As you all know, I’ve been religiously keeping an archival blog of my days as a teen mallgoth in the early 2000s. So when the adorable San Francisco pop punk trio joyride! released a music video for “The Weather” last month, I was instantly hooked. I have a soft spot for punks who aren’t too cool to reveal just how goofy and awkward they were before the music. I decided to talk to lead singer and guitarist Jenna Marx about joyride! and her evolution as a musician.
How did joyride! get started?
Joyride! started when I moved to San Francisco after college. I didn’t have a lot of friends besides my band mates, Jason and Eugene, and we mostly just hung out together and played cards. Then one day Jason, who had a practice space in the city and had been in bands before, asked me if I had any songs that I wanted to record. He had just gotten an 8-track and wanted to learn how to use it. He offered to play drums and asked Eugene, who used to play bass in high school but hadn’t in years, if he would play bass. This conversation happened over breakfast in a restaurant and I started crying because I was so excited. I had been playing guitar very casually for a few years and really wanted to be in a band but I didn’t think I would ever be “good enough” or have access to any of the gear I needed. But when we recorded the song we all had so much fun and loved the song so much that we decided to be a band. That was three years ago, last winter.
You’ve mentioned on your blog that you often write songs in your head before you translate them to your guitar. Is that how you come up with all your songs? Can you describe a regular songwriting process with your band?
I write all the songs (guitar/lyrics) for Joyride! and then bring it to my band mates — we often tweak or rewrite parts together, but I have pretty much always presented them a complete skeleton. I write a lot in various journals so once I found a chord progression I liked, I would flip through my writing to a line that really stuck out to me and turn it in to a melody. I would improvise/add lyrics as I wrote the melody until I felt like I had completed a thought, and therefore a song. That was how the first two records were.
My songwriting has changed as I’ve gotten more comfortable and confident playing music. Since I was 10 I have been writing songs/melodies in my head but I didn’t know how to use them as songs until recently. I learned a lot from my band mates in Salt Flat and Crabapple about writing music by ear. Now I know that I can just sing a melody and move my hand around until I find a note that sounds right. Or singing the melody to my band mates and then us figuring out the music together. Our songs have gotten more collaborative and a little more complex with time – our first songs were mostly just two to four chords that I played over and over. But I’ve learned a lot in the last three years, so my song writing methods have grown alongside that!
I loved your video for “The Weather,” a collage of old home movies from 2002. As you know, I’m a sucker for stuff about teen nostalgia and evolving friendships, which seems to be a recurring theme in your music.
I’m glad you liked it! Yes I think the footage was from 2002 — it was the summer before 9th grade, so I think that’s right. That footage is of me and my three best friends. We’ve been best friends since first grade and we still are. Of all the songs I’ve written I think that song does have the most powerful sentiment to me, and that’s kind of why I asked my friend Sep to help me make a video for it. The song is about the summer of 2003 (a year after that home video footage) when two of my friends were hospitalized for self-harm within a week of each other. This was just such a confusing and painful time for all of us and I can’t think about the song without feeling like crying. I think the song is powerful because so many of us have experimented with self-harm (whether it was ourselves or our family). A lot of times we learn how to talk about it as we get older, but I know for me and my friends at the time, we had no idea how to talk about it. For me the song is channeling the stomach-dropping panic I feel when I think about how I had no idea what to do or what to say to the people I loved to help them get through a very painful time.
I remember during that same time I also had friends who were hospitalized for self-harm. It was actually pretty common, and as kids we were all kind of grasping for the right responses to things that seemed so much bigger than us. The song itself is really playful, but now that I think about it, you really articulated how volatile this time really was, even just in the way the riffs seem to oscillate back and forth.
Who would you consider your biggest influences? For both you as a singer/guitarist, and as a band?
