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Escape Velocity

Anarchist Spice Girls: An Interview With Joy
Stephanie Phillips , March 23rd, 2021 10:42

The hypnotising industrial punk trio Joy speak to Stephanie Phillips about their hometown of New Orleans, being an anti-capitalist feminist punk band, and why they see themselves in the Spice Girls

Joy portraits by Beau Patrick Coulon

New Orleans synth punk trio Joy were only two gigs into their journey as a band when the pandemic put a halt to their plans. 2020 was suddenly no longer the year for them to tour Europe; a trip they had been looking forward to as part of an attempt to break out of the NOLA scene they call home. Despite these setbacks there have been many positives to take from this downtime. “This pandemic has been a great time to focus in and write without much pressure from anything going on outside,” says guitarist and vocalist Pasha Jovanovic over Zoom from New Orleans sitting in a plant filled room with her housemate and bassist Heiress, while drummer and vocalist Griz Palella calls in from her current base in New York.

Late last year the band brought out their first release, Joy on Bandcamp and later on a short cassette run via Girlsville Records. The five-track self-titled EP is a bubbling melting pot of earworm post punk riffs, industrial buzz saw synths, and an ear-piercing battle of percussion. As a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist feminist band, they have the political leanings and charming snarl of Penis Envy-era Crass married with the high femme, melodic punk vocals of Kathleen Hanna, and underground club danceability of UK post punk trio Shopping.

Listening to Joy is a mesmerising experience, one full of raw passion not unlike the burst of energy emitted by fellow NOLA residents Special Interest. It is a mood Pasha is happy is translated in the music. “That's a major thing that we want to get across,” she explains, “a power that just jumps off. At least when I'm writing, that's definitely something that we try to keep in mind a lot. To make it sound like [she claps her hands] its really hitting.”

Joy began life two years ago during Mardi Gras season when Griz and Pasha started the band with a mutual friend, who later left and was replaced by Heiress. The trio were motivated by the desire to centre their sound around the rhythm section. “I wanted that driving beat, like something that's moving really fast, to have that as a base and then have the drum machine kind of be layered over it, almost like a melody,” says Griz. “It's pretty minimal. With the drums at least, we’re bringing in elements of hardcore and more synthy dance music, which is kind of strange, but seems to work.”

For a band with such a fiercely aggressive sound, the name Joy at first seems counterintuitive. On closer inspection the title is far more subversive than it appears. “It is really challenging to express joy in these times and powerful to openly be in community playing music,” says Pasha. “Joy is just a really powerful tool for our thriving. Life isn't supposed to be just drudgery, going to work and getting through it. Pursuing joy is survival. It's really important.”

Like many on the New Orleans scene, all of Joy felt called to the city from other places. Griz moved from Arizona, on Halloween night she specifies, in 2004; Heiress moved from Los Angeles five and a half years ago; and Pasha settled in New Orleans seven years ago after growing up in Serbia and living for a time in Canada. Though the scene is quiet now they tell me, with most people studiously working on new songs or organising mutual aid fundraisers to help those in need, the support they get from the scene is what makes it unlike any other. “Here we'll have multiple spots where we can have generator shows and the line-up will be a hardcore band, a metal band, an experimental mixture or whatever, and everybody shows up,” says Heiress. “People are just trying to support each other in whatever different creative endeavours they're doing.”

Joy’s influences are as varied as those NOLA line ups and include everything from peace punk bands like Rubella Ballet and Rudimentary Peni, post punk British bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Gang of Four, and Eighties pop icons Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper. There was one major reference point that stood out from the rest; 90s bubblegum pop band the Spice Girls. As a self-described ‘anarcho-spice’ band according to their Bandcamp page, are this trio of anti-capitalist punks really influenced by the Thatcher loving Spice Girls? The band explain their tongue in cheek joke doesn’t mean the Spice Girls influenced them in “any intentional way”, but is more descriptive of the band’s mission statement.

“One time when we were listening to some recordings of our practice,” says Heiress. “We were just sitting in the kitchen, and I was like, ‘I feel like we're anarcho Spice Girls’ or something. It was more just trying to explain or have a category of jokes to describe the amalgamation of electronic, peace punk and, 80s pop. We just kind of ran with that as a funny way to describe [the band] and being unabashedly girly but also tough.”

The vision of a sixth rebellious, anarchist Spice Girl is an apt image for a band whose own anti-capitalist politics is so deftly woven in their music. “Our feminism and anti-capitalism is embedded in everything we do and it just kind of comes out,’ says Pasha. “I never sought to sit down and write feminist lyrics. This is what's on my mind a lot of the time.”

The Crass-inspired ‘Rotting Crown’ skewers the inherent selfishness of our greed obsessed society with lyrics like, “Success above all else/ The winner takes the rotting crown”, while over the pulsating industrial buzz of ‘Decorated Shame’ Pasha chants lines well known to generation rent, “A race to the top/ Pay your rent on time for once/ Just 30% of your income”. Tackling wider themes of new technology, opening track ‘Dirty’ is about the social media age and how everyone is susceptible to, as Pasha explains, “willingly exploiting yourself and monetising yourself because of a desperation to be recognised and validated”.

Though the band members are all political by nature, existing as a punk band during the destructive Presidential term of Donald Trump gave the band the extra impetus they needed to get their message out there. “I don't know if it sounds too bleak or something,” says Pasha, “but with everything going on, I felt an urgency and a desperation to express myself and make things so that I could feel fulfilled and like I had expressed what was inside. For the past four years we've been under the thumb of this absolute lunatic in the White House. Every single day you couldn't escape the hideous entitlement of this man and his actions.”

One track that speaks to the entitlement of the Trumpian world view is ‘Daj Mi’, sung in Pasha’s native Serbian. “I'm on a lifelong journey finding how to incorporate my Serbian-ness into what I do, because it's so different,” says Pasha. “A lot of immigrants, out in the diaspora will say the same thing where they're constantly negotiating between two sides of themselves culturally.”

The song imagines the world after the patriarchy has fallen, where women have the power and men are compared to dogs begging at the gates of the kingdom. “It says, ‘How does it feel to beg? You've done this to yourself’,” Pasha explains. “Serbian society is extremely patriarchal, homophobic, transphobic it's just, it's pretty conservative, so I wanted to write a song in Serbian that spoke directly to that.”

Joy have only just begun but they have so much planned for the future. “I've been really excited about a song that we're developing with Ruth Mascelli from Special Interest, who’s contributing a beat,” says Pasha. “I've also been working on a big video project that I eventually want to use for a Joy song.” Joy will hopefully be coming to a club near you as well. “We definitely want to do European tours,” says Griz, before Pasha jumps in mirroring her excitement, “As soon as that’s possible.”