Situated in a crevice on the Redondo Beach Boardwalk, the Redondo Fun Factory feels like a relic. The Fun Factory — a decaying arcade crammed with rickety carnival rides, blinking vintage video games and creaking claw-machines — is located under a parking garage, next to a fish market, and faces resolutely away from the ocean, as if protesting the tourist-trap beachfront bars and souvenir shops that take up most of the strip. It feels as if it was erected on empty earth a generation ago and, in the decades that followed, the entire neighborhood slowly grew up around it.
Growing up in Torrance, California, the members of Joyce Manor were regulars at the Fun Factory and, revisiting it one sunny Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer, they marvel at how little has changed. It’s still delightfully oddball: instead of stuffed animals, the reward for a successful run at the claw machine is a direct-to-video film on DVD. High rollers at any of the arcade’s other attractions — ball-tossing games, grip-strength testers, shooting competitions — are rewarded with tickets. The tickets, inexplicably, are cashed in not for prizes, but for tokens, and it’s the tokens that get you the goods. On the day we meet in the early afternoon to discuss their latest release, Never Hungover Again, the rewards range from the usual assortment of stuffed animals and candy to a blender, a toaster, a tofu maker and a king-sized bed. When Joyce Manor frontman Barry Johnson sinks a basket at one of the sturdier games of chance, his prize is a navy-blue baseball cap with the words “Princess Diana International Charities” printed across the front. The whole experience is like describing a dream days after having it: it all feels familiar, but it’s a little weirder and barely holds together against scrutiny. In short, it’s more or less the way the members of Joyce Manor remember it.
As it turns out, the members of Joyce Manor also haven’t changed much since they were children in the neighboring town of Torrance. “I live a very innocent lifestyle,” says bassist Matt Ebert over beers at a pub just down the boardwalk from the Fun Factory. “I like to be in bed by 11.” Johnson concurs. “None of us do drugs or anything,” he adds. “We’re all pretty boy-next-door-ish.”
Ebert and Johnson met when they were both 14 years old. They belonged to the same youth bowling league. Ebert showed up one night wearing an AFI hoodie and Johnson a Mustard Plug t-shirt, and their shared interest in punk rock sparked the beginning of a tentative friendship. (“There weren’t a lot of us in seventh grade,” Ebert quips.) Eventually, the two formed a band, recruiting bassist Chase Knobbe and drummer Kurt Walcher, who they’d seen performing in another local band. “We asked Kurt to play drums right from the beginning and he said ‘no,’” Johnson laughs. “When we became sort of established and started playing bigger shows, we asked him again and he was like, ‘Oh, for sure.’”
Johnson’s mother, however, did not share his enthusiasm. “My mom called me and said, ‘The DMV is hiring. They have really good benefits and it pays really well.’ And I was just really confused, like, I’m not going to work at the DMV, what are you talking about? I’d rather fucking die.” The conversation clearly still eats at Johnson. “It was so insane that she called and was like ‘I fully don’t believe in what you are doing, I’m worried about you, so worried about you that I think you should work in the DMV.’ Now my mom is super supportive, and brags to all her friends. But every time that happens, I wanna be like, ‘Fuck you mom, remember that fucking DMV call? What’s up with that?’”
The six years that followed were punctuated with modest successes. They opened a national tour for Desaparecidos whose frontman, Conor Oberst, is a vocal supporter. They’ve become fixtures at Downtown Los Angeles’s Fuck Yeah Festival and Never Hungover Again, their debut for Epitaph Records, has found favor with an audience that previously hasn’t had much use for the band: the music press.
“I feel like we’ve been largely ignored by that world,” Johnson says. “Is there something about us that is illegitimate? Are we like a birthday clown dancing in front of teenagers? A band like Merchandise, you’d think they were the biggest band in the world, but they play to maybe 300 people here. Kids know us. Kids love us. I don’t know how things are going to change with this album, and I don’t know if I care.”
The attention isn’t that surprising: Never Hungover is the group’s strongest work to date, full of punchy, direct songs that veer far enough away from convention to seem like something new, all while working within a comfortable, familiar sonic template.
Johnson credits the growth to the collaborative writing process. “I used to come into the recording not wanting to give anyone room to fuck up my songs,” he says. “But Chase started writing some insane guitar parts, so I [started bringing] songs that were more malleable, and had enough room to let other people shape them.”
The disparate influences are evident throughout the album. “Catalina Fight Song” owes more to At the Drive-In than it does blink-182 with the band sounding fierce and aggressive, and “Christmas Card” could almost pass for an early Superchunk song, it’s so unpolished and coarse. Johnson’s voice rides the border between singing and screaming, never quite landing on either side. The result is the type of punk that could play Warped Tour or Coachella, honoring its roots, but curious to explore terrain far beyond the skate shop.
Which is a good thing, since none of them are especially fond of the idea of staying in Torrance. “I feel like, in the ’70s and the ’80s, you could get a job at a high school and afford to live in Torrance,” says Johnson. “But I think that is rare now, unless you are a graphic designer or something.”
“In which case, you don’t want to live in Torrance,” Matt Ebert.
“You wouldn’t want to live in Torrance anyway,” says Johnson.
The last sentence catches the ear of the bar’s only other patron, who swivels around on his seat. “I live in Torrance,” he says. His mood softens when the band explains they’re also locals. “I’ve been listening to you guys,” he says, “and can we all raise our glasses to the last Ramone brother that just died?” And we all toast to Tommy Ramone. The man asks the bartender to turn down the TV so he can listen to the interview, occasionally chiming in with a remark about seeing David Byrne or Frank Zappa. Eventually, he asks for the band’s name so he can look them up on the internet when he gets home. And just like that, Joyce Manor makes another fan.
Despite their upward trajectory, the band remains refreshingly level-headed. “I know how cruel the world can be,” Johnson says, “and I know sometimes a band puts out their best album, and kids are just done with it. I feel the thing I’m doing is happening right now. So, I’m just waiting for the rug to be pulled out from me. But we exceeded our own expectations [with this record], after that, I’m cool with whatever happens.”