JOY talks high school bands, going viral and a new musical direction

Olivia McCarthy has been playing music for a while, but it’s under the guise of JOY that she has earned a monumental amount of praise and fandom. Her quick rise to success is one she takes in her stride, as she happily chats playing in high school bands, embracing social media and being a full time musician.

Joy illustration

This illustration of JOY comes from Susy Crina, an illustrator from Melbourne who works predominantly in digital and comic style art.

HAPPY: I wanted to ask you one thing to start off, ‘Bridging’…

JOY: Oh yeah! It started as just a joke because there was, I don’t even know, I was at the Opera House, not sure why, and there was the Harbour Bridge. I just thought “How funny would it be if I bridged in front of it?” Not that funny, but I still did it. Now it’s just a thing. Maybe I should make a series of them, whenever I see the bridge I have to fuckin bridge.

HAPPY: Has anyone else sent you pictures of them bridging?

JOY: Not yet, but it’ll happen. I’m gonna make it a thing. It’s gonna blow up! (laughs). It’s like so much effort to get down and do a bridge though, no one else would ever do it in public either. I’m the only one who would do it.

HAPPY: It could go viral, you never know.

JOY: (laughs) Could you imagine that? It would go viral and it became illegal like planking.

HAPPY: Has it ever crossed your mind that as a growing artist that you need to make something that can explode in a viral sense?

JOY: Yeah! Well, it’s kind of like some people have a hit or whatever, but I don’t want to just write a really cheesy pop song. I mean you could just sit down with pop writers and write a standard pop song and it go massive, but at the day you don’t really want to be known for that. It’s not really the goal

HAPPY: For you is the focus then just on making more tracks? After all you’ve only been JOY for about a year.

JOY: Yeah, it’s more fun to just make stuff and then roll with it. I’ve been on the music scene for a while before the JOY project. I played in lots of bands, playing different instruments and stuff but I never had my own thing going. Then I did a lot of acoustic stuff around, it never really took off. Then I started the JOY thing and now I’m like “Woah”.

HAPPY: What was the difference for you doing JOY and playing in other bands?

JOY: I have more control here, whereas if I’m just a session music I’m just playing what they want me to play. I really like playing in bands, it’s fun, but at the same time they’re not usually successful bands (laughs). They’re like shitty school bands. I think having your own project is more fun because you get to direct everything.

HAPPY: Did you ever play in any battle of the bands comps?

JOY: I did one. It was a punk/ pop band. I was drumming and it was gross. Let’s never go there.

HAPPY: How so?

JOY: It was punk pop! (laughs) Ugh, regrets. It was literally just Paramore covers and stuff like that. That only happened because I knew these people who were looking for a drummer and they were playing Paramore, and I used to play Paramore on Guitar Hero. I was like “I Fucken know this song inside and out man, I can do it!”, so I learnt it on drums as well and played it. But then it was totally lame, so…

HAPPY: Doing a Paramore cover band or just playing the covers?

JOY: They played one Paramore cover, and then there was all this other random stuff. We played one show, and after I was like “Sorry, I can’t. I’m…busy” (laughs).

HAPPY: Would you ever be in another band again?

JOY: I was actually saying this the other day. I want to be in a band, it’s like really fun and there’s less pressure on you because you’re not the head of the band or whatever. I want to fill in on stuff. I miss playing instruments! I guess it depends. It’s kinda hard to schedule when they need you and when you need to be somewhere. But it’s fun though, I wana do it!

HAPPY: You could always expand the backing band for JOY.

JOY: I’ve got two of the guys from The Cairos, they’re my really good friends, they filled in for me at Laneway. So I want to make that a more permanent thing but they have jobs and it’s just kinda hard at the moment. They’ve got the band and they’ve got day jobs and stuff, and they record other people, and I just sit at home in my room. I’d be like “Can you come play this show?”, and they’re like “No, we’re working”. It’s something I’d like to figure out probably in the future when I can afford to have them full time.

HAPPY: Do you work anything on the side?

JOY: I don’t have any job. (laughs) I play jazz piano sometimes but it’s not really a job. I snowboard sometimes but that’s not a job either. I worked in a cupcake shop for like five years, then I finished that and then music started to kick off, so I was like “I’m never going back!”. I kind of miss having a dumb job, but it’s kind of cool that I don’t have to have a job.

HAPPY: So now you’re focusing on music full time, which most muso’s dream.

JOY: It’s good. I don’t know how I manage it. I just steal off my parents.

HAPPY: And you jazz piano at a jazz lounge?

JOY: Yeah kind of. It’s like an Italian restaurant, bar kind of thing. I’ve been there since I was two and I’m really good friends with the owner so I just play there when I’m in Brisbane. I just play covers and stuff.

HAPPY: Do you ever feel like incorporating a bit of jazz piano into JOY?

JOY: I kinda do sometimes. A couple of tracks where I, it’s not like ‘jazz’ jazz, but it’s kind of bluesy kind of stuff. I use lots of scales when I play live out of habit. I’m not even trained as a jazz pianist though! I was trained classically, so I kind of had to guess how to play jazz.

