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Joywave: Rochester's cutting-edge fun, to a point

Jan 22, 2020

From left, Benjamin Bailey, Daniel Armbruster, Joseph Morinelli and Paul Brenner of Joywave.
Credit Hollywood Records

It is helpful to think of the release of a new Joywave album as a biological function. "I just naturally produce one every several years," lead singer and songwriter Daniel Armbruster says. "I turn it in to the record company and then they decide if they want to release it. And they liked this one, so it's going to be released."

It's kind of like a snake shedding its skin?

"It really does feel like that."

Joywave sheds the new album, "Possession," on March 13. It's the band's third full-length release, following 2015's "How Do You Feel Now?" and 2017's "Content." But by now, if you're paying attention, you should have heard five of the 12 tracks.

"Everybody binges everything, right?" Armbruster says. "A new Netflix show comes out; you watch the whole series in one weekend."

So the idea now is to slow things down. Hand out the artistry by piecemeal. Allow the ravenous, great unwashed public to savor the musicians' hard work.

"The release of the album is the end of the album campaign, whereas it used to be the album release was step one, right?" Armbruster says. "And then you worked singles from it along the way over a year or two years afterwards."

Yet these calculated album-release plans end up getting swamped anyway by a tidal wave of singles, EPs, videos and remixes, plus a social media presence that addresses all things Joywave. After the band announced its 2020 tour, a fan asked on Facebook why there is not a Pittsburgh date. Replied Joywave, "It's in Cleveland."

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If you think that's funny, Joywave is always in on the joke. Its 2016 album "SWISH" was actually a fake, consisting of nine remixes of the band's 2015 single "Destruction." Plus one new song, perhaps because Joywave felt guilty about playing a trick on its fans, and wanted to give them something new. Joywave may be a band of goofballs, but they're also nice guys.

And before launching the new tour, which includes dates in Europe (the Munich show is in Berlin), Joywave has a Friday, Jan. 24, concert at the Dome Arena in Henrietta, with the New York City indie band AJR, Sub Urban and Dreamers.

Henrietta. Next stop, London. Joywave thrives on iconoclasm.

The band has given up its studio behind the Bug Jar, but the guys -- including keyboardist Benjamin Bailey, guitarist Joseph Morinelli and drummer Paul Brenner -- insist on living in Rochester, despite the weather, and telling everyone as well that they're from here. Armbruster even recently bought a house.

The band's sound is right where you'll find the cutting edge these days. A rock band embracing bounding, life-affirming electronic beats. With a self-awareness that sometimes approaches self-parody.

"Growing up, we always hated the music videos where the band rocks really hard and the room starts shaking," Armbruster says. "The idea of music videos is ridiculous to begin with, right; you're kind of miming the song. So why not make something fun?"

This idea, he says, is to "make the whole thing into a giant mockery."

The band's on-stage look -- "as close to a cult as you can get," Armbruster says -- could be called mockery, otherworldly, or some kind of individual statement from satire-attired, forward-thinking sci-fi gentlemen. 

"We used to just play in street clothes," Armbruster says. "And it was kind of, you spend all day walking around a city and then you just jump onstage and it's like, 'OK, perform!' "

Everything Joywave touches is multi-layered. "Possession" samples the voice of astrophysicist Carl Sagan. Even the packaging of the vinyl -- a gold disc -- is borrowed from the gold records that Sagan compiled to accompany the Voyager probes into outer space in the late 1970s. Just in case the probes, many light years from now, were discovered by aliens. Who would in turn wonder, "Who were these aliens?"

Joywave's "Possession" would provide some answers. The five songs we've heard so far began with "Blastoff," which Armbruster says addresses "the stopping and starting of our lives. ... It really feels like, like a bubble when you're on the road, you come back and our friends have had kids or changed jobs or things have changed in their lives. And you go, 'Oh, every single day of mine was exactly the same.' "

It was followed by "Like a Kennedy," with its startling video, re-creating the John F. Kennedy assassination over and over and over. With each version of the crime, deliberately bloodless, covered up by people wearing what looks like hazmat suits. It's a comment on the endless cycle of violence in this country, and poses a disturbing thought at the end: What if it had been Jackie Kennedy who was shot that day?

"Obsession" is, Armbruster says, "the need to focus on things to distract myself from others." He cites his own obsessive-compulsive disorder tendencies. "I can't get off of a negative thought, ever. I obsess over it. I run through a lot of scenarios that are fictionalized, 10 levels down. I will have that conversation and disagreement with that person in my head, and it hasn't even happened. It may not exist at all."

"Blank Slate" is about being open to challenge, Armbruster says, while "Half Your Age" -- accompanied by a hilarious video that lampoons advice-slinging doctors on television commercials and our romance with problem-solving medication -- attacks what Armstrong calls "misplaced resiliency." We have a tendency in this country where we tell people they can be whatever they want to be. Look around. It's not true. Adjust.

"I ran into a friend this morning who, he's been in a lot of bands over the years," Armbruster says. "He told me, 'You know, music doesn't really pay the bills. I've really gotten into remodeling and construction, and I'm really doing well at it.' "

Armbruster was in that same place, in his pre-Joywave days, playing in bands such as The Hoodies. Good bands, but not paying the bills.

