Interview: Barry Johnson of Joyce Manor

Joyce Manor

It’s release week for Joyce Manor’s sixth album, 40 Oz. To Fresno and vocalist/guitarist Barry Johnson is thinking about how it’ll be received. “I care about the reviews, I don’t know why I care about the reviews, but I do. So, if we got bad reviews it would really hurt my feelings. But so far everything I’ve read has been really positive. So, that’s a huge relief.” It’s refreshing to hear that kind of honestly from a musician, as it’s typical for artists to say they avoid (or pretend to) the critiques on their art. But Johnson isn’t like most artists, his self-awareness shining through during the entirety of our Zoom session. His band’s latest collection of emo-leaning power-pop punk songs look back on past eras of Joyce Manor while staying true to the natural progression the band has made since 2011’s self-titled record. The 9-track 17-minute album features some of the band’s most explosive work yet (“Gotta Let It Go,” “NBTSA,” and “Secret Sisters” being the main culprits) along with the band’s incredible knack for creating inescapable melodic mid-tempo tracks (“You’re Not Famous Anymore” and “Did You Ever Know?”) – making 40 Oz. To Fresno the Joyce Manor record for Joyce Manor fans. Below Johnson and I chat about the origins of this record, trying to take a break from the Joyce Manor machine, working with Tony Thaxton, the big Long Beach show in 2023, and more.

So I’m sure you’ve done many interviews already where it’s been pointed out that it’s been a pretty long four years between Million Dollars to Kill Me and 40 Oz. to Fresno. That’s a long break between releases for any band, but especially for Joyce Manor, because you guys basically released five records in like a seven year span before this four year sort-of hiatus.

Oh, we did, didn’t we?

I know some of the break was pandemic induced, but did having this time off kind of recalibrate the band and yourself with what you wanted to do next?

Yeah. So what you mentioned, five albums in seven years, that started to kind of make my head spin. I kind of couldn’t tell up from down anymore. You know what I mean? I was so in the just perpetual motion of touring and writing and recording that I just felt like it would be best for us to take even six months off with no shows, no band practice. I need to just not hear “Constant Headache” for six months straight (laughs). You know what I mean? Just so I can kind of get my shit straight and kind of… I really, really was starting to kind of dream about having a home life. A few friends of mine went back to school and I was really jealous.

I was like, “Oh my God.” Having homework or just kind of doing things that felt more wholesome. I don’t know. Just walking to get coffee, doing homework, just having dinner, making dinner at home. It’s really hard to establish a routine when you’re touring a lot. And then when you’re not touring, you’re writing and recording, which is really high pressure. Because like I said, I do care how our albums land, how they go. So when they’re not well… Well, they’ve all been fairly well received. We haven’t had anything that’s been like… that’s tanked. Nothing that’s been universally maligned. So it’s a lot of pressure writing and recording trying to make something that’s good. I felt like if we went right into another album cycle or right into the writing and recording that there’s a high chance it might not have been good. And we might not have been able to tell because of how frazzled we were.

You get so caught up in that cycle of every two years that it’s hard to differentiate what you’re even creating anymore.

Exactly. I talked to my bandmates and I said, “Would you guys be cool if we did at least six months to a year of just nothing? If we get an offer for a tour, even if it’s really cool, can we just not?” Just because I need to get my head straight, so that the next record can be good.

We’re six albums in, I don’t want to blow it. I feel like we have a catalog that I’m really proud of and I want to honor that. It’s scary. This is all we’ve done. This is all we know how to do. So it was taking time off and having to get a job and stuff. It’s scary. And when you have a good thing going, it’s especially scary. But yeah, I felt like for the sake of the songs, it was time to take a break. And so we all agreed to do it. And then of course we got offered a tour opening for Jimmy Eat World. And I was like, “I want to do it.” And they were like, “Are you sure? You just said, you want to take a break.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it’s Jimmy Eat World, like we got to do this.” 

Right! It’s Jimmy Eat World – one of the best ever.

Absolutely, so it (the planned break) didn’t take, and then the pandemic happened. And I had to take a break, but wasn’t the relaxing or quite as wholesome or healthy routine based as I hoped because it’s stressful. And the grocery stores? Remember how the grocery stores were?

Shit was wild.

That was really, really psychological warfare for everybody, it was awful.

Speaker 2:

So I love that this record is sandwiched between starting with a cover song and then ending with a Never Hungover Again demo – it feels very uniquely like a Joyce Manor thing to do. And it kind of reminds me a bit of the aura that surrounded Of All Things I’ll Soon Grow Tired – so what inspired you to sequence the record in this way?