HAPPY: Jazz is steeped in improvisation though, so you could say you’re doing right by it.

JOY: Yeah! Just random, like my life. I’ll go to a gig and be like “What am I playing tonight?” It’s like I kind of – I used to have like my set set up so I could pick what play next and I didn’t really write a set list. I’d just see what the crowd is responding to and what they’re not. But now I don’t even care. I’m just going to play whatever I’m going to play. So I’ll have my sets so I can just mix into the next thing.

HAPPY: You’ve been playing in bands and JOY for a while now, and one of the fundamental things to success is branding and managing an image, which has a significant effect on how people will engage you. As a young person how do you approach this?

JOY: I don’t really think about it. My parents always say “Just be yourself”, but I’m actually just an idiot. I get a lot of reaction on social media because I just post dumb stuff that’s not even funny, but people seem to find it entertaining. I think you can post a photo holding croissant and write something Yeezy related and people will love it. But you can post about a show and no one will react to it. I don’t know, it depends what your target market is I guess. See, mine is just bros. So I’m like whatever.

HAPPY: Did you just say ‘bros’?

JOY: (laughs) Yep. I’m not a competitive person, you just have to be likable. I still find it kind of weird that I have fans of my music, because I just want to be friends with them. It’s so weird, because I was like never like that. In school and that I’d only have two friends. I’d hate everyone and everyone would hate me. It’s weird that all these people like your stuff and you’ve never met them. I would kind of be nowhere if I didn’t have that support from people online, you can’t be rude.

HAPPY: You say you hated people in school?

JOY: I just didn’t like that many people, but I think that’s just because I was a retard. I just changed schools a lot. I was always the only musician or the only one who wanted to do something different. Urgh, that sounded so cliche! I went to a Catholic girls school and everyone was just so bitchy. I have two brothers so I was not brought up like that. So it was really weird being with all girls, and I was like “This sucks”. So i was sent to music school which was good, it was competitive, but it was really good. Thelma Plum went to that school, that’s where everything started.

HAPPY: And now you’ve finished school?

JOY: Yeah I graduated, I don’t know how I did (laughs).

HAPPY: Well with your social media, you have roughly 50 000 fans on Facebook which is impressive. Do you manage that yourself?

JOY: Yeah I do. People always say to post as much as you can, but stuff that’s not boring. It’s a visual thing that people respond to. People are more interested in something visual than you making a status about life. Like a croissant.

HAPPY: You say you have all these people you don’t know who are now following you intently. Is it disarming in any way, having these people who engage with your music and know your music, but you don’t really know them?

JOY: It’s alright. It’s kind of cool being at a show where you know no one compared to when you’re playing a show in front of friends and family, there’s less pressure. Playing to people you don’t know is kinda cool because you see how they react and you haven’t grown up with them, so you don’t know what they’re like anyway.

HAPPY: And currently you’re on tour with Tkay, that must be pretty interesting considering how different your music is.

JOY: It should be really fun, she’s the best. We’re just gonna do this the whole set (starts dancing). She was at Laneway but I haven’t played with her. I was talking to my booking agent and I just wanted to DJ or something, so I was like “What!?” My set is super, no, compared to Tkay. People will probably be going into not sure what to do, they might just stand there and Snapchat. I try to make it more upbeat, I’m just gonna have fun and so something stupid. I’m just gonna do cartwheels! It’s super down tempo music and I’m just cartwheeling (laughs).

HAPPY: Moving forward, you mentioned earlier that you want to do an EP in the future and you have some demos. How are they sounding? Something along the lines of Weather?

JOY: No, it’s actually a bit of a new sound. It’s more refined. I started making stuff and my sound was a bit confused, it changes a lot. I kind of started this side project as joke because I’d sit down to write a JOY thing and I had no ideas, so I’d end up with this sort of EDM thing. I just started ripping off all these EDM artists. It kind of crossed over, I got really good at producing EDM stuff. I was like “Why???” It’s probably the easiest thing to produce. So now when I sit down to write it’s a mix of the dancier stuff and at the same time it’s like piano ballads.

I guess all the demos for the EP are very refined sound wise. They’re all instrumentation and stuff. It just depends when I do it, if I don’t have a deadline I won’t end up doing it (laughs). I want to release a new single ASAP, but I just haven’t started it (laughs), I should probably start it. The EP, hopefully by the end of the year but who knows? I used to procrastinate a lot in school. It’s weird now that music is now my job, I have to do it! I feel like unless I have deadline I won’t do it. But I’ll do it if I have one I can do work.

HAPPY: Otherwise you’ll be making EDM bangers all day.

JOY: (laughs) I know! It’s so bad!

HAPPY: In that case I’ll ask my last question. At Happy we talk about stuff that makes us happy, so what makes you happy?

JOY: Oh, ummm. Pugs. Socks? Funky socks with burritos on them and pugs.

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