Joyce Manor was conceived in the back of a car in the Disneyland parking lot—the kind of beginning California dreams are really made of. It was the fall of 2008 over a bottle of cheap booze when co-founders Barry Johnson (guitar, vocals) and Chase Knobbe (guitar) decided to team up. They formed a power violence band where everyone would have Johnny Thunders-style glam-names … like “Joyce Manor” named after an apartment complex Barry walked past every day. But when longtime friend Andrew Jackson Jihad suddenly asked Barry if his old band wanted to open for their LA show, he scrambled to say yes.
“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.