“Anxiety caused by feeling too content” is just the first aspect of the double-pronged paradoxical rumination that is Content, the sophomore full-length album by Rochester, NY-based indie quintet, Joywave, which dropped July 28th with a tour supporting Young the Giant and Cold War Kids to follow. The title, Content, sees Joywave apply their trademark irreverence and humor to two large yet interrelated ideas springing from the dual meaning of the word, “content”, and signalling a move into a deeply personal terrain for Joywave frontman Daniel Armbruster.
Three years have passed since Joywave’s “Tongues”and their collaboration with Big Data on the hit song “Dangerous” first put the band on the map. Creating their own imprint Cultco Music via Hollywood Records, the five members of Joywave—Daniel Armbruster (vocals), Joseph Morinelli (guitar), Sean Donnelly (bass), Benjamin Bailey (keyboards), and Paul Brenner (drums)— embarked on an intense tour schedule in support of their debut album, sharing the stage with Foals, The Killers, Metric, Silversun Pickups and Bleachers.
This success enabled Armbruster to adult on a whole new level, and this year he finally moved into a place of his own, a few blocks away from his childhood home. For Armbruster, who sold stationery and paper goods at Staples before Joywave took off, the musical dream born when he started writing songs aged fifteen was finally coming true.
Touring took its toll on the band both physically and emotionally, culminating with Armbruster’s pancreatitis diagnosis who had been dealing with chronic illness was diagnosed with pancreatitis, and had to stop drinking on doctor’s orders. In contrast to Joywave’s playful debut, the tone of Content is more confessional, sometimes combative, as it questions how connected we really are in this hyper-connected world—which brings us to Content’s second theme, stemming from the collective angst of a generation whose art (and very lives) are now mere content for the Internet.
In our new interview, drummer Paul Brenner discusses the making of Content, Armbruster’s pancreatitis, creating Super 8 film music videos, Nintendo, and more!
So your two month american tour just started, with Young The Giant and Cold Wave Kids. What has it been like so far? Have there been any specific things that you’ve enjoyed about being slotted with those two acts?
I think we just played our fifth show, if I’m not mistaken. So far it’s incredible. The venues are amazing, the responses have been great and both other bands are super nice and awesome to hang out with. It’s kind of a dream come true so far.
That’s always good, you’ve got to get along with the people you’re on the road with.
Definitely. We’ve got a great crew with us, all of the other bands have great crews, and all of the band members are super nice. We’re having a blast.
The last tour that you guys went on was pretty intensive and took a lot out of you all. Daniel went so far as to say that it was funny but soul-crushingly sad at the same time. Was that mental strain due to being so far away from home for long periods of time, or was there more to it?
It was a strange feeling. I think a lot of that feeling came from… not from us being on the road per say, but coming home after being on the road for just shy of three years. Then [when we were] coming home, having nothing to do mentally [was] just a strange feeling. We were home for over a year making the record. I think it’s more so the difference between being on the road and not being on the road. We’ve all learnt to cope with it in different ways, but it can be intense.
I’m sure that switch is pretty intense, you’ve got so much to do that you don’t even have any time to think and you go home and don’t know what to do with yourself.
Yeah, exactly. I remember pulling into my mom’s driveway and just putting the car in park and just staring at the garage door for like 45 minutes, not knowing what I was doing mentally. (laughs) It’s hard to describe. I wouldn’t call it depression or anything like that, but it’s a new chapter in life. The page turns and you have to prepare for a new lifestyle.
Do you think that this tour will be any different, is there anything specific that you’d change going into another long tour to make it a bit easier, mentally and physically?
Yes and no. We have a nice bus this run, which is great. We’ve done a bunch of tours in vans and [using] other methods, this is our first bus and that’s been a blast. As far as other stuff we’re doing different, we’ve got a whole new system for our live show, which is super exciting, but that’s just technical jargon. (laughs) We’ve got new members on our crew, it’s great, it’s good to be back out.
How did the creative process on this album differ from “How Do You Feel Now”?
Speaking for Dan, so to speak – creatively, our debut album How Do You Feel Now was his whole life growing up to that moment. All of those songs were collectively… he and I started writing music together in 2001 or 2002… so that first album was very much a collection of all of his work that he’d ever written since he’d started. This record, Content, is very much where he’s at and where we’re at after being a professional band for over three years and really doing the grind. Most of this record he actually wrote on the road. I’d see him singing little tunes into his voice memo on his phone on the bus or something like that.
I think in that sense it’s a little different because he didn’t write the album in a suburb of Rochester, New York in his parent’s basement. (laughs) He very much wrote this album on the road and I think that’s the big difference.
How about for the rest of you guys? Did it differ at all?
Definitely, 100 per cent. We were able to make this record on our terms, so what we did was, with the budget allowed, we rented out this old barn that was converted into an Airbnb house. It was like an hour outside of Rochester, New York, kind of in the boonies. It was very much a creative island, cell service wasn’t even that great. We stayed out there for… Dan and Sean were out there for like four months, I lived out there for about a month, so in a sense I guess I could say [that] creatively, this was the first record where I literally played drums on every single song.
We sat down [and] we did them all in a matter of, I think it took us two weeks. Whereas the last album was very much like a Frankenstein’s monster – patch work. Some songs were recorded in 2013, some tracks I’d done back home in Rochester, and some of them, like “Tongues” for example, [were] just made on a laptop. None of the drums on that song are even acoustically real. Long story short, this is the first record where we were all in a studio, we made the album – we started it, we finished it – all in one place, all in a matter of four months.
