“We tried to record ghostsin the studio…”
In 2017, the spirit of DIY punk feels more vital than ever. Not only have some of the best bands around come from a movement founded on four chords and a do-it-yourself mentality, but with the sociopolitical balance of the world teetering on the brink, many are finding sanctuary in a scene that genuinely gives a fuck. Right now, Joyce Manor and Martha, two of the greatest bands to have been cut from that particular cloth, have joined forces.the former are a scrappy pop-punk group from sunny California, while the latter are a queer punk band who ply their trade in tuneful indie-pop and hail from Durham, which is a bit cloudier. Sitting on sofas at London’s Scala, mid-way through their joint UK tour, Barry Johnson, guitarist and vocalist of Joyce Manor, and Martha’s singing drummer, Nathan Stephens Griffin, are reflecting on how their two bands, one with its devil-may-care Cali-slacker demeanour, the other who outwardly celebrate queer culture and are staunchly anti-capitalist, became intertwined. In 2012, Nathan’s other band, political folk-punks ONSIND, toured the west coast of the U.S., where they met Barry at a house show in Pomona, CA. “I think that was actually before Martha was even a thing,” Nathan recalls.“after that, we saw that you guys were touring the UK and we begged a promoter to get Martha on the bill in Glasgow.”
“I remember that,” Barry laughs. “everyone was super-hyped on Martha being added. I was blown away.”
The two bands quickly realised that they had more in common than just music. Despite the distances between them, the two had similar roots and desires.
“Torrance, where we’re from in California, is actually a lot like Durham, I’m guessing,” Barry starts.“it’s not very glamorous and bands never tour there.we knew that if we were gonna do this, we’d have to work hard to get out of there.”
“There are definitely similarities,” Nathan agrees. “The difference for us is that we’ve stayed in Durham, which has probably been to our detriment, but it imbued in us a desire to make things happen there.”
Martha, and other members of the DIY collective that they formed in their hometown, have been putting on shows for years now. It’s their way paying forward the opportunities that they’d been given and ensuring that the next crop of bands formed in Durham have a scene to get involved in.
“It’s so important for us to do that,” Nathan says. “There are ways to measure success as a band that aren’t rooted in record sales.this is one of those ways.”
“I’ve never been good at Diy-ing,” Barry admits. “Other people in the band are far better at that stuff. But I remember seeing the Against Me! and Bouncing Souls documentaries when I was 16 and it just looked so doable – getting in a van with your friends and doing it for the fun of it. It just seemed like a great way to live.”
But it’s not just a shared love of DIY they have in common.there’s also a desire to make punk inclusive again. In 2014, as Joyce Manor were touring third album, Never Hungover Again, their shows were seemingly a hotbed for excess testosterone and some of the youngest people in their crowds were being injured as a result of aggressive and repeated stage-diving.
“Every show on the tour, someone was leaving in an ambulance,” Barry says.“i knew I had to say something… And it fully blew up in my face.”
At the Houston,texas date of the tour, Barry spotted someone get hurt as a result of a dive.the band stopped playing and Barry addressed the issue, calling out the aggressors.the response was, as he puts it,“nuclear”, and Joyce Manor lost a lot of fans. Compassion isn’t always the easy option, it would seem.
“People don’t like to come to a show and be told what to do,” Barry says.“and I don’t like telling people what to do, but it got to the point where it was just irresponsible if I didn’t say something. you’re a 25-year-old man front-flipping onto a child who’s come to see their first show – what are you doing?!”
“That’s one of the many reasons why I love Joyce Manor,” Nathan interjects.“to have the courage to stand up in a place where people don’t want to budge from their perceived norms of acceptability, and tell these people that they’re doing something wrong is great.and the way you were pilloried for it by people acting like petulant children totally vindicated you.”
Though still clearly uncomfortable discussing the issue that has followed them around ever since, Barry seems to be truly heartened by Nathan’s analysis of the situation.after all, this is praise coming from someone whose band are setting an example in promoting inclusivity.the shows Martha put on back home aim for diverse line-ups and they make sure that when they tour, the venues provide gender-neutral toilet facilities.
“We just want everyone to be able pee and poop and feel comfortable doing so,” Nathan says.“the most important thing for us is that we’re a band who exist to make music. But if you’re a queer person, as I am, that becomes innately political in a world that skews towards heterosexuality. If you start singing about fancying a boy, as a boy, that’s seen as a political act, whereas if it were heterosexual, it wouldn’t. So, my view is that everything is political. It feeds everything we do.”
That view is one that unites both bands, even if Joyce Manor might be a little less forthcoming about it.and later tonight, whether it’s Martha dedicating songs to the NHS, or Barry proclaiming that they’ve renamed their band to the far less catchy ‘Jeremy Manor’ in response to Corbyn chants between songs, there’s a tangible sense of love and community that fills the Scala.
The world might be a dark place sometimes, but you can rest assured that, as long as you’re not being a dick, brilliant bands like these have got your back.