This Song Is a Mess but So Am I: A Love Letter to Joyce Manor and the Longevity of Punk Rock

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

written by Luke Boots

On Wednesday January 15 th , 2020, I was gifted a ticket to see one of my absolute favorite bands, Joyce Manor, play at The Glasshouse in Pomona, CA. If you don’t know Joyce Manor, they’re an energetic pop-punk band that can cram, give or take, 25 songs into an hour-long live set, and, in my most humble opinion, one of the most essential bands making punk music today.

The band was formed in Torrance, CA in 2008. After several demos and splits, they debuted their first proper album in 2011, dropped sophomore album “Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired” in 2012 through legendary punk label Asian Man Records before releasing their third, “Never Hungover Again”, in 2014 on equally legendary punk label Epitaph, with two more albums following on the same label, the most recent being “Million Dollars to Kill Me” in 2018.

Now, in the last few years, I’ve seen Joyce Manor several times. I wish I can quote every date and location, but the first time I saw Joyce Manor was at Coachella in 2015. It was early, hot, and it was completely uncovered to the sun’s direct harshness, but I was ecstatic to see them after seeing Touché Amore for the first time the same day and dedicated myself to their set entirely. The second time was when they opened for the now disintegrated Modern Baseball, at a show that also took place at The Glasshouse. I was there for both bands. I’ve also seen them at maybe the coolest concert I’ve ever been to in my 27 years of life, which was at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, where they played with Peach Kelli Pop and Surf Curse, bands I became instantly hooked to and continue to follow to this very day. Members of PKP and Joyce Manor play together in a blink 182 cover band blink 183, and PKP continues to tour with Joyce Manor frequently. I was able to catch them opening with Oso Oso at this most recent event, and I am happy to report I am now also an Oso Oso fan. It’s nice when that happens. Thanks Joyce Manor! And almost a year ago to the day, I was able to see JM headline a show at the Hollywood Palladium on Sunset Blvd in LA. The common theme here with all these JM sightings is that no matter what their position is on the line-up, they deliver a passionate performance, packed with crowd favorites (the rare case when a band’s entire discography makes up the crowd favorites), and the room absolutely loses their shit every single time.

I’m not technically old, but goddamn do I feel like it. I have back pain all the time, and I find myself always to have low energy due to the heavy manual labor I have to do for whatever construction jobs I am able to obtain. It’s not my preferred line of work, but I’ve fucked up plenty in my relatively young life, so I quite literally take what I can get. But if you’re going to put Joyce Manor in a sold-out room with them ripping right into a set with the fun, whimsical “Fake I.D.”, lower back pain be damned, I’m getting in there.

I pride myself on my knowledge of punk rock bands and the history of the genre itself. It was the first music genre I ever loved and felt was my own, and it all started with a blank CD my close childhood friend’s older brother filled with a variety of punk rock bands old and new. It contained the Misfits, Alkaline Trio, AFI, and Rancid to name a few. I was hooked. It captured the entire discomfort and misguided anger I felt in my adolescence, and I dove right into the scene. In my younger days I’d be remiss to miss out on a good ol’ fashioned mosh pit, but these days I usually admire and enjoy bands from a distance, because, you know, my aching back. I was lucky to catch the classic punk bands Leftover Crack and the Adolescents at two different shows last year (also at The Glasshouse! Hey, I seem to be there a lot!), but about three songs into each of those sets, I had to retire to the sidelines. It was a sad affair. I couldn’t hold out, save for maybe a particular fast-paced song of two. But something about Joyce Manor’s existential angst sung through truly perfectly crafted pop-punk arrangements really took me over, and there I was, losing my voice throughout the night. I felt 13 again, rugged and aged as I now am.

If you haven’t been paying attention to music lately, throughout the 2010’s we’ve had an honest to God pop punk renaissance, with a general scene forming that rivals the widespread blow-up of emo in the 2000s and the re-emerging punk scene led by bands like Green Day, blink 182, The Offspring and the like in the ’90s. Some of the bands in this now fully emerged scene include the unfortunately now defunct Balance & Composure, Knuckle Puck, the aforementioned bands Modern Baseball and Touché Amore, The Story So Far, Citizen, Title Fight, Turnover, and….I digress. There’s a lot. Check them out if you’re unfamiliar. Check those related artists on YouTube and Spotify. And these bands don’t sound even REMOTELY similar half the time, yet are embraced together all the same. We have some emo revival, some alternative rock, some hardcore, some folk-punk, but the general sound is pop-punk, with either an emphasis on the POP or the PUNK. Nonetheless, these bands tour with and support each other as if they were all childhood friends. It’s a beautiful thing. Furthermore, if I may add, these bands capture the rooms in ways that few do. It’s a raw, chant along, intimate affair all at once.

