Named after a cocktail bar in their hometown of Los Angeles, Little Joy craft the kind of sunshine pop that’s as intoxicating as the sweetest moonshine, without the dull thud between the eyes the next morning.
The trio – Rodrigo Amarante, Fabrizio Moretti and Binki Shapiro – released their self-titled debut last November, via Rough Trade, and recently wrapped up a spate of UK touring – it was after their London date that Clash caught up with them at their hotel.
If any of the names above seem familiar, there’s a reason: Amarante is a member of the currently on hiatus Brazilian group Los Hermanos, and Moretti has made his name as drummer in The Strokes. Together they pen warm paeans to better, simpler times – songs of love and life, with universal resonance. Woozy, romantic, they’re full-sounding without being loud of volume, produced with great care for retaining of pop sensibilities while letting creativity flow.
And they’re also really nice people. It’s not everyday that a journalist gets a hug from a Stroke before leaving for home. Mmm, warm.
So the album came out in November – how have things progressed since then?
FM: It depends on what we’re talking about in terms of progression. If we’re talking about the album as its own thing, I’m not totally sure how it’s going. Hopefully this bit of touring… I must preface this by saying I’m not talking about success or record sales, I’m talking about people listening to it and enjoying it. Hopefully more people will listen to it, as hopefully this little stint here has opened up a door. I know the British audience – as loyal as they are and as interested as they are in finding new music – are pretty proud: if you don’t come and support your record… But in terms of the live show, the other aspect I guess, it’s been progressing at an exponential rate.
RA: We really only became a band after we released the album.
FM: Through playing and practising, and doing so more often. The life of the album is a bit longer now that people know the album – they recognise the songs and identify with them that little bit better, so they can appreciate the live version a little bit more.
I hear your shows here have been good. How was London? It can be quite cold for some bands…
RA: It was a really mixed crowd, with all different kinds of people – Strokes fans, Los Hermanos fans, and Little Joy fans. They don’t really have a face yet. It was really joyous, and a lot of fun.
FM: If you can connect with a handful of people, and they’re raucous enough, then you’ve got the whole crowd in the palm of your hand. It’s like a riot, you know? A little spark can start everything. The crowd was very fun, and they sang along. I find the best shows are the ones when the crowd is livelier than the band, or at least as lively.
I don’t hear the album and immediately think: raucous.
BS: I think we speed things up and play louder. We make it that bit more ‘danceable’.
RA: But the actual joy of playing the songs makes it a little bit more… ‘live’ is the word, but it’s warmer than the album. I guess all of the songs sound different live. You would have to come see us.
So what happens if the crowd’s quiet?
RA: We played a show in… Where was it? Brussels?
RA: No, Cologne. The crowd there was really quiet – people were really listening. It was very different to the London show, for example, but still felt like a warm response to me. That silence was somehow like attention.
FM: The good thing about this band is that the songs… If people are still and quiet when we play these songs live, we don’t take it insultingly. It’s not like playing with The Strokes – if we were playing to a still audience that only clapped at the end, we’d be wondering: “What did we do?” But when they do get raucous, it’s just as fun.
Is it fair to say the friendships in the group began before you became a band? Is this, in your experience, your preferred way to start a band?
RA: I think that friendship… It’s really hard to say, because I might think right now that this is the best way to do it, or the right way, but truthfully it’s different depending on the people. Some bands might work better in a different way. I do tend to think that celebrating friendship and happiness is a pretty good way, and writing music with these guys was very different to how I’d done it before. It was very open, and we were basically getting to know each other as we were writing these songs. I remember thinking that if you’re willing to put something on the table you’ve got to be ready to be criticised, but to criticise a friend takes something else. Ultimately these songs are the work of all of us.
And Binki, the story goes that you encouraged Fab and Rodrigo to turn their songwriting sessions into something more fully formed…
BS: I don’t know if I’d go that far. Fab has said that, but I don’t know if it’s true. I think that it was something that everyone wanted to do, and maybe because I had never done it before I was the one pulling a little bit. But I don’t think it was me at all. They had discussed it before, and we all sort of dabbled with each other… I can’t even remember the specifics of how the band came about. Fab, why have you said that?
BS: That I was the one that buckled it down.
FM: Because it’s a better story that way. And it’s true. She did. In a lot of ways, she… Well, I mean, we started a relationship that didn’t have anything to do with music or friendship, it had to do with sex…
BS: (Laughs) How about love?
FM: Love too! But she was there privately with me, and I’m pretty obsessive, so I would write songs while we made love.
RA: On the accordion.
FM: No, I’d just sing it. (He duly sings) I think the Little Joy record is… This is something my brother said to me once, and this isn’t good or bad but it is interesting. Our record came out on November 4 in the States, so the election was that day. My brother said to me: “At least you’ve made a record that can go both ways. If people are happy they can listen to it as a happy record, and if they’re sad they can listen to it as a sad record.” And I thought that was cool.
The record feels very out of step with what’s considered cool today, which in a sense makes it very cool. It’s retro in the best possible way, drawing on classic pop sensibilities without coming across as copyist.
FM: Jonathan Richman did it best. He was in The Modern Lovers, and then when he went solo he was like: “I want to change the picture completely.” I’m not sure we’ve done that, necessarily, or at least not as well as he did. But it’s the same spirit. Why… why… Why have sex with the same person? No, no, I’m kidding.
RA: It was very natural, I think. We just tried to answer what the songs were asking. The first songs that we worked on, and most of them were Fab’s songs that he’d been working on for a while, they had a feel… As we were trying to arrange them, we watched them growing towards this sort of ‘60s pop style sound. But we never had that goal.
I love how they’re full sounding, without achieving that through volume, you know?
FM: Oh, I like that description. I see why you’re an editor now.
And do you hope to come back here and tour again soon?
BS: Not right now, I don’t think, but I hope we come back soon. This has been so much fun, and so beyond what I could have hoped for.
FM: When we first sent the record to Rough Trade, we were so deeply into it and had done it in such a time crunch seeing the ominous return of The Strokes – not clearly, but it was always there – that we didn’t know what anybody would think. We hoped that people would like it, but we didn’t know whether we would tour it.
The touring helps distance Little Joy from side-project status, I think, which is how it could otherwise be seen.
RA: Yeah, you’re right. We’ve got to assume the people who like The Strokes, they like music. They might not just be into stuff like The Strokes. They’ve got broad tastes.
FM: I think it’s going to be – and only the future will tell – but I don’t think we’re going to be so full-fledged with The Strokes when they return that there won’t be room for Little Joy, that there won’t be time off for the band. I remember being in the van with Julian one time, and this is… nah, forget it, the point’s moved on.
So you’ll maybe be back for the festivals?
RA: Oh yeah, we would love that.
FM: Mud central. I’ve never been to Glastonbury, and I’d really love to. It’d be an honour to play there.
BS: We’ve all been talking about it, a lot lately. None of us has ever been, and we’d all love to go – everyone I know who’s been has incredible memories of it.
Check up on Little Joy’s movements on their MySpace page. The album ‘Little Joy’ is out now on Rough Trade, and the single ‘No One’s Better Sake’ was released on Monday, January 26. It’s featured as a Track of the Day HERE.