Published on May 14th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Grace Joyner Develops a Formula for Dreamy Pop on ‘Young Fools’
Embarking on her first solo project as a singer and composer, Grace Joyner (a.k.a. Amber Grace Joyner) wanted to go into a studio with a slightly different approach to making infectious pop with affecting melodies. Tonally, the Charleston-based musician already had experience with bands as a supporting vocalist with such acts as Elim Bolt, Brave Baby, and Johnny Delaware, and she knew how to balance innocence and realism within the songs.
On her impressive debut mini-album, Young Fools (Hearts + Plugs), she delivers several dream-pop gems and indie-electro anthems with a uniquely spare, atmospheric vibe.
“This was a different experience, for sure,” Joyner says of the making of Young Fools. “I’ve loved being in other bands, helping somebody else’s vision with their music, but at some point, I realized that I needed to take a break from that and try to make something on my own. It seems to working so far.”
Joyner started recording song ideas and arrangements with local musician/producer Wolfgang Zimmerman (Brave Baby) at his downtown facility the Space in October 2013, working off and on on the basic tracks through last December. She says she was glad to take her time, without rushing through anything.
“I’m still a very new songwriter, so it was awesome to have Wolfgang there for me at the time to help me create the sounds I was going for,” she says. “I love the music of Leslie Feist and Neko Case and artists like that, but I didn’t come in and ask Wolfgang to make these songs sound like anything specifically; it just naturally happened. Wolfgang does things so well, and he’s so talented. I gave him all the freedom to do what he wanted to do with these songs.”
Zimmerman and Joyner brainstormed freely throughout the sessions, experimenting with synths, special effects, unusual percussion, and odd sound sources. The idea was to carefully create a non-rock soundscape that allowed plenty of space for Joyner’s breathy, emotive singing.
“In the beginning, we’d get together, throw big ideas at the ceiling, and see which ones stuck,” Joyner says. “I knew that I liked having more of an emphasis on the vocals. I’ve always really admired artists who use their voices like an instrument and not just as an accessory to the music. That’s how I address my writing and performing.”
There is very little typical rock-band instrumentation going on with Young Fools. Opening track “Be Good” (click audio below) relies heavily on delays and echoes while bouncing with an upbeat swing beat, drowsy-brushy snare work, and light electric piano in background. The heaviest tune of the six is “Holy,” a synth-rocker heavy on the 16th note high-hats a la New Order, U2, and Echo and Bunnymen.
The piano-driven ditty “Love of Mine” could easily have been translated from a crisp, vintage French pop collection from the 1960s. Piano and faux strings ascent “Other Girls,” a gorgeous tune with a light bossa nova rhythm.
Joyner’s melodies meander and twist in an amusing manner on the synth groover “Young Thing,” a track with mysterious, syncopated sounds clicking in the background. Melancholic album closer “Wasted Time” epitomizes the sparse and open feel and sound of the collection.
“There was a little more of a rock band thing at first [in the studio], with guitars and drums, but when we recorded ‘Wasted Time,’ we really realized the sound we wanted: something that was really heavy on vocals with a mix of the organic and electronic sound,” Joyner says. “Moving forward, we kept that on mind.”
“The content of the lyrics can be a little bit heavy or a little bit sad, but I wanted to approach it like it was also empowering and a kind of fun,” she adds. “That’s how I wanted to move forward with them. I also wanted to balance out some of the more depressing things with a poppier melody.”
To coincide with the official release of Young Fools on the local Hearts + Plugs label, Joyner assembled a skillful backing band with keyboardist/vocalist Camille Lucy Rhoden and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Nick Jenkins (Run Dan Run) and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Dan McCurry (the head exec at Hearts & Plugs, also of Run Dan Run).
“I’m really liking the way that this band sounds with its minimal instrumentation,” Joyner says. “I worked with Camille in the studio on these songs, and we were really excited when Nick and Dan said they were interested in playing with us. I have tons of friends who are musicians — a lot of people doing a lot of things — but I didn’t want to ask them to take on another project unless they were confident about it, had the time, and wanted to invest the effort. When these musicians came to me, it was really awesome.”
Joyner has currently juggles school and a full-time day job. She and her troupe plan to perform locally this spring and summer, but they don’t have major plans to hit the road any time soon, other than a possible late-summer mini-tour. “I’d love to go on a tour sometime, but it might not happen until later this year,” she says.
Grace Joyner and her band will celebrate the release of Young Fools on Sat. May 17 at the Royal American with support from Gold Light and Scott Dence. Admission is $5.
Top photo courtesey of Hearts + Plugs / Apartment A.
“Be Good” from the album Young Fools:
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