Ezzah Rafique | Transcribed by: Isabel Elise | February 13, 2021
Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, joan perfectly infuses the essence of indie-pop with seasons of the year in their new EP 'partly cloudy'.
Alan Thompson and Stephen Rutherford sit down with ORENDA Magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Ezzah Rafique, to talk about their EP 'partly cloudy', bringing elements of the '80s and '90s hits to modern songs, and creating a sound that infuses the DNA of the band.
Listen to interview here.
A: Hi, how are you?
E: I’m good! How are you?
S: Hi, good!
A: How’s it feel outside, bud?
S: Pretty good.
E: How is it there?
A: It's good. It's um, it's not too crazy with COVID. I mean, we definitely have like, not great numbers. But like, I'm sure like it is in Dallas. Like, it's still like, very open. For a lot of, a lot of stuff. But um, yeah, the weather's nice. staying busy. Everything's good. How about you?
E: It's good to here too. It's like the same things are starting to open up, but there's still like hesitancy among some people, you know about going out and stuff.
S: Yeah. Hmm. Hoping the vaccines turn everything around. We’ll see.
E: Yeah, I’m hoping. How was like for you guys, the creative process, like for music and stuff? How was that different due to COVID?
A: I mean, we're probably writing more than we ever have. Which makes sense, I guess, because we're home. But yeah, it's just it's weird to not tour like, we're definitely a band who loves touring and sees like such the value in it and, and like have built… built our career largely on touring. And so, it's weird to like, really, like when we release 'cloudy', and then 'partly cloudy'. With no like touring. It was kind of strange, but also kind of cool. Because this year, other than not being able to tour we've been like, very busy, like we treat this like a day job. So, every day we're riding, you know, nine to five and or 10 to five, depending on when I wake up. But yeah, it's been I don't know it. It hasn't really stifled us, other than touring it to me, right, Stephen, you may have a different view on it.
S: Yeah, well, it's interesting, cause like, when we tour there, we don't have like a big team or anything to tour with us. So, we're kind of all hands-on deck. So, when we're on the road, we're not able, we're not really able to ride at all. So, it's interesting, because like, the creativity has been, I mean, I think we've been more productive as far as like writing songs than we ever have been, just because we haven't toured but it also sucks because we can't tour. But yeah, it's, it's, it's been cool. Because, like we released, we released the 'partly cloudy' EP, which was just, you know, alternate versions of 'cloudy'. And we made that because we weren't able to tour and we like wrote, you know, 'cloudy' with a live show in mind. And yeah, making 'partly cloudy' was like something we would have never done, but it's some of the best, like, my favorite stuff that we've ever made. So, it's kind of cool, you know, cool. Things are coming out of it.
E: I love ‘partly cloudy’. I think it's so cool that you guys reimagined like ‘cloudy’ and like matched it to a season. How was incorporating a season to a song like was that, was there a process behind that? Or like, do you guys always know that?
S: So, what was interesting is I mean, we know whenever we wrote ‘cloudy’, we, we did not expect to like write an alternate EP. It's kind of something where we just were like, We… We thought about maybe doing like acoustic versions of it. But once we like started digging in, we basically ended up with an EP that was just six songs of alternate versions of it, which was cool. But no, it was like after we wrote it, and we were like, listening through the EP, and it just like kind of fell into place where it's like, man, this is this feels like, different seasons of like, the year and kind of like, fits with the whole. I mean, which was kind of the idea with ‘cloudy’ is like, I mean we, we wrote it in the fall, and we recorded it in the winter and like, you know, it kind of had a seasonal feel to it anyway. And so like, whenever we wrote ‘partly cloudy’, it just kind of fell into our laps and made sense even more.
A: So, it literally stretched like the writing through the recording. We started, well we had written some like the summer of ‘19. And then early, yeah, no, well, what year is it?
S: Yeah. The summer of 19.
A: Coronavirus, completely… My timescale is like nonexistent. Um, yeah. So, summer, fall of ‘19. Then went into recording it the next year. And then like, it literally like was a year process of like writing. So, I mean, we literally probably hit every single season. Yeah, I don't even really think about that. E: Yeah, so like, I really love the whole like vibe to all of your songs. Honestly, I've been listening since like, 2019. And so…
S: Thank you, that’s awesome.
