So. Goddess Jam. It’s set to go down Friday night. That’s only three days. Yes. Only three days! Joy On Fire, the fine people you see above these words, are going to perform, and it will be, believe it or not, for your entertainment. We recently caught up with Anna Meadors and John Paul Carillo, who were kind enough to talk to us about their influences, how they got together, and what they believe, respectively, is the best song ever written. The fun begins at 6 p.m. And it’s the 200 East Art Haus. Could you want more? The answer is no. No you could not. Enjoy!
Let’s start with some history of the band. How did you get together? How did the band form and how long have you been at it?
I heard Anna playing in the basement of the house I was living in, in Baltimore, and her intensity and energy blew me away. She was jamming with a drummer I was living with, and I then informed Cory, the drummer, that we were going to form a trio with her. It took six months to actually synthesize, but it happened. Though we’ve played with more drummers than Spinal Tap since, we’ve now been together seven years.
Did you guys have any goals when dreaming up the band – perhaps stylistically or otherwise?
Stylistically, we were inspired by other sax/bass/drum trios like Morphine and Painkiller, but we felt we could find our own territory with this lineup, too. Partly as a result of our individual approaches to our instruments – Anna’s fearless soloing, my chordal and wah-wah-driven bass playing – partly because we have our own sense of song structure. The goal was to make ambitious and exciting music that continues to reinvent rock’n’roll – a reinventing that has been going on before the “invention” of rock music in the first place.
What are some of your favorite memories as a band? Conversely, can you talk a little about some of the hardships you guys have experienced through the years and what advice you’d give to someone looking to start a band for the first time?
Advice? Have or develop your own vision of what you want to do musically. Copy-cat is OK for a while, but not for long. Our first gig, at a club called The Hexagon, with our friend Carlos of The Expanding Man running sound, is one. It was exciting to execute the music live for the first time, but this led to the band’s initial hardship, in that the other members – the lineup had turned to a four piece – had a different vision for the group. The group splintered. The band they formed, as far as I know, ceases to exist. Joy On Fire lives on. This eventually led to our first gig with Chris, who’s now been drumming with us for three years. We did the gig on one rehearsal, the rehearsal on the 14th floor of a high rise in some crazy studio in Manhattan, and then rocked the house at this place in Brooklyn called Bar 4. Chris really dug in and got the music, pretty quickly really.
What’s your perception of the local music scene in and around the DMV area, as well as Maryland as a whole?
When it comes to Baltimore, I love the rock/jazz/classical melding that happens in a certain segment of the scene – at places like Windup Space, The Crown, Metro Gallery, and elsewhere. Lots of trained musicians working with punk musicians playing whacked out versions of rock music. Frederick is a great music town, too, and though the musical leanings may differ some, it still seems pretty eclectic to me. We’ve played at Cafe Nola a lot, both with Joy On Fire and our nine-piece ensemble with an amplified string quartet, Three Red Crowns (how we fit on stage there, who knows!) but people have dug the more out-there stuff and have been really excited about new music in general.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
John: There are many, but first, for me, comes King Crimson. Robert Fripp, the de-facto leader of Crimson, sums it up in three words: energy, intensity, eclecticism. British electronica duo Orbital, for the joy that results in the way they build their songs. Led Zeppelin, for the stomp and pomp. And sometimes elegance. Many bands from the Seattle scene circa 1990, including a lesser known one called Truly. Girls Against Boys, for the drive, humor, and awesome double-bass low end atmosphere. Swervedriver – “why” is in the name. Bob Dylan, just because. Bill Laswell and John Zorn for, among other reasons, their ability to bring great musicians together for a session and produce work which amazingly synthesizes the abilities and personalities of said musicians. Also, pulse-music composers like Steve Reich, Phil Glass, Terry Riley, and Arvo Part.
Anna: I love the ambitious jazz compositions of Charles Mingus, the spiritual soloing of John Coltrane and the electro-acoustic fusion of Miles Davis – these were the guys who were pushing jazz, who kept reinventing themselves. During undergrad, I happened upon an album of Terry Riley and this opened the doors to the other minimalists (pulse-music) that John mentioned – Steve Reich and Philip Glass, who started their own ensembles early on. This further opened the door to the post-minimalists, like Bang on a Can’s composer collective of Julia Wolfe, David Lang and Michael Gordon; there is always an element of pulse but there are no easy categorizations of genre or style. I love the work of bands like The Mercury Program and Tortoise – instrumental post-rock bands who also dug the minimalists.
Can you give us names of some artists we need to check out that we maybe haven’t seen yet? Who are you listening to the most these days?
Nationally: The Mercury Program, especially the “Chez Viking” album. Horse Lords and Zs, two great instrumental bands featuring saxophone in two totally different ways. Elephant Wrecking Ball, who we’ve only seen once, but blew us away. Jaggery, a very sensual yet rocking band from Boston. The Difficulties, poet-rockers from North Carolina. Blueblack, a two-guitar trio from New York.
Locally: 3rd Grade Friends, The Expanding Man, The Mondawmen, Dark Water Transit, The Funky Bass and Beat Group Known as F, Time Toss, Talking Points, Yeveto, Bag of Humans, Bitter Bloom, Silent Old Mtns., Paint and Yell, and composer Ruby Fulton.
Where are some of your favorite places to play and why?
We play two places called The Crown — one in Baltimore, one in Greensboro, North Carolina. Both are great. Cafe Nola is wonderful, as the crowd is always enthusiastic and ready to dance. Cloud Club in Boston, as the place is very intimate, and was designed by an “outsider” artist named Lee Barron and is itself a work of art. Metro Gallery, in Baltimore – great sound. Windup Space – the owner Russell de Ocampo is a trip, and an excellent musician as well. And Spoon, in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. At this venue, the head chef and owner, Nate Allen, sits in on drums with us. The last time we played, he still had a cleaver in his hand during the first song.
What does the rest of 2016 look like for Joy On Fire from here on out? New music? Shows?
We will complete our second album, “You Will Awaken Now,” begin our third, tentatively called “More Joy,” and we currently have upcoming shows in Chapel Hill, Baltimore, Frederick and New York.
What do you think is the most perfect song ever written and why?
John: “Fractured” by King Crimson. In its intense ambition, shocking excitement, changes of tone into elegance, careful development that leads from contemplation into chaos, and its occasional flaws, it becomes that unobtainable idea we call “perfect.” The fact that it holds together at all is amazing.
Anna: Sonny Sharrock’s “Who Does She Hope To Be?” – it is heartbreakingly beautiful, the melody is technically simple (it’s only five notes) – but it needs nothing else. It says what it needs to say without words. The short solos that happen between the iterations of the melody are not flashy or overwrought; they have a solemn joy. And much like the title, the piece ends with a haunting and thoughtful question mark.
And finally, what can we expect from your set at Goddess Jam?
A thorough smiting!