By Nolan Siegler
It’s difficult to find a band as unique as Joy Electric. Combining pop sensibilities with analogue synthesizers, Joy Electric has released a prolific amount of material that appeals to both analogue purists and pop music fanatics. Although they have gone through many changes over the course of their two decade long career, one thing has always remained constant; chief songwriter and band leader Ronnie Martin.
In our brief email conversation, the California native discussed his foundations in music, current influences and his upcoming album titled Dwarf Mountain Alphabet. He also weighed in on his effect on other artists and why the Joy Electric community remains dedicated.
Spartan Chronicle: First and foremost, I would like to congratulate you on your upcoming release Dwarf Mountain Alphabet. How did you come up with the title?
Ronnie Martin: Thank you. The inspiration for the title came from walking through a Japanese garden and being completely taken in by the starkness and beauty of the landscape. I saw such a parallel between it and what I’m hoping to achieve through my future musical projects. What the fruition of that title will be to the finalization of the music is still a mystery, though.
Spartan Chronicle: What inspired you to start making music?
RM: It started as a love for songs and a hope that I could develop into a songwriter. There was something completely mysterious and fascinating about the songwriting process that still intrigues me to this day, which I think is just the ability to create something out of nothing, in a very loose sense. There were artists that inspired me in the early days, but it was the structure and creation of songs, regardless of the artist who wrote them, that carried the most inspiration for me.
Spartan Chronicle: How would you say that your music has changed from your earliest material?
RM: Like anyone else, there’s a maturing process that happens as you develop in any craft, and I hope that it’s been the same for me. The earliest material was very idealistic from a lyrical standpoint, very sad yet hopeful and grasping at threads. There was a vulnerability in the older songs that was probably replaced with more of an observational tone in later pieces. Musically, I think there were some distinct developments through the years, but those were far more on a micro scale than I would have preferred, to be honest. The two highlights for me on a musical level would probably by The Ministry of Archers and My Grandfather, the Cubist. Those two records contained some of my most realized musical visions, but I don’t think they necessarily showcased my strongest compositions.
Spartan Chronicle: Many artists say that songwriting is a natural process that doesn’t follow a particular formula. Do you fit into this category?
RM: I’ve always believed there is a formula, but that’s because I don’t incorporate any stream of consciousness methods in my writing. I’ve always envisioned what I do to be akin to a craftsman or chef, meaning that there are certain foundational building blocks that form the majority of my work and if those aren’t in place, I don’t feel I truly have anything worth listening to. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for creativity, but I believe the creative aspect comes out in the form of embellishments more so than in the body of the work.
Spartan Chronicle: How important to your sound is melody? Do you deliberately try and make your songs sound catchy?
RM: The melody is the body. There has to be something to sing that transports you to an alternate place. The melody is definitely the most deliberate thing I do. I treat it as the necessary lifeblood of the creation.
Spartan Chronicle: Do you have any plans for touring?
RM: There are no plans for live shows at the moment, but some things have started to come into focus for 2012. I’m not pursuing that right now, but if they present themselves and are feasible, we’ll definitely consider them.
Spartan Chronicle: You have only put out a few music videos for the amount of material you’ve released. Is there a reason for that?
RM: That has always been the decision of the record company. If they wanted a video, we would make one, but videos have gone through varying degrees of importance and relevance throughout the years.
Spartan Chronicle: Artists such as New Order, Kraftwerk and the Smiths have been mentioned in past interviews as influences on your material. How has your influences changed over time? Are there some artists that have always remained constant?
RM: I think the three you mentioned will always remain a formative influence on me, all for different reasons of course. The Smiths influenced my songwriting, New Order taught me that I could marry melancholic writing with electronics and Kraftwerk showed me the beauty of minimalism and structure. I’ve always had other profound influences, such as The Innocence Mission and Stereolab, just to name two.
Spartan Chronicle: Are there any new artists (or artists you have recently discovered) that have influenced the sound of your new album?
RM: Not so much, to be honest. I do like some newer albums by Phoenix, Glasvegas, White Lies, Martial Canterel and Klaxons to name a few, but I wouldn’t say they’ve had much of an influence. The albums are made in a vacuum in some respects, with the equipment and recording process itself contributing to the effect of the sound.
Spartan Chronicle: Speaking of new bands, there has recently been an emergence of groups claiming you as a major influence, especially The Drums from New York. How do you feel about these groups and can you see yourself in their music?
RM: It’s flattering and very nice when anyone claims you as an influence, so I’m thankful for the nice words by the Drums. I don’t hear too much of a direct influence in what they do, more than I hear them being influenced by my influences. I appreciate their simple, organic approach and am looking forward to seeing how they develop.
Spartan Chronicle: Are there any perceptions about Joy Electric that you find annoying?
RM: There are always going to be enormous misconceptions, but that goes with the territory of the kind of work I’ve done. I can honestly say I’m not annoyed by any of it. I’m still astonished that people have bothered to actually have a perception at all.
Spartan Chronicle: You have an extremely passionate niche of fans. Why?
RM: I would hope that it’s because of the uniqueness of the work, but it’s probably not a question that I should ever really answer. It’s much more valid and interesting to ask the individual who is drawn to the work to give a reason for it, I suppose. I’m not sure if I would be drawn to it if I was on the other side of it.
Spartan Chronicle: How long do you think you will make music?
RM: Five more minutes or 50 more years. I’ve no idea.
*Dwarf Mountain Alphabet has the tentative release date of Fall 2011