E: It's so good. And I feel like you guys always have... a specific sound [that matches a] mood. So a lot of your music has a lot of 80s and 90s elements to it and it also has a signature tone that makes it distinguishable to you guys. So, do you think that having that distinguished sound, is [it] important in your factor [when] creating music? And is there like a specific sound that you guys want to try making like a genre you haven't tried?
S: That’s a good question.
A: Thank you for saying that. That's really sweet about it being unique. I mean, that, that is the ultimate goal, I think, a constant conversation that we're having, like, just between Steven and I and our manager, Colin, like, and in the team in general is how do how do you make, like keeping the context like we're two guys in a band from Little Rock, Arkansas, writing songs in my bedroom, like, so we're like, very small, I mean, DIY from the perspective of like, you know, we're not working with like Big Top 40 producers, and we're not working in big studios in LA and all that. But like, we've been doing this for a while individually, and we work with friends that have been doing it for a while. So, it's not like true, you know, bedroom pop, or whatever DIY but how do we make [the song] commercially viable? Like, you go turn on the radio, and you hear a new Katy Perry track. And then you hear a Joan track I want it to be sonically and production value, and just overall similar, you know what I mean? Not necessarily, like, I want to sound like Katy Perry. I just mean, I want you to, I want it to be indistinguishable that like, ‘Oh, this could have been written and recorded by the biggest names in the whole industry’, and you record[ed] in the best view with the best gear like, because I do think that our especially our friends in our team, are of that caliber, and I hope that we've proved to be in the end, but… but that's kind of like the that's the yearning goal is like how do we make like commercially viable, accessible pop music that still has that Joan sound? And, you know, when I listen to like bands like Coldplay, like Coldplay can release a song like Paradise, or a song with like, Jay Z has a feature, or you listen on Yellow, and it's all you know, it may sound different song to song, but it's like consistently Coldplay. And a lot of that's, I think in his voice, like, it's a recognizable voice, you know, it's, you know, it's Chris Martin, the guitar parts, the drum part. It's just like they're infused in it. I hope, I hope I don't know that we are but I hope by you saying that it's somewhat indicative of what we're doing in that you're going to hear my voice on it, which is uniquely Joan, you're going to hear Stephen’s voice on which is unique is uniquely Joan, you're going to hear his drum ideas, you're going to hear my melodic, like keyboard parts, so we're like infusing the DNA of Joan and every song and at the same time trying to make it like to wear a 16 year old who is super into like, whatever, you know, like a, like a Clairo track or something would like it just next to like my dad, who is still listening to like classic rock, you know? And so... that's kind of why we do the retro thing to a certain degree is we want it to be both modern to where we pull in a new crowd, and honestly get to introduce like we've had sorry, this is long winded I get it.
E: It’s alright!
S: It's gonna be, it's gonna be a 20-page spread.
E: Haha, it’s great information, though!
A: I think there's been a really interesting few times where we'll be like at a show, and we're touring or whatever. And some like, really young person like sub-18 or something like 18 years younger, younger would say, like, ‘oh, man, I hadn't really heard this type of music before’. But maybe that song was derivative of like, an NSYNC song that maybe we grew up on or, you know, whatever. It's like they didn't they haven't even heard like that era of boyband music. Or like Spice Girls are like these, like, kind of 90s songs and 90s bands, 2000 bands. And so, it's like, interesting to be writing. Like, it's not like 90s are not retro, but they kind of are becoming that like the 80s are vintage. Now the 90s are becoming vintage. And so, it's funny, like we're at the same time that we're harkening back to something to some people that's still new, like that's new information to them. And so, it's this weird dichotomy of like, we're like introducing new stuff to some people but like revamping old stuff to some people and trying to do our thing while we're doing it. So anyway, I'm done. I'm done talking.
E: I think you guys did a great job at that, too. Like, I read about how you guys like listen to 90s pop while growing up. So, do you think there's a specific band or artists that like influenced your style in any way?
