Buyer/streamer/downloader beware: There is not a single pop-punk song on Joyce Manor’s new album, Million Dollars To Kill Me. There’s a good chance most will see this as the culmination of the Torrance, California band’s decade-long maturation process, evolving from the early SoCal purism of “Five Beer Plan” to consistently rewarding indie rock. But Joyce Manor frontman Barry Johnson’s voice goes all wistful when he tells me there is no “Call Out,” no “Heart Tattoo,” on his band’s upcoming fifth LP. The guy watched way too many Blink-182 live videos for that to be the end result.
Johnson had no particular reason to revisit all of those shaky YouTubes of “Dumpweed” or “Fuck A Dog” over the past year — it’s just something the 31-year-old frontman of Joyce Manor does, the way some people will lose a half hour on ESPN or CNN without even thinking about it. Moreover, there is nothing revelatory about Blink-182 concert footage, at least nothing that warrants multiple views. “They’re so bad live!” Johnson shouts, joined by his bandmates at a Peruvian restaurant stuffed in a particularly interchangeable suburban strip mall. “How are people OK with this? How has no one filed a complaint?”
However, one particular trip down this Warped Tour rabbithole led him to an episode of The Doctors with special guest Travis Barker. In September 2008, a Learjet carrying Barker, DJ AM, and their entourage crashed during takeoff, killing four of its six passengers; Barker and DJ AM were the only ones to survive, suffering severe burns. AM died less than a year later from a drug overdose.
Barker spent the next 11 weeks in various burn centers and hospitals, undergoing 16 surgeries as well as blood transfusions and skin-graft procedures that would last from four to eight hours at a time. He returned to the studio two months after the crash, but in the meantime, Barker admits that his convalescence was so excruciating, he gave an unthinkable request to Skinhead Rob, his bandmate in rap-rock knuckleheads the Transplants (and “AFI’s merch guy” as Joyce Manor bassist Matt Ebert duly notes). The physical and emotional agony that Barker was enduring was so unbearable, he offered to pay Skinhead Rob $1 million to kill him. “It just stuck in my head, it’s just the opposite of what everyone wants — money and to not die,” Johnson muses. “To offer money to die is so sick. It’s super rock ‘n’ roll.”
To those familiar with Joyce Manor, any acknowledgment of super rock ‘n’ roll behavior does not constitute an endorsement. In fact, their biggest controversy to date occurred in 2014 when Johnson admonished a Florida crowd for stage diving; some Joyce Manor fans did not take kindly to being asked to not wild the fuck out at a Joyce Manor show. Even if the album cover for Million Dollars To Kill Me features the band in an at least somewhat rock ‘n’ roll formation — all black background, bottle of champagne in hand — “It’s not sketchy, a bunch of scary-looking shoegaze guys,” guitarist Chase Knobbe notes.
It recalls a similar mindset behind the cover of Joyce Manor’s 2014 stand-out release Never Hungover Again, which featured Ebert in a friendly embrace with Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan. (As Johnson described it when I interviewed the band in 2014: “It looks like two people partying, but there’s nothing dangerous or sexy about it.”) Joyce Manor admit to serious Weezer idolatry and they’ve internalized one of Rivers Cuomo’s most powerful songwriting tools — when a “pencil-necked geek” is making heartbroken pop about girls and loneliness, they’re also grieving their metal-god dreams that never stood a chance.
In fact, while Million Dollars To Kill Me sounds like the name of a lost Motörhead album, it’s the result of Joyce Manor actually being too wimpy to stick to their dorkiest impulses. This has happened numerous times in the past. For a while, their fourth LP was going to called Dear Nora Jonestown Massacre (“I liked that one for two days”) but they settled on Cody. Other candidates included Born Again In The USA, Self Titled II, and one that completely replicates the essence of Joyce Manor by presenting like total SoCal pop-punk when it’s actually a Teenage Fanclub homage: Songs From Northern Torrance.
There’s a prevailing view in the Epitaph offices that Joyce Manor are an “every other record” kind of band. As label boss Brett Gurewitz puts it, the odd-numbered ones “hit reset” and end up becoming fan favorites. 2011’s game-changing Joyce Manor and the following year’s Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, respectively released on revered punk labels 6131 and Asian Man, were documents of the band’s formative stages, scrappy and very short singalongs that confounded pop-punk’s rules by ditching verse-chorus structure altogether. Buoyed by their signing to Epitaph and an unprecedented window of time where emo was taken seriously as a form of indie rock, Never Hungover Again announced Joyce Manor as the revival’s Most Likely To Succeed. Two years later, they worked with Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Guided By Voices) on Cody — a deeper, weirder followup that cemented their crossover status.
