"If Dave Stewart & Brian May were left to baby sit Ty Tabor's children - with their friend's from Abba - and they all happened to be watching a Prince music video, directed by John Hughes, on late 1984 music television - while talking on the phone to Bryan Adams as he was humming "Your Love" by The Outfield inside a brick house, on electric avenue, in the middle of the street, time after time, in a land down under.."
- Those are JOYFOCUS' very own words to "describe" their music and this U.S. duo - consisting of Holly Joy (vocals) and Rikk Currence (all the instruments) have created a really strong and catchy independent CD titled, "Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus". Indeed, this is one of those moments when you feel so strongly about a CD and an unsigned act that it really makes you question all the A&R responsible and the major record companies. I had a quick chat with Holly & Rikk about their music - read on to discover a great duo and CD.
Urban: Where are you from and how long have you been working together as a team?
Rikk – We are both from a small suburb outside of Chicago Illinois called Wheaton.
It’s about as typical an American suburb as you can get. If you’ve ever seen any of John Hughes’ films, like “The Breakfast Club” or “Sixteen Candles,” you’ve seen where we live. Those films were shot about forty five minutes north of our hometown. Holly & I are married, which makes working together pretty convenient. We’ve been making music as JoyFocus since 1999. The band started out as a four piece, then moved to a three piece, and then finally just ended up being the two of us. It’s been just Holly & I since about 2004 or so.
Urban: How did you get involved into pop/rock music in the first place?
Rikk – It starts with the general love of all things music. In my case, rock & pop
music started speaking to me clearer and stronger than the other genres form very early on in my life. It’s not that Jazz or Classical or even Metal haven’t all been a part of my musical development, it’s just that no matter what musical phases I might go through, I always come back to Pop & Rock, its home. I love big production and relatable stories. I adore huge guitars & synths and thrive on even huger drums & vocals. I blame, Abba, Queen and Kiss for the whole thing honestly! J It’s funny, because the word “pop” in “pop music” used to just mean it was popular. Now it carries its own sort of genre expectations, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I remember when good music, regardless of genre, could be popular. I fear those days are long gone – at least here in the states.
Holly – I‘ve always loved pop music -I couldn’t see myself singing anything else. That, and the rap scene was already full! (ha). I've always been drawn to pop music. I love how even the most committed metal-head secretly knows all the words to some Abba or Michael Jackson song! Pop music has something for everyone.
Urban: What's hidden behind a title such as "Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus". You feel there's a certain need to throw in as many different sub-cultures as possible :-)?
Rikk – It’s a funny thing, our album titles seem to have taken on a life of their
own. When we finished our first record in 2001 we began discussing album title possibilities. At the time, we were using lots of illustrated images for promotion, and I was watching and reading lots of animation based shows and books. I happened to be watching an episode of “The Simpsons” where the family travels to Japan to be on a game show – “the Super Happy Family Fun Time Hour” and it just clicked.
I loved the way that the adjectives played together – and it seemed appropriate at the time.
It just sort of stuck. When the album came out, every interview and review made mention of the unique title. Now we can’t deviate, it’s sort of expected from us. I actually sat down and wrote out the titles of all our future releases in that format. I’ve got at least seven (7) future album titles in five word, adjective driven phrases, all ready to go. Hopefully we’ll get to keep making records!
Urban: However, what I really enjoy about your CD - you're not afraid to mix genres (anything goes from pop to hardrock) - but it would be fair to say that you're getting your main inspiration from the 80's, yeah? How would you describe your music?
Rikk – We love the 80’s, and always will. Lot’s of folks over here in the states rag
on 80’s music, mostly because you had to actually be a musician to be involved, not just some good looking kid whose picture could sell shoes or cell phones. The 80’s were a great time to be alive from a musical standpoint. Back then, you could turn on the radio and hear the best musicians of the time, writing great music across all the different genres and getting the recognition they deserved. The 80’s were also the height of technical proficiency with regards to playing. In the 80’s, you had to know how to play your instrument and play it better than the next guy or gal if you wanted to be heard. The JoyFocus sound is our attempt at continuing what we feel might have been the progression of popular music if the “grunge” & “nu metal” trends
We aren’t afraid to be good at what we do and be liked for it. We aren’t afraid to be into family and the concept of hope. Our sound is not only a reflection of our lives, but also our ever evolving musical tastes and discoveries. Music shouldn’t be a destination for the musician, it should be a constant journey. There is always a new influence waiting to be absorbed right around the corner. The other thing about our sound is that it’s based around the concept of albums, a complete musical work that captures a moment in time, as well as story. We don’t write singles, and I think that is a concept (albums) a lot of people still seem to be into – which is great for us!
Holly – I’m okay with an “influenced by the 80’s” label. The 80’s gave us so many
strong female front women and bands. Not to mention that 80’s music in many aspects seemed to have windows to deeper emotional content as well as undeniable accessibility.
