“On Ghost Blonde, all we had was our practice space and some cheap mics. You can hear the Metallica cover band practicing next door on some tracks. Things were different this time.”
Laura Lloyd, guitarist with No Joy, is recalling the recording process for their debut full-length. She’s speaking, via Skype, from the band’s hometown of Montreal; it was a similar Internet platform that served as the breeding ground for No Joy, when geographic distance prevented her from collaborating with bandmate Jasamine White-Gluz in person. “She was living out in LA and I was here, in Montreal. We would send each other really badly recorded MP3s via email and work that way. Ironically, we still do it that way despite living fifteen minutes from each other now.”
Performing live as a four-piece, I suggest I’d found it difficult to find any conclusive evidence on just how many members comprise No Joy. “I’d say we’re a trio. Our drummer, Garland Hastings, has been with us for a while now and he has a lot of input in the songs, and writes some as well. I think at first it was more of a duo thing because we didn’t have any solid members in the band – they couldn’t tour, or were ‘creatively unavailable’, but now that Garland’s been part of the set up consistently, it’s a natural progression that he would write with us as well.”
After signing to Mexican Summer in 2010 – and having immediately been given a tight deadline to turn in Ghost Blonde – the band embarked on an exhaustive touring schedule, with high-profile support slots to Wavves and Best Coast alongside their own shows (Bethany Cosentino having declared them “the best band ever” on Twitter). It was a process, though, that left them creatively wrung-out; an entire record, written and recorded in late 2011 in New York with Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes, was scrapped, with the band going back to the drawing board for Wait to Pleasure.
“I guess we were just sort of burnt out and depressed; we weren’t really in our right minds. We recorded after a year of touring for Ghost Blonde. I suppose we sort of felt that we needed to keep going, but after having it mixed and sitting with it, we kind of all agreed that we didn’t really like it. It gave me a feeling of dread thinking that we were going to put it out; knowing that I didn’t put my best work forward, and feeling just totally creatively empty. It wasn’t a good feeling – the songs themselves aren’t terrible, but I can’t really separate them from how I felt at that time. Fortunately, no one pushed us to put it out, so we didn’t. Our label offered us their beautiful studio to start over and that’s exactly what we did.”
The making of the new effort wasn’t any less pain-staking than before, though. “We had two straight weeks at the studio in Brooklyn, which we were in for a minimum of ten hours a day. A lot of the songs on the record only had somewhat loose sketches before entering the studio, so we definitely spent a lot of time forming them there. I never really thought of it as a quick process, considering we spent at least a hundred and sixty hours recording. It was more of a dense process, which I think worked in our favour.”
Having already abandoned material they were unhappy with – and ending up with more time on their hands as a result – I wondered whether the tracks that ended up on Wait to Pleasure came about as the result of an intentional change in direction. “We definitely had some new ideas, but I wouldn’t say I’m one of those people that sets out to deliberately change things up, and I don’t think we did; we just presented another aspect to our sound that we were probably kind of lightly hinting at before anyway. I think it might be more obvious now because we had access to a full studio with tons of instruments, so where we couldn’t have bongos on our first record, we could on this one. To an extent, you are a product of your environment. That said, I also know that Jas and I were both listening to a lot of Primal Scream and baggy era bands and going into the studio and having a producer was exciting because there were definitely some things we were inspired to try (drum machines, samples etc) but didn’t really have the means or technical expertise to execute before. I think that’s the key difference on Wait to Pleasure.”
No Joy’s signature is their incredibly dense, layered guitar sound, drenched in reverb; Laura recently commented on Twitter that “you could literally listen to ‘Hare Tarot Lies’ on loop and not know when it starts/ends.” That huge wall of noise, though, has to start somewhere. “It’s usually just a riff or a beat. Jas and I still like to write riffs, record them and send to each other, so a lot of songs are built that way. I think once you have a process it’s kind of hard to change the way you do things. Now that the record is finished and we lived that experience out in the studio, we might have a different approach in future, but that remains to be seen I suppose. I’ve recently purchased a MIDI keyboard and am teaching myself how to use Ableton, but so far I’m only capable of writing R&B so who knows what’s next.”
With the guitar very much at the forefront for No Joy, Jasamine’s vocals are, for all intents and purposes, treated as just another instrument in the mix, distorted and often drowned out. As a result, I suggest, are the often-unintelligible lyrics given less consideration than if the listener was hearing them crystal clear? “She’s very careful with the lyrics she writes, but not too keen on sharing them. The vocals just aren’t the voice or core of our songs; it’s just that, aesthetically, Jasamine and I both prefer songs where you can’t really understand the vocals or hear them all the time. I appreciate the ambiguity of that, and I like it even more when people try to decipher the lyrics and post them online, if only for own personal amusement. They’re always wrong, by the way.”
The foreseeable future is going to see No Joy pretty much permanently on the road, with Laura hoping to reach the UK and “as many new places as possible.” It’s an opportunity for me to pick a bone with the band, with their last show in my native Manchester having been called off at the last minute a couple of years back, with no explanation given. I was hoping for as rock and roll as possible an excuse – maybe they’d set fire to all their instruments in a drug-fuelled craze the night before, or drank so much whisky that they’d passed out and couldn’t play, or just some kind of similar tale of excess and debauchery. “I remember that! That sucked. There was a power failure at the venue, so we ended up going to Wagamama instead.” No joy.
Wait to Pleasure will be available on 23 April via Mexican Summer