I have always had a really hard time talking about influences. When I started playing in joyride! I did not have a lot of experience playing the guitar and writing songs. I had been in one acoustic band with my best friends and we wrote songs collaboratively. When I started writing my own songs I really didn’t think about what I wanted it to sound like because I didn’t think I was capable of writing anything that was comparable to my favorite bands or songwriters. My favorite bands are The Weakerthans, Superchunk, and P.S. Eliot… I think those bands have influenced me in that I felt comfortable writing melodic vocal parts even though I wanted to be in a “punk” band or whatever. I really only listen to a few bands that don’t have my friends in them. All of my friend’s bands influence me because they are what made me want to play in a band. Whenever I go to a show and see my friends play I want to go home and write a song.
Yeah, sometimes seeing what your friends create can be the catalyst for your own creations. Speaking of shows, tell me about the best show you played… And the worst!
Our first and second shows were my favorite shows because they were my first shows and they were such novel and powerful experiences. Seriously nothing compares to the feeling you get after you play your first punk show. Our first show was at my old house and all of my friends had learned the lyrics to our four song demo and they moshed around the tiny living room. The show was a nineties themed mix tape exchange and all the other bands were friends of mine. Everyone was so excited and supportive and it filled me with this confidence and sense of self that seriously lasted for weeks.
I got a similar sensation after our second show, with was in San Lois Obispo at a fest called Nux-Fest. I was nervous to play for people who weren’t my friends but then the band who played after us, Summer Vacation, said on the mic that we were really good. I was so shocked that someone I didn’t know liked what I was doing. It was a really empowering feeling. We had demo CDs that we packaged in paper bags that we gave to everyone for free. We’re really lucky in that most of our shows have been fun and empowering, but those first two just gave me feelings that were so new to me, and I think they gave me the motivation and confidence to stick with being in a band even though I was new to my instrument and felt self conscious about what I had to offer. My other favorite show was when we did a battle set in San Jose with Sourpatch. Rich suggested it so we set up our gear right next to each other in the basement of the House of the Dead Rat and traded off playing songs back to back. It was really fun because they are one of my favorite bands and I used to be a Myspace fangirl of theirs and then suddenly they were friends of mine and we were splitting a set together.
I don’t know what our worst show was! I try not to think about it.
Anything else you wanna share?
Joyride! is just such an important part of my life and I kind of love sharing why it is so special and meaningful to me. Being in a band is really something I have always fantasized about. When I was in high school I for some reason thought it was “too late” for me to learn any instruments, which is a completely ridiculous thought. I started playing the guitar when I was 19 but barely knew anything, and I started joyride! when I was 22 and had just learned power chords like a couple weeks before. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that this is my life. Playing in joyride! has allowed me to meet so many inspiring people because unfortunately, I didn’t know how to talk to people at shows until I was playing them. It is also how I met my band mates in Crabapple and Salt Flat, which are bands I love so much, and am so grateful to be a part of.
A few chords are all it takes, right? I’ve also felt down about wasting my teenage years worshipping musicians, instead of having the discipline to become one sooner. But a lot of my favorite musicians didn’t even reach their heydays until their 30s or after! It doesn’t make their music any less good or relatable.
I write music for myself and my friends and if someone else hears it and is moved by it, that is more than I would have ever thought to ask for. I try to be really honest in my songs and to always post the lyrics online, and our record comes with a lyric insert with song descriptions, because I really want the content to be accessible to anyone who wants it. I feel really strongly that our survival skills improve when we are able to communicate openly and honestly and to share our stories and perspectives and reactions to the world around us. Music is just so moving and interpretive and powerful and it’s one of my favorite modes of communication.
It’s so cool when you feel this weird complicated emotion that you don’t know how to articulate, and then someone you’ve never met from across the country sings this one line in some song you heard on a mix or something, and just that one line can help so much in all of our processing and unlearning. That’s what I love about punk and that’s my favorite part about being in a band; having the opportunity to contribute my voice to this really complicated and dynamic landscape of voices that are all attempting to come to terms with this place we live and with the different ways we’ve learned to get through it.
I love everything about this. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me!