Joy Guerilla is the musical brainchild of LA based duo Adam Grab and Magna Daniec. They released their sophomore album The Park Is Closed last Friday, an album that takes simple melodies and phrases and turns them into sonic landscapes that are bursting with life. It’s the follow up and almost sister album to 2018’s Skyline and takes a look at the darker side of the West Coast of America that they mapped out on their debut in both tone and inspiration. One of the immediate reactions you get to listening to their music, beside the instinctive feeling to groove to it, is just how tightly composed and structured every moment is without losing that free-flowing nature that makes jazz so beautiful. We caught up with the duo to learn a bit more about their process, inspirations and what makes their sound so vibrant.
How did the group form? What’s your story?
We met up in the Bay Area of CA. Mags was actually Adam’s piano teacher for a short time, but we soon realised that we had a lot of musical interests and goals in common, especially 70’s fusion, Euro prog rock, and vintage analog keyboards. We soon started playing music and writing together, and it’s been constant since then.
How would you describe your sound?
We’re sure we could come up with something esoteric and lofty here, but at heart we both know it could best be described as jazz fusion, with influences from anything that grooves, really. One of our fans from Japan describes it as “a blend of the city and the country,” and we suppose we’re happy with that.
What do you draw inspiration from for the sound and movements within the songs?
The music we most admire (both stylistically and recording-quality-wise) would be the “high-fi” era of the mid/late-70s, when analog recording was really at its peak. As such, a lot of our sound choices most often come from that era, plus the collection of analog instruments we’ve slowly acquired over the years. In terms of direct sonic influences – probably Dexter Wansel and Larry Carlton for arrangement sensibility; Michael Boddicker, George Duke, and Cecil & Margouleff for synth sound design; Herbie for phrasing and tone. The movements within our songs are ultimately because we fully understand the limitations of instrumental music, especially in the current rapid consumption streaming environment. We personally are not fans of indulgent, overly “jammy” music, and instrumental music with solos can trend in that direction at times. We like tight arrangements and transitions that keep you engaged in the musical narrative. It keeps us interested in creating it, and hopefully the listener in listening.
What was the story that you are trying to tell within the album?
When we were writing and recording our last album “Skyline,” we were trying to put together an album that portrayed life on the West coast as best we could. We ended up, more so by happenstance, deciding on a tracklist with a brighter, more “daylight” feel. However, we still had a body of songs we knew had potential, yet tonally just didn’t fit. Inadvertently we had essentially left out the songs that evoked the darker side of the picture, both literally and emotionally. We knew that we couldn’t leave that half of the story unaccounted for, and decided this time to focus on that.
What’s the creative process behind a song?
We always have a picture of the songs development and sequencing, so we start with recording the bass and drums directly to tape. This helps them sound really locked-in, and also makes sure that it still retains the human feel of being played live in as few takes as possible. We then do a lot of tinkering with the guitar, percussion and keyboard overdubbing, and we’ve learned to be okay with simply losing stuff that doesn’t fit. Since we use a lot of analog synths, we sometimes spend hours tweaking patches until we feel it fits the song. Overall, the process is somewhat pre-determined, but it also will evolve and take form as elements are added. It may not be the most time-efficient method, but we’ve gotten our work-flow pretty dialled in now.
Over what time period was this album created?
As mentioned above, many of these songs were started at the same time as “Skyline” was being written and recorded, and others were much more recent (“Sowa” and “The Park Is Closed” specifically). It would be safe to say that between writing, recording, overdubbing, editing and mixing, it took us about 2 years to really get it to where we felt it could be called finished.
You worked with a lot of musicians to bring this album together. What did they all bring to the project?
Tim Aristil on drums and Elijah Zhang on guitar have been invaluable and they are in no small part responsible for the sound of the group. They are willing to listen to our suggestions but aren’t afraid to assert their own musical tastes to the songs. They both think like producers and musicians, which is really the best kind of person to work with. Les Lovitt, John Grab (Adam’s dad), and Doug Webb have been doing session work in Los Angeles since the 70’s, and it’s hard to replicate the sound of a horn section that has really grown together and knows how to self-balance. Doug Webb’s sax solos truly blew us away when we were recording, and he had nearly no heads up on the song or the changes. We were really excited to have Mike Maher from Snarky Puppy on “Earthsuit,” and his melodic ear and placement really helped bring the middle section of the song to life. We also owe a lot to our compatriot Julian Nicholson, who not only helped us mix this, but brought his own creative ear to the sound design and balance of the songs. A multi-talented technician.
Who are some of your biggest influences for the sound of this album?
Herbie for the sound of this album and really all the music we do. Roger Nichols sense of space and clarity not only with the mixing but also the arrangement and instrumentation itself. It’s hard to top the staying power of P-Funk horn lines, they always fit so perfectly and stick in your head. We always use that as our high-water mark when writing melodies.
If you could be a support act for any artist who would it be and why?
Probably Drake or Taylor Swift or something, just to see how the audience would react. Sounds like fun.
Favourite concert you’ve been to?
When we lived in Brooklyn, we managed to see D’Angelo twice in one year, right after Black Messiah came out. Possibly the tightest band ever. It’s a sobering experience when a concert is insanely good yet also slaps you in the face by showing you how much work you have to do.
Favourite show you’ve played?
We actually own an old short bus that we outfitted with solar panels, which charge batteries and allow us to power a full band set-up anywhere we can set up and park. The idea was to have a mobile busking machine, since when we started we did a lot of busking and have always had a love for it. In 2016 we went on a little DIY tour out to TX during SXSW, and we would use the bus busking to fund our gas and food expenses along the way. One night, we were out in Austin and were set up on the sidewalk, busking from the bus power, when a group of cops started flashing their sirens and pulling up to shut us down (something we had become pretty used to). All of the sudden, seemingly if sent by some birthday-party-guardian-angel, a procession of 10 or so costumed characters marched up and started vigorously dancing to our music. Sonic the Hedgehog, Ninja Turtles, Sponge Bob, Super Mario, Bugs Bunny – the whole gang was there. Fairly certain Sponge Bob even did the worm, a difficult feat with that boxy frame. Not only was this hilarious, but it did buy us another 10 minutes of playing time, as the cops seemed unwilling to break up this dance party of cultural heroes. Don’t think that will be topped for awhile.
What will it be like playing that first show once shows are allowed again?
We’ll have to get back to you when we do!