Joyce Manor themselves may not have felt they were heading in too slick, too alt of a direction, but others disagreed. An uncharacteristically vicious AllMusic review felt Cody “sounded like a cynical career move made by a band whose members are more concerned with getting their songs on a TV show” and they were by far the most obscure inclusion in Pitchfork’s 2016 “Year In Disappointments” for “sound[ing] like Everclear.” Joyce Manor took it as a compliment; they did the same when fans felt like the spitfire cadences of Never Hungover Again lead single “Catalina Fight Song” sounded like “Semi-Charmed Life.”
But the band sensed an opportunity to try something harder, something filthier, something that made a call to labelmate Kurt Ballou the most sensible move. Best known as the guitarist for post-hardcore godheads Converge and a producer whose work with Birds In Row, Torche, and countless other hardcore staples demands a quiet, awestruck reverence for anyone who cares about snare tones, Ballou jumped at the chance to work with a band that reminded him of an overlooked influence of his youth.
“I’m from Boston, so the legend of the Cars loomed large,” Ballou writes in an email. “Despite gravitating towards harsher types of music, my love of the structure and the hooks from bands like the Cars, as well as other classic power-pop stuff, kept me focused on the importance of making songs memorable. And that juxtaposition of aggression and melody is exactly what Joyce Manor is all about.”
To the band’s surprise, Ballou’s most notable contributions came on the least aggressive tracks, specifically the “Space Oddity”-esque crescendo on the shimmering “Gone Tomorrow.” The band describes him as a Steve Albini-style engineering savant, with a calming presence of Buddha or Rick Rubin. “He’s sitting in a really nice computer chair, glasses on, slippers,” according to Johnson. “He’d do post-rock guitar shit for texture and say, ‘What do you think of that?’ And we’d be like, ‘it’s sick.'”
Lest anyone expect Million Dollars To Kill Me to strictly crack skulls, it was mixed by the resplendently bearded recording guru Andrew Scheps. The press release sensibly mentions his credits with Weezer and AFI, but he also has Grammys for his work with Adele, Beyoncé, and Ziggy Marley.
“I would’ve never thought of those two people [Ballou and Scheps] working on one record before, but if it was to ever happen, Joyce Manor is the place,” Gurewitz says. “They’re the Beatlesque punk band that came out of the hardcore scene.” He also feels that Million Dollars To Kill Me is the first Joyce Manor album to drive that point home and thus, the best one they’ve ever made.
To be perfectly clear, all bands should hope that their label boss would go on the record saying that their upcoming release is the best one they’ve ever done. But I also wonder if his opinion of Million Dollars in the grand scheme of Epitaph Records is putting way too much pressure on an artist he describes as “wrapped in self-doubt.” “I’d put it up there with [Rancid’s] … And Out Come The Wolves,” Gurewitz asserts. “It’s basically perfect.”
It’s big talk for an album that dials back on the ambitions and eccentricities of Never Hungover Again and Cody. “I think I’m always trying to simplify and refine things,” Johnson notes, explaining the shift towards more traditional verse-chorus song structures and the most linear lyrics of his career. “I always wanted things to be shorter and more concise and just distill it. It’s like stand up, you can’t tell a long-ass joke.” Like the best Joyce Manor songs, “Friends We Met Online” is all punchline in the most literal way possible — direct, painfully hilarious or hilariously painful:
You and I were members of the same online community
I know it sounds kinda lame when I say it out loud
But it’s true we met there
It’s where we spent most of our time
Talking to friends, friends that we met online
An immediate reading of second single “Think I’m Still In Love With You” could see it as too simple. Yet, this is how Joyce Manor go sublime. It’s more a song about performative sadness rather than the actual thing, and the chorus boasts both rootsy harmonies and a lyrical knife twist that would make a Nashville pro awfully proud of themselves:
And all I ever wanted was
To say I think I’m still in love
And even though it isn’t true
I think I’m still in love with you
But while Million Dollars does largely readjust Joyce Manor’s coordinates from pop-punk to power-pop, it started out not as their usual odd-numbered reset, but almost as a nuclear option — Barry Johnson going solo. Much of the discourse surrounding Joyce Manor has pondered their ceiling for popularity: If this were the ’90s, would they be Jawbreaker, or would they be Green Day? A lot of the star quality is attributable to Johnson himself, with the makings of a reluctant Buzz Bin heartthrob. A labelmate once described him as having a “sleeve-tattoo Morrissey thing,” whereas an extra on a recent video shoot said he looks like “if Benedict Cumberbatch owned an artisanal straw store in Brooklyn.” Johnson himself could foresee Michael Phelps playing him in a movie — “He looks like a stronger, better version of me.“
As with the title of Million Dollars To Kill Me, the album’s initial creative stages owe themselves to Johnson pursuing his main hobby — deeply nerdy pop-punk superfandom. Last year, Johnson reached out to Rory Phillips, frontman for the late-90s ska revivalists the Impossibles. He was hoping to track down the only song ever produced by Phillips’ super obscure side project the20goto10 that he vaguely remembered appearing on a Fueled By Ramen compilation.
