For Canadian Band No Joy, Motherhood Is Nu-Metal

Illustration for article titled For Canadian Band No Joy, iMotherhood/i Is Nu-Metal
Image: Mathieu Fortin

A decade ago, Montreal band No Joy was embraced by the most exclusive indie-rock circles for their impressively heavy guitars—a staggering ability to make squalling riffs and feedback sound melodious, textured, and complicated. Because of that fact, they were forever branded “shoegaze,” Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino labeled them “the best band ever,” they signed to tastemaker record label Mexican Summer and released three critically acclaimed records in five years. And then it stopped. The music industry shifted, blogs were gone, and the band felt they had accomplished all that they could do together. They broke up.

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Founding member Jasamine White-Gluz, however, has taken the opportunity to experiment under the No Joy name as a soloist over the past five years, releasing ambitious EPs where she dropped the group’s flagship guitar playing and experimented with electronics. Now, five years after the band’s dissolution and No Joy’s last full-length, White-Gluz has released Motherhood, the first and only No Joy album as a soloist. It’s an oft-confounding, genre-spanning, late-’90s worshipping, death metal dream-pop opus, and one that explores familial themes. Jezebel spoke to White-Gluz over the phone from her home in Montreal about the project’s evolution and just what it takes to commit the experience of aging as a woman to record. This interview has been edited and condescended for clarity.


JEZEBEL: You’ve said this album was inspired by the music you loved while in high school, 1997 to 1999. What music is that?

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JASAMINE WHITE-GLUZ: I was really dating myself there. A lot of stuff like Massive Attack and Sneaker Pimps and Tricky that when I heard it, I wasn’t sure what kind of music it was. Because it wasn’t rock, but it wasn’t totally electronic. It was this time where artists were able to be really experimental and put out these records on major labels and get mainstream press. And honestly, [there’s] a lot of nu-metal that I loved growing up that wasn’t ironic. I loved Korn a lot and Deftones. All that stuff I loved that maybe I didn’t admit to it because it wasn’t cool. Now I don’t mind mentioning it.

I also love nu-metal, and it’s been fun to see a lot of non-men embrace that music recently, or at least do so publicly. When nu-metal was at its height of popularity, it was such a rejection of teen pop and presented as this weird, [Limp Bizkit’s] Fred Durst-branded machismo thing.

“Nookie!” Oh god. I think I dropped off nu-metal when it got post-Linkin Park. There were a lot of bands, like, Deftones, that were really making some ambitious choices that got lumped into—exactly what you said—this music that was bro-y? And the music wasn’t necessarily bro-y. Even Korn, to an extent, the early records, the subject matter is really dark and wasn’t necessarily super masculine the same way it turned into... this whole world of “rap-rock.”

It’s interesting that those were your musical touchstones, sounds of your adolescence, and yet, this album is called Motherhood. How does Motherhood appear on this record?

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I’m talking about motherhood from so many different angles—from my own mother in relation to mothers, the role of mothers, who can be a mother, what qualifies someone to be a mother... but also family and aging and aging as a woman playing music. There’s always such an interest with youth in music, and I was finding it hard to find peers or role models who were my age but still making music. I was exploring all of those things and it wasn’t totally conscious. By the end of it, I realized that these songs kind of had to do with the same thing—whether it was fertility or family or death or birth—they all meddled together into Motherhood.

Aging, for women, is written about as if it’s a loss of something. Motherhood feels like a much more nuanced, ambitious challenge of that idea. I mean, the record has a ton of heavy moments, and the idea of being a mother is often viewed as being traditionally delicate.

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When you’re a woman in your 30s, like myself, the question always comes up: “So are you going to have kids?” And it’s like, “Why is that the question? Why don’t you ask me what I’m going to have for dinner? I don’t know.” It came to [me] accepting that—to stop second-guessing myself in my decisions to not have children or to pursue a certain kind of lifestyle, but also to empathize with friends and family who do want to do that and weren’t able to or were going through tough relationships with their own mothers. It is a nuanced thing. Often, we don’t think of moms as multi-faceted. One thing I was exploring on the record was just what my mom was doing at my age and how, when you come to that realization that your parents are just people, they’re just adults like you, you’re just like, “Woah, you did so much cool stuff. Woah, you saw George Harrison for five dollars when you were 16? Holy shit!” And just learning about your parents when you can view them as not your parents but another adult with you. It was that and exploring how I viewed myself potentially as a mother, to my relationship with my mother and my family.

