UTG INTERVIEW: JoyFocus Talks New Single, The Internet, and Future Plans


We’re very pleased to bring you this exclusive interview with Chicago pop duo, JoyFocus!

Founder, Rikk Currence, took some time to speak with us in a very honest fashion about all things JoyFocus — from being a self-aware asshole, to how the band originally formed, to the duo’s long relationship and its effects on their music. Read through the break to get the in-depth scoop from Rikk and to get familiar with his and Holly Joy’s JoyFocus project.

Tell me the story of how JoyFocus came together. What was your goal for this project and what does the name JoyFocus mean to you?

JoyFocus was actually born in late 1997 as more of a music and media project. The original line up was myself (drums), Holly Joy (vocals), Ray Kainz (guitars) and Phil Carlson (bass). We started life as a four piece band trying to marry the worlds of music and art in a fashion that we had yet to see done before…we were very ambitious. It was the dawn of the digital recording revolution and we wanted to harness that independence to forge new territory.

Then, during the recording of our first record, we went from a four piece to a three piece when the project parted ways with Phil. Some things at that time just were not “clicking” artistically anymore between us all, so Phil moved on. Sometimes that happens — I’m still great friends with Phil to this day.

So, after the first record was done and released in August 2001, we were ready to hit the road and do the traditional “tour the record” thing, and then 9/11 happened…

Obviously that changed everything for everyone — including us…it made us reconsider a lot of our leanings to the traditional process of making a living as a musician in North America, which set us on a different path than the one we envisioned for ourselves when we first started out. It’s important to note that JoyFocus never wanted to be a part of the “music biz process / standard operating procedure”…we always wanted to call our own musical and artistic shots from day one.

The tragedy on 9/11 and subsequent cancellation of our touring and promotional plans sort of really underscored for us that we needed to think beyond the norm — hits and record deals are great…but even without those things, a great song will live forever. That’s where we put all our attention, and that is where it’s been since then. Music. That sounds a little strange to say, that a band just decided to focus on music, but there are tons of distractions that exist and often present themselves in the ideal perception of what it is to be a “band.” As we sort of tried to regroup and reconstruct a new vision for JoyFocus, time just kept on flying by, and the next thing you know we went form a three piece to a duo when Ray left the band.

He was moving out of state and getting much busier with his other music projects, so for him it was just time to move on. It was now down to Holly and I…which makes sense, because not only did we found JoyFocus, but we are also best friends and married. We have been together as a couple for 21 years this year. So it was the drummer and the singer left to try and make something out of what was left of this beloved musical vehicle we had created. Time to get to work…

I chose the name “JoyFocus” as a name for two reasons. Reason one: Joy is Holly’s middle name, and as a result, part of her stage name (Holly Joy), so when I put this project together I chose the name “JoyFocus” as a reminder that the music was about her — her voice, her story telling. The name also has a great juxtaposition as most of the music we’ve made since our first record is a little darker in undertone and theme. Reason two is still relative to Holly’s middle name, Joy…I wanted it to be like Van Halen or Bon Jovi — where the last name was part of the band’s identity. I dig all of the music form the 80s glam/arena/hard rock scene in a major way, and that is my nod to it.

How have you been enjoying the press on your recent single? Did you expect this kind of response?

We are beside ourselves with excitement over all of the positivity from our long time fans and critics alike in regard to the new track. The last few weeks since the single’s release have been a whirlwind. Which is funny because if you were to flash back to a few short weeks ago, we didn’t really know what to expect…at all, going into this release. We’ve traditionally taken all the time we need between releases to make sure we are at our relative best as musicians, so the music is the best example of what we’re capable of offering at that very moment. The single format is also new for us, so that created a little anxiousness as well. Again, all things considered, this has been a great “re-boot” back into the modern music “blood stream.”

What can you tell me about the song? Where’s the single going to end up? A future release?

“Love Song Cliche” is our homage to just that — all the things said over and over again and all the musical form and function repeated over and over again by love songs down through the ages via music. It’s about how many of us experience do’s and don’ts of love through songs and how that shapes our overall concept of how to love and what it is to be loved. It’s also important to note that all of our material, beginning with our 2008 EP, Ultra Catchy Atomic Pop Interlude, has been written from a conceptual point of view…all the tracks work as part of a “bigger story” if you will. “Love Song Cliche” is the next evolution in that “concept driven” process and continues the story arc.

It is the first of four singles we’re releasing over the next four months. So a new single in May, June, July and August. Then we take a month off and release an EP in October 2013 that acts as a sort of “prequel” to the next record. The plan is that there will be another series of singles in early to mid 2014 and then a new full length in Oct/Nov 2014. So…lots of music between now and then.

Would you say that “Love Song Cliche” is pretty indicative of your overall style and theme displayed throughout your catalog?

It’s a departure and hopefully a growth — at least that is how Holly and I see it. We really want to work hard at keeping the fundamentals, or what we consider to be the core tenants of the JoyFocus sound in everything we do, but at the same time we don’t want to make the same records or write the same songs over and over again. We want to get better each time we record or write, and we want that improvement to translate through the music, to the fans as a result. People should be able to hear us getting better at what we do every time we release something new. We feel “Love Song Cliche” fits right into that lineage.

If the internet had never existed, where do you think you would be today? Would JoyFocus still be together or have ever existed? Do you think you’d have the same fan base?

