Joywave might be the only rock band in the country -- or perhaps the only one that will admit to it -- whose hearts go all aflutter at the sight of industrial architecture.
“When we were doing the van tours back in the day, that was kind of the thing we would see at 6 a.m. on the horizon,” Daniel Armbruster says. “We would say, ‘All right, we made it home.’”
Home. The guys grew up within a mile or two of the towering smokestacks at the Eastman Kodak plant on East Ridge Road. And they still call Rochester home, even after graduating from that van to a bus, touring the United States and Europe, hitting the biggest music festivals such as Lollapalooza, playing the late-night talk shows.
Now is payback time, for all of those years that Rochester came out for those formative years of shows at the Bug Jar. And as Armbruster, Joywave’s lead singer and main songwriter puts it, “after the year all of us have had.”
The KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival closes Saturday with a free concert at the city’s downtown grassy knoll: Parcel 5, or “The Five,” as our hippest urban developers now call it.
Joywave has curated this special show of friends that includes Rochester’s baritone ukulele-slinging singer-songwriter Cammy Enaharo, rock harpist Mikaela Davis, the dance-floor rock of KOPPS and two national acts, Cannons and Spencer. The latter is from Rochester but now lives in Brooklyn.
The show is called “Smokestacks,” as a nod to those towering beacons that welcomed home Joywave.
Finding the music was the fun part of assembling a show. Then… details, details, details…
“There’s just so many logistical challenges with, like, how many bathrooms do we need?” Armbruster says. “I don’t know.”
This was two weeks ago, before the start of Rochester Fringe, with Armbruster sitting outside Ugly Duck Coffee on Charlotte Street. Someone waves to him before going inside.
“I am very much a regular,” Armbruster says.
He’s pondering where Joywave has been since COVID. And where it is going now. This has been a lost year in so many ways for music.
“There was a new Kanye West album that came out on Friday, and I said that’s the only album that I can even think of that came out in the past year, that I think I can name,” Armbruster says. “And being a musician, if that’s true for me, I would imagine that’s true for most people who are probably concerned about friends, family and, ‘Am I gonna get sick, and I gonna get laid off? How am I gonna find a new job?’
“There’s just so many other things happening and it’s like, I think for TV and for streaming movies, it’s been good. Because at the end of the day you sit down in front of your TV and go, ‘I don’t even want to think about this anymore,' and you kind of shut out the world. But with music, I think it's rarer for people to sit down and close their eyes and put on an album.”
Music, he’s suggesting, seems to have been assigned to background soundtrack duty as we wait for the pandemic to end.
“I drove by the gym at one point and it was like: Am I going to go in for the first time in a year and a half?” Armbruster says. “And there were 30 people in there at 11 p.m., and no masks. And I was like, ‘No,’ and I went home.”
And home is where he has stayed. Joywave has no more shows booked through the fall or winter. And the band is being very cautious about Saturday’s show.
“I looked pretty closely at, like, what happened with Lollapalooza in Chicago,” Armbruster says. “And conventional wisdom says this is going to be a super-spreader event and it’s going to be really bad. And it looks like that’s not what happened. They had 90% vaccinated, 7% negative test results, 3% of people showed up and said, ‘What do you mean I can’t get in?’ They sent ’em home.
“I think they have confirmed like 200 or 300 cases from Lollapalooza, but that’s way lower than the general population for that same time period.”
Armbruster’s monitoring of social media seems to back up these numbers. Checking out a Reddit thread on Lollapalooza, “Thousands of people posted,” he says. “Only one person vaccinated and who wore a mask tested positive.”
And yet, he says, caution is called for.
“For me, if I’m outdoors in a crowd, I’m going to wear a mask.”
In this season of perpetual waiting, not all of the Joywave pieces are staying in place. Guitarist Joseph Morinelli and drummer Paul Brenner remain. But keyboardist Benjamin Bailey is leaving the band; he’s just digitally released his own five-song solo EP, “God Speed Demon.” Armbruster calls Bailey “overqualified” anyway as a rock keyboardist, adding, “I think people may see Ben here and there.” In the meantime, the band will have friends fill in on keyboards, including Jason Milton of The Demos.
Touring, and playing shows, is the lifeblood of a band. Hitting the road to promote new music is essential. And “Possession,” released early in 2020, deserved a better fate than what the pandemic allowed.
“It was really disheartening because we spent two years making ‘Possession,’” Armbruster says. “And then it came out March 13, which was basically the weekend everything shut down. And it was, understandably, like no one was thinking about music.”
But for those who did pause to listen, “I’ve gotten so many nice messages from people who were like, ‘I’m a nurse in a COVID ward and, like, the record got me through the year.’ That makes me feel amazing, because that’s people who are actually doing something. Whereas this past year, year and a half, put into perspective how nonessential I am.”
The band has just digitally released four songs on an EP called “Every Window is a Mirror.” Those songs will be part of Joywave’s next full-length album, to be released in February. Nonessential as he may think he is, Armbruster continued to work throughout the pandemic.
But he let his friends’ bands be the touring guinea pigs.
“Theoretically, you make money,” Armbruster says. “But it’s not the kind of thing where you can have somebody test positive, lose 10 days where you’re not able to play shows. You lose the income from those shows, you still have to pay your crew, you still have to pay for the bus those days.
“So I think it’s been bad for music, obviously,” he says. “Live shows are a thing that took up 200 days out of the year for us historically, and that went away. So I spent time recording. But even that, it was kind of back to how it was 10 years ago in my parents’ basement, when I was just sitting down there alone.”
Armbruster eventually moved out of the attic, but the pandemic created other complicated living circumstances. Brenner quarantined for a week before going to Armbruster’s house to record drum tracks. Morinelli and Armbruster communicated through Zoom, and traded audio files on Dropbox.
Armbruster also wrote with other musicians, and for other musicians. When a band is in Los Angeles, and another is in Rochester, connecting on Zoom makes it easy.
Work the music, then kick back and watch a little hockey on TV.
“Last night my girlfriend said, ‘You 60% like music, you 40% like hockey, and you don’t like anything else,’” he says. “And I was like, ‘That’s absolutely correct.’”
Yet Armbruster never connected the two. There will be no hockey songs on the new album.
“The guys really fought me on this,” he says. “They said, ‘We need maximum hockey, Dan.’ And I was like, no. We can’t. We can’t.”
February, and the release of this new album of non-hockey songs, is a long way off. But despite the speed at which video of a New York City rat stealing a slice of pizza can circle the globe, it’s still a pretty big world out there.
“It’s interesting how long music discovery takes now,” Armbruster says. “It makes sense to stretch things out a little bit.
“In Russia, there is this guy who is the most famous Russian rapper, and his wife is the most famous, she’s like the Kim Kardashian. And she used our song ‘It’s a Trip’ in a video she posted on her vacation on the beach somewhere. And the song became instantly very popular in Russia.”
Yet a band can’t rely on music royalties from a Russian video shoot, Armbruster concedes.
“She owes me rubles, huh?”
Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.