Phillips pointed out where it could be found on Spotify under a different band name, and mentioned how much he liked “Heart Tattoo,” the most Blink-ish of Joyce Manor songs. At that point, the two discussed the possibility of producing some work over email and Johnson sent over a few files, at once “calling his bluff” while also figuring that not much would come from it. That band name, the20goto10, is taken from BASIC coding terminology, a line creating an infinite loop and foreshadowing Phillips’ current day gig at Apple.
But the mutual interest was reciprocated and the duo continued to trade song ideas over email. With Johnson sketching out the framework and Phillips adding harmonies and middle 8s, there was enough material for a potential EP. The demo version of what eventually became Million Dollars highlight “Friends We Met Online” is described by both Johnson and Gurewitz as an “’80s, new wave kind of thing.” On Million Dollars, the poison-penned “I’m Not The One” is an acoustic comedown, but it was workshopped as a Joyce Manor-style rager. “Fighting Kangaroo” was in the vein of Hellogoodbye or “mid-00s indie,” before it emerged as the record’s Britpop-punk opening salvo.
From the sounds of things, the EP might have been the proper follow-up to Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, Johnson trying out his weirdest ideas and not being overly concerned with how it affected the reputation of his main band. True to form, he was particularly enamored with the idea of giving it a punny album title, Welp! — a take on Help! with his own face replacing all of the Fab Four’s on the album cover. While Gurewitz was supportive of the possibility, Johnson decided he didn’t like the idea of stepping outside of Joyce Manor. Once again, a different Blink-182 member’s darker moments served as spiritual guidance for Johnson.
“Once Matt Skiba started doing solo record and side projects … it’s like, what are you doing all this shit for?” Johnson jokes. “I just like keeping it singular.”
Consistency’s a matter of fact for Joyce Manor’s creative output, and an extension of their own operating process. Torrance is a place where it’s easy to be consistent. Though more working class than most larger SoCal cities, its landscape is dominated by the Del Amo Fashion Center. During a particularly glorious run in the late 20th century, it was the largest mall in America and played such an important role in Jackie Brown that it could’ve been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Nearly 20 years later, VICE called it “America in mall form,” proof that even a shopping center with three Macy’s could be gentrified. Already structurally stratified in a way that literally stuffed its lower-rent attractions in a basement below another basement, Del Amo underwent a nine-figure reconstruction that buried any memory of Burlington Coat Factory, Montgomery Ward, and the Armed Services recruiting station.
That article was written in 2014, when you could be a little more snarky and glib about impending American decline. Four years later, it’s nothing if not an upscale community within a fairly comfortable city, repressed classiness and tacky wealth operating aside each other. A simple salad at the International Food Court costs nine dollars, but comes with a piece of focaccia bread large enough to steer a canoe. This is why “mall-punk” is a thing — the imposing conformity and material comfort of suburbia makes it all that much easier for bored teens to safely work out a rebellious streak with minimal repercussions.
It’s a good place to get my bearings before the band has me meet them at their Torrance practice space, the same one they’ve occupied since Johnson and Ebert decided to parlay their friendship from a local bowling league into an acoustic punk duo. “I decided to join a bowling league my freshman year of high school because I was very into ska,” Johnson says.
