Friday, January 20, 2012

Catching Up With Joy Kills Sorrow On "This Unknown Science"

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the Boston-based string band, Joy Kills Sorrow. Their latest album, last year's This Unknown Science, is an album that made quite a lasting impact on fans, critics, and new listeners alike. For fans of Crooked Still, Sarah Jarosz, and Punch Brothers, Joy Kills Sorrow offers a richly rewarding amount of material to enjoy.

Here's our chat: 

How and when did Joy Kills Sorrow form?

Joy Kills Sorrow: Joy Kills Sorrow was originally formed in Boston with a totally different line up other then Matt Arcara. The first incarnation of the band was Matt on guitar, Joe Walsh on mandolin (now with the Gibson Brothers) Karl Doty on bass and Heather Masse singing (now with the Wailin Jennys.)  We started working slowly on things in 2005. Since then the band has evolved to the line up and sound it has now.

Can you discuss the band's name?

JKS: The name comes from a radio station in Gary, Indiana that The Monroe Brothers played on. Its call sign was WJKS, which stood for when joy kills sorrow. The first line up was in the studio recording a demo and had yet to pick a name, Matt had just been reading the Biography of Bill Monroe and the radio statio happened to stick in his head.

Can you briefly describe how you all connected and the time leading up to making your first, self -titled album?

JKS: Joe and Matt had met at a festival on the west coast while they were in college and immediately had a good musical connection. Joe then introduced Karl and Heather to Matt and the three began working on music. Then Karl went to grad school and Bridget joined the band as well as banjoist Adam Larrabee. This was the group that made the first record  and began heading JKS toward more original material. 

How did this time of recording, performing, and working together prepare the band for Darkness Sure Becomes This City?

JKS: Even when we were performing more cover songs and traditional material, we were always very experimental with our arrangements. We were searching for new textures to play beneath the melodies, and exhausting all of the possibilities to find the perfect ones. The ideas that we came up with ended up inspiring future original songs.

What were some of the biggest differences between the making and recording of Darkness Sure Becomes This City from the first album?

JKS: The differences were vast. By the time we made Darkness Sure Becomes This City, we had really solidified into a unit with a distinct vision and sound. A lot of this vision centered around original material. With the original songs came the influence of pop songwriting and production. It was almost a fresh start, and a new band (especially because it was actually 3/5 a new band: Emma Beaton, Wes Corbett and Jake Jolliff were all new to the band.) 

Let's talk about your latest album, last year's This Unknown Science. The album just came out in September, which was only about a year and half since DBTC. Can you talk about the writing process?

JKS: It was a good year for us, creatively. We got into the idea of co-writing and wrote together for the band in a lot of different combinations: Corbett and Kearney, Jolliff and Kearney, Beaton and Kearney, Beaton and Jolliff. It was very fun to be bouncing ideas off of each other and this was a source of inspiration. 

Aside from that, half of the songs are by our bassist, Bridget Kearney. A few of those were songs that had built up gradually since the time that DSBTC was recorded and released, and several others were written specifically for the record, in the months leading up to it.

How collaborative was the process of composing and arranging the tunes between the band members?

JKS: Most of the co-writing labor was split up pretty much straight down the line: one composer, one lyricist. The arranging was even more democratic. We had long, arduous rehearsals to come up with parts for everybody and ways to shape the dynamic arc of everything. 

It definitely felt like we’d just climbed a mountain every time we would finish arranging something. Like, you really had to work at it! But then it was this glorious feeling when we were finished and had something that we had worked hard for and we all were happy with, at last.

Can you describe the band's experiences recording the album at Great North Sound Society studio (which is a converted 18th century barn in southern interior Maine)?

How did you choose the location and how did it influence the making of the record?

JKS: Recording with Sam Kassirer at Great North Sound Society was totally awesome! We chose very carefully, by seeking out the studios where our favorite albums had been recorded and the people that had recorded them. I don’t think we could have made a better choice! The studio itself is a great place to record. It’s very isolated, and out in the middle of nowhere, so you can really focus on the task at hand. 

Sam is tireless, endlessly creative, and bursting with fun energy at all times.  He comes from outside of the bluegrass world, so as a producer, he didn’t have stylistic conventions to fall back on--he was just coming up with new ideas all the time.  “Let’s record the mandolin coming through a guitar amp at this part,” “let’s beef up the banjo intro by doubling it,” “let’s throw Bridget in front of the organ and record it from the room mic that’s 15 ft away,” etc, etc, etc.

What were some of the band's influences while composing and working on This Unknown Science


JKS: A lot of the songwriting and arranging influences on the album come from indie-rock: Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend, to name a few. We also have learned so much over the years from the other great young string bands out there right now, like Crooked Still and The Punch Brothers. They’re energy, creativity and attention to detail is a big inspiration. 

I love the album art for This Unknown Science. Who is the artist and how did you decide on the imagery?

JKS: Thanks! The album art was done by a graphic design group in Ohio called Three Bears. At the point that we started working with them, we had already decided to call the album This Unknown Science (which comes from a line in the song "New Man"). We thought the phrase was a good representation of what were doing with the music on the album. Experimenting a lot.  Searching for some new discoveries. Trying to make something that had never been made before. 

When we passed these ideas along to the artist, he made the connection with sort of scientific imagery, and specifically science in the age when it still had some mysticism to it.  The drawings he made include a lot of beautiful antiquated scientific instruments. Like astrolabes. 

What kind of touring is on deck for the band in 2012?

JKS: Well, we've already toured a lot for the album. We were on tour for about 3 and a half months last summer. Anyways, we brought the album to the South, the Midwest, the West Coast, Canada and then finally back home to the East Coast and our hometown, Boston. 

We toured a bunch for the rest of last year and we will be doing more in 2012. We’re also excited to go back to Europe for the second time (and our first time with the new album) in the spring.

Here's the band's current dates:

Sat, Jan 21st, 2012 : Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbra, Ca

Sun, Jan 22nd, 2012 : Sunnyvale House Concerts, Sunnyvale, CA

Sat, Jan 28th, 2012 : The Calvin Theatre, Northhampton, MA
(opening for The Carolina Chocolate Drops)

Mon, Jan 30th, 2012 : Club Passim, Cambridge, MA

Tue, Jan 31st, 2012 : Club Passim, Cambridge, MA

Thu, Mar 01st, 2012 : Grounds For Thought, Bowling Green, OH

Fri, Mar 02nd, 2012 : Duncan Hall, 8PM, Lafayette, IN

Sun, Mar 04th, 2012 : Sunday At Four, Iowa City, IA

Thu, Mar 08th, 2012 : 1284 Artspace Perkins, Baton Rouge, LA

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