Urban: Regarding the CD, What about fans, friends, press reaction so far?
Rikk – the album was just released on February 14th, so the verdict is still out. That said, the reviews and press we’ve gotten so far have been nothing less than amazing – I mean down right humbling. You always hope people like your work, but it would seem that this record is moving past just being a “new release” – from the emails & reviews we’re getting it seems as if we’ve struck a chord with a lot of folks. We can’t wait to see what the next six months brings!
Holly - I'm humbled and grateful to say that we've received some fantastic feedback
thus far. I can say it's the first time we've heard so many different people say to us that they’ve been moved to tears, or that they start their day with our music so they can feel more effective. That's a pretty amazing thing. You always hope that your music is relatable, and I think we’re reaching that place for a lot of people with this particular album.
Urban: Rikk, you've arranged, recorded, produced, and written most of JoyFocus material. You obviously like to have total control over everything in your life? :-)
Rikk – oh man.. I am a control freak to the nth degree, it’s quite sad actually. However, my 100% reign in JoyFocus actually came about out of necessity, not obsession. When we started, there were four of us so I was just the drummer (my primary instrument), co-writer and the lyricist. As time progressed and the line up changed, I had to teach myself to play everything that I could - just to keep the band going. It works out for us well now, but there was a time when it was not as easy, and our work shows it!. I’ve been doing everything for the band since 2005. It is quite liberating to be able to take a song from concept to completion at my own pace and in my own voice. It’s helped to better define our sound quite a bit.
Urban: Holly, I noticed that someone compared your voice to Britney Spears - surely that must be some kind of insult, huh? ;-) Are you responsible for all the great harmonies on the CD and what kind of background and influences do you have (as a vocalist).
Holly - I think if someone finds a familiarity in your voice, that's pretty cool -
so I say “thank you”. At least they’re not saying I sound like Rosanne Barr singing the national anthem! I don't think being compared to Brittany Spears, from a vocal standpoint is a bad thing – that review was the first time ever my voice was likened to hers. Now, if they were comparing me to her from a lifestyle standpoint, or because I was always half naked in photos or videos, that would be a bad thing. And yes, I am responsible for all the harmonies on the record, "thank you." My sisters listened to a lot of Beach Boys records when I was growing up. I guess the
influence of vocal harmonies just sort of happened through osmosis! Most of my vocal influence, is actually not based on or around female singers at all – weird huh?
Most of my singing heroes growing up were male front men. I loved Steve Taylor, Mike Stand, Neil Diamond , Michael Sweet – all really strong personalities as well as vocalists. The only real female singing inspirations I had as a child were Carol King and Peggy Lee. Now, as I got older, my tastes changed, and I fell in love with Cyndi Lauper & Annie Lennox - but who wouldn’t? It’s funny – I’ve always been sort of an “old soul” when it comes to my musical tastes. To this day, I’d rather spend most of my time listening to the likes of Julie London, Wayne Newton or Frank Sinatra rather than most current popular music out there.
Urban: Could you inform us a little bit about the stories behind the songs:"Audrey Is Gone", "Princess Samantha","Prayer".
Rikk – Honestly, I don’t like to define specifics with our lyrical content or music. So much of music’s impact and longevity is based on the listener’s personal perspective. They project themselves into the song and it becomes a part of their life’s fabric. So I don’t want to rob anyone of the experience by saying “this song is about this” and so forth – the music is responsible for defining how it relates to you – what it means to you. That said, in a general sense, our songs always have a core theme or purpose that drives them musically & lyrically. In this case, “Audrey is Gone” is about loss, “Princess Samantha” is about fear & hope, and
“Prayer” is about trust & intimacy.
Urban: How come you decided to include, "Here Comes the Rain Again", (Eurythmics) of all the songs out there to cover? You're a duo - they're a duo?
Rikk – it’s an amazing song that fit with the tone of the record perfectly. It also
doesn’t hurt that we are HUGE Eurythmics fans and have the same sort of band structure working for us that they did. It just made sense. It’s also sonically and production wise very in the vain of what we are trying to accomplish musically. I’d be happy to have just a quarter of the connection with people that Dave & Annie have with their music. They are so amazing.
Holly - We've always loved the Eurythmics. The duo thing is inspiring to us of course, but that's not why we chose it. It's always been my favorite song of theirs and we really felt it represented a piece of this story we've presented in this album. It was a great fit for us!
Urban: You've recorded two (?) previous CD's. How would you describe them in comparison to "Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus".
Rikk – This record, C.S.E.R.C., is the record we’ve always wanted to make. We took
our time, focused on being honest, and really pulled out all the stops from a production standpoint. Hopefully our efforts are apparent when you listen to it. We hope this record serves as an introduction for us to a bunch of new fans and a re-introduction of us to the fans that have been there since the beginning. The biggest difference between this record and our prior recordings is the growth and development of our sound. I feel we have finally come into our own with this recording and we now have an identifiable & definable JoyFocus sound. This album
marks our sonic arrival and hints at things to come.
