Hailing from Newcastle, geometric pop quartet Joy Atlas have already made quite a name for themselves in the North East and beyond, despite only officially releasing two singles to date.  Fronted by Beccy Owen, known for her beautiful and effortless vocals, the band create synth-driven dreampop filled with intricate layers of beats, even incorporating some elements of math rock.

The group are currently gearing up to release their new single, ‘Drop Your Sword,’ a more minimal effort that strips back some of the louder electronics, and are also playing at Evolution Emerging in Newcastle on 28th May, the North East’s biggest showcase of local talent.  Ahead of the event, I had a chat to keyboardist Adam Kent about their work and not being pigeon-holed into specific genres.

I’ve seen your music described as being dreampop, geometric pop and even having elements of math rock.  How would you personally describe the sound of Joy Atlas?

We don’t consciously set out to fall into a neat journalistic category, but we’re fans of the term ‘geometric pop’, that feels right, because we make music that panders to our short attention spans.  Glitch-pop also feels right on some songs, but generally, we don don’t set out to make any particular style but allow our different influences draw us in.  Between the four of us we listen to so many types of music but I guess the common thread between us all is experimental music.

You’ve cited the likes of Björk, Robyn and Goldfrapp as influences on your work.  What is it that particularly draws you to those artists?

They’re all just fucking mint.  They all make such memorable and striking and beautiful and dark music, and they’re not afraid to be ugly or obscure.  They don’t seem to be afraid full stop.  That’s appealing.  Another obvious theme is that they’re also really strong women.  To have guys working alongside a woman who have that much agency in what they’re doing – as songwriters, producers and vocalists – seems to create something special.  It works for us, anyway.  That shouldn’t feel progressive, it should be the norm by now, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s amazing how little credit some of these women get for how they curate their art.  It’s also true of Joy Atlas.  Beccy has had a parallel solo career for 15 years now, so that experience is invaluable, and together we push each other forward.  We each love musicians, regardless of who they are, who are always experimenting and genre-bending in what they do.

Your third single ‘Drop Your Sword’ seems to encourage the listener to embrace their vulnerable side.  Where did the inspiration for the track initially come from?

Musically it came out of a period of insomnia that Adam was having so the main riff and lullaby-esque chords came from being sat at his piano in the middle of the night.  Lyrically, Beccy had just started a new relationship after coming out of a really abusive one and so was re-learning how to be vulnerable and how to open up to someone again.  So it’s about a mixture of retaining fierceness and your own sense of self, whilst also learning how to be vulnerable again and not always on the attack or defensive, but just allowing yourself to breathe and be with someone.

Compared to your previous single ‘Notice It All,’ ‘Drop Your Sword’ sounds a little bit more minimal and has fewer of the big, brash synths you might expect from an electropop act.  Why did you decide to take that approach for this single?

You’re right.  As a song we felt the fragility of it made it more intriguing and asked for a listener’s attention in a different way to some of the bigger production we sometimes adopt.  I think the music reflects the lyrical themes and maybe that’s why people seem to have found something in it.

Anyone who’s already managed to see you live will know that you already have a large repertoire of songs.  How long were you writing and recording before you decided to release singles and start playing live?

We were writing and demoing about six months before our first gig.  Adam and Beccy are pretty speedy in terms of banging out the tunes so we already have a pillow – a new collective noun? – of songs that we are yet to release.

Since you already have a lot of material, are there any plans to release an album anytime soon?

Not quite yet!  I think our sound is shifting as we become more solid live performers and also more confident in our identity as a band, so we’re just in a really lovely place right now where we’ve put down anchor a little bit together.  I don’t think we will be releasing an album until it’s the record we all believe it can be, although it’s tempting because, as you say, we have quite a lot of material already.  But we’ve talked about it a lot and we’re going to take the time to make it right and keep writing as the songs keep coming and see how the sound keeps evolving.

You’re playing at Evolution Emerging on 28th May; how have you been gearing up for that?

We are pretty damn excited about this gig!  We’ve been experimenting with lights and visuals to really embellish the audiences’ experience of our music, and we’ve paired the set down into a slick half hour of what we think are our best tunes.

Since Evolution is a showcase of local talent, what other local acts would you recommend at the minute?

For us it would be a toss-up between Ditte Elly and Grey Tapes.  Ditte is a really good friend of the band and a few of us have been involved in her latest record (Ged guested on drums and Adam arranged the strings for her album Songs).  She’s on at 9pm at Blast Studios and she’s truly mesmerising live, so check her out!  Grey Tapes are on after us at Cobalt.  We really love their melodic sound and the idea of a live electro collective is right up our street.

Electropop hasn’t been a particularly dominant genre for bands in the North East but with yourselves and the likes of Talk Like Tigers, SoShe and Serinette there seems to have been a move towards that sound recently.  Do you feel like the genre is having something of a Renaissance in the region?

I think electropop is such a broad church in terms of sound.  The noughties – gah, hate that term! – were a retro twin of the ‘80s with the revival of synth-pop, but I think we’ve moved beyond that into a phase where those of us who are classed as electro pop aren’t trying to sound deliberately dated.  Maybe this decade, if it has to have a retro twin, takes more from the underground dance scene of the ‘90s, of Aphex Twin and Underworld and so I think we’re back in a place where mainstream electronica is more open to experimentation.  The North East is a long way from Shoreditch, and so I think we have a healthy “pretention alarm” whilst also not being too arsed about what people think.  Having said all that, and this might sound a bit sniffy, we don’t consciously aspire to any particular genre.  We’re interested in how we can meld the authenticity of live instruments with the aura of electronic music because that’s the music we love to listen to and that’s the most fun to try to pull off on stage.

You’re going to London in July to play a gig for Hot Vox, but do you have any other plans to tour or play a few more gigs in the future?

Yes, Ged met with James from Hotvox this weekend gone at The Great Escape in Brighton.  He’s a lovely bloke and it seems like they also have an ethical and fair working relationship with emerging bands so we’re looking forward to doing that show with them.  We’ll also be inviting some industry down as we’re now looking to build a team to help flesh out some future touring plans.

‘Drop Your Sword’ is released on 3rd June. Joy Atlas play at Evolution Emerging on 28th May and at The Underbelly in London on 27th July.

Photo courtesy of the Joy Atlas Facebook page

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