Joanna Gruesome Talk Alan Moore Comics, Twee vs. Indie + Debut Album ‘Weird Sister’
Noisy Welsh quintet Joanna Gruesome — no relation to a certain American indie-rock harpist — may have met in an anger-management class, but their garage-pop sound is much dreamier than their origins might imply.The band cites everything from zombies to the graphic novels of Alan Moore (‘V for Vendetta,’ ‘Watchmen’) as influences on their debut, ‘Weird Sister,’ a record that illustrates their knack for matching dark imagery with earnest-but-gritty pop music. In between U.S. and U.K. tour dates, guitarist Owen Williams answered some questions for Diffuser.fm about the band’s DIY beginnings and sinister inspirations, as well as the differences between twee and indie-pop.
Coming from a DIY background, how was it recording ‘Weird Sister’ in a proper studio?
Our original demos and EP were recorded by our friend in a living room, so we were initially worried about entering an environment in which we wouldn’t have complete control over every aspect of the recording/mixing process. But any reservations were calmed pretty quickly after meeting Matt and going into suburban home. Matt knows his s—, and he’s always taken a DIY-minded approach with the studio and recorded some killer records. We were definitely like-minded in terms of taste and ethos. I guess we were originally scared of sounding polished or something, but I never wanted us to be particularly lo-fi either. That was purely circumstantial and I don’t think there’s any real relationship between production value and some perceived DIY authenticity.
Is it true you guys met in anger management classes? Has using music as a creative outlet helped?
Playing in an indie-pop band has always been, and will always be, the only effective method of positively controlling and re-channeling moments of psychotic rage.
I’ve read that most of the album was written in a now-defunct hotel called Hell House. Can you talk about the experiences there and how it shaped the tone of the songs?
It was a kind of open house set up with a few regular faces. It was creepy and kind of Satan-y, but we put on some shows there, and I met some of my other bandmates. There were a lot of burning sofas and stuff. I don’t know how much staying there shaped the tone of the songs, since the lyrics are generally pretty abstract or referential or just experimenting with nonsense words.
I’ve also heard that the dark graphic novel ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ was a source of inspiration for this record. How did that book tie into the music?
I read quite a lot of comics, and I think during that time, I felt I should tackle some of the graphic novel classics. I thought Moore + Batman at the same time would be good. I can’t actually remember why I’ve been saying it inspired the record! I like putting spooky images in pop songs, so I guess all that horrible circus sh-t felt appropriate to include.
How does the Cardiff music scene compare to the rest of the U.K.?
I guess Cardiff is relatively small compared to a lot of places. In terms of a scene, there are like 100 percent less bands and shows than somewhere like Manchester or London. But that’s not to say there isn’t a lot of good s— going on. Promoters like Joy Collective, Shape, Noel Gardner and Jon Own Noise are always putting on amazing shows, and bands/people like Mars to Stay, Islet, Twisted, Badlands, Saturday’s Kids, Totem Terrors, Sweet Baboo, H Hawkline, Cate Le Bon, Los Camp! (and Turnstile generally) + FOTL, and loads more I’ve forgotten from Cardiff or South Wales also rule. And we have Spillers Records, obviously.
Whats the story behind the name? Are you guys just really big harp fans?
[Laughs] It was just a bad joke our friend suggested that snowballed, but band names are pretty arbitrary anyway, in my opinion.
A lot musicians have a problem with labeling their music “twee” because of how limiting it can be, and it often has cheesy or crude connotations. Is that a genre you mind be associating with?
Assuming “twee” is essentially being used as a byword for “indie-pop,” I guess my problem with the word it that it kind of attempts to strip indie-pop of it’s inherent confrontation, feminism and p-rock anger. It implies liking pop music or anti-macho music isn’t legitimate. Sonically, I don’t think it really applies to us or a lot of my favourite indie-pop bands who I know let stuff like ’80s hardcore, metal, chaotic emo, atonal music or whatever shape their music. I admit that there is this kind of “nu-folk,” infantilised, ultra-precious tangent of indie-pop that is quite boring, but it’s not like some dudes playing straight-up derivative punk rock or bro-core is more of a radical proposition, or that any lady or dude in an indie-pop band is terrified of the big riffz.