Urban: What about your local music scene? Can you find any venues to play or do you need to come over to Europe for a massive tour [hint to all the European promoters ;-)]
Rikk – We’re not a bar band. We don’t go out and play the local pub with five other
acts for fifty bucks and the experience. Our music doesn’t translate, at all, that way. We prefer to play big shows for folks that want to see us specifically – or hear the style of music we play. The scene here in the States for bands like us is a bit limited until our fan base grows some more. We would LOVE to tour Europe opening for a band with a similar music style – It’s one of our goals over the next year. We’d love to tour Europe, Asia & Japan with any pop or rock act of stature that would have us. If it were up to us, we’d only tour overseas and just live in
Holly - There's nothing I'd love more than to tour in Europe – when can we start?!
Urban: You are both Christians, but you also say that JoyFocus isn't our "ministry", it's our band. Is that really such a big issue? Lots of folks are Christians and most of them work with something outside of the church.
Rikk – We’ve always had our faith. It’s funny, because until recently it hasn’t been
the topic of much conversation. A few months back, on our website, www.joyfocus.com , I put up an F.Y.I page in an attempt to address our beliefs, and answer a lot of questions were getting as a band about what we do & why we do it. It seemed simple enough. Little did I know it was going to not only ruffle a bunch of feathers, but become a sort of calling card for us. Next thing you know, anyone who believes in anything had to go read it and then chime in on how right or wrong we are for feeling that way.
At one end of the spectrum, the term “Christian” is just a marketing adjective used to sell products and a lifestyle that appeal to a certain demographic of people. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s become an exclusive, pious, self righteous designation for a seemingly select few not content until the world views & experiences life the way they see fit. In either instance, listen to what I’m about to say, there is NO such thing as Christian music. Period. There are Christian artists and that’s it. Ever eaten a Christian cheeseburger? How about flushed a Christian toilet? Sounds absurd right? That’s because it is. If you believe in God – awesome, if you don’t, awesome – that’s none of our business. In either instance JoyFocus just wants to make music. Good & bad fall on believer & unbeliever alike, so why not celebrate or lament it together through music? I’ve spent the better part of my life learning how to communicate through music, I’m not about to let anyone tell m
e I can only talk to certain people a certain way.
Holly - I think that music is music. It's an expression of who you are and how you
feel. I think that if you’re a Christian, you try to live your life in a certain way. We wouldn't call a cleaning service our ministry if that's what Rikk and I did for a living. It would just be a cleaning service – a really cool cleaning service at that! J . Music is no different. It’s what we do, and we love it.
Urban: The "problem" with a lot of Christian acts - they tend to only play at "Christian festivals" etc, and that's not always the best of ideas, huh?
Rikk – My biggest issue with the “Christian music industry” is that it’s become a
sub-culture instead of a counter culture. Instead of an alternative, it’s become just another click with different rules. When the CCM music scene started, it was full of folks like Steve Taylor, Rez Band, Rich Mullins, Stryper – amazing musicians and artists trying to make a difference. Now it’s just one degree to the left of any of the other processed, lifeless, “copy-cat” product spewed out of the Nashville music machine. There are still a ton of great Christian artists out there – but they are fewer and far between as a result of that industry’s need to have all of it’s marketing & image criteria met. It’s a shame. The industry has become the detriment to the very art and work it was created to support.
I think it’s great that we pretend that if we call a music event a “Christian” event that none of the things that would happen at a “regular” concert are going to happen there. Regardless of the association to Christianity, people are people. The music is still loud, artists still try to give 100% to the fans, autographs still get signed, merchandise is still overpriced – it’s a concert. Get over it. Music isn’t aware of its genre classification, you get out of it what you identify with and relate to. Give it a name – it changes nothing. Good music is good music. Enjoy it.
Holly - The whole idea of Christian music is set up with good intent, I get it. Parents feel better about their kids listening to music that is supposed to be “better” for them and it addresses the needs of a specific market. But that’s part of the issue, Christianity is not a “market,” it’s a lifestyle. I grew up going to those festivals and listening to Christian music. It's all great and fine in theory, and I like a lot of the music. I just think that labeling media as “Christian” is kind of pointless.
Urban: Thanks for everything, if there's anything you'd like to say, add, or
promote, please do
- We're greatful for the chance to share our hearts and music. Thank you RockUnited for this opportunity! Hopefully we'll see you on the road soon! Until then, feel free to buy as many copies of our album as you like! :)
RockUnited - you can find out a lot more about JOYFOCUS and their music at the links below. Their CD is also up for sale at itunes.
Interview by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom,
(c) 2009 www.RockUnited.com