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Your record came out around the same as the new Bully record, which also questions a woman’s relationship with aging and pressures towards starting a family and having kids. That’s another heavy album challenging those dangerous notions. Something’s in the water.

I love Bully. And that was something I was noticing while I was writing. A lot of people I was friends with were going through this thing nobody was talking about, where they felt hijacked by hormones. They felt they needed to get married and have a family and hurry, hurry, hurry, or they were feeling like they didn’t want it at all, and they were making a hard stance of “no.” There definitely could be something in the water, but hopefully, it’s just something we’re beginning to talk about more openly, so people can feel more comfortable in whatever decision they make because it is a personal decision. And it’s a complicated one.

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Your voice is recorded higher in the mix on this album than any previous No Joy release—it feels like hearing more of your voice, louder and bright than before. Is a stylistic pivot, or a metaphorical one?

I’ve always been shy [about] playing shows. I hide behind my hair. I don’t like the idea of a front person, because I’ve never had the confidence of, like, Gwen Stefani. I took my time with the record and I wanted to be a better singer, so I recorded all the vocals at home so I had a lot of time to practice and figure out what I wanted to do. So I was just like, okay, vocals are going to be up on this one. It wasn’t easy, because it’s uncomfortable to listen to your own voice while you’re editing. Lyrically, it was something I wanted to share as well. That was on purpose, to put it more to the front.

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That feels pointed because this is your fourth record under the No Joy umbrella, but your first album as a solo act.

The last record in 2015, it felt like we had just reached as much as we could do together as a full rock band. I wanted to take time off. It seems ironic now—I didn’t really understand the music industry and obviously, five years later, it’s even more complicated. I don’t understand anything anymore. I also wanted to explore creatively. For some reason, there’s less pressure when you do EPs, so I put out three EPs that helped me figure out the sonic direction for this record.

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With your last EP, the one with Spacemen 3’s Pete Kember, listeners were curious about why you chose to ditch the guitar in favor of electronics. On this album, they’re back, but you’re also all over the place musically—it feels like an accidental rejection of that criticism; like you’re declaring, “the only limitations I have are my own.” Is deviation at the heart of everything you do as No Joy?

I get bored pretty easily. I would never want to write the same thing twice. I like to challenge myself, and I like to collaborate. I like mixing two things that shouldn’t go together and finding a way to make them work and having contrast, juxtaposing sounds. Live, I’m never going to get rid of the guitar. But sonically, I was just more interested in seeing what else you can create and how you can create something that sounds like a guitar. Some people might think there’s a lot of guitar on this [album] and there is, but some of those things are not guitars and you might be confused. We had a banjo that was sounding pretty much like a guitar.

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Oh no.

[Laughs] No! There’s definitely guitars, there’s just a lot of other stuff, too. I wasn’t writing songs that were necessarily designed for a “rock band,” it was more like, layering sounds. Like layering a cake—you keep adding layers until there’s one delicious cake. That’s not a good analogy. I wasn’t writing something for four people to play in a room, let’s say.

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It does seem like there’s this unspoken acceptance that records that could be filed under a “rock” umbrella should be written to exist live.

The irony now is that we can’t tour anymore anyway.

So get as weird as you want! 

Yeah! In the last few years, I’ve been incorporating more things on stage—a vocal-triggering samples, just some more variety. For me, I just get bored playing the same thing. I like there to be a challenge, and I like there to be a moment of, “Oh shit, everything’s going to break, what do I do?” I guess I keep trying to sabotage myself.

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Or challenge the listener. I wouldn’t know how to categorize this album, so it’s funny to see No Joy still written about and/or introduced as a “shoegaze” band because you’re clearly traversing new genres on Motherhood. Do you feel limited by those genre designations? Or better yet, the perception of No Joy as a prototypical “2010s indie rock band”?

There’s such a playbook to shoegaze sometimes. “You gotta look this way, and you gotta have this, you gotta be this kind of band.” For me, I always felt that if I was writing something that sounded—and obviously it’s subjective—but if it sounded like Lush, then I’d rather listen to Lush. So I always wanted to do something that sounded really different. I kind of stay away from paying homage to bands and I think my musical inspirations are not just shoegaze. Primal Scream is an example of a band that is an influence. Screamadelica is a crazy dance record, but they could fall into “shoegaze,” and that record is not shoegaze at all. It’s like, dub-rock. It’s those moments where I get excited about music. They’re challenging the box that they were placed in.