A: Oh, man. Several. On the top of my head. I mean, I was a huge fan of Third Eye Blind… literally NSYNC like their No Strings Attached record. I remember playing baseball. And like we would like warm up you know, before the game. And we're like playing catch and I'd have my like Walkman CD player on and like listening to that record. And so, I wanted to be Justin Timberlake. You know, I wanted to be at like all those guys… So, to cap what I was saying basically Yes, like Third Eye Blind, a lot of the boyband era stuff. And we're just trying to like take nuggets of that like take a little man, how did they treat the vocal and that one song? Let's do that. How did why did Third Eye Blind's melodies just always capture my attention and like how can we like learn from that because we study, we study this stuff like this is it's like it's like being in school and studying science or math. Maybe is a better analogy, like learning all the building block fundamentals get you to like being able to figure out the formulas that you have to learn those building blocks. So, we listen to music like science. I mean, it's leisure but it's also like I'm listening to go how did they get that kick drum to sound like that? Why did that vocal melody like make me get excited? Like and so yeah. Stephen, do you have any 90s 2000s bands that you…
S: Yeah, I mean we I felt like we were a little bit all over the place as far as like influences went but they all like came together really well. Like I mean, like Jewel and you know, Backstreet Boys and insane, obviously but even like, did you say Third Eye Blind? Like Third Eye Blind was a big one for one, you know, one of the songs so yeah.
A: It's awesome. It's also interesting when I think back to music of that era, like pop music then I feel- and this isn't one of those like the older you get your like ‘music back in my day was the best’, I don't mean like this- I mean, like music back then I feel like was more diverse. I don't mean I don't mean racially I don't mean any sort of like, like identity kind of thing. I mean, like genre.
S: Like, sonically.
A: Yeah, like, you could have a Jewel song next to a Third Eye Blind song next to like a, like a Tim McGraw country song that crossed over on the radio next, like a Christian song that would cross over the radio. So, I just felt like less people trying to do the same thing. I think diversity of genres was celebrated a bit more so that that kind of felt natural to us to just be like, ‘let's pull from here, let's pull from here let’s pull from here’ and it can kind of conglomerate into one thing. So, yeah.
E: It was really well like, like both Cloudy and Partly Cloudy. I think like, each of them have such a great like sound to them. That's unique to them, to me at least. So, you guys are doing a really well job like doing all of that. And I recently saw that you guys hit 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify. So, congratulations!
A & S: Yay! Thank you!
E: So, do y'all have any, like specific goals for 2021? Like music-wise or personally?
A: I mean, man, Stephen, I want to tour.
E: Of course!
S: Touring would be fun.
E: I can’t wait until concerts come back.
A: I know. I'll see you there.
S: Yeah, I think we would. We're like having a great time writing and I would love to see us release, you know, a healthy amount of songs this year. I don't know exactly the number. But I would like to see us like just release more than we have in a while. So. Yeah, it'll be fun. E: Okay, to anybody who hasn't heard your music before? Is there like a setting you would describe that would like match the mood of your songs?
S: Oh, hmm. Well, I think it depends on the like, EP, you listen to.
E: Yeah, true.
A: Um, so really, oh my gosh, I think a lot of our music. God, that sounds so cliche, but like, a Drive All Night. We literally wrote with the thought in mind of like, you're in a car with the top down or the windows down, like driving with the person you love, or your friend, you know, like, yeah, so, I mean, we try to write songs from like that, that kind of question like, where would this take place in someone's mind like that? Where would this take someone fanatically? And I think a lot of our I mean, obviously, a lot of our songs are about like the ebb and flow of love. Because like, it's such a crucial, like, fundamental thing in humanity like yeah, finding love, loving your family, loving your friends, loving your significant other, all that stuff. So, a lot of our songs revolve around that with different twists and turns. So, I would, I would say like, a lot of our songs are either like, I envision holding hands with someone, or, or letting go of someone, like one of those two, you know, like, obviously, “brokenhearted” is a sad song. But yeah…
S: I think Partly Cloudy is probably the most different like a scene from all of our other music. Like I can see like, you're like in your apartment or whatever. It's like raining outside, you have like a little fire going or something and just like, just like home and you're just like there and maybe it's a little bit of a sad mood but like that's what I keep kept seeing whenever we were making Partly Cloudy and like in and kind of putting the EP together, we just like, it feels a little bit like home. And I really liked that.