So we did a collection record called Songs from Northern Torrance. And while initially we weren’t sure what the focus was going to be of that. Whether it was going to include a lot of b-sides, demos, etc. Because there’s a lot of stuff that I have on the computer that is kind of interesting. And I think it would be interesting for Joyce Manor fans. Like, “Oh, wow. This early version of this is unrecognizable to the finished product.” And I thought it might be kind of a cool thing to put out during the pandemic. Just kind of like what Rivers Cuomo does. I’ve heard so many versions of all his songs and just like these treasures he has. He’s probably like, “Oh, this is okay.” But to me I’m like, “This is one of the best Weezer songs I’ve ever heard.” So I was like, maybe we should just do that. Put out like a 30 song, everything we have type of compilation.

And I just kind of felt like maybe it’s better to not do that. Part of that was because maybe it’d be cool for like deluxe editions or when we do the 10th anniversary stuff. For some of these other records, we can put out some demos just on Bandcamp. So we decided to just focus on the before the first record era. Like the folk-punk era and the first EP. I dug up “Secret Sisters,” for example. And I was like, “man, this is a good song. Like, fuck.” We didn’t put it on the record, on Never Hungover Again, because we’ve kind of done the 6/8 thing a few times already. We’ve done it on “Leather Jacket” and “Beach Community.” And I just didn’t want to… It’s already kind of a Weezer trope. And it didn’t need to become like a trope of a trope. And some of the stuff we were writing for Never Hungover Again – like the second half of it, towards the time we actually recorded in the last month or two, really felt like a level up for us. Songs like “The Jerk” or “Falling in Love Again,” they were like really dense and layered and kind of shimmery almost. And I was like, this is… It just felt fresh and a step forward. So we ended up leaving “Secret Sisters” off the record. And I had friends that were like, “You’re fucking crazy. Why would you leave that off the record?” And I was like, “It just doesn’t belong.”

I moved on, worked on other songs and just was like, oh yeah. That one’s there. This felt like a good time. What if this was the first song for a new record? I mean, I kind of write based off of that. Once you have a couple songs in place you’re like, “oh, okay.” And digging through demos and stuff, I was like, “Oh yeah. I really liked that part. I wonder if I could write a song around that.” I just kind of felt inspired by digging through these demos. And It’s not just unique to this record. The first record is stuff for my old bands and bits and pieces reworked. And Cody is really heavily pieced together from stuff that didn’t either make the first record or didn’t make Never Hungover Again.

Yeah, I think that’s really cool. These are songs that span nearly a decade of stuff you wrote. But on this record, they still sound fresh. They don’t sound like something from that era.  Like “Secret Sisters” is a from 2013, 2014. But it doesn’t sound like it’s from that era. It still sounds very fresh. The record sounds very youthful but not in an immature way, but just sounds very spritely. I don’t feel like anything on 40 Oz. sounds like an outdated Joyce Manor song. How are you able to manage taking older stuff you’ve written, whether it’s bits and pieces  or entire songs and making it work in a 2021/2022 Joyce Manor type of way?

I think there was definitely a conscious effort to try and move away from too much mid tempo stuff. I really like mid tempo music and mid tempo songs. I think a lot of music there is very melodic. But I really tried to push myself to up the BPM to get it a little more exciting. Because “Secret Sister” just has a ton of energy. It just feels angry and exciting. And I kind of felt like maybe it was missing from the last two Joyce Manor records. They weren’t as maybe explosive energy wise. And I felt like I was ready to fucking explode during the pandemic. And so it was something very natural to want to express. And I feel like there was enough variation to make an interesting record. Because I guess when your record is 17 minutes, you can kind of stay in one lane the whole time. But I like for our records to have some contrast.

Like a good meal. You have things that complement one another. So there are a couple mid tempo songs on it. But because we started with “Secret Sisters,” I was like, “All right. There’s one thing to build off of.” I was really trying to push myself to not fall into this middle-aged mid tempo singer-songwriter stuff. I was like, “Let’s fucking go!” I want to work through some stuff.

For sure. And does having a drummer like Tony Thaxton make that transition even easier? I mean, come on!

Yes, it does. His drumming is so exciting and he’s just so… His chops are unreal. His precision. He’s really musical. So the way he interpreted the melodies into drum parts was just stunning. He’s phenomenal. It was such an honor to have somebody that talented to work with someone like on a record. Yeah. I couldn’t say enough nice things.