And then you have a song like “Four,” this crazy, psychedelic, trip-hop thing happening, complete with baby coos as you repeat, “Just keep calling me baby,” and then this wall of sound—these explosive guitars.

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That song started out on guitar. I found some funky tuning and then I transposed it onto piano. The piano is still on that track. Jorge Elbrecht [Ariel Pink, Sky Ferreira, Japanese Breakfast], my producer, he’s been writing with me for almost 10 years now. We were in L.A. in 2018 and we wrote the beginning part—the psychedelic rock beginning—and I don’t know what happened, but we left for the day, came back, and then it was like mayhem. It was like, “DJ Scratch? Yeah, let’s do it.” That song really captures all of the influences I had for the record because I was listening to, like, Nine Inch Nails, but I was also listening to Fat Boy Slim. There were a lot of moments writing together where Jorge and I would be like, “Is this stupid? Or is it good? The lines are blurred right now. I can’t tell.” And in those moments we would be like, “Let’s push it even more, who cares, there’s no bad ideas.” We tried everything, and everything made it in there. To the point where, for no reason, we even recorded skits, like plays, that were directed.

The video spotlights indigenous makeup artist Ashley Diablo. As a Canadian, what is your relationship with your countries’ indigenous population?

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Canada, a lot of the time, we like to look at ourselves and kind of scoff at the [United] States and say, “Oh, that doesn’t happen here! It’s a very peaceful place.” But it most certainly is not, and it has a really terrible history of treating the indigenous people like a second class. We actually filmed that video on the anniversary of the Oka Crisis. Oka is a separate area right outside Montreal. [Someone] was building a golf course onto indigenous lands and it led to a standoff between the police—and they brought in the military—and the indigenous leaders. It’s quite a mark on our history, and it’s shameful. I just felt like, you know, Ashley recommended four indigenous organizations that she works with that we decided to donate all the funds that we would’ve put towards videos to them. I also just feel like she’s one of those superstars where I just can’t stop talking about her and looking at her. She’s just so cool. And an incredible artist... When she does her makeup, the mirror she uses to put on her own makeup is the back of a 160G iPod because she says that gives you the best filter. Like, that’s how her brain works.

Are there political ambitions or messages on this record? I know the “Nothing Will Hurt” video, too, draws attention to an organization that rehabilitates farm animals.

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My mom became a vegetarian when she was 12. She’s having her 50th anniversary. We’re all vegan now. She raised all the kids vegetarian. Piquette, the goat that’s on the album cover, was rescued on the farm that we filmed the video where they rescue animals from slaughterhouses or from auction. Piquette’s mom was rescued, but Piquette was born on the farm. As much as I can, I try to volunteer with organizations. I never really thought of it as activism. Even the rollout for this album during a pandemic—the cultural climate was one where I didn’t feel totally comfortable just doing self-promotion all the time.

Shamir pointed out that the goat could be an extension of the motherhood metaphor—because baby goats are called kids. 

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I know! Goats are a lot of the time used in metal imagery. They’re seen as Satanic. But they’re always used for yoga and lawn mowing—all these meditative, peaceful actions. That juxtaposition really embodies the album.

I read that you squished “bananas into very expensive microphones” to get a certain “textured percussion noise” and shoved “kitchen knives into guitar necks to create the perfect slide guide sound” on “Nothing Will Hurt.” What other experiments did you take into the studio?

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Tons. We were recording in a studio that was attached to an artist gallery and there was a bunch of garbage outside and I saw Jorge walking in with a huge, long piece of metal. He just starts banging on the metal and we ended up using that, cutting it up and creating drum samples. I have a janitor carabiner for some reason. I have everybody’s keys on me at all times, so we threw that in a bowl and threw that around. We whipped mic cables against the wall. The irony is that the studio was gorgeous and had amazing stuff, and we were using $20,000 microphones to record cables getting slapped against the wall, construction sounds recorded outside in Montreal. We had the worst guitar pedal; it was set to Alien Ant Farm’s [cover of Michael Jackson’s] “Smooth Criminal,” but like… That’s on the record. There were so many ideas where we were like “LOL” and then we actually used them. It was fun.

Senior Writer, Jezebel. My debut book, LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands, is out now.

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DISCUSSION

nightvalekinja
NightvaleDreamer

I'd never heard of No Joy before, so went to check her out on YouTube. Love, love, love. Thanks for making my day a bit better!