Between Lorde, Kings and Teeks almost all the Tuis dispensed to solo artists at the recent 2017 NZ Music Awards went to musicians sporting single-syllable ‘performer’ names. Timely then for contemplative electronica artist *JOY* to drop ‘The Music To Live For’, the first of his planned series of three EPs – over three consecutive months. joy
(For the time being at least) the Christchurch-based composer has chosen to remain otherwise incognito, explaining the adopted name as simply being the emotion that getting a sound or harmony right brings him, the “stars” (*) as being about “fun and hope”, as well as a weird keyboard symbol that holds a lot of meaning for him. Similarly ‘The Music To Live For’, the title of the 8-track EP released in October, and lead single of the same name.
“Simply the music on this EP is purely that, my reason to live for. I decided to stick with purely making music I truly love, without thinking about how I would perform it.”
*JOY*’s artfully measured music is a response to the very common artistic challenges of maintaining daily mental strength and positivity in the face of threatening depression. Where others might rely on broad watercolour strokes he looks to spacious piano chords, cleverly insistent beats and subtle jazz voices to paint his musical pictures.
And Lucy Hiku, one half of the duo behind 2016 Best Children’s Album Tui-winning Itty Bitty Beats – who provides compelling vocal interpretations of his musical moods. Having first met at the Christchurch Music Centre, the two have known each other for more than a decade. Hiku’s singing voice, whether processed or natural, fits neatly into *JOY*’s piano-shaped soundscapes. While *JOY* wrote the lyrics to this EP’s title track, for the several other songs that include her vocals he provided just the name or idea of the piece of music, asking Hiku to write her own lyrics to that theme.
A musician (and sometime turntablist) for over two decades, and living in Christchurch since 2001, *JOY* is not a full-time musician in the normal work-and-income sense, but is approaching this project as if it is a job. Music is, he says, what he thinks about 80% of the time. Black days or not, he presents himself at his home studio 10-5, either to start a new work or move yesterday’s track closer to completion.
While his musical writing is not necessarily therapy per se, it reflects directly his emotional mood at the time – which potentially provides challenges when he returns to it, happier or less happy, the next day.
“I remember the singular purpose of why I started, then it doesn’t matter how I feel on another day. I can respond to it.”
A computer running Logic and a controller keyboard are his principle tools, the various sounds being sampled instruments rather than electronically generated emulations. No external sampler or aftermarket synth required. He uses a Yamaha or Bosendorfer grand piano for instance, rather than Steinway which he finds too bright. The drum patterns conversely are MPC or drum machine samples, rather than sampled live drums.
The result is a collection of minimalistic, dreamily floating tracks that sound very much like a small but very adept orchestra might have been asked to record. These tracks are very evidently considered, yet are super fresh. The November EP, called ‘Ghost’ and due out after we talk, was finished just weeks ahead of release.
“I start composing each track from zero. There are three ways of making music for me currently: One is things I want to say, where I write a word and structure a song around it. That’s quite rare because only sometimes I write my own lyrics and melody. Another is when I feel really upset or happy and I manage to utilise that feeling to write something, anything at all. The emotion-based way of making it.
“The last one is just to use an instrument I like and know very well, say piano, double bass, or the cello – and just play it on keyboard, pick one key and see what unfolds. Every sound I choose to use will tell me what I should do next.”
An ambitious programme you might think, but *JOY* reasons that he has been accumulating the experience needed since he was 18 and first playing bass. It was an experience he had last year that provided him with the purpose, energy and focus to take on such a project.
“It wasn’t planned, it just happened. I have a lot of things that I believe in, I am conscious about things around me and some things I feel that I need to respond to.
“I am a very strong believer in my life itself. I feel it is very important to understand what my life is about. I think a lot, and I search a lot. Music allows me to elevate my spirituality and so purpose, and secondly, sometimes music provides a purposeful escape. My expression is ‘to elevate, rather than to operate my life.’”
And the whole incognito thing? *JOY* laughs self-derisively.
“I don’t know why I decided to be anonymous, but really at this point, it’s just not important who I am.”