NOLA ska-punks Joystick! on making their most personal, honest album yet (interview + new video)
Ska-punk may have faded in popularity after the third wave died down in the early/mid 2000s, but as anyone who follows the genre knows, the idea that it ever "died" is a total myth. It may have taken a little more digging to find great ska-punk bands by the 2010s, but they were there, like New Orleans' Joystick!, who released three of the best ska-punk albums in recent memory with 2010's This Time It's Personal, 2014's You're Letting All The Fun Out, and 2017's Sinceriously (and a 2010 split with pre-PEARS band The Lollies). In the time since their last record, ska started receiving more attention than the genre had received in years, and along with all that attention came a ton of anticipation for the fourth Joystick! album, which is called I Can't Take It Anymore and due April 16 via Bad Time Records and Stomp Records (pre-order). It actually was supposed to come out in 2020, but like many other things, the album plans changed due to the pandemic. They ended up working on it gradually throughout the summer, and maybe the ability to spend more time on it is why it's the band's warmest, best-sounding album yet. It also might be because -- as vocalist Paul "Duck" Tucker puts it -- Joystick! grew up.
"Everybody started getting married and having kids and kind of like settling down -- we definitely became less of a party band," Duck tells us. "I got sober four years ago. And so everybody just kind of calmed down and, I don't know it's kinda nice. It took like eight years or whatever but we found our groove."
In addition to getting sober, Duck's been working as a volunteer to help other alcoholics and addicts, and that work -- as well as his own experiences -- informed the personal, honest tone of this record. "Not that I haven't been completely honest on those other Joystick! albums, but on this one I tried to really push myself out there, being completely honest about my own flaws and things I feel," he says. "Because I know when I was struggling with addiction, it would have been awesome to hear someone else saying that they felt that way. So hopefully maybe somebody will hear it and know they're not alone."
The record does have a more "mature" sound to it than the band's previous albums, but in Joystick!'s case, growing up doesn't mean slowing down. It's still an urgent, fun, fast-paced record that toes the line between ska-punk and ska-core and sounds as hungry as Joystick! did on their debut. It also has a subtle approach to musical diversity; it's a straight-up, '90s-style ska-punk record, but it also weaves in aspects of traditional '60s ska, shouty '80s hardcore, and plenty of the in-between. And though I Can't Take It Anymore definitely scratches the '90s ska-punk nostalgia itch, it also sounds like totally fresh, new music. Their energy is addictive, and the messages in the songs are relevant right now. Like most New Tone ska bands, Joystick! are politically outspoken, and these deeply personal songs come with ideas that apply to the current social and political climate.
"I feel like the message there is an important one," Duck says, "that, you know, there's a lot of changes that need to be made, especially in North America, but big societal changes are -- at least for me -- very intimidating and overwhelming, and it gives me anxiety and stresses me out. Sometimes it feels like nothing is changing, and it's just the same garbage all the time."
"But," Duck continues, "something I learned once I got sober, is that you can make changes -- like really small changes -- in your own area. Like, I volunteer to help other addicts get sober and I talk with them and work with them on stuff. I can make tiny little changes in my neighborhood and my town, and maybe it's not changing the world, but if everybody did that, we could change the world, you know? We can change it just a little bit at a time."
The album officially arrives next week (4/16), but first, we're premiering the video for "Rinse and Repeat." It's one of the album's most explicitly personal songs, one where you can really hear the themes of mental health and self-improvement coming through. It delivers its message in the form of extremely catchy ska-punk, and it comes with a fun, funny video directed by Jeff Van Gerwen. Also, that key change!
Check out the new video, and read on for more of our chat with Duck...
Where did the title I Can't Take It Anymore come from?
One of our things that we do when we're on tour is we always pull pranks on our bassist Clay. Like one day we just all were wearing fake mustaches for no reason, and he was like "hey what's going on?!" [laughs]. So like, long story short, we were on kind of a long tour, and we kept messing with him, doing these stupid little things, and eventually he was just like "I can't take it anymore!" One of those days where you're in the car for like 10 hours. And we were like "that should be the album name!" So then we started working on the album, and we were like, "I can't take it anymore" kind of fits into the theme of the album, you know? So there's like the inside joke part of it, but it also kind of fits with the songs.
How long did you end up working on the record for?
We started recording in late February, early March or so, we were just gonna go into the studio for a month and then come out. But then, one week after we started recording everything shut down. And so we were like, "Okay, we're not gonna record" -- you know at first how everybody was like "Oh this will be over in two months?" [Laughs.] So we were like, we'll just wait and then go back and record it. So we waited for a while, and then we were like, "Okay, well, this is gonna be a while," so, we already had all the drums tracked at that point but nothing else. So it wasn't a big deal for like, the guitar player would go in and record and his stuff - like we would go in one or two of us at a time. So we spent like eight or nine months, just took our time, just like three hours a week going into the studio. It was kind of nice, because we got to kind of play around with stuff.
