joan is back with new EP 'cloudy'
joan is a duo from Little Rock, Arkansas consisting of members Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford. Their music is inspired by 80’s and 90’s pop, with some R&B, indie, and synthpop influences. After releasing their successful EP Portra in 2018, the guys went on tour for two years straight visiting Europe, Asia, and America. Last year, they headlined their own tour with sold out crowds, and released three songs. On August 6, joan released their latest EP 'cloudy'. I caught up with Alan and Steven in May (before 'cloudy' was released) to talk about how they met, what inspires their sound, and a little about their latest EP.
PopRocks (PR): I wanted to go back to the beginning of joan. I read that when you started out, you were both in different bands. What was it like when you first wrote a song together?
Alan Thomas (AT): We just became fast friends and had a lot of mutual friends, and we were like oh that guy seems cool... we should hang out. We got together to write one day just to see what would happen. Literally that day in the studio in my house, we wrote “take me on,” our first single. We were like oh, this is something. After that, we both went headfirst and dove straight in.
Steven Rutherford (SR): The first day was really cool because it felt like we had created magic. There was a really cool spark there. We basically tried to write every day after we wrote our first song. For me, it was the first time I had worked with somebody who I was like this is what I’m meant to do, and that was supposed to happen and it felt right.
AT: The stars definitely aligned for us that day. In my previous bands, everyone I had worked with was talented in their own way. But there was always something missing, like the visual side was not very important. I was always like man, we could write the best music in the world, but if we don’t present ourselves in some sort of professional artistic manner something would be missing. I got with Steven and he is very visual. He was like throwing around band names and logos and I was like finally! I knew that day for sure.
PR: I wanted to go back to some of your influences. Who did you both listen to growing up?
SR: I listened to a lot of classic rock because that’s what my dad listened to. A lot of ACDC was put into my veins. Growing up and going through high school, I listened to more metal and was in a metal band. Once I hit college, I fell in love with pop and radio songs. I was interested in how to make a song that a lot of people are attracted to. Once I loved pop, I dove back into the pop music of the 80’s and 90’s.
AT: In the car with my mom, it was 90’s country all the way to Guns n Roses. With my dad, he was listening to James Taylor and the next song is Prince, then Bob Seger and Michael Jackson. I remember when I was 10 or 11 discovering Usher’s My Way album and falling in love with the drum sounds. Those were those first moments when I was thinking about production. The thoughts were starting to form about what I like and what I didn’t like, but I didn’t know the technical jargon behind it. It always went back to pop music for me from the beginning.
PR: It’s hard to describe your sound at this point, especially because it’s evolved so much. It’s very 80’s and 90’s, but also current, R&B, indie, and electropop. Do you have any current artists or artists from the past that inspire your sound?
AT: First of all, that’s the best description of our music ever. I’d say there are definitely artists but we hoan in a lot on producers. The new Dua Lipa record is insane. She’s such a rock star. Ian Kirkpatrick was one of the producers and he’s amazing. We’ve also been really into this band out of LA called Sure Sure. They’re infectiously good.
SR: I’ve basically been on Dua for the past two weeks.
AT: We obviously listen for leisure to some extent, but I just find myself listening and thinking why is that bass group so embedded in my brain and how it works with the kick drum and study it kind of like science. Then how do we take those tips and tricks and apply it to our music and get somewhere close.
PR: Last year was so huge for you guys with touring all over the US and the world with a bunch of new singles. How did you feel coming down from the high of last year?
AT: It’s interesting you say that because it did feel very busy touring last year because we did Europe, Asia, and America a few times. But releasing music felt slow, because we only released three times the entire year. It wasn’t what we would have desired in the beginning of the year. We would rather put our music consistently. It was a weird feeling because while it did feel like a fast year and a big year for growth for us and we are extremely grateful for it, it also felt slow. I feel more of a high now that we are releasing a new batch of songs. We have a timetable in mind and we are sticking to it. I feel more of a high now than we have in our band yet.
