Band: Joyce Manor
Label: Epitaph Records / Indigo
Cody isn’t an album that changed everything for Joyce Manor, but Joyce Manor had to change a bit to make their album Cody. Their last album Never Hungover Again–their debut for Epitaph after two previous full-lengths for other labels—was recorded in just ten days, at that point the longest they’d ever been able to spend on an album. For Cody, however, they’d camp out in the studio for two months with producer Rob Schnapf, credited on classics by Elliot Smith, Guided By Voices, Saves The Day and Rancid, all in the Joyce Manor record collections, of course. With Schnapf’s help, they’d explore deeper arrangements, new pre-production techniques, and different ways of working both together and with someone else, says guitarist and singer Barry Johnson: “It was the first time we really used the studio to our advantage. I felt like I could get a better grasp on what we could do. We always recorded like a punk band—go in and lay ‘em down! Just get good takes! And this time we tried a lot more.”
So think of Cody as the moment where a pop-punk band pushes past just simple pop and punk—when the first album something-to-prove anxieties are long since conquered and it’s time for something true as well as something new. If Never Hungover Again was the sound of the last long weekend of summer, that precipice-moment plunge into the uncertain future, then Cody is an album for a new year’s day: a mile-marker, a just-past-halfway point in winter, a moment for clarity and experience and purpose to all be renewed. (“I find that as I get older it's easy to hold things from your youth close to your heart,” says Johnson. “Revisiting bands you were into ten years ago can seem exciting, but it’s creative suicide. It's very important to find new things to be inspired by.”)
Between albums, says Johnson, he’d taught himself the meditation techniques championed by the Beatles and director David Lynch, and he found he was suddenly wide open. Before, songs were labor; now they were revelations, appearing almost fully formed in his head before he had time to even catch them on a voicemail to himself. (“I couldn't believe how well it worked,” he says. “I’d be driving and I’d suddenly have an entire song in my head.”) They’d also added new drummer Jeff Enzor (of Torrance’s Merry Christmas) to the band alongside bassist Matt Ebert and guitarist Chase Knobbe. With Schnapf’s able help as a de facto fifth member of the band, Joyce Manor found itself bristling with inspiration. Now more than ever, says Johnson, he felt he could trust himself and his bandmates to take the risks to make the music they wanted to make. The result is a record that dares to be humble, intimate and unapogetically human: “There was something about the way I was writing on Never Hungover that was kind of mean?” says Johnson. “A little bitter? Cody is way more tender. A lot more love songs. Softer, sweeter—even sonically.”
Of course, it also kicks off with very likely the first Kanye West dis Epitaph Records has ever released, on the Morrissey-meets-Teenage Fanclub social-interaction-gone-wrong song “Fake ID.” (“Is it a dis?” asks Johnson. “It’s more talking about those insanely idiotic conversations everyone has about Kanye that you wish you weren’t a part of—I wish both of us in that conversation would shut up.”) But then Cody opens up into songs that play like scenes from a movie, or chapters from an autobiography even if they aren’t from Johnson’s own autobiography. That sweetness and softness comes in ten stories about people alone in their heads if not alone in their lives, about feeling left out or left behind (“Reversing Machine”) or left alone even when you’re surrounded by people, like the flash-snapshot of a night outside a Portland bar on “Last You Heard Of Me,” and finishing with secret ode to invincible suburban iconoclasm “This Song Is A Mess.”
If there’s a defining line on the album, says Johnson, it comes at the end of the raw but real internal monologue of “Eighteen,” where he sings, “I feel so old today.” (“That’s especially funny for a guy in a pop-punk band,” he laughs. “It’s almost too real.”) But this isn’t an album about how one becomes jaded with age. Instead, it’s an album about seeing things as they are as much as how they could be, and about finding what matters in the matter-of-fact. On Cody, Joyce Manor’s punk predecessors (Toys That Kill, Dillinger Four) and indie inspirations (like newfound obsession Sun Kil Moon, which Johnson loves more for the humor than the despair) connect in a way that matches energy to unsparing honesty, making loud sing-along songs for quiet people. “How come nothing amazes me?” sings Johnson on “Angel In The Snow,” and yes, that could be a line about being burned out—but it could also be about recognizing how beautiful little things can be, and about how with the right spark, nothing can become something after all.