That’s a great question. I have no doubt JoyFocus would still exist, but I do think it would be a very different animal. Obviously the internet is the single biggest liberator of art and creativity that the modern world has ever known. It also serves as the great equalizer as it allows you to connect and share your art all over the globe with the click of a button.

Without the artistic liberation and the accessibility the internet provides, JoyFocus would more than likely be stuck in the traditional music biz model of release, tour, record — over and over again, until you die or get discovered. Not a very encouraging thought. Lucky for us the internet is alive and well and helping us spread our music to any interested parties anywhere around the globe.

What would you say are some of your most important influences that have helped shape your material and how you’ve evolved as a duo?

Mine and Holly’s personal relationship and shared experiences offer up the biggest, and most readily tangible influence on our music — always. The level of trust we have between one another is unique and sets us apart in many ways. Musically I would say that the second biggest influence on me is film. I love the cinema. I often approach song writing like I’m writing a script or dialogue for a scene — it’s a very visual process for me. Being the primary song writer, engineer, producer and the entire band, I approach every song like it’s own little film or story. That is where the grand scale or “epic-ness” comes from in our music.

What strengths would you say you both bring individually to JoyFocus?

Holly’s biggest strength is three fold — it starts with her passion — she doesn’t want to sing to you, she want’s to sing with you. She believes in every word coming out of here mouth and really wants you to believe it as well. That passion she has also translates to tenacity. Holly is fiercely loyal to everything she is doing and that then breeds an optimism that is contagious. She really is a perfect front woman, through and through. Passionate, loyal and optimistic — three of the greatest qualities a good story teller should have, and Holly has all three in spades.

My biggest strength is I am an asshole, and a self-aware asshole to boot. Meaning I know I’m an asshole and I’m okay with it. What that translates to is we’re going to do things my way. We’re going to do them the way I consider to be correct. If things aren’t good enough, then we keep doing them until they are. We’re going to have a goal, and an unshakable purpose for making our music that won’t be compromised or devalued by chasing trends or trying to be “up to the minute” in our sound. I don’t do this [JoyFocus] for you or anybody else. I do it for me. I’m a self centered, musically biased, asshole. Period. That’s my strength.

Your debut released over a decade ago. How would you say you’ve grown as a band in that time? What would you say has kept you together making music?

I think all you have to do is listen to any track from any release we’ve had since 2001 and then listen to our new single “Love Song Cliche” and you will hear the drastic growth from project to project. You can hear us getting better with each release — becoming better writers, better singers, better players, better producers…each step forward JoyFocus is literally changing right before everyone’s ears.

We keep making music together, quite frankly, out of pure selfishness. We love it so much, and on so many different levels, that to stop would cause an unbearable rift in our lives. Music is powerful, and we enjoy harnessing that power to our own personal avail. History may or may not acknowledge that JoyFocus was ever here. Only time will determine that — but our lives, our story as a couple, as friends and partners will reflect, and as a result, be remembered in conjunction with the JoyFocus experience. That makes it worth while to us beyond the realm of anything else in this life.

What has been the biggest obstacle for JoyFocus since your inception? Anything in particular that has ever made you second guess your ability to press on?

The biggest obstacle for us is a condition we’ve nicknamed “the musical morality complex.” Simply put, the idea that music must fit a certain criteria to be considered a certain thing. For instance, we list a wide range of musical influences for our band. We list all of the artists we feel have inspired and moved us through our musical journey. Without fail, every time we release something new, some writer will look at our vast list of
influences and pick an artist or band we have no obvious, blaring similarities with, and then question why we have them listed as an influence or even our validity in even “liking” said artist in the first place. Then that same writer oftentimes will dismiss any “indie credibility” we may have because we have different musical production values than are allowed in the “indie scene” — oh, and no acoustic guitar. We don’t have acoustic guitars or tattered clothing either so we aren’t “indie.” So because we happen to like Death Cab for Cutie, but don’t sound like them at all, and because we also like, but don’t don’t dress like, Arcade Fire, we are not an “indie” band. How dare us?

Listen, I’m not going to like the music you think I should or shouldn’t like, the way you think I should or shouldn’t like it, to appease the narrow spectrum of musical thought you may dwell in. I like metal — old school metal. I like rap, I like alternative, I like pop — I LOVE arena rock, glam rock and hair metal from the 70s and 80s. I like what I like, when I like it, simply for the fact it resonates with me. I listen to the music I identify with and that music changes from moment to moment because life is complex and ever-changing.

So what are you guys working on currently? Anything outside of music too?

Music, music and more music for me. I recently opened a production studio in a suburb of Chicago where I hope to write, record, mix and produce for other artists as well. Holly is also a professional photographer — she’s always interpreting the world through her lens…you can check her stuff out from the Flickr link at our website. Her imagery inspires me.

Anything else you have planned for the remainder of 2013? Will this be the best year in the band’s career?

We have the very ambitious single and EP release schedule I mentioned earlier as our primary focus. We might also look to start rehearsing for a possible tour next summer (2014) depending on how well the releases go the rest of the year. We hope 2013 is our best year ever. The plan is to keep making the best music we possibly can and keep sharing it with anyone and everyone who might be interested — which sounds like a recipe for the best year ever…at least to us anyway!


Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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