interview with No Joy

In advance of their new album, "More Faithful," we unearth an unpublished interview with the Canadian rippers.
By    April 29, 2015

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Oh my god, can we ride the donkeys?”

It’s an unexpectedly gorgeous day in Seattle on Quatro de Mayo 2013. The weather is the warmest it’s been all year and the streets are bustling with people, particularly the street in front of Neumo’s, where No Joy is set to eviscerate the eardrums of whoever comes to see them open for hellish Toronto noise-punks Metz. A sidewalk parade in honor of the next day’s celebration of Mexican independence has stopped on this side street to share the festivities with people who prefer their celebrations stationary.

With their large sombreros and colorful ponchos, there’s a mariachi band three guitars deep, but that’s not the main draw by a long shot. A chorus of affection for the adorable, Mexican-blanketed donkeys has bled over the sound system, bumping from a nearby truck, and a line of those in attendance to take photos with them has reached the corner of the block. Laura Lloyd, No Joy’s lead guitarist, is standing in line with giddy anticipation. We picked the solitude of a pre-show Neumo’s as the junction for our interview, but what reasonable person could resist the allure of sitting on a donkey?

Besides, our interview has been over a year in the making, with almost two albums’ worth of scrapped material on the proverbial cutting room floor (and almost two hours of interview material, from when I chatted with Lloyd and songwriting partner Jasamine White-Gluz individually). Surely all parties involved can wait a few more minutes while we partake in the joy (no pun intended) of being in the presence of live donkeys hanging out in front of the venue like—and among—jean-jacketed punks waiting for the show. Lloyd was hoisted upon a donkey with my help, and excitedly posed for several photos on top of the donkey, including one she immediately uploaded to her Twitter account, proving my theory that why wouldn’t riding a donkey be the highlight of your weekend, let alone your entire month? We had time and there were donkeys. It was a complete non-issue.

My first interviews with the principal members of No Joy admittedly had no surreally fun moments, both instances were essentially just a musician and a fan of her music talking on the phone. Those conversations, discussing their 2012 EP Negaverse and the twenty-or-so tracks they decided not to release (Lloyd then told me the chance of developing a Lost Tapes release was obstinately at zero) were wildly sprawling when it came to Lloyd and casual and relaxed when it was White-Gluz’s turn on the phone. Negaverse worked as a brief progress report by the band who turned in one of the most fiery, explosive, and (occasionally) beautiful debut EPs of the past few years, Ghost Blonde. With the firm tempo and demo-like recording of “VHFD” and “Yang Sanpanku,” whose downtempo beats and minor-key guitars that mostly sounded like angry black clouds about to crash into skyscrapers, Negaverse was the beginning of a marked departure from Ghost Blonde, even though both it and the lost album it sprang from could have taken an entirely different course.

“You know how you record something, only to go back later and realize how bad it is? That’s where we were with some of the songs we ended up scrapping,” said Lloyd during the first interview. “We had a few songs that kind of resembled Animal Collective, and we were certain when we listened to them again and realized they weren’t us.”

But that’s the sort of conundrum most artists face after putting out a great piece of work. There’s a fork in the road, and one leads down a path similar to where you’ve gone, and the other has a force drawing you to throw all of your pitches into left field. The experimental detours ended up not working for No Joy, until they made their way into a studio and were afforded the kind of freedom and encouragement of experimentation that being in a studio brings. In a studio, you can record beat-driven songs like “Prodigy” or “Blue Neck Riviera” and dreamy opuses like “Wrack Attack” or “Uhy Yuoi Yoi.” Wait to Pleasure is a more full-bodied work from a band always capable of expanding their sound in a very substantial way, while not sacrificing the band’s (or their fans’) love for a good barnburner.

After the donkey photo-op, we made our way to the upstairs bar of Neumo’s, where, over a powerful soundcheck from opening band Eighteen Individual Eyes, we half-yelled our questions and answers, and afterwards engaged in an off-the-record chat about the cover bands whose music could be heard through the walls of No Joy’s practice space when recording their first album. For the interview, they were candid about many things, including the recording process of Wait to Pleasure, their inter-band dynamic, what happens when they field the dreaded “girls in a band” question, and some specific examples of fans mishearing their lyrics. — Douglas Martin

After Ghost Blonde, you guys recorded a lot of songs and then kind of scrapped them all, and then made this [then-]new album. Would you like to tell me the steps leading up to this album?

Laura Lloyd: Well, the songs we recorded mostly were bad. [Laughter arises.]

Jasamine White-Gluz: It’s kind of like when you feel like you should be recording something but maybe you’re not ready?

LL: You’re going through the motions but you’re not in it, you’re not doing it right.

Kind of warming yourself up.

