Joywave Peer Through Digital Deterioration With ‘Every Window Is A Mirror’ EP

Photo by Nick Brandreth

Joywave’s Daniel Armbruster has a bone to pick. “I’m looking at an article called ‘Bastille Rediscover Purpose & Creativity With Goosebumps EP by Jason Scott, six months ago, on American Songwriter,” he chides. “And none of them are American. You are stealing songwriting articles from good Americans.”

He’s joking, of course, as he soon emits a throaty chuckle. As hardcore Joywave fans already know, Bastille’s Dan Smith and Armbruster like a good ribbing now and again, particularly out on the road. When Armbruster hops on the phone with American Songwriter, the four-piece indie-rock band are two days away from the release of a new EP called Every Window is a Mirror, a four-track detour that likely would never have been written if the pandemic hadn’t sent the group into a tailspin.

The band’s last record, Possession, was released March 13, 2020, a fateful day when much of the country shuttered due to Covid-19 concerns. Armbruster will never forget it. “There were 24 hours where I felt like the universe had personally attacked me, and the virus had my name on it. I quickly moved past it and said, ‘Okay, a lot of people are losing a lot more things than a record cycle. The news is about something else.’ I did have to kind of fight the instinct after about a week or two being home. I said, ‘Okay, well, maybe I just go on to making the next record.’”

Naturally, the quartet had poured everything they had into Possession, which began back in May 2018, so it was “really deflating” not to tour their biggest record to-date. When he set his eyes on a new project, he knew he “didn’t want to make a quarantine or pandemic record, just because I knew that’s what every single artist was going to do. But I did have things to say about it, too.”

“It was pretty interesting, because a lot of people were furloughed at our record label. Everything was chaotic for a while, and the result on my end was that nobody was communicating with me or asking me for anything,” he recalls. “Basically, all we were told from the business side of things was the campaign was over, and no one was available to work stuff. Obviously, there’s crazy, more important things happening in the world right now.”

But the upheaval permitted him to “create in a vacuum again,” and he moved all the recording equipment to his home studio in Rochester. And magic began to happen. “It basically ended up being, I think, the best snapshot of where I’m at creatively of all of our records,” he says, citing it took something like four months to complete. He recorded 10 songs in all, six others saved for when Joywave gets around to issuing a full record, and even that was a different experience from previous album eras.

Every Window is a Mirror shatters genre glass, so to speak, feeling at times reminiscent of their earlier work─opener “Pray for the Reboot” is “probably the danciest song record, and for fans of the first Joywave record, that song will probably feel the most familiar to them,” explains Armbruster─or fracturing their signature style with intensifying electricity (“Every Window is a Mirror”). Thematically, the four songs appear to ride a wave of increased awareness of society’s social and political polarization, as heard with Possession. “I [remember] sitting there in 2018 and 2019, thinking, ‘This is really bad, right? I think it’s going to get worse if we don’t all kind of zoom out and see the big picture and not obsess about the little details. We don’t all need to agree on every little thing, but everyone just kind of needs to chill out.’ And then everything got so much worse─to a degree that I did not think was possible.”

When the truth’s in the user, we’ve all lost the future, he sings over gummy caramel in “Pray for a Reboot.” A timeline, darker than the one I was / Dealing with the last time.

The song’s opening stanza, in particular, confronts the seemingly cataclysmic shift over the last three years. “That’s really the only thing that I address about that because I didn’t want to make a record called, ‘I was right.’ But I was even more right than I possibly could have thought,” he says. Mentally, he began to spiral with all sorts of what ifs and should haves ─ like “maybe we should do this or maybe we should have done this… or maybe we should reboot all of it like a TV show or a movie. On Earth 2, I hope they give me some kind of part I still want to do.”

With “The Inversion,” a darkness coursing in its veins, Armbruster scrambles into “the intersection of humanity and technology,” a frequent fascination in his journey simply as a human being. “If you go back a number of years, when I was maybe in middle school or something, people started to develop a digital identity, and you didn’t have to be the same person in real life as you were on the internet.

“Over time, your digital representation has become more and more important. I’ve always thought that we would reach this point where maybe the digital and physical selves were of equal importance,” he details the song’s throbbing core. “Because of the pandemic, we were all forced to live mostly in the digital [world] for the first time. Especially people who did not have a partner to quarantine with or a family, they were alone─except for the internet.”

Armbruster’s inquisitive nature serves him well. In 2007, he graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport with a degree in history, so excavating deeper elements of human interaction, from a strictly historical perspective, leads him to crevices and caverns most don’t dare, or care to, tread. “I think frequently about how what I’m doing is documenting more than commenting or weighing in on things,” he shares. “You see things that are happening digitally, and the  result is people whipping down a statue in the physical world. That is the moment where the digital conversation has overtaken the physical.

“I think that the next step is that everything that’s in the real world, basically the real estate gets sold a second time,”  he continues. “Yes, you own your house, but do you also own the rights to the augmented reality version of your house? Imagine Pokemon Go, but it’s not a game anymore.”

In this moment in time, between an ongoing pandemic and last summer’s social unrest, leading to even greater heated conversations online, the very fate of humanity is already tenuous. “If the digital continues to outweigh or becomes even more important, and we don’t find a way to deal with the idea that algorithms are controlling the information we see, and the only thing they care about is our rate of interaction with what we see and not what it makes us feel…” he trails off for a moment. But his message is clear: there may be no turning back.

“All [an algorithm] knows is whether it made me feel something right,” he adds, picking up his trail of thought. “It doesn’t know if I’m retweeting it because I’m happy or upset about it or anything else─and turns out anger is possibly the most motivating click.”

Reflecting back, once again to Possession, he remembers thinking “that this was the most turbulent time since about 1968 in American history. Then, throughout this past year, in talking to my parents who lived it, this is something different. This is even crazier. I hope things don’t get worse. I hope that we look at this time as maybe something where there’s a lesson to be learned like how politicization led to a lot of excess deaths and people were arguing about science and accepting new information as it becomes available when they’re clinging to the old information.

“I’m a musician, so what do I know? I can have a theory about viruses or masks or whatever, but if someone who studied this says, ‘Hey, sorry, we were wrong last week, and now this other thing is true,’ I need to be like, ‘Okay, well, my best shot here is to trust people who study this thing, even if they don’t get it right every time.’ And people are just really unwilling to do that. Everyone’s an expert, and they’re an expert based on what an algorithm told them. It’s pretty unfortunate.”

Joywave holds up a crystal clear mirror to society with Every Window is a Mirror, as we peer into our very own eyes, witnessing deterioration, exhaustion, and a hunger to be seen and heard. When the group’s forthcoming, yet-untitled, new album arrives, it’ll stand in stark contrast to everything else they have in store. “The rest of the record is more positive and less commentary,” he stresses. 

“That’s one of the reasons that these four songs are coming out now. They’re more relevant to exactly what’s happening, whereas the rest of the record focuses more on taking this moment to slow down and look behind me, appreciating the things that I’ve gotten to do and how far I’ve come and just learning to be happy with it.”

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