How a ‘Never Hungover Again’ outtake and a text about Sublime led to Joyce Manor’s new LP
Joyce Manor had been a band for nearly a decade by the time they released 2018's Million Dollars to Kill Me, and the demands of band life were starting to catch up with frontman Barry Johnson. "We'd just been on the road for like ten years straight," he said on the new episode of the BrooklynVegan podcast. "You don't really have a home life, and you don't really have relationships at home -- or healthy ones, anyway -- and I just kind of really wanted to take stock of things and settle into a comfortable and healthy routine."
"I felt like I was running on empty a little bit," he adds, "and just after we wrapped the touring for that record, I told the guys, like 'Hey, I kind of would like to take a nice little chunk of time off.'" And very soon after that, Joyce Manor were hit with you-know-what: the pandemic. Barry spent the first few months of lockdown not doing band stuff at all, but then he started going through old stuff for their 2020 compilation Songs From Northern Torrance, a collection of rarities from before their 2011 self-titled debut, and that got the wheels turning again. "I realized I had a handful of things where I was like, 'I think I could do something with this. If I worked on that a little more, I think there's something there.'"
Among those discoveries was "Secret Sisters," which Joyce Manor recorded during the sessions for 2014's Never Hungover Again but shelved, and which ended up kind of becoming the catalyst for their new album 40 oz. to Fresno, and its final track. "'Secret Sisters' kind of slams in that emo way," Barry said, "and I was like, 'We don't have a ton of stuff that kind of slams,'" so it inspired them to come up with another song in that style, Fresno's instantly-satisfying lead single "Gotta Let It Go," and it informed the direction of their cover of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Souvenir," which they first included on a limited, vinyl-only split with Jawbreaker's Blake Schwarzenbach that accompanied the first volume of the comic book series What's the Furthest Thing From Here?, and which opens their new record. There's also a through-line between "Secret Sisters" and the album's second song, "NBTSA" ("Never Be the Same Again"), a song that Barry wrote shortly after finishing 2012's Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, but then changed the chords, melody, and lyrics until he ultimately had written an entirely different song, which was... "Secret Sisters." After "Secret Sisters" was shelved, Joyce Manor released a scrappy recording of "NBTSA" for Polyvinyl's 4-Track Singles Series in 2017. Now they've given it a proper studio treatment, and both songs live on the same LP.
Elsewhere on 40 oz. to Fresno, Barry delivers one of the sweetest, most yearning hooks of his career on "Don't Try," adopts an angelic falsetto on "Reason To Believe," and revives the sneering, finger-pointing attitude of the classic "Leather Jacket" on "You're Not Famous Anymore." One of the album's biggest standouts is "Dance With Me," which juxtaposes playful metaphors with dead-serious bluntness, and resolves in a '50s/'60s bubblegum-sounding hook of "Come on and dance with me" that was actually inspired by Barry's younger days finding solace in a mosh pit. "If life is just absolutely so fucking, awful and shitty and like you can't fucking bear it and you're trapped in your own psychological hell," he says of the song, "all you can do is fucking mosh." The song also includes the lyric "If you're like a frightened rabbit," which Barry says was maybe a subconscious nod towards Scott Hutchison. "I was familiar with that tragedy, that really heartbreaking situation there, and as a dude in a band that's had some low points, it struck me."
40 oz. to Freedom is sort of a hodgepodge of an album, with a mix of old songs, new songs, and a cover, and just nine short tracks in total, and in that sense, it's kind of similar to Joyce Manor's divisive (and underrated!) sophomore album Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, which was also nine songs, included an '80s cover, and was kind of all over the place. But Barry was also in a way different headspace this time. "[Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired] was the most self-conscious my songwriting has ever felt," he said. "I was just really, really aware that people were gonna be listening to it... I was really concerned with being cool and being like accepted by the cool kids, and I really wanted to prove that we're like not just a pop punk band, so I was really leaning into the more esoteric and weird shit and trying to rep like Wire, or Young Marble Giants, like, 'I have a cool record collection, I swear to god!'"
"It was not fun to make and really, really self-conscious," he adds, "and I was kind of trying to sabotage my career... I was so up my own ass and I was so self-important and so concerned with what other people thought of me, so I was like, 'You know what? I'm just gonna drive my career into the ground so no one else can.'"
In comparison, he says the new album is "super not self-conscious, it was probably the most relaxed I've ever been. The songs went through the least amount of editing and reworking than they ever have."
There was some subtle editing though, and much of that came from the influence of producer Rob Schnapf, who also worked with Joyce Manor on 2016's Cody. "[Rob] is such a great producer," Barry says. "He makes these subtle changes to your songs that make a not-so-subtle difference to the quality. Like he'll change one little thing, and the whole thing becomes so much more listenable and exciting and holds your interest. [...] He's not trying to make it a hit or make it more maximalist, he's just trying to subtly improve it, and that subtlety is just what makes it." Barry adds, "From the demos to what Rob did to them on this record, it's pretty astounding the amount that he improved them."