PR: Drive All Night is one of my favorite songs by you. What inspired that song? That’s like the pinnacle of 80’s movie to me.
AT: We were at a retreat sort of thing and I had my laptop out. I remember doing a little intro and Steven was like that’s cool, let’s write on that. The hook was originally, “I’m gonna get that girl.” There was just this theme in Portra that we kept going back to that the picture in my head was that I’m in 9th grade, I’m a nerdy kid. I see the girl in my dreams and she’s like perfect. Like an 80’s movie, it zooms in on her face and I’m like, I’m gonna go grab her and I’m going to convince her I’m cooler than I am and we’re gonna dance. I think he suggested the lyric “drive all night” and I remember thinking that will be easier to write on.
PR: I want to talk about your song love me better. It’s an amazing song! I’m also personally a sucker for a song that starts off with a real good zinger. “I love you, but you suck” is so great. Can you tell me about the song?
AT: I think the bass line came first, I’m pretty sure I have a voice memo somewhere. I sent it to Steven late at night and he was like that’s sick. We tried working on it with someone and it kind of got somewhere, and then we got home from tour and we worked on it for a couple weeks. We took it in with Andy Seltzer who helped us co-produce the new songs we’ve worked on. Usually we have an idea, we develop it, and then it’s into/verse/chorus. We put parenthesis on it, throw it on DropBox, and let it sit. We compile a DropBox folder of 15-20 ideas and whoever we decide to work with, we have a collection to work from or choose the best of the best.
SR: I do remember we had three different versions of it. When we started out, it was a very Doobie Brothers feel. We loved it and sat with that for a bit. Whenever we got in with Andy, that’s when the flip switched.
AT: He sent us a rough bounce of it and I was like this could have been on a Bobby Brown record in ‘93. It’s fun to find musical soulmates. I know you didn’t ask about Andy but we love Andy.
PR: You did mention that love me better is part of a new era, but what’s next for joan?
AT: We recorded a batch of songs late last year and we are slowly recording with Andy and Matty and have been sharing a DropBox folder and figuring out how we want to roll the next era of joan out. We have just been behind the scenes figuring out how to roll out music without touring and do as much as we can from Little Rock.
SR: What we do know and what we’re excited about is it won’t be the same as last year where we only put three songs out. We’re going to put a lot more out so we are stoked about that.
PR: I do want to talk about touring since it was such a huge part of your last year. You supported some huge bands and you headlined your own tour. What do you love most about touring?
AT: It’s very fun to play these songs that we just imagined in my bedroom and play them in hundreds of places all over the world. I really enjoy touring, touring is also obviously hard. I’ve played on stages since I was eleven and I still get nervous and get that pit in my stomach. The traveling part is fun, but at the same time, when you’re in a van for sometimes 12 hours a day it can be grueling. The most fun part for me is playing the songs live and seeing people. Watching a crowd lose their mind for an hour with your music that you created in your house in Little Rock. To see that your music gives people joy or just for an hour giving people an escape. People’s situations are all different. There are people we’ve met who have just lost a loved one and they just needed a night out, or they just broke up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Hearing those stories mean a lot to me personally that our music is helping people cope with hard stuff. Also just giving people a fun outlet is really cool. When we are in the studio, we try to just be the best artists that we can. But when you see it live and see it affecting people, it’s really cool to see.
SR: Looking back in the last two years playing shows, but it was playing support the whole time. That’s getting in there and putting in the hard work. It was either us two on the road starting out or just us two and one other guy. It’s like all hands on deck all the time. The days are so long and you’re doing it for two years straight basically. Once we did the headline tour and saw people were coming out to see us, and we have this setlist that we carefully made with hopes to bring a good night and a fun time for people. People showed up for us and sold out shows and were really stoked to be there. That was really cool for me. Every night seeing a crowd that was there to listen to you play your songs but also sing the words back to you. It was the first time for us to get a whole hour of that. That was pretty life changing for both of us.
Check out the full episode below: