Cody isn't an album that changed everything for Joyce Manor, but Joyce Manor had to change a bit to make their album Cody. Their last album Never Hungover Again – their debut for Epitaph after two previous full-lengths for other labels — was recorded in just ten days, at that point the longest they'd ever been able to spend on an album. For Cody, however, they'd camp out in the studio for two months with producer Rob Schnapf, credited on classics by Elliot Smith, Guided By Voices, Saves The Day and Rancid, all in the Joyce Manor record collections, of course. With Schnapf's help, they'd explore deeper arrangements, new pre-production techniques, and different ways of working both together and with someone else, says guitarist and singer Barry Johnson: "It was the first time we really used the studio to our advantage. I felt like I could get a better grasp on what we could do. We always recorded like a punk band—go in and lay 'em down! Just get good takes! And this time we tried a lot more."
So think of Cody as the moment where a pop-punk band pushes past just simple pop and punk—when the first album something-to-prove anxieties are long since conquered and it's time for something true as well as something new. If Never Hungover Again was the sound of the last long weekend of summer, that precipice-moment plunge into the uncertain future, then Cody is an album for a new year's day: a mile-marker, a just-past-halfway point in winter, a moment for clarity and experience and purpose to all be renewed. ("I find that as I get older it's easy to hold things from your youth close to your heart," says Johnson. "Revisiting bands you were into ten years ago can seem exciting, but it's creative suicide. It's very important to find new things to be inspired by.")
Between albums, says Johnson, he'd taught himself the meditation techniques championed by the Beatles and director David Lynch, and he found he was suddenly wide open. Before, songs were labor; now they were revelations, appearing almost fully formed in his head before he had time to even catch them on a voicemail to himself. ("I couldn't believe how well it worked," he says. "I'd be driving and I'd suddenly have an entire song in my head.") They'd also added new drummer Jeff Enzor (of Torrance's Merry Christmas) to the band alongside bassist Matt Ebert and guitarist Chase Knobbe. With Schnapf's able help as a de facto fifth member of the band, Joyce Manor found itself bristling with inspiration. Now more than ever, says Johnson, he felt he could trust himself and his bandmates to take the risks to make the music they wanted to make. The result is a record that dares to be humble, intimate and unapologetically human: "There was something about the way I was writing on Never Hungover that was kind of mean?" says Johnson. "A little bitter? Cody is way more tender. A lot more love songs. Softer, sweeter—even sonically."
Of course, it also kicks off with very likely the first Kanye West dis Epitaph Records has ever released, on the Morrissey-meets-Teenage Fanclub social-interaction-gone-wrong song "Fake ID." ("Is it a dis?" asks Johnson. "It's more talking about those insanely idiotic conversations everyone has about Kanye that you wish you weren't a part of—I wish both of us in that conversation would shut up.") But then Cody opens up into songs that play like scenes from a movie, or chapters from an autobiography even if they aren't from Johnson's own autobiography. That sweetness and softness comes in ten stories about people alone in their heads if not alone in their lives, about feeling left out or left behind ("Reversing Machine") or left alone even when you're surrounded by people, like the flash-snapshot of a night outside a Portland bar on "Last You Heard Of Me," and finishing with secret ode to invincible suburban iconoclasm "This Song Is A Mess."
If there's a defining line on the album, says Johnson, it comes at the end of the raw but real internal monologue of "Eighteen," where he sings, "I feel so old today." ("That's especially funny for a guy in a pop-punk band," he laughs. "It's almost too real.") But this isn't an album about how one becomes jaded with age. Instead, it's an album about seeing things as they are as much as how they could be, and about finding what matters in the matter-of-fact. On Cody, Joyce Manor's punk predecessors (Toys That Kill, Dillinger Four) and indie inspirations (like newfound obsession Sun Kil Moon, which Johnson loves more for the humor than the despair) connect in a way that matches energy to unsparing honesty, making loud sing-along songs for quiet people. "How come nothing amazes me?" sings Johnson on "Angel In The Snow," and yes, that could be a line about being burned out—but it could also be about recognizing how beautiful little things can be, and about how with the right spark, nothing can become something after all. "I was like, 'We have a new band!' 'What's it called?' And the first thing I thought of was … 'Uh, Joyce Manor!' We didn't even have a band. But they put it on the flyer."
