San Diego's Joy plays heavy blues and basically just does whatever | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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San Diego's Joy plays heavy blues and basically just does whatever

"Everyone just skateboards and surfs and hangs out and that's it."

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To hear Joy frontman Zach Oakley tell it, the band was a just natural extension of the sunny San Diego lifestyle: "Everyone just skateboards and surfs and hangs out and that's it," he says. "Jamming seems like the next step in a full day of doing whatever you want."

His explanation might speak to the freewheeling nature of Joy's sound, characterized mainly by lengthy (and loud) instrumental excursions, but it undersells the band's myriad technical proficiencies. To date, Joy's approach has been uncomplex by design. There is an elegance and confidence to the bluesy foundation on which Joy builds its sound. Working with so few tricks up its sleeve, the heights Joy achieves are made more poignant, more sonically pure.

Joy counts itself among a cadre of San Diego-based bands that embrace this open-ended, partially improvised approach. Through the mutual support of friends and colleagues like Earthless and Harsh Toke (both Tee Pee Records labelmates), the groundwork has been laid sufficiently, however passively, to call it a bona fide community. Or, you know, whatever. "I think it's been here the whole time," Oakley says. "We've kind of just been doing it for fun for a long time, but we never really thought to try to put an actual record out and do an actual tour."

Joy frontman Zach Oakley
  • Photo courtesy of Action PR
  • Surfin' and jammin': Joy

The widely accepted term for the sound of Joy and its contemporaries has become "heavy psych," pointing to the bands' allusions to the likes of Led Zeppelin and Band of Gypsys-era Jimi Hendrix. While it's an appropriate shorthand, it's also limiting, as it casts the endeavor in a nostalgic light, downplaying the vibrance and immediacy of the sound. It also doesn't account for the happy accidents that Joy indulges, as when the legendary Hawkwind's Nik Turner contributed a blistering turn on saxophone for "Confusion," on the band's most recent album, Under the Spell of Joy.

Oakley's own description of what Joy does, however honest, isn't quite as sexy — though, in its unpretentiousness, it encapsulates the band's happily out-of-step nature in relation to the world outside of San Diego.

"A bunch of the folks that are playing what everyone is maybe calling 'heavy psych' don't really think of it as heavy psych, but [as] playing blues jams," he says. "For the most part it's just kind of playing blues jams, that's it: 12-bar blues, Delta blues, and get together with some buddies and make it really loud just for the fun of it.

"That's kind of what makes it fun, too — the lack of pressure. Just being able to do whatever you want with your buddies."

For all the distinctiveness of its sound, Joy might be better defined on the merits of its guiding attitudes: relaxed and up for anything. Oakley feels no pressure to be an ambassador of the sound that brought the band this far. The opportunities that have arisen from this openness of Joy's collective mind have been the band's greatest reward.

"We're kind of just happy to be here," he says. "We don't think of it as taking it upon ourselves to make the sort of music that's here already. I think it's just something that's been happening and is natural-feeling. I don't think there's a pressure to sound a certain way."

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