LL: Yeah, like doing it but feeling “ehhhhhh..”

JWG: Doing it with no real thought behind it.

LL: Some of those songs made it the EP, and some made it to Wait to Pleasure.

Really? Which ones?

LL: “E,” “Slug Night,” and “Lizard Kids,” but they’ve changed.

JWG: We played them live for the tour we did with Lower Dens, so we got to try different stuff.

LL: It was just that what we recorded wasn’t good! It wasn’t good.

JWG: Yeah, it just wasn’t… there.

LL: I always say that bands should know when they suck. I know when other bands suck, so I should know when we suck. [laughs]

JWG: I mean, not everybody can be– like, there are bands that put out records every year that are always great; we are not one of those, but they exist. Like, Ty Segall puts out a record every six months, and they were all great. We couldn’t do that.

Did you guys go back and listen to them and were like, “These are bad,” or was it more of an immediate decision?

JWG: I think it was just the songs.

LL: We mixed a chunk of them, and while we were mixing them, we were told, “You guys need somebody in the studio with you to tell you when to stop.” We didn’t have a producer, so nobody was telling us, “Hey, that’s not good,” or “Maybe you should try this,” or “STOP.” [laughs] The guy who was recording us was just a friend of mine, so usually he’d say, “Okay, are you guys okay with that?” and then it would be done. So, there was no control.

JWG: The first record we didn’t have a producer, but we had more ideas, more of a focus, but this time we just tried so many things and it didn’t work out.

LL: It did work out, but it took a while.

JWG: It did work out.

It eventually worked out.

LL: Yeah, it eventually worked out.

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How are No Joy songs usually made? Is there a specific process, or is it all kinds of different processes jumbled together?

LL: It’s both, I guess? We write on our own and we come together, I guess? Then, we take it to the studio and flesh it out more together. That’s really a boring process. “What’s your recording process?” Well, I have a guitar, and… It’s really like how you would think somebody would write a song. No, it’s all mathematical genius! Like, I go in my room and then “ta-da!”

I was thinking it was more like, “I had this dream I was riding this magical unicorn and this song started to play…” That would be cool.

LL: No, it’s more like [indistinguishable blaring guitar sound], “Oh, that sounds cool.” And then, [indistinguishable guitar sound] “It sounds like that goes together.” And a lot of bad GarageBand beats, they’re just so easy to follow. All my demos are like [makes beat-boxing sounds].

What exactly, if anything, did you do differently on Wait to Pleasure that you didn’t do with Ghost Blonde? Was there a new kind of focus?

LL: Well, it was a lot different.

JWG: Totally different.

LL: 100% different.

JWG: Because on Ghost Blonde, most of those songs were things we didn’t think anybody was going to hear, they were just the first songs we wrote as a band. And for this one, we wanted to write good songs, because we were writing songs we ended up thinking were bad. And this one was our first record in a studio.

LL: And we had a producer, Jorge [Elbrecht].

JWG: Yeah, Jorge changed everything. Not in a bad way, just changed the way we put the record together.

What kind of suggestions did he make?

LL: All different kinds.

JWG: And he was good, too, because he would do in a way that I didn’t realize until after recording how much impact he made. Especially vocals, I would be doing something shitty, and he somehow found a way for me to do something else, which was, in the end, what it sounded best doing.

About the vocals: You guys mostly have your vocals pushed down, but when you’re writing lyrics, what do the lyrics mean to you?

JWG: I knew this time would be a little different, because we were in a studio and I knew people would hear the vocals, whereas on Ghost Blonde, they weren’t as important because nobody was really listening to them even when we recorded them. And on that album, we were recording it in our jam space, so we could record the vocals by ourselves. But this time, it was a room full of people. Jorge was good, but he made me repeat every lyric until I got the vocals pitch-perfect. I think it was at least a week straight of vocal tracking. A lot of the time, I was repeating one line, so if it was a shitty lyric, everybody would know. So, I put a little more thought into them.

LL: I don’t know what any of the lyrics are. [laughs]

I mean, honestly, me neither, but that doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the band. [laughs]

JWG: Well, lyrics aren’t the important part of the band, anyway.

LL: Next, we can do a segment where you throw out a lyric and we say whether it’s true or false!

That actually sounds like a really good idea!

JWG: There are a lot of really bad ones out there, we have a lot of sun and moon-themed songs, according to a lot of other people. [laughs]

LL: They’re so bad! [laughs] “I have the moon, she kisses me.” [laughs hysterically]

Why do you think that is? Why do you think they mishear it in that specific way?

LL: Because people hear what they want to hear.

JWG: That’s what I kind of like about it, because some people think certain songs are about something that is only them projecting what the song is about. There was this person on lyrics.com who really thought it was about the sun and kissing the moon, and that’s just what they ran with. And it’s not about that at all, but it’s fine.