Standing inside this converted garage, it’s hard to believe that Joyce Manor were ever able to get a drummer involved, let alone a second guitarist, without seriously injuring or hating each other. It’s impossible to fit anything else in there besides themselves and their gear; even an additional guitar pedal would probably require a group vote. No interior decoration has been done in a decade — the walls are still splashed with autographed headshots of Hustler Honeys, all of which are addressed to the homeowner’s son, Jameson. Johnson says the Hustler Honeys were a fixture at Hewlett-Packard trade shows, and last he heard, Jameson moved to Arkansas and also works for Hewlett-Packard.
No one in Joyce Manor had any designs of following in Jameson’s footsteps, but they also didn’t really have any designs of being Joyce Manor when Johnson agreed, somewhat begrudgingly, to make a go of this band. “We all knew we wanted to do this band seriously,” Ebert says before Johnson clarifies, “You did.”
“I had no ambitions to make money or do it career-wise,” Ebert continues, figuring that he could hold down a bartending job and maybe keep up his itinerary of playing a few shows a month in Los Angeles.
“We weren’t one of those bands that thought, ‘We’re just gonna tour until we get popular,'” Johnson scoffs. “That was a stupid fucking idea as far as I was concerned. I’ve got rent and shit. We’re not gonna go on some Tom Sawyer adventure with my life, I’m 24.”
Johnson was uninterested in the logistics of band-dom, even the vital basics of inviting friends to shows or asking to be included on local bills. It was Ebert who booked shows and studio time and made merch for the band. He’s the least talkative of the four, but has somehow found himself as Joyce Manor’s unwitting mascot. Besides being the focal point of the Never Hungover Again cover, he’s the star of the video for Million Dollars To Kill Me’s title track, even if it’s just decade-old footage of him prank-calling the family dentist on a flip phone while wearing a T-shirt of folk-punk wiseacres Andrew Jackson Jihad. Still, Johnson believes Joyce Manor owes its very existence to Ebert’s contagious work ethic: “Matt having confidence gave me confidence to be, ‘OK, let’s try this.'”
Knobbe joined the band in 2009 and within a year, they created a demo that got the attention of 6131 Records, the label that would go on to launch the careers of Touché Amoré and Julien Baker. This was “the tail end of the MySpace days and tastemaker music blogs,” such as Toxicbreed’s Funhouse, that were responsible for spreading a leak of Joyce Manor months before its release date. “The Mediafire link was flying all over,” and their first “We made it” moment came while playing a sold-out show with emo revival lodestar Algernon Cadwallader at 924 Gilman Street, the legendary Berkeley club that fostered the careers of Green Day, Operation Ivy, and Rancid. “We’re in San Francisco — this is a thing,” Johnson remembers thinking as the crowd sang back every word to “Beach Community,” even though the record had yet to drop.
Despite, or most likely because of their immediate success, Johnson was convinced Joyce Manor was his 15 minutes of fame. (Or, more accurately, 18:48 of fame.) “And then that’s why I made the second record so weird, so I could own it. I’m the reason no one likes it,” he says of the mindset behind Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. “Instead of me trying my best and people saying ‘This sucks’… I couldn’t handle that rejection, so I made some weird shit.”
It is a weird outlier in Joyce Manor’s discography, an idea dump that spans from no-fi folk-punk, Microphones-style meditation and a Smiths homage, to a cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star” in about 13 minutes. Seven of its nine songs are less than 100 seconds. Of All Things did not destroy Joyce Manor’s career. Though it’s easily their weakest album and one that Johnson has rued in nearly every single interview, it boasts one of the highest Metacritic scores of all time (largely a result of the very few and very enthusiastic sites that review records like this one). Nor did the kids find it too prickly to handle — Joyce Manor continued to get bumped up to headliner on gigs where they were booked as an opener and their eternal ode to post-coital self-loathing “Constant Headache” was covered live by Conor Oberst’s Desaparecidos, eventually with Joyce Manor joining them onstage.
“I honestly thought of them as the great hope for punk rock,” Gurewitz says. “They were dear to my heart because they seemed to be thoroughly modern in terms of their songs and lyrics, but sympathetic to the values of the punk scene that I came from.” But he was most impressed by their willingness to make an album as wonky and risky as Of All Things even though they knew hardcore kids could turn on a hardcore band in less time than it takes to play a hardcore song. “There was a lot of careerism in punk rock when I discovered Joyce Manor and I didn’t see that in them.”
There’s a nonchalance to Johnson’s view of Joyce Manor that bandmates, tourmates and Gurewitz know can be taken as disinterest. Yet, Gurewitz sees this as one of his greatest assets. “If your art becomes your job, then it can’t be transcendent,” he explains. “You become a slave to your art because you have to pay your bills. If you have a loose attachment to your art, it has to be more than a job.”