Rob is best known for working with Elliott Smith, and he's also worked with Guided by Voices, Tokyo Police Club, Kevin Devine, The Anniversary, and others over the years, but it was his work on Saves The Day's Stay What You Are and In Reverie that made Joyce Manor know he'd be the perfect fit for them. "That's exactly why we went to him - those Saves The Day records," Barry said. "I like what he can do for a pop punk band."
Joyce Manor also had a new face in the room this time around. They've been rotating drummers a lot lately, and they made this album with Motion City Soundtrack's Tony Thaxton. Barry had originally wanted to asked Josh Freese, but he brought the idea up to Epitaph Records owner (and Bad Religion guitarist) Brett Gurewitz, who thought Tony would be a better fit. "I only got into [Motion City Soundtrack] in the last few years, but I heard them and was like 'Oh this is fucking awesome,'" Barry said. "Like I kind of assumed it wouldn't be my cup of tea, but I actually heard it and was like 'oh these hooks are like unreal,' and you can tell those dudes aren't just into pop punk, they're into more sophisticated music. [...] I especially loved the drumming, I thought the drumming was extremely inventive."
"First take, [Tony] knew exactly what to play," Barry continued. "It was nothing to him, and he played the perfect part on everything pretty much immediately. [...] The parts are super appropriate and super musical and make the songs more catchy, and watching him get drum takes was fucking amazing, like he's so fucking good at drums, just his precision and his consistency and velocity. We recorded the drums at Sunset Sound, and just watching a drummer that good record at Sunset Sound was like one of my favorite moments of my recording career."
As for the title of the album, it came from an auto-corrected text about Sublime's 1992 debut LP. "The record was going to be called Hungover Again, but that kind of started to feed into this like lore, and I was like that's a bit much," Barry said. "I was listening to 40 oz. to Freedom for the first time in about seven or eight years, and it was blowing me away. I couldn't believe how many good songs were on it that I'd forgotten about. And so I texted a friend of mine and was like, 'When was the last time you listened to 40 oz. to Freedom?' but it auto-corrected to 'Fresno,' and I was like, 40 oz. to Fresno... I liked the ring of it, it sounded very Joyce Manor-y to me, it's kind of bleak, it's alcohol, misanthropic. I love Fresno, but it's kind of a bleak place."
"A little subtle nod to Sublime who I think are a fucking great band," he adds, "completely no sense of irony at all saying that."
40 oz. to Fresno comes out this Friday (6/10) via Epitaph, and you can pre-order it on opaque pink vinyl. For much more of my conversation with Barry, listen to the new episode of the BrooklynVegan podcast, on which Barry also reflects on the 10th anniversaries of the band's first two albums, the 2010s emo scene that they got their start in, the way getting into new music changes as you get older, his relationship with ska, and much more.
Joyce Manor are also doing a summer tour with Citizen, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, and PHONY, which hits NYC on August 12 at Brooklyn Steel, and they're opening The Bouncing Souls' Stoked for the Summer show in Asbury Park on July 16 alongside Hot Water Music and The Ergs.
Joyce Manor -- 2022/2023 Tour Dates
6/24 Sled Island Calgary, AB
7/16 Stone Pony Summer Stage Asbury Park, NJ w/ Bouncing Souls, Hot Water Music, Ergs
w/ Citizen, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, PHONY:
8/3 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theater
8/4 – Omaha, NE – Slowdown
8/5 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
8/6 – Chicago, IL – Concord Music Hall
8/7 – Detroit, MI – Majestic Theater
8/8 – Cleveland, OH – Agora Theater
8/9 – Toronto, ON – Danforth Music Hall
8/10 – Buffalo, NY – Town Ballroom
8/12 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel
8/13 – Boston, MA – Roadrunner
8/14 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
8/16 – Baltimore, MD – Rams Head Live
8/17 – Richmond, VA – The National
8/18 – Columbia, SC – The Senate
8/19 – Nashville, TN – Main Stage @ Eastside Bowl
8/20 – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
8/21 – St. Petersburg, FL – Jannus Live
8/23 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Live
8/24 – Austin, TX – Far Out Lounge
8/25 – Dallas, TX – Studio @ The Factory
8/27 – Phoenix, AZ – The Van Buren
October tour with The Menzingers and Sincere Engineer:
3 Dublin Opium Rooms
4 Dublin Opium Rooms
6 Glasgow Barrowlands
7 Manchester Academy
8 London Roundhouse
10 Antwerp Kavka Zappa
11 Amsterdam Melkweg
12 Münster Sputnikhalle
13 Hamburg Markthalle
14 Berlin So36
15 Linz Sbam Fest
17 Solothurn Kulturfabrik Kofmehl
19 Cologne Gloria Theatre
20 Gloria Theatre
21 Wiesbaden Kulturzentrum Schlachthof
22 Stuttgart Im Wizemann
23 Munich Backstage Werk
with PUP, Jeff Rosenstock, Slaughterhouse:
1/7/23 – Long Beach, CA – Long Beach Arena
Listen to our interview with Barry Johnson on the new episode of the BrooklynVegan podcast.