Because you guys are such a loud, intense band, at what point do you think they’re trying to go back and inject some femininity?

LL: I don’t know, I think they’re just trying to figure out the lyrics, since they can’t understand them.

JWG: Somebody probably just really liked the sun and the moon and that’s what they heard. Maybe there’s an app or something that tries to figure out lyrics for you or something.

I’m going to find that as soon as I get home.

LL: Maybe I should invent it.

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You should invent it! [laughs] So, going back to the femininity thing, how much of your time talking to people like me is spent talking about the whole, “Okay, we’re girls and we’re doing this super-loud, super-distorted band” thing?

LL: Actually, there was a girl in San Francisco who asked, “So… being a girl in a band, how is it?” And I was like, “I hate this question, because you asking me this makes this a problem. You avoiding the issue would make it fine, because I would think that women are on equal territory.” I basically told her, “You asking the question is part of the problem,” and afterward she was like, “Oh, I’m so sorry if I offended you.” I told her, “I’m not offended at all, but you have to realize that the people bringing it up are making it more of an issue than it actually is.” Obviously, sometimes you meet the actual douchebag, but you realize the people who say sexist things are out of touch, like older people in your parents’ generation who aren’t used to it. I don’t mean a lot of people, and especially not most of our peers.

JWG: In “shoegaze” [makes finger-quotes to illustrate her point], women have always been in bands from the very beginning, so I never understood the question as it relates to what we’re doing.

LL: “Well, you’re girls in a band.” “Well, there are guys and girls in bands. I dunno.” We actually have one guy in our band right now. HA! [laughter]

But I feel that’s a running theme. I feel like maybe you guys have had two guys in the band before.

LL: We have. We have a rotating cast of bass players. You know, whoever’s available.

How does that affect the dynamic between the two of you, who write the songs, and the rotating cast meant to flesh out your songs?

JWG: Well, Garland, our drummer, has been with us for the past two-and-a-half years. He wrote the record with us, too.

LL: I think the bass player slot is not really bolted in. They’re more of a hired gun.

Do you guys write the bass lines for your songs, or is that generally up to a session player?

LL: Well, we have ideas for bass lines for some of the songs, and on this record, Jorge had a lot of ideas and he played a lot on the record.

I think less bodies in the studio makes for a better environment.

JWG: And we are quick. We’re really difficult to work with, but when we find somebody we can work with, we’re quick.

LL: We’ve discovered that we are very hard to handle. We’re picky. It’s us. We’re the problem. [laughs]

How does that work, when it’s just the two of you and you’re super-picky?

LL: Ehhh, tension?

JWG: We could write a book about all of the crazy stories that have happened in the past between us, but I think every band has that. Being a band that tours a lot is not a fairy tale.

LL: And I think all bands have to deal with that at some point, at almost every point. [laughs]

JWG: But most of them know what they’re getting into.

LL: The ones that generally don’t work out are the ones who are like, “What do you mean we’re not staying in a hotel every night?” Or, “I can’t do laundry every week?”

JWG: Or the ones that are like, “I have to blow-dry my hair for two hours before we leave.” A guy. [laughs]

LL: Yeah, a guy who would blow-dry his hair thirty minutes every day.

Well, that doesn’t sound too odd to me. [rubs scalp, induces laughter among the table] How does playing together for a number of years affect your personal chemistry between the three of you? Would you describe it as sort of a sibling-like vibe, where you know what each other are thinking?

LL: I think we’ve played together long enough to have figured it out. We’ve been working together for a really long time.

JWG: I’ve been playing with this girl since she was like 16, so yeah.

What was it like when you first started working together?

LL: [laughs nervously] Uh, kinda stupid? [laughs] I was like a child, and I didn’t know how to play instruments. It was like, “Whee!” She was like my legal guardian. We would go on tour with other bands, and my parents would have to write a note…

JWG: And I would have permission to take her over the Canadian border.

LL: I was a kid, so I very much grew up on the road.

So, with the later songs that you guys wrote on Wait to Pleasure, was there a specific way of thinking, like, “We want to make something different from what we’ve already made?”

LL: I think so, a little bit. But we had access to a lot of stuff we didn’t have access to before, so we could do a lot of things we may have originally wanted to do in the beginning but didn’t have, like, bongos, you know?

JWG: Or synths.

LL: Or the technical expertise we couldn’t quite pull off. So we might have a song like “Lunar Phobia,” and we might have wanted a song like that on the first record, had we been able to know what to do. But we didn’t have any of those resources. So, in a way, it does feel like there’s a conscious direction we were going in, but it was also because we had more to work with.

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