Joywave’s Daniel Armbruster and Paul Brenner talk ‘Content,’ touring and consumer culture
Sure, Daniel Armbruster of Rochester, New York’s Joywave graduated college. But according to him, the time he did was the “worst time possible in history” to do it.
He graduated from the University of Rochester with a history degree in 2007, when the economy collapsed and the notion of a job became a baby boomer fantasy. And from the ensuing struggle emerged his band’s first album, 2015’s “How Do You Feel Now?” It’s one of angst and conflict — with layered vocals and gritty, electronic instrumentation. On the track “Somebody New,” Armbruster sings “With my eyes on the prize / not a thing to my name / with my head in the clouds / and my body don’t waste.”
When The Emerald spoke with Armbruster and Joywave’s drummer, Paul Brenner, about their new album, music consuming habits and the Rochester music scene, the two band members joked lightly about some pretty dark things. Joywave is currently on tour with Young the Giant and Cold War Kids. At the time of the interview, they had just finished the casino circuit. “I lost four dollars,” Armbruster said.
On the band’s latest release, July’s “Content” (pronounced as in the feeling of being content), Armbruster and his bandmates continue to explore our fast-paced world. But this time, they dig a little deeper. This isn’t a post-college, what-do-I-do-with-the-world album. Instead, “Content” explores the duality of its title: the fact that content can mean the feeling of happiness or when pronounced differently, a substance or material. “‘I’m searching / for the difference between / what content and content can bring,” Armbruster sings on the titular track.
“The title lies in the discrepancy,” he said.
Joywave has always had a knack for exploring a pessimistic worldview with a dark and playful sense of humor— whether collaborating with Big Data to produce the paranoid alternative chart topper “Dangerous” or producing an extended play EP called “Swish.” The latter title is a reference to Kanye West’s original name for “The Life of Pablo,” released in 2016. That album’s cover art seemed eerily similar to Joywave’s promotional material, so they made a joke out of it.
“I thought the image was loading wrong, so I checked on three different websites, because I thought it was a glitch thing. And it wasn’t, it was pretty much exactly our artwork,” Armbruster said. “I mean, I certainly wasn’t offended by it, and I don’t think Kanye West woke up one morning and was like, ‘How can I copy Joywave today?’ I’m sure someone on his team, somewhere along the way saw a subway ad for [our tour], or a bench ad, or a bus ad, and I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose.”
Brenner didn’t seem too angry. “Realistically, it’s black Helvetica on orange,” he said.
“Swish” came out in 2016 — in between “How Do You Feel Now?” and “Content” — so the band has released full-length musical content three years in a row. But even in Joywave’s busy touring schedule, its members found time to make “Content” a deliberate and thoughtful release. For four months, they rented a cabin 40 miles outside of Rochester, New York and recorded. “We lived there, [made] campfires, we melted some glass,” Armbruster said. “Yeah, it was fun.”
The product of this four-month recording session is a blistering yet joyful album — catchy on the surface but with something sinister boiling underneath. Tracks like “It’s a Trip” and “Doubt” reel listeners in with concise and danceable sounds, but the paranoid lyrics are enough to make a party uneasy.
— Joywave (@joywavemusic) August 28, 2017
Armbruster and Brenner say the album is a response to the ways we consume as a culture. “It’s also a reaction to just the way that everyone consumes music now, which is like, ‘Well, this album came out a week ago. Now it’s old. Now there’s a new album!’ And things just get buried down the chain,” Armbruster said.
“By Friday,” Brenner said, “you’ve got a list of fifty new albums.”
Armbruster says he sometimes feels overwhelmed by the constant flow of music. “I’m the kind of guy [who] wants to listen to his favorite records over and over again, ‘cause they’re the best,” he said. His go-to album is Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” a harrowing portrait of a world consumed by new media. Meanwhile, Brenner puts on the first 3 songs from “The Bends” — also Radiohead — every time he flies in a plane.
“It’s tradition,” Brenner said.
The band has a busy schedule in the next year with its own headlining tour and the end of the band’s run with Young the Giant and Cold War Kids. For now, Armbruster is still using his history degree to make it in the world.
“I think I treat my life like a historian,” Armbruster said, “I’m trying to document what it’s like to be my age right now on planet earth. And if people care, that’s cool, and if people don’t care, that’s cool too. I’m making it. “