How did y’all link up with him to record drums on this album?


Duh okay (laughs). Makes sense.

Our drummer Pat decided to go to law school. Which we were like, “Totally man, that sounds awesome.” And we still have so much love for Pat and there was no drama at all. We wish him well and he wishes us well. And so we were like, “Oh, let’s get a session drummer.” Which we were all excited about. I love drums and drummers and stuff. So it’s like, fuck, we can just get somebody that maybe wouldn’t want to tour at the level that Joyce Manor is at, but would be happy to play on the record. Like someone like Josh Freese or any number of people like that.

And when I mentioned that to Brett Gurewitz, he’s like “Josh is killer. I mean, he’s great.” He’s like, “But I know this guy, Tony Thaxton and I actually think he would be a better fit. I think he would be amazing on a Joyce Manor record.” And I was just like, “I agree completely. Would you mind asking him?” (laughs)

Tony’s a great guy, super funny, total music nerd. We nerded out about the Beatles, XTC and Fountains of Wayne – just all kinds of pop-oriented stuff. He did a record with Ric Ocasek. So, yeah. We kind of nerded out about that type of stuff.

And then you had Rob Schnapf back in the studio so that had to be nice too. It almost feels like maybe like a fifth member of the band sometimes.

Yeah. Yeah. Again, the pandemic was lonely in a lot of ways. And so once once we decided to do the NBA bubble and all get tested and then isolate together to do the first recording session, it was just so fun to hang out with my band mates who I hadn’t really gotten to hang out with much and Rob. It’s our second time working with him. So we have a rapport and he hadn’t been able to record. That’s his life, you know? It is just hanging out in the studio and working on songs and drinking beer and eating weed gummies. And just hanging, hanging hard.

Rob is a really fun guy to hang out with. And again, super big music fans who are just talking music constantly. And it’s just my favorite thing in the world to do. As far as his contribution on the record, it’s immense. I mean my girlfriend saw the songs go from every stage and she’s offered criticism and support which has been invaluable too. And just what she saw him do to the songs, she was blown away. She’s like, “He’s a fucking genius. How does he do it?” He’s a kind of a wizard, the way he does to the songs. His contribution is immense on this record.

One thing I’ve always admired about your writing is how proficient and concise you are with your lyrics on records that kind of span maybe 20 minutes and 40 Oz. is no exception. The song “You’re Not Famous Anymore” and “Dance With Me” are two to come to mind that I feel are really cool, lyrically based songs. And the way you tell these stories all under two minutes is just so fucking sick and you’ve done it over the course of all your records. And after releasing the two prior records where you’re kind of creeping towards that 30 minute mark, was it kind of natural just to kind of ease back into writing songs for a record under 20 minutes again?

Well, I don’t really write a record. I just do song by song and then kind of look at what we have. And we actually cut one song that didn’t even make it to recording. It made it to pre-production but it didn’t make the recording. And one song got recorded that we also cut. I actually cut “You’re Not Famous Anymore” for a little while too. We were going to do an eight song record which was kind of psycho. And Brett talked me into putting “You’re Not Famous” back on there.

Well good. It’s a great song.

Thank you very much. Yeah. I like it too. I just kind of liked the flow of the record without it. It is a little different, right? It’s a little more minor sounding and maybe… It’s a little more spiteful it’s not…The rest of the record is a little more romantic. And that song is, it’s about one thing and it’s pretty spiteful and just the energy of it. I found a spot for it in the sequence where I like it, but I was struggling to kind of make an album out of those nine songs. It somehow felt better to me as eight. But I made it work.

And there was a minute where I was like, “You know what, maybe we need to do another session. Because I’m not sure I have an album here.” But I finally found a sequence. And I mean, part of it was putting the cover song track one, which was so weird. It’s such a bizarre choice. But it just felt like it worked to me. And I obviously was reluctant to do that initially. But once I put that there and then moved a couple other things around, I was just like… I listened to it a hundred times. And I was like, “Yeah, I think this is a record.” This feels like a record because you can work on it forever, but eventually you have to do the last brushstroke.

And, once I listened to that nine songs, I was like… I had this, it’s like an instinctual feeling where you’re like, “Yeah, I’ll put it out. Cool.” But then you have people like fucking Kanye West who like are changing albums once it’s on streaming. So it’s when you’re an artist and mentally ill and no one can tell you can’t change it, that’s really dangerous. You know what I mean? It kind of doesn’t belong to you anymore once you put it out in the world so I’m going to write a fucking do not resuscitate. I’m going to like, “Do not let me change this album once it’s out,” kind of thing.

