I'm at the Pet Shop in Jersey City, knocking back beers
with two-thirds of Joy Cleaner. They've just finished their
new album and have plenty to celebrate. The festive ambience,
however, is lost on them. Visibly exhausted, guitarist Joey
DeGroot and drummer Justin Grabosky are entirely focused
on their phones. Their respective screens are displaying
the rough edit of a music video for their new single, “Pink
Lite.” Hair blowing impossibly in 80’s metal
glory, the band's third member Kyle Wilkerson finally joins
us… albeit digitally. Surrounded in hypnagogic swirls
of red and rose haze, he delivers this heady passage:
“Colors come on late at night… you're surrounded
by pink light.”
The camera shifts to Justin's drumming silhouette as Kyle
asks off-screen, “Can you see it around me?”
In all its ruby and gold glory, this moment transcends kinetic
rock and roll energy and shows us something deeper. Looking
back up at the two present bandmates, I see that behind
their fatigued exterior is a glimmer of satisfaction. There's
a lot to be proud of: The album is done. And it fucking
Q: Let's go back in time. Where did it all begin?
Joey: The basis was this two-piece band we had called Thee
Trebleros. It started while we were in our previous band
Makeout Vertigo. We'd play REM songs while we waited for
the rest of the band to show up. I was guitar, Kyle was
drums. It was so dumb. But it was fun for us. And then,
at a karaoke bar in the summer of 2015, he was like “can
we make this a real band? I want to play bass.”
Kyle: and this other bar… Professor Plank's Pirate
Pizza… or some crazy shit. We hammered out the concept
Q: Did you all grow up together?
Justin: Kyle and I went to school together, but we didn't
know each other.
Kyle: I remember when I was in 6th grade, Justin was a
year older and had a Minor Threat T-shirt. I was always
thinking “this kid is fucking cool,” but I was
too intimidated to make friends.
Joey: And I met Kyle at shows. He liked my old band and
signed us to his label.
Q: What are your zodiac signs?
Kyle: We'll let Justin answer this. Don't know, don't care.
Justin: In Western, I'm a Libra, Joey's a Gemini and Kyle's
an Aquarius. But in Vedic I'm a Leo.
Q: What were the first songs you obsessed over?
Kyle: I think 10,000 Maniacs. That voice definitely did
something to me. My grandma introduced me to the Beach Boys
and my dad got me into 80's metal. Justin: The Beatles…
Magical Mystery Tour. And Stevie Wonder
Joey: I think it was Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill.
My mom had it. If you lived in the suburbs in 1996, you
were issued it. I was intrigued by the artwork. It was psychedelic.
Q: How do you look back on your last album Total
Kyle: It's the first album I've made with any band where I
can look back on it and be like, “oh yeah, these are
good songs, good production.”
Joey: It's definitely a different beast from the new one.
It's a lot lighter. The new one is darker and heavier.
Kyle: It took us a really long time to write Total Hell.
We were in a different mental state. It was the brokest period
of my life. I was working like 12 hours a week… sometimes.
Trying to pay rent, trying to sustain this hard partying rock
and roll lifestyle. Looking back, I wonder “how did
we survive 2016? No one had jobs and we were partying every
night.” A lot of the songs I wrote for that album came
from trying to maintain that insane lifestyle. I ran out of
money right when we started recording it and I knew I'd have
to finally get a job.
Q: Now in 2019, you're back with You’re
So Jaded. How did that title come about?
Joey: It's the only Aerosmith song we like. It was a bonding
moment for us on tour.
Justin: We all looked at each other and said, “Yo,
this song rips.”
Kyle: We had just played Athens Pop Fest. We were driving
back and just had to hear it a million times. We decided
that's the thing that represents Joy Cleaner 2.0.
Photo by Kevin Durkin
Q: Getting into the gritty, what was different about
your process this time?
Joey: We actually knew how to play the songs before we recorded
them. We practiced them a lot before hitting the studio.
And it was recorded well.
Kyle: Coming from a background of self-producing ourselves,
it was really cool to work with our producer and engineer
Josh Evensen. (Note: he releases amazing music under the
moniker of Where is My Spaceship.) We'd set up and we'd
keep playing until he told us to stop. He put in so much
fucking work recording and mixing everything. It's so rewarding
to listen to it all. Also, it's been really cool having
Justin in the band for this album. Beyond drumming, he helped
us with vocal harmonies and songwriting.
Q: When did the writing start for this album?
Joey: The first song we wrote for it was “Dramatization.”
That was written like a month after Total Hell came out.
Most of the songs for Jaded came together during the first
few months of 2019. Most of the stuff we wrote was written
when Justin joined the band.
Q: This is your first album with Justin on drums.
Has your sound changed?