A: And I think it's also like we've always like when we first started everyone thought because we didn't really have a lot about us out there in like 2017/2018, like bio-wise and a lot of people just assumed we were like L.A. based, New York-based, London based wherever. Not definitely a Little Rock, Arkansas. That would have been like nowhere on the list. But I've always kind of like prided us on that like that we have I hope we have like a big city music field. Even though we're just two guys, two guys from a small state. And so, I always imagine like New York in our songs like I could see. I don't know, I don't know why. But so that's kind of a goal, I guess in our writing is to make it feel like a big, big city. That sounds so cool.
E: I definitely see that though. Like I feel that when I listened to it, too.
S; That’s good, that’s awesome!
A: Yeah, you hear it? You hear Little Rock. That's what you hear when you listen to.
E: Haha yeah, so this is kind of like not really music based, but like if there was a new movie based on your duo who would you cast like play each other?
A: Well, I would definitely cast Brad Pitt for me not because I feel like I look like him, I just want to look like him. So, I would hope that they would see him and then see me at that point.
S: Mine would definitely be Danny DeVito.
E: I love Danny DeVito!
S: He's my, He's my spirit animal.
A: You’re about the same height.
S: He’s me in two years.
A: Stephen, just shrinking by the second. What a duo! Danny DeVito and Brad Pitt as a cast.
S: It’d be an interesting movie. I’d watch it.
E: Oh yeah, in like a heartbeat I’d watch that.
A: Like there’d be one that like Arnold Schwarzenegger is in as well. Just random people.
E: Okay, similar to like, a random question. Like, if you were to remake any song in the world could be like an old song or a new song, which would it be?
A: Hmm. never gotten this question before. Remake any song in the world? Oh God.
S: Oh man!
E: Sorry, I put you on the spot.
A: Huh. I would say that it's not the same answer. And we couldn't do it better. Well, like a song that I wish I would have written, which I kinda I guess would be the same essence, is uh Boys of Summer by Don Henley. Like one of the greatest songs ever written. And every time I listen to it, I'm like ‘golly I wish I thought this one up’. Of course, it was released like, in the 80s. But I think that would be one of my top answers for sure.
S: Yeah. Oh no. Oh, I don’t know either. That’s so… It’s hard to pick one.
E: It's true. Sometimes. It's like, it’s so good that you don't want to remake it. Like, I get that, too.
A: Yeah, cause that yeah, that could be my answer, because I don't want to remake it.
S: Oh, yeah, it's perfect how it is.
E: Yeah, I guess that makes sense.
S: What's a song you hate Alan?
S: Sometimes I listen to our older songs and go oh, man, it'd be nice to remake this one now with the knowledge that we have. But that's true. But oh, man, I'm gonna have to pass on this because I genuinely [think] it would take me. I would obsess over this question for like, three days. I'm not gonna…
E: I thought about this, too. I was like, I don't know if I could pick one song because I know there [are] so many good songs.
A: I do hear a lot of songs. I couldn't name any right now. But I listened to them and go like ‘how did a major artist release this?’
E: Yeah, I get that.
A: The production or something. Just like how did this mix pass the quality test? I don't understand. Anyway, but yeah, that's another question. I guess. I'm sorry, I don't have an answer.
E: That’s alright. And then lastly, what I have is if things were to open back up, and you were to go back on tour, is there like a city or a country you guys are looking forward to like going to or visiting?
A: I can't wait to get back to Asia just in general. We did a far east tour last fall, uh not last fall, 2019 fall. And like hit Philippines, Thailand, Singapore. We were supposed to do Hong Kong, but it was around the time that all the protests are going on. So that festival got canceled. But um, and man I mean, gorgeous cities in completely kind wonderful warm people that somehow know about our tiny little indie-pop group from Little Rock, Arkansas, but so I can't wait to go back to Asia. I think that Asia holds a special place in our hearts, especially these places we've toured to before.
S: I really miss Germany, actually. I've been thinking about Germany a lot. And I kind of fell in love with Boston on the last tour. We haven't been able to see a lot of Boston like whenever we would go there. And we did like the last time we're on tour. We got to like hang out there for a bit. I want to go back, man!
A: Me, too.
E: Yeah, well, thank you guys so much for doing this.
A: Oh, thanks for having us!
E: When you guys do go back on tour, if you come to Dallas, I'll be there.
A: We’ll be in Dallas for sure. Thank you it was good to meet you!
E: It's nice to meet you guys too. You guys have incredible music. You guys are always killing it.
S: It was good to meet you!
E: You, too! Have a good day!
A: You too!