Zach from PEARS is on "7675." How did that collaboration come about?
Zach's been doing stuff with us since the very beginning. Joystick!'s first tour was with his old band -- they were called The Lollies but basically it was PEARS, it was three of the founding members. We even did a Joystick!/Lollies split. So, Zach's recorded two of our albums, I think he's on every album except the first one. It's like tradition -- if we're gonna do a Joystick! album, he's gonna be on it.
Obviously ska never went away, but Joystick! formed after the third wave died down and the genre wasn't getting as much attention. But now it feels like more and more people are starting to take notice of this newer generation of ska bands that you've been part of for over a decade, thanks in part to what Bad Time Records is doing. Could you walk us through how you initially got into ska, what inspired you to a ska band, and how you've seen the ska scene change over the years?
When I was in maybe in like ninth grade, I lived in this small town -- this was probably in the early to mid '90s -- and there was a little pawn shop by my house, and I went over there and they had a bunch of cassette tapes for like a dollar, so I bought a bunch of them. No bands that I knew [at the time] but it was like Dead Milkmen, Madness, I just thought the artwork was cool on these tapes so I bought them. I didn't know what ska was, but that was basically my first introduction to punk and ska. So there were some kids in my neighborhood, and we were starting a band. We knew one guy that played guitar, one guy that played drums, one guy that played saxophone, and so we just started playing stuff that now we know is ska and punk. And then a couple years later was that big boom, in like '97 or something like that, with like the Bosstones and Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish, and that's when we were like "oh okay, this is ska."
The scene has fluctuated a lot. Back then, people bought CDs and we would have to book tours, there was no social media so we'd have to book all our tours by calling peoples' house lines or paging them on, like, beepers [laughs]. It was weird, man. It's way easier now; now you just can go on Facebook or Instagram or whatever and just message people. But back then we had to like burn our own CDs and stuff, it was crazy. But yeah, I feel like in the last year or so, it kind of reminds me of how it was in the late '90s. It's coming back pretty strong. And there are a lot of the same issues, unfortunately. Nothing's fucking changed, there's still rampant racism everywhere. So unfortunately we still have to deal with that, but it's cool to see that the ska scene is still so vocal about issues like that, and that it's still as important to the scene as it was back then. That's really amazing.
[On the impact of Bad Time Records...]
Bad Time Records reminds me a lot of how Asian Man Records was back then. I remember when Asian Man started, every time a new album came out, for the first 30 or 40 albums, I had like every release that Asian Man Records did. It was kind of the same vibe as Bad Time. Maybe right now is just the beginning of it. Maybe one of the Bad Time bands will break through and it'll just blow up.
This is your first time working with Bad Time, and the record's being co-released by Stomp Records who also put out Sinceriously. What's your experience been with both labels, and why the decision to do a co-release?
Stomp is freaking incredible. They took a gamble on us with our last album, and it did really well. We toured our asses off for like two years, and they were super happy with it and really dug what we were doing. We toured with Kill Lincoln -- we've known Kill Lincoln for a long time. So, we already were talking to Stomp and they were gonna do the new album, and we just sent a copy to Mike [Sosinski, of Kill Lincoln and Bad Time Records] just because he's our friend, and we were like "hey check this out!" And he was like, "Look, my schedule for 2021 is full all the way, but I will make room for you guys, can we please do this on Bad Time?" And we were like, "well we're already talking to Stomp," and yeah, long story short they worked out something between them and it worked out good. It's super awesome because the people that run both those labels -- Matt [Collyer] and Mike [Magee] over at Stomp and Mike at Bad Time are all incredibly awesome, generous, really cool people to work with. I couldn't ask for anything better.
What would you say are some of your formative musical influences and also specific influences on this album?
When I was younger I would listen to a lot of three-chord pop punk -- I guess it's called Ramones-core now? -- I really liked that kind of stuff. Growing up I listened to a lot of like Weird Al, and like Frank Zappa, weird stuff, you know? I didn't really get into ska until it was big in the '90s. But, Less Than Jake is probably always going to be my favorite ska band. I love that band [laughs], I just really fucking love that band. I also really like the heavier stuff like Assorted Jelly Beans, Link 80, Against All Authority, Voodoo Glow Skulls, more the stuff where it was like yelling, or like punk with horns -- I love that shit.
I feel like Joystick! does a good job of balancing between the ska-core stuff and the more ska-punk stuff like Less Than Jake.
Yeah, I remember when me and [bassist] Clay [Aleman] were starting Joystick!, I was like... I like all kinds of ska, it's such a broad [style of music]. I don't wanna be just one [kind of ska], we should do it all. And, you know, it won't be boring! [Laughs]