Sorrow and gratitude go hand in hand on Joywave’s fourth album Purify, and perhaps this combination was inevitable. The Rochester alternative rock trio’s previous record, Possessionarrived on March 13, 2020, and as frontman Daniel Armbruster tells the American songwriter, “It was dead on arrival.”
The band’s tour in support of this record was canceled when the COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect, and the trio – completed by guitarist Joseph Morinelli and drummer Paul Brenner – found themselves in a position in which he hadn’t been since he started filming full-time in 2014: home for an indefinite window, free from the demands of constant travel. Naturally, they took the opportunity to create another record, and that record finally came nearly two years after the start of the same pandemic that mitigated Possessionis deployment.
Sincerely Armbruster Purify primarily as a gratitude album, but the end product is equally dark and shimmering. It’s the type of record where a pop-rock anthem (“We’re all we need”) gives way to a dark, dreamy new wave number inspired by a German TV drama. (“Goodbye Tommy”). “I had all this unstructured creative time and was alone with my thoughts as the world crumbled around me,” says Armbruster, reflecting on when he wrote these songs in 2020. For the a native of Rochester, it was a time marked by despair (of the state of the world) but also joy (to be able to do what he loves, with the people he loves).
Armbruster spoke to the American songwriter from his home in upstate New York about the downturn during the pandemic, trying to make sense of the tragedy and why he’s excited about the next Joywave tour.
American songwriter: You released your previous record just before the world shut down due to COVID-19. How was it? Were you able to promote or support it at all?
Daniel Armbruster: Honestly, we weren’t…. It was dead on arrival, which was pretty disheartening. We spent almost two years doing it. We had done this really big tour with Bastille just before, where we were in all these big venues and it was going really well and I felt like we were really building something. It all got washed away, which really sucks, but Purify it kind of grew out of that because I had all this unstructured creative time and was alone with my thoughts as the world crumbled around me.
And also, interestingly, with most of our discs – and with Possession – we had these long periods of time to write. We were going through about 40 demos and we were like, we have to have this one, we have to have this one. We just did it with Possessionso turning around and making another record really meant starting from scratch in a way that we hadn’t [before]. For the first time, it truly felt like a snapshot of the band’s exact creative moment. Whereas with the previous records, it was like that, here is where I was during this year and a half.
AS: What are the main characteristics of this snapshot?
AD: A lot of our early records are, I would say, a bit more plaintive. [They are about] things that I didn’t like in life growing up, or things that I felt weren’t right for me. And this one is much more grateful. There was so much I couldn’t enjoy the moment before because I’d slept for three hours or been on a red-eye flight or been pumping Dramamine to try not to vomit moving. And when all that was gone… Like I said, I’m from Rochester, New York. The music took me to all of these places and gave me all of these experiences and I met all of these amazing people that I otherwise would never have met, so there was a strange feeling of gratitude as the world was ending.
AS: Are there any songs where you really hear that quality of gratitude?
AD: Yeah, a bunch of them. “Cyn City 2000”, for sure, is a song about comparing with others, letting go of that and finding happiness. The song “We Are All We Need” is [about] drop the chip on your shoulder and be grateful. Me, Paul and Joey have been making music together since high school, so taking this trip with your high school friends is truly amazing. This is something that should not be lost sight of. There are times when it’s like, oh, today kinda sucks, or it didn’t work our way, but [in the] overall, continuing to do what you did when you were 16 is amazing.
AS: I’m glad you mentioned “Cyn City 2000”. He has this refrain, “I don’t want to be cynical.” How to fight against this impulse?
AD: Oh, man. Mental gymnastics… It’s really easy to feel sorry for yourself or that things never work out. But you have to look at all the times you beat the odds. What are the odds of us doing what we’re doing now, given that we’re from the 52nd largest metropolitan area in the United States, you know? The odds are zero, and we managed to do it. So the times that [cynicism] creeps in, you have to say, no, I’m really, really lucky. Before the band started doing well, I worked at Staples. It wasn’t cool. Now I don’t have to do that anymore.
AS: This perspective is huge. Do you also hear this gratitude audibly?
AD: Yeah I think so. There are other major activities on this disc. “Cyn City 2000” is probably the best example. I think all of our music has societal observations as well, and that’s definitely always present, but I think before those observations were there and it was like, “Does this suck?” And this time it’s a little more agnostic. Like, yeah, all of those things are bad and terrible, but again, I’m one of those lucky 0.000001% people who ever lived. I can live my dream – it’s amazing.
AS: If not, how would you compare the sound of the album to your previous ones?
AD: I think it’s a lot more cohesive, just because it’s all happening at the same time. The pandemic definitely gave us personnel restrictions where the drummer and I were able to quarantine and then get together with masks to follow the drums for a few days at first, but Joey, the guitarist, had to communicate via Zoom because her son was in school…
And I think there’s this thing that you can hear on previous recordings where we’re sitting in a room and trying to make each other laugh, and when that happens saying, okay, that definitely stays in the song . There are these winks here and there. I think of the song “Destruction” [from How Do You Feel Now? (2015)] or the song “FEAR” on the last record. We laughed hysterically while doing them. It didn’t happen this time because I was just sitting alone in the studio. It felt like there was a lot to be grateful for, but maybe not so much to laugh about.
AS: What is the title Purify evoke for you?
AD: A purification process of washing away dirt. We started touring full time in 2014 and were pretty much on the road – with breaks in the schedule to work on a record here and there or do a few songs – pretty regularly by 2014. [until] the pandemic. [Cleanse] washes everything from before and emerges on the other side ready for what’s next.
One of my first jobs was working at a car wash, and I had this 1980s Oldsmobile that my grandma gave me when I was old enough to drive and that’s the car in which me, Paul and Joey became friends. So I thought of us, in that vehicle, going through the car wash and coming out the other side, ready to go.
AS: What do you think of the darker songs on the album?
AD: I think it’s me trying to make sense of the chaos, but maybe not being swallowed up by it. One of the darkest moments is definitely “Goodbye Tommy”. I really got into this show called Deutschland 83 during the pandemic, and there was this episode where there was this shooting type event at a Pulse nightclub and it really hooked me for days. I couldn’t shake it. We were in Paris shortly before the Bataclan attack in 2015… A virus is coming, isn’t it? This is something that happens however many years. You hope that what we’re going through now is something we go through once in a hundred years, but if you look at history, you’re like, okay, it’s a thing that happens. But then you get these events like [the Pulse nightclub shooting or the Bataclan attack] and you can explain it in an infinite number of ways and none of them will ever make sense to me. It just hurts… so [the song is] try to make sense of it through this fictional narrative.
AS: Do you often use a fictional lens to write?
AD: In fact, I almost never do. This is one of the few times in the catalog. It’s the only song on the record [that was written that way], for sure. Everything else is very “I noticed…” or “I’m grateful…” in my own life.
AS: You mentioned that your last major tour was with Bastille. It was when? Do you have a different vision for your live show now?
AD: It was in the fall of 2019. We haven’t been able to do a flagship tour for a long, long time. The pandemic has obviously been a washout. But I think the last real flagship tour we did was in 2017 or 2018. We’ve grown at least a venue size since then, so we can do more with production. The last time we were headlining, it was pretty close to getting your stuff on stage and playing, and there’s a backdrop or a minor level of production. I don’t want to say exactly what we’re doing yet, but we’re trying to bring some visual elements of the record to life for the tour.
Purify is available now through Hollywood Records. You can stream it here and order it on vinyl here.