So Joyce Manor made their debut as an acoustic two-piece, with Chase and Barry quickly learned that they were really a pop-punk band trapped inside a folk-punk duo—too many songs just demanded bass and drums. "Playing loud is just more fun," explains Barry.
By the end of 2009, they'd made a new friend in new drummer Kurt Walcher and welcomed old friend Matt Ebert back from Portland to play bass. ("He moved back like, 'Dude, wanna start a band?'" says Barry. "And I said, 'Wanna be in THIS band?'") With their line-up settled, they attacked their songs with new enthusiasm and neurotic precision, discovering their own kind of beauty in simplicity and pursuing heartbroken punk perfection.
Their first self-titled album in 2011 exploded out of nowhere and their second in 2012 landed them on the storied Asian Man Records, home of all of Barry's first favorite bands. Across these two albums, they discovered what Joyce Manor really sounded like—the speed and sense of melody of fellow South Bay band the Descendents, the artfully bittersweet lyricism of Jawbreaker and the undeniable heart-on-sleeve honesty of the first two Weezer albums. By the close of 2013, they had the experience, the discipline and the inspiration to make one of those rare albums that redefines a young band—Never Hungover Again, on Epitaph Records.
Some of these songs, they'd been working on for years, says Barry. Joyce Manor never demos. They just mercilessly rehearse, chopping and editing and reworking songs until there's nothing left that lags. ("I just know when it's right," says Barry) Guitarist Chase had graduated to a co-writing position with Barry, pouring new ideas and techniques into the songs, and while their first two albums were learn-as-you-go experiences, they started Never Hungover Again with a vision, a budget and two whole weeks to make exactly what they wanted. (That's a long time in Joyce Manor world.) Friend and Philly producer Joe Reinhardt took the controls in Hollywood's analog dreamland the Lair. They assigned the final mix to Tony Hoffer—the guy who found the definitive sound Supergrass, Belle and Sebastian, M83 and Phoenix.
Together, they made an album of pop-punk in paradox, right down to the title and photo on the cover. It's something like believing the impossible, says Barry, or at least the too good to be true: "Those people look wasted—yeah, there will definitely be a hangover! There will be pain!'" (Referring to the cover art). It is ten precisely put-together songs about how things fall apart, with some of the saddest lyrics you'd ever shout along to from the front row.
There are broken homes, drunken nights, faltering relationships and the kind of numbness that makes you want to feel anything at all, even if it hurts. Naturally, there are some Morrissey-esque moments in there—like "In the Army Now" about watching friends grow out of music and move on. Or in "End of the Summer," which somehow puts a Big Star-style intro in front of Moz-ian vocals and a chorus that's pure blue-album Weezer.
"Heart Tattoo" is a pop-punk stormer (think Lifetime or Dillinger Four) about what really happens when you get a tattoo—"What about the regret?" asks Barry. And "Catalina Fight Song" is maybe Hungover's definitive song, about hanging out on the cliffs that overlook the Pacific—what locals call the end of the world—and thinking "What the fuck am I gonna do?"
If there's a feeling to Never Hungover Again, says Barry, it's a feeling he can't quite pin down—some complex thing that's part anger and part sadness. It's the loneliness when you're surrounded by people and that lostness when everything you've wanted seems to be right in front of you. And if there's a single moment that defines Never Hungover Again, it's the way "The Jerk" ends with feedback and a chord ringing over Barry's last shout of "It all goes wrong!"—because despite the confusion and sorrow and resignation, it somehow sounds so right.
American band founded 2008 by Nathan Williams (2). Based in San Diego, California.
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