Why is Joyce Manor in particular so effective on me? Well, again, I love punk. And I love my punk with some pop, from the Buzzcocks to Descendants to Joyce Manor. But why JM, in particular, excels in today’s music scene is not just because of their organic, unique sound, but because of the tribute they pay to their influences. Take the iconic blue circle, attributed to the short-lived punk band the Germs that formed in the late ‘70s, used by JM for the album artwork of “Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired” as port of the band name. Hell, I’d even say that album cover exhibits a “Never Mind the Bollocks” vibe as well, arguably the most definitive punk rock album of all time. Admittedly, painful as it is for me to say, I have a lot of shitty tattoos, and when you see frontman, Barry Johnson, up there with his unmistakable solid black sleeve that he reportedly got in part to cover up some of his own shitty tattoos, well, I can relate. I can relate to a lot of things he’s singing about. After the emo explosion kind of died down, people cut their hair, we deleted MySpace, and we grew up, or tried to. Bands like this, that sing about what they do, be it love, isolation, or frustration with oneself, were the logical next step to latch onto. Particularly to individuals like me, who grew up listening to Green Day’s “Dookie” on constant rotation. I want to hear the stream of consciousness in these songs, the mundane made relatable. With Joyce Manor, I can indulge in pushing people around to their anthem “Leather Jacket”, but on the drive home reflect on my life thus far with songs like “Do You Really Want to Not Get Better?”, a pretty little acoustic track that is a little over a minute in length.

Aside from the early angst-filled roaring days of bands like Title Fight and Basement, I believe no band has honored the ever-expanding genre of punk like JM does, and has done since their very beginning. I was driving with a friend sometime in 2013, probably stoned stupid, as was the fashion for me at the time, when a friend of mine suggested I check this raw punk band Joyce Manor out, because I was known to be pretty into that kind of shit, as well as being an avid fan of a lot of the burgeoning bands of that time period. So we took a break from listening to La Dispute and put on JM’s first self-titled album. As soon as that clashing start of the album’s raw opening track “Orange Julius” (I am so stoked they have taken to incorporating this song into their live sets nowadays by the way) came on, I was hooked. I sat in my seat and stared straight ahead; absorbing the twenty-minute album which consists of ten songs, and became a fan. It reminded me of my punk rock origins, while also sounding like something entirely new for me to fall in love with. They are not a band that severs ties with their past while continuing to grow. They have some slower jams now, songs well over three minutes, and acoustic tracks, all of which are unmistakably the same band. Through it all they are consistent with their self-deprecation, their honesty, and their humor. They are unmistakably the same band as they continue to grow and progress. I love them for that. I love that I can see them live after over a decade of them existing and hear songs that range from their latest release to their early demo collections.

For the first time in a long time, I left a show with my shoes fucked up, my shirt soaked in sweat, and my sides sore. But after a relatively droll day, an emotionally destitute day, seeing this band explode onstage with a room full of people screaming along with me the words to these songs I love, I felt more together and alive than I had in some time. That is the beauty of Joyce Manor, and the power of punk rock. Life sucks, yeah, but at the end of the day we can still shout along to band that is as committed to their craft as any other in existence, in a mess of bodies, on a Wednesday night. As I’m typing this, the song “Stairs” from their excellent fourth album “Cody” ends, and almost seamlessly transitions into Alkaline Trio’s “Radio”. The sense of life coming full circle is loud.


Luke is a member of the wrting staff at Faded Morgana, as well as the Creative Director for the Film and Television projects releasing later this year. Luke comes from a pop-culture fueled background including healthy obsessions with Quentin Tarantino, Alkaline Trio and Wes Anderson films, as well as unhealthy obsessions with old school punk and the Smiths. Luke rates stories by Ewoks rather than Gold Stars.

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