"I would get out of work, sit on the couch and watch 'The Colbert Report,' " he says. "And, ah, it was kind of the only thing that made me laugh in those days, when I was like: What did I do wrong with my life? I really wanted this music thing to work out, and I'm just working part time at Staples, and still living with my parents in my mid-20s."

At about that time, cyclist Lance Armstrong came out with his "Live Strong" wrist bracelets, which celebrated beating cancer, including his own. Stephen Colbert, who was then hosting "The Colbert Report" on the Comedy Channel, had just broken his wrist. He jumped on the "Live Strong" bicycle with his own "Wrist Strong" bracelets, as a way of raising awareness for wrist injuries. Gently mocking celebrity causes. "And the rules of it were," Armbruster says, "if you met someone more famous than you, you had to give them the wristband, to raise the awareness, right? So it keeps moving up. As soon as you meet someone more famous than you, you have to give up your Wrist Strong bracelet."

And as a Colbert fan, Armbruster had acquired a Wrist Strong bracelet. And he kept it for years, until the right opportunity to wear it presented itself. That was in 2018, when Joywave played "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."

"He came over and he shakes my hand and he sees it and he goes, 'No (expletive deleted) way,' because it was from 15 years ago," Armbruster says. "So I was like, 'You're more famous than me.' And he goes, 'You're right.' So he takes it, he puts it on, and then when he holds our record on screen introducing us, he's got the Wrist Strong bracelet, and he does a little dangle of it."

Tickets ($39.99 through Jan. 23, $49.99 the day of the show) to the 7 p.m. Jan. 24 concert at the Dome Arena, 2695 East Henrietta Road, Henrietta, are available at ticketmaster.com.

Revolutionary ideas

Sonya Bilocerkowycz.
Credit Provided by SUNY Geneseo

Sonya Bilocerkowycz launches her new collection of essays, "On Our Way Home from the Revolution," at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at Writers & Books, 740 University Ave. A creative writing professor at SUNY Geneseo, Bilocerkowycz is a proponent of speculative nonfiction: How will we ever uncover hidden truths if we don't allow ourselves the opportunity to explore the story based on the available facts?

Bilocerkowycz's grandparents immigrated to America from Ukraine, and she explores her heritage in a timely way. Ukraine is dominating the news these days, and apparently for good reason. Bilocerkowycz's resume suggests she's well qualified to ask the relevant questions. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Belarus, an educational recruiter in the Republic of Georgia, and an instructor at Ukrainian Catholic University.

Does the corruption in Ukraine cast any light on what's happening in America today? Here's what she told the Los Angeles Review of Books last month: "I'm wary of an American patriotism that prides itself on being a world leader in human rights, but has trouble admitting the hourly crimes against human rights that we commit." Admission to this event is free.

Roots music at The Little

The first show of the year in The Little Theatre concert series looks very promising. Hubby Jenkins, formerly of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, has an 8 p.m. Feb. 15 concert at The Little Theater.

Hubby Jenkins.
Credit Orlando Camacho

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were premier purveyors of old-time American folk music, particularly the sounds of black musicians. As a solo artist, Jenkins has continued to mine that jazz, country blues and ragtime vein, playing banjo, guitar and rhythm bones. He is also a member of the band that accompanies former Carolina Chocolate Drops lead singer Rhiannon Giddens on her solo career.

Tickets ($20 advance, $25 the day of the show), are at thelittle.org and The Little box office, 240 East Ave.

In our universe…

James Wilson of Paisley Fields.
Credit Drew Botcherby

Record Archive celebrates its 45th year with a show in its charm-filled Backroom Lounge each month this year. Coming up, at 6 p.m. Jan. 23, is Teagan & the Tweeds. The schedule includes Jumbo Shrimp on Feb. 20, Woody Dodge on March 19, Tommy Brunett on April 23 and Junkyardfieldtrip on May 21. Later shows will feature Joe Beard, Stormy Valle, The Hi-Risers, Steve Grills, Mikaela Davis, Genesee Johnny and Significant Other. They're all free. You'll find the Archive at 33 1/3 Rockwood St… In a rare night away from the local scene, The Little Café, 240 East Ave., has a pair of small but intriguing national acts coming in for a show 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25. We'll get Brooklyn country music from Paisley Fields, with Iowa-raised frontman James Wilson, who writes with a modern eye. Joining him is the Filipino-American singer-songwriter Mercy Bell, now living in Nashville. Both have emerged as interesting voices in the LGBTQ ranks. The show is free… The Rochester Cocktail Revival, one of the great concepts of 21st-century social thinking, doesn't happen until June 1. But to get spirits warmed up, the RCR presents "A Little Secret: Speakeasy Soiree," at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24. It's in the Jackrabbit Club, the event space at Good Luck, 40 Anderson Ave. Emotions will be running hot: It will be just a week after the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition in the United States. This is a night of bathtub gin, jazz and old movies. Gatsby attire is suggested. Tickets are $45 (that includes three cocktails); get them through the Jackrabbit Club Facebook page.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI's Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.