The video for “Tongues” was super interesting too, I loved it.
That was the first music video that we had done as a band, it was super exciting. I still love it a lot as well.
What was the theme to that?
When we were approached by the directors for that video, we read the story board, and our take on it was very much shirts vs. skins, very cut and dry. [It] kind of jabbed a little at that whole hipster, hippie, naked in the woods thing from a lot of videos at that time. Then [we] interjected it with some hilariousness.
I got a bit of a conformity vibe from it. One person is trying to get the other guys on their side and it’s forceful. They’re trying to shoot change at them.
Oh, definitely, 100 per cent. It’s very much team redneck trying to convert team nudist.
Much like in your sound and in that video, your album title is left to the listener’s interpretation, you’re leaving it as somewhat of a mystery to people. Was that intentional?
It’s called content, as in the adjective, but it’s meant to be very open ended. So if you don’t hear it spoken verbally, it’s however you feel like pronouncing it.
I read that most people thought it was content, not the adjective. Do you think there was a reason for that?
For sure. You can call it content, and [have] it be what it is. When you look on the new releases on Spotify, it’s just a sea, and there it is – lost in all of the content. Or you can look at it as a direct answer to the question that our first album asked, How Do You Feel Now?
Going back to your videos, they really portray the artists inside of you, separate from the musicians. They demonstrate that you have a collective outlook on life. Do you think your similarities in opinions come from growing up in the same area?
I think so, 100 per cent honestly. (laughing) We’ve all known each other since we were kids, it’s very much like family. We share a sense of humor so much that it gets annoying to outsiders because we can make jokes about teachers we had in middle school and nobody will understand it. It’s very much a camaraderie in that sense, there’s a lot of resilience. When we argue it’s like arguing with your parents, your brother, or your cousin. You bounce right back, because we’re all brothers and we all share a similar sense of humor.
You really notice that mutual sense of humor in the video for It’s A Trip.
Definitely. That was so much fun to film.
Like you said, you’re kind of like brothers and post-tour last time, Daniel was diagnosed with Pancreatitis. How did it affect you? Did you see any noticeable signs of depression growing in him or any of the other guys?
Fortunately, the pancreatitis thing in Dan is specific to alcohol, which is something that he just had to get over. As far as for the rest of us, it’s definitely been an eye opener. We don’t need to be going as hard. (laughs) I’m 30 now, hangovers feel way worse at 30. It’s just taking better care of our bodies, eating better when we’re on the road, a lot of us have just recently quit smoking cigarettes, just whatever we can do to hopefully be alive and do this for as long as possible.
Outside of that, did it take the vibe down for a little while, or have any affect on your group vibe?
I don’t think so, no. Dan was never an alcoholic or a drinker by any means, he would have one scotch and he’d have an attack. It wasn’t from abuse or anything like that. (laughs) None of us are rockstars in that sense.
You guys come from the Kodak capital. I’m sure you all have an affection for the film industry, even though it’s changed quite a bit since the days of physical film and the exponential production changes. How would you describe that bittersweet feeling? I know all of your parents worked for that company.
We kind of owe Kodak as a company to the reason we all know each other. All of our parents migrated to Rochester, or their parents before them, for Kodak. When they laid everyone off, it was kind of like a Flint, Michigan vibe for a minute. No one knew what they were going to do in the city because it was the largest company. Everyone was employed by Kodak in some way, shape, or form. Then the city did an amazing thing and the next generation [stepped up and] there’s amazing start ups. Cool restaurants, cool coffee shops, the city has come back in full force in my opinion.
I think the connection to Rochester and the connection to film is always going to be with us. We love our hometown, we love where we are from, and we love to embrace the fact that we’re all western New Yorkers. We have film with us on the road, we all take photos with that.
With old style film?
Definitely. With 35mm, all Kodak stuff. It makes the photos look so much cooler when they’re all on film. I think Dan has started a film only policy on his instagram for the most part. We did a music video for our song, “Content”, in the Kodak tower in Rochester, in their old Kodak TV station that was abandoned and we used an old Super Eight for the filming. We’re very all about Kodak, all about Rochester, and they know it. They love us and we love them.
Like you mentioned, that hipster thing, it kind of embraces the old school too. It’s interesting how that vibe from the old school Kodak company carried on through the little hipster coffee shops.
Yeah, I would say that for sure. It’s always been a very artsy city as well.
Are there any funny quirks or memories from times with the band that people don’t know about you that you’d like to share?
Me and Joey, our guitar player, we’re super Nintendo nerds. We made a big huge road case for our Nintendo Switch’s and all of these little figures that are NFC chip action figures that interact with the game if you connect it to the console. Real nerdy. We made this hilarious, ridiculous road case and cut film out for all of our controllers and figures and video games. That’s what Joey and I do, we play Nintendo. We get made fun of by everyone else on the bus for it because it’s real nerdy. It’s these stupid little figures, they’re toys that are made by Nintendo and they have the little NFC chip in the base of them and when you put that chip into the base of the Switch, it interacts with the game. Like Zelda for example, it’ll drop weapons and stuff like that. So we made a case for all of those things, and that’s my funny story. (laughs)
This interview can also be found on Aesthetic Magazine’s website.