Joey: We're a lot louder. In terms of chemistry, Justin's
a close friend of ours. He also helped with songwriting.
Songs like “See Through” changed a lot due to
Justin: I just heard it in my head and had to share.
Kyle: He handed me a couple scrap pages of lyrics like “here
you go” and we ended up using them. It's the first
song the three of us made together in pure collaboration.
Photo by Kevin Durkin
Q: Was this album easier to make?
Joey: Harder. All around. Harder to write, harder to record.
We tried to step our game up. We had to top our last album.
A lot more layering, a lot more work went into it.
Kyle: Josh did a really good job at producing it and guiding
us into this brave new world of being a louder, heavier
band. As far as songwriting, yes it was harder. After recording
Total Hell, I had terrible writers block and didn't
write another song for 10 months and that became extremely
Q: What were some of Josh's contributions?
Joey: Josh pushed me a lot. He would be like “how
about you try this?” and give me no time to think.
Kyle: He'd suggest stuff in funny ways. “Play it like
you're falling down the stairs. Now play it like you're
falling out a window.”
Joey: Underneath all the songs are these weird noise layers.
He helped us make these feedback symphonies.
Q: Any notable influences during the recording?
Kyle: A lot of 80's metal… thanks Dad! A lot of Creed…
for about 4 days. They got stale real quick.
Joey: Kyle is the biggest fan of metal here. I like it too,
though. I've been listening to a lot of Sepultura. It's
the heaviest shit I've ever heard.
Kyle: Extreme metal is my first love. I'm just not a good
enough guitar player to do it.
Justin: I went through a metal phase in high school. I occasionally
listen to this band Elder and early Black Sabbath.
Kyle: 2019 was the first year in a while where I really
got into new music. I'm so surprised that the vast majority
of my recent favorites are all black metal bands. Sühnopfer,
Funereal Presence, Yellow Eyes. So good. "Dramatization"
straight-up has a Twisted Sister guitar solo. It's "We're
Not Gonna Take It" all over again. The guitar solo
is the vocal melody.
Joey: I switched to a Mesa Boogie amp for this record, which
has a heavier sound.
So I'm playing indie pop through a metal amp. We also slowed
down the tempo. Total Hell is a lot more jittery in comparison.
Kyle: “Out On the Balcony” has legit mosh riffs.
Q: What's the story behind the song “Pink Lite?”
Kyle: It was our first time playing with Justin at our rehearsal
space, In the West. I was using Joey's guitar and wrote that
intro riff. A couple months later we revisited it and came
up chords and lyrics. The words are inspired by a night where
Sarah C (Resounding No) and I were on acid with our housemates.
It was right before Christmas time and I had a cold. I was
like, “It's Friday night, I'm just going to take it
easy. I just took some Sudafed and I have this bottle of wine…
so I'm going to get a little cooky just from this.”
And then my friend Tracy was like “I have a whole sheet
of acid.” The lyrics are a filtered version of some
notes I took while super tripping. It's six in the morning
and I'm just laying there obsessed with these numbers and
colors. Seeing the pink light around my friends and wondering,
“Do I have the pink light?”
I will also add we ate Santillo's pizza while tripping. It
Q: Looking at the song “Bad Advice,” what's
the worst advice you've ever received?
Kyle: When I was 15, my friend's older cousin let us crash
at his place after an Anthrax concert. The next day he told
us over breakfast that “If you're ever at a bar and
you see a girl you like, take your dick out and stir her drink
with it.” I remember thinking, “Yeah I don't think
I'll do that.” That dude was weird as hell.
Q: What does "Phlox" mean in the song title?
Kyle: It's a flower. The name was just in my notes and we
ended up using it.
Joey: Josh could never pronounce or spell it correctly.
Q: What's the story behind “Post Neurotic?”
Joey: That's inspired by Sigmund Freud's theory that a person
can be free of neuroses if they can have sex whenever they
want. "A thousand post neurotic men remind me of just
how small I am." It's a ridiculous thing to think of
course, and I don't think it's true, but it's a good representation
of the frame of mind I was in at that point.
Q: How about “Dyson Sphere?”
Kyle: It's a concept in science fiction. It's a shell around
a planet or a star that powers it. I was reading this book
about extra-terrestrial intelligence last winter and the
phrase jumped out at me. I just thought about how a shield
around a star compares to a relationship. Also, there's
a line in the second verse that goes, “I wish you
lived alone.” That's about Joey. We can never hang
out at his house, we have to come to Obals and spend money
Joey: Well, we could always go to your house. Your house
is more comfortable. My house is gross.
Justin: Or you guys could just come hang out at my place.
Q: What's next?
Kyle: Tour! And we've got some songs that didn't end up
on the album…