“I think of it as being kind of like the space program in 1960s,” said Daniel Armbruster when asked about the level of experimentation involved in creating Joywave’s latest release. “Each mission was about accomplishing a certain goal that ultimately was about putting a person on the moon. ‘Alright, Mercury we’re going to have people circle the Earth. Gemini, we’re going to have crafts docking. Eventually, we’re going to get there.’ That’s kind of the same philosophy I guess we take to our music.”
If you were to look at the cover art for Joywave’s new mixtape, 88888, the satellite circling the 8 would clue you in that the band has launched into orbit. It may be a step in the right direction in terms of evolving the sound of the Rochester electro-pop outfit, but not yet accomplishing the ultimate goal. What that goal is remains an unknown to lead singer and songwriter Armbruster and his band mates, but their identity has been forged and they are venturing onward into uncharted territories.
The mixtape—a unique characteristic of Joywave’s existence—has a long tradition in the world of music. What started as a piece of merchandise sold in truck stops in the 1960s and 1970s has evolved into a cultural staple. Music fans create them to express their feelings to loved ones, and they have become a vital source of promotion for up and coming hip-hop and electronica artists.
Enter Joywave. The band introduced itself to the world using the mixtape method—something that is highly unorthodox in the indie rock scene. “It’s a chance to experiment with music,” said Armbruster. “On our first one, we were trying to establish an identity.”
That first mixtape, 77777, included songs consisting of samples from artists such as The Flaming Lips, Beach House, LCD Soundsystem, Miike Snow, and Drake. Add in a cover of Robyn’s “Hang With Me” as well as a couple of original songs, and Joywave provided a recipe for an ideal mixtape. As a playlist, 77777 covers the gamut in styles—from slow burners such as “Winnipeg,” to disco-inspired dance numbers like “Titan.”
“The first one was much easier to create because we literally just sampled songs that we liked or we were into at the time,” said Armbruster. “We straight up took the mp3s, stripped out what we wanted, and put vocals over the top.”
The workhorses that they are, Joywave has not slowed down since that first mixtape. In addition to 77777, the band’s resume includes the following: a 7” release of the single “Ridge;” a concert at the Strasenburg Planetarium; numerous concerts around Rochester, Buffalo, and New York City; multiple performances at South by Southwest in 2013; weekly sets with the DJ collective Cultr Club; producing and playing on the Fuck Jams EP for Rochester electronica group KOPPS; releasing the seven-song Koda Vista EP; an electronica side-project with Alan Wilkis named Big Data, and now a return to form with the second mixtape.
With the arrival of 88888 on April 15, 2013, Rochester and the music blogosphere were treated to further proof of the versatility and originality that exists in Joywave’s music. Artists and musicians often go through phases, looking for ways to reinvent themselves and their work. On 88888, instead of taking the music in a different direction via samples from other artists, the band reimagined themselves.
“The stuff we sampled on the new mixtape is from Koda Vista, mostly,” explained Armbruster. “Vocals from Koda Vista, things that we liked from Koda Vista, everything on the mixtape was created by us. Before it was let’s repackage things that we like and put a twist on it. This is all Joywave.”
Creating a new piece of work from an original piece is a project that brings the band’s thought processes to a higher level—a level that goes beyond what Armbruster experienced being part of the defunct Rochester pop-punk band, The Hoodies.
While artistically unsatisfied playing pop-punk, Armbruster was still able to take away important and usable lessons. “You get a good sense of melody from pop-punk,” he explained. “The music relies exclusively on vocal melody to draw you in because you take away the vocals and everything else is the same between songs.” That melody has carried over into Armbuster’s vocal stylings, but not just with the lyrics and at live performances. On 88888, vocal melodies are sampled and looped in ways that stretch the tone and create spastic electronic blips, creating unique progressions that craft the atmospheres of the songs.
Take the track “Tongues” for example, which contains these vocal samples from KOPPS vocalist, Patricia Patrone. While the words may be incoherent, sounding like an electronic version of scatting, they contribute to establishing the mood of the song. It is a characteristic unique enough to have one question how these attitudes, features, and electronic elements are replicated live with a five-member band, particularly when 88888 is also the first release from the band that includes hip-hop songs. Two songs to be specific, which include the rhymes of Atlanta-based rapper Sugar Tongue Slim, known by his stage name, STS. With an eclectic track list like this, it becomes an enigma to try and crack the band’s writing style.
Turns out that deciphering Joywave’s songwriting process is difficult because it is consistently inconsistent. Case in point: Armbruster explained how he wrote and recorded the track “Ridge” by himself. Once it was in a place he was pleased with he then took it to the other band members so they could collectively figure out how to play it live. The final result being that the live version features heavier guitar levels than the recorded version, which instead emphasizes synthesizers.
This differed from the process used on 88888, since more samples meant spending more time finding the puzzle pieces, putting them together, and then overlaying the vocals. For this, Armbruster explained that bassist Sean Donnelly also contributed a large portion of the sampling and mixing. Now the next step for the band will be bringing these songs to the stage.
Rochester has been receptive to Joywave since the band’s formation and the band has returned the favor by being supporters of their hometown. “One of the things I like about living and playing here is that I don’t feel the pressure to fit into something specific,” said Armbruster. “That’s been really important to our development. Not that Rochester is an island, but it kind of is. There aren’t a million bands that are trying to do the latest coolest thing.”
The support for the Flour City can be found sewn into various pieces of work. From the cover art of Koda Vista to the final song on the EP, “Smokestacks,” which refers to the billowing towers of Kodak Park in Greece where a majority of the band’s members grew up, the band is proud of its heritage.
“Our entire band is a byproduct of Eastman Kodak,” recounted Armbruster. “My dad is from Ohio, but he moved here right after college and got a job at Kodak. Either someone’s parent worked at Kodak, or Travis [Johansen, guitarist] works at the Eastman House. Without Kodak, without George Eastman, none of us would know each other. I probably wouldn’t be making music, I probably wouldn’t have met the right people to influence me.”
As far as the next mission for Joywave, Armbruster promised new original music from the band. He found his songwriting stride post-Koda Vista and said he has written numerous songs since the EP’s release. The objective behind the 88888 mixtape, while a testament to the bands evolving creativity, is to serve as a bridge connecting Koda Vista with the next release of original music. Armbruster said that a series of EPs is likely, but with Joywave it is best to not make predictions and let the band’s creativity run naturally.
Joywave play with KOPPS at the Bug Jar on Saturday, May 18, 2013.