Nonetheless, Joyce Manor’s first album with Epitaph was careerist in all the right ways — the production was bigger and cleaner, the songs were slower and the hooks were even more meme-worthy. Though Never Hungover Again didn’t achieve the commercial success of the Bad Religion, Offspring, and Rancid albums that line the office halls, it seemed like a matter of time before they could get there. Fellow artists ranging from Modern Baseball to Mitski to the 1975’s Matt Healy to Shamir to Mark Hoppus himself joined Joyce Manor’s already vocal and thriving fanbase. In a Spin profile from 2016, the band’s most in-depth to date, Joyce Manor was on the verge of a breakthrough with Cody — though a breakthrough to where, it was difficult to say.
And none of it convinced Johnson that he was any more secure than he was in 2010. “It sounds like a rock record with Big Star riffs, kids are gonna be like, ‘Fuck this,'” he protested to Gurewitz, and despite the constant reassurance of a 56-year-old punk-rock multimillionaire, Johnson’s response was, “I love you so much, Brett, but you don’t know anything.”
Cody peaked at #75 on the Billboard 200, an improvement over Never Hungover Again’s #106 showing, but not a massive hit. The critical reception was warm, but slightly less enthusiastic than last time around. If you went to any Joyce Manor shows at the time, there was a significant dip in energy whenever a Cody song came up. But in a way, both Johnson and Gurewitz were proven correct. Cody didn’t elevate Joyce Manor into a new commercial or critical stratosphere, at least not initially. But two years later, “We’ll play something from the first record and it kinda kills the mood, but then we’ll play something like ‘Fake ID’ and ‘Eighteen’ and it’ll go off.”
The slow and steady embrace of Cody makes sense for Gurewitz, who calls the band “deceptively popular.” In January, they played two daytime shows at Union Station, LA’s main railway terminal, and sold 3,000 tickets. The mustard-yellow T-shirts sold for that gig are pretty much a guaranteed sighting at any punk and emo show in Southern California. This January, they’re co-headlining the 3,700-cap Hollywood Palladium with Jeff Rosenstock, who they consider a fellow “last man standing” in their scene and the man responsible for Joyce Manor’s first paid gig in 2010. “As we were leaving, he asked ‘You guys get paid?'” Johnson recalls. “We’re like, it’s cool, we’re from around here, it’s fine. And he’s like no, no, no,” handing the band $100 out of his pocket.
I’ve seen Joyce Manor three times in the past two years — once in a dangerously sweltering Louisville rock club in the summer of 2016, the Union Station gig, and an unusually drunk and joyful sold-out show at the Observatory in Orange County with their 2018 musical crush awakebutstillinbed. (Johnson announced, “They’re a once-every-10-years band” from the stage.) And one of the things that stood out with each crowd is that while Joyce Manor always drew a young audience, they’ve somehow gotten even younger.
Gurewitz has been around long enough to know the trajectory — the original fans get married, get jobs, and stop going out as much. How they’ve gotten replaced is a mystery to everyone involved, especially as Joyce Manor’s music seems even further against the zeitgeist than when they started. “Where we’re going right now is that the youngest kids — they’re into soft music,” Gurewitz claims. “The softer the better.”
During the Cody album cycle, the band frequently name-dropped revived DIY cult favorites Dear Nora and Sun Kil Moon as pervasive influences. As we pile into Knobbe’s station wagon on the way to lunch, a Dear Nora rarities compilation is on the stereo, while a CD copy of Red House Painters’ Old Ramon sits in the back pocket of the driver’s seat. As much as Joyce Manor admire these artists who’ve stayed true to whatever confounding whim suits them, the conversation after turns to where they stand in 2018 and what might’ve happened if they didn’t lack that careerist gene.
The Warped Tour had made its final Vans-soled run through town and that was the way bands like Joyce Manor could reach a mass audience without the help of radio, MTV, or mainstream press. “The kids can’t get enough of that stuff!” Johnson huffs in exasperation, wondering if Joyce Manor could’ve parlayed the same songs and same albums into something bigger, even if the band never seriously considered pursuing the Warped Tour, offering dismissals like “We always thought it was wack” or “It would’ve destroyed us.” Still, Johnson remembers the time he was working at a record store where British skeeve-punkers Neck Deep did an acoustic performance — “Nobody was there, and then they did Warped Tour and now they’re as big as Joyce Manor?” Johnson asks. The band replies in unison: “Bigger.”