It definitely takes a type of talent and discipline to kind of cut yourself off, to actually put the record out there. Especially, when it sounds like you guys you write so much. It can sounds like it can be a headache sometimes.

And you know what, a lot of what I write, isn’t very good. And I’ve kind of come to terms with that where it’s like, you got to write the bad ones to get to the good ones and you got to write a lot. So not everything you write is going to be poignant. Some things you’re going to write are going to be maybe trite or they’re going to be too cryptic or they’re going to be just… They don’t evoke anything. And then you have to write a lot until you write something that you’re personally moved by. And so, yeah. I just trust that I have to write a lot of bad stuff and I think my strong suit is that I’m a pretty good editor and I’m kind of good at editing my own stuff. And usually what I decide to keep is what people are going to like. Except maybe a song like “Wildflowers,” which I just thought was like… I think that’s a once in a career song. I don’t know that I’ll ever write anything that I personally think is as simple and beautiful. I think that is so balanced. I just adore that song. I adore Chase (Knobbe)’s guitar part. I adore what (producer) Rory (Allen Phillips) did to it and I’m really proud of my lyrics on that.

One of my favorite songs on this record is “Did You Ever Know?,” and it’s funny that you mentioned Rivers because Weezer is one of my favorite bands of all time. And that’s probably the most Weezer-esque song on the record.


Yeah. It’s so sick. I love it. And then “Gotta Let It Go.” Man, I think that’s an all timer. I love that song. It hasn’t left my head since it first released. It’s so catchy and it showcases another cool thing Joyce Manor does – the way the band just packs in all that catchiness and choruses into these sub-two minute tracks.

Thank you. Yeah. I love Chase’s riff in that song. I think that It’s undeniable. When he first played that for me, I’m just like, “Are you fucking serious?” You just struck gold. That is such a fucking great… From the minute it starts. You’re just like, “Oh, hell yeah.”

Which of the new tracks are you most excited to play live on your upcoming headline tour?

So we just did a run with The Story So Far and we played “Gotta Let It Go” and “Don’t Try” and “Don’t Try” was kind of… It took a few shows to get comfortable with. It’s kind of hard to play. It just has a lot of moving parts that have to link up. But after a few shows, we got it to where I’m comfortable playing it now and it’s really fun to play. And I just am really stoked on that song and excited for hopefully people to start responding more to it as they get more familiar with it. And I’m really excited by “Secret Sisters.” I’m excited for those pauses at the end. I’m excited to do those live. “Did You Ever Know?” is probably my favorite song on the record. It’s kind of about cats in the neighborhood and walking around and liking a girl and just… It’s a really just simple snapshot kind of about nothing. It’s meditative and it’s my favorite to listen to. As far as to play, it’ll be fun to play, but I just like that song a lot.

I love that so much.

Thank you very much. I’m a huge Weezer fan too. So it’s high praise.

And as for the future, Joyce Manor has the big Long Beach show in January with PUP, Jeff Rosenstock and Slaughterhouse. First of all, how thrilled are you to playing this type of gig to kind of kick off your 2023? And what kind of brought about the idea of setting up this kind of one off show in Long Beach?

Well, I’ve lived in Long Beach since 2007. So 15 years. Chase also lives in Long Beach. Long Beach is very dear to me. And it’s getting to the point where I’ve almost lived there as long as I lived in Torrance. So yeah. I fucking love Long Beach and it’s historically important because it was where (bassist) Matt (Ebert) saw his first show. He saw Bad Religion and Blink-182.

Oh, shit.

So yeah, when the idea was brought to us, we were like, “That’s crazy. No.” You know what I mean? It’s like, “We are not. We can’t, it’s not possible.” But when we maybe put together that lineup and I just wanted to keep putting bands on it. I was like, “Let’s make it a festival. Put fucking Turnstile on it.” Please sell tickets. But, yeah. It seems like it’s going well. And every time we move up to a bigger room, it’s scary. But I’m excited and I’m really happy with how we’ve been playing live lately. So I feel like we’re… I’m confident that we can do it and yeah. Long Beach rules. I’m excited to play the Long Beach arena.

No, that’s awesome. I lived in Los Angeles for a small period of time and visited a friend of Long Beach and I really enjoyed my time there for that weekend. So it’s a good vibe. I’m really excited for y’all.

Also 40 Oz to Fresno. Sublime, 40 Oz. to Long Beach.

Of course.

So it’s a fitting place to do our big LA show for the record.