The Heart Tattoo of Joyce Manor’s Barry Johnson
Joyce Manor’s Barry Johnson talks about the band’s new album, what makes people want to get tattooed, and the unexpected effect some of his ink has had on people.
“’Heart Tattoo’ is told from the position of a young person getting a stupid, meaningless tattoo just for the sake of getting a tattoo,” Barry Johnson, singer and guitarist for pop-punk band Joyce Manor, says while discussing their new album Never Hungover Again. “Before you get tattoos everyone is always telling you not to and that you will regret getting them. This song is about the kind of personality type that knows all of that and still goes and does it anyway.”
Johnson suggests all sorts of reasons for a young person to get a tattoo—to rebel, to anger parents, to feel part of a group out to stand out from everyone else—all of which comes across in under two minutes of music. When it came to getting his first tattoo, a Morton Salt Girl inspired by the band Jawbreaker, Johnson was motivated to get the ink shortly after his first girlfriend broke up with him. While he jokes that part of the reason was to make girls like him more Johnson also believes that he got the tattoo as part of the grieving process.
“I feel like a lot of people who get tattoos aren’t necessarily the happiest people,” Johnson says. “Getting a tattoo is cathartic in some way. I didn’t have second thoughts about it at the time, and I still don’t, I’m just the kind of person who is drawn to that.”
After listening to Joyce Manor’s music it’s not surprising to learn that Johnson is the kind of person who finds artistic inspiration in pain. Since the band’s self-titled debut album Johnson has been singing songs that are almost painfully earnest and more often than not come from a dark place. The thing that sets the band apart from many of their pop-punk peers is their ability to create fully formed songs with lyrics that pack deep emotional resonance yet only last about two minutes. Many times short songs sound as if they were never fully finished and the listener is left wanting more. Instead, Joyce Manor’s songs sound as if they have trimmed every bit of fat off of them and you are listening to the most streamlined version possible.
In that vein, Never Hungover Again does not waste any time getting to know you before it hits you in the face. Before you even realize that the album has started playing the first sing-along chorus of “Christmas Card” is blaring and instantly you are hooked. It is the perfect way to kick off what ends up being a sprint of 10 songs delivered in just over 19 minutes. Johnson credits a “happy accident” in transferring the recording from the original tapes to computer for the album’s jarring beginning.
A change in the way the band’s songwriting process may be why this album sounds a bit more complete than the band’s previous efforts. While Johnson handled all of the songwriting duties for the first two records he worked far more collaboratively with guitarist Chase Knobbe while writing Never Hungover Again.
“I would write the skeleton of the songs and then (Chase) would handle making it interesting and dynamic musically,” Johnson says. “I think that created a lot of excitement on both of our sides. At first they would sound like two totally separate things but when played together they create something else. Maybe that’s why this album sounds more confident; it wasn’t just me. A lot of the music was someone else’s idea so I could just be proud of it.”
Johnson believes that Joyce Manor’s sound on their first album sounds like a pop-punk band trying to be a hardcore band. In other words, the band was living off of the enthusiasm and vigor of a hardcore band playing live all while playing poppy music.
“The second record was our first attempt to try and make something as a band that wasn’t a hardcore album, so it was just a pop record,” Johnson says. “That’s a scary thing to make, you have nothing to hide behind. You can’t hide behind enthusiasm or anything like that. What you made is what it is and it just speaks for itself. With this record I feel like we are finally confident in doing that.”
In “Heart Tattoo” Johnson sings that he will never get his tattoo removed, while that is true, in real life he did get a bunch of his tattoos covered up with an enormous blackwork piece going from just under his left elbow all the way down to his wrist. Partly motivated by a desire to cover up some of his more questionable ink—most notably a crow that was tattooed by a white Rasta for $50 that resembled a “trash monster” more than a bird—Johnson also liked the way some of the blackwork tattoos a friend of his got in Brazil looked and thought he would try it out.
“I didn’t really think that getting the tattoo was as big of a deal as some people make it out to be,” Johnson says of his blacked out forearm. “I thought that it would look really good. Now that I have it a lot of people seem to be deeply offended by it, it’s really jarring to people.”
There will always be people that give dirty looks toward tattooed people but what Johnson has experienced has taken a step beyond simple rudeness.
“Often it’s like I’m on trial for it from complete strangers,” Johnson explains. “I usually just tell them it’s an aesthetic choice because it really isn’t any of their business.”
Whatever it is that Joyce Manor has tapped into with their ever-evolving sound has definitely resonated with fans. Some fans of the band have decided to show their appreciation for the band by getting Joyce Manor tattoos, much like how Johnson honored one of his favorite bands with his first tattoo.
“I’ve seen a couple of hand tattoos, which is insane,” Johnson says. “It’s really, really flattering. When I was 18 or 19 music communicated something to me that I couldn’t come across in any other way. It’s really nice to see that we have had that effect on people.”
Never Hungover Again comes out on Epitaph Records on July 22.