They also think back to their tour 2016 run supporting Modern Baseball. “Brendan [Lukens] was like a YouTube celebrity,” in Johnson’s view, not meant as a derogatory comment, but rather an explanation of how MoBo “exploded harder than anything else in the scene.” Through their Twitter, IRL fan outreach, and label-funded documentaries, the message was: “You can get to know us.” But that lack of boundaries is ultimately what destroyed Modern Baseball. Joyce Manor, by contrast, “don’t hang out much,” are cryptic in their lyrical approach, less forthcoming on social media.
That’s probably for the best. “I would’ve been horrible,” Johnson says about his teenage self, if he had access to Twitter. “I had a low self-opinion and a desire to be center of attention, which is a cocktail for being the most annoying guy in the world.”
Knobbe concurs: “If I had the power to let everyone know how I was feeling at all times like teenagers now, I’d be so annoying.”
Even now, our discussion about the things that have made indie rock discourse so exhausting in 2018 remind me of the conversations I have with fellow 30-somethings in group DMs rather than out in the open. We grouse about the conflation of music and morals, the shift toward quieter solo projects that don’t translate live, or just the fact that a line on Million Dollars’ “Big Lie” will almost certainly be used against them even if it’s meant sarcastically. “Girls can kinda be controlling,” Johnson sings before delivering a typically self-deprecating punctuation: “I wanna be controlled, I think it’d be all right.”
Even before I met with Joyce Manor, the lyrics of Million Dollars To Kill Me hinted at a kind of exhaustion, or even finality. It’s hard not to read into the final two songs being “Gone Tomorrow” — a drowsy ballad with Oasis-inspired nonsense rhymes about the desperation to combat ephemeral, internet-based living — and “Wildflowers,” a spare, sunlit, and serene acoustic ditty that’s exactly what most would expect of an eventual Barry Johnson solo project. Besides the passage of time, Johnson notes: “I didn’t notice it when I was writing, but looking back, I thought, ‘I’m writing about money a lot.'”
“I’m Not the One” was prompted by Johnson’s musings over “Rich people wanting to be good people” — Elon Musk, the USC Jimmy Iovine, and Andre Young Academy, etc. — but it puts his own peers on trial:
Dog at the door who’s the king of hardcore
Because he’s always been
Booking the shows where they sell the most clothes
Cause they’re so limited
Trying to decide who’s good
And who’s just poor
Baby when we die we’re all gonna want some more
And there’s the title track that appears to consolidate all of the undercurrents of artistic doubt, cultural burnout, and financial stress into a firehose stream of self-pity:
She don’t wanna write a song
She knows exactly where and when it all went wrong
Besides it’s been too long
And she don’t wanna be a drag
She’s just indifferent to the old blue fact
That you can’t go back
It’s a somewhat misleading song. Despite its relatively straightforward and sturdy verse-chorus presentation, all signifying craft and maturity, “Million Dollars To Kill Me” found Johnson at his most blindly juvenile: “It’s just about relationships and how some shitty guy can mean a lot to somebody.” A close friend of Johnson’s, who used to be in Joyce Manor for a while, invited him to his wedding in Wisconsin. But the aforementioned shitty guy (“Someone I’ve got beef with … nobody in the world likes this guy except one girl who works at Whole Foods”) was also in the wedding, and so Johnson had to decline. The two got into a screaming match. “Voices trembling, yelling … I haven’t yelled at someone since I was a kid,” Johnson says. He claims he wrote the song in about as long as it takes to play it.
It’s quintessential Joyce Manor, a two-minute timeout to reacquaint with that intoxicating, irrational teenage mindframe and process it out of harm’s way. The chorus sticks in your head with the immediacy and longevity of a real delicious resentment, not out of nostalgia, but with an acceptance, recognizing that you can only do so much to gentrify around the spiritual and emotional poverty of one’s inner suburban mall-punk.
“As you get older, you don’t find yourself getting carried away with your emotions, it’s nice to not be in your early 20s and hormonal and shit,” Johnson says. But does that make him like the subject of “Million Dollars To Kill Me,” the one who feels like they’ve lost something vital the further they get from being ruled by their hormones? “I guess I miss it for writing songs,” Johnson admits, but he doesn’t sound too worried. “And it’ll come back. There will be more misery.”