A quick Google search for ‘Pure Joy band’ throws up a neat discovery, that of a Seattle-based 80s group who took their name from a song by The Teardrop Explodes and drew inspiration from English neo-psychedelic rock. This seems to create somewhat of a paradox with the local band of the same name I’m about to talk to. Lying just across the water from Julian Cope’s home town is our very own PURE JOY, a trio borrowing influence from the psych-Americana of Smith Westerns and The War On Drugs.
Having recently muscled their way into the public eye with their fizzingly fresh debut single Katie’s Gone Home in February, Pure Joy’s own brand of dreamy, lazy guitars-and-synths pop has been causing quite a stir. The track is a five-minute rollercoaster that flits between lucid, head-spinning swirls and acoustic minimalism before crashing head first back into a giant pool of washed-out psychedelia. So, yeh, it’s no wonder that they’ve already started raising eyebrows.
In search of the group we traipse through the streets of Birkenhead North, passing crumbling brickwork of an industry crippled by Thatcherite apathy and harsh grey storage units standing like gravestones to the buildings that once were. Nestled cosily between a Hell’s Angels’ HQ and the local red-light district, lies the unlikely home of Wallasey’s finest export. Finding ourselves down a side street that seems to be dead, save for a nicotine haze which floats like mist from a pub back door, this is where we first encounter Pure Joy. “We like it round here. It’s nice being the only rockers in town, ha!” grins guitarist Pete Flynn as he ushers us through the door of their tucked-away studio and into their spectacular ‘Fresh Goods’ abode. There aren’t a huge number of bands that have risen from this neck of the woods, perhaps understandably; you have to look back to The Boo Radleys, and thence Half Man Half Biscuit, to find any artists of note to have sprung from Wirral’s eastern edge. Pure Joy are going to change that.
As we enter the studio, bass player, keyboardist and producer Matt Freeman apologises for the clutter, but such a statement is unnecessary. Like a shrine to music and creativity, the room exudes an energy confirming its place as the fourth member of the band. To peer inside proves to be an insight into the band’s mindscape, manifesto and musical influence. Memories of Oasis’ infamous Knebworth gig adorn the wall in the shape of a giant banner placing Liam Gallagher in his rightful place as a primal deity. Alongside the Mancunian Messiah are pictures of Dylan, family photos and even a signed picture of, err, Cliff Richard… “It was lying outside a house with a sign saying ‘free to a good home’ and we just had to have it!” recalls Flynn.
“We all grew up on a healthy diet of Oasis and hating Blur,” says lead singer and guitarist Lee Pennington. “We’d love to be as big as them to be honest.” “Yeh, then we wouldn’t have to go to work,” quips guitarist Flynn. A childhood spent seeing Britpop dominate the UK and taking control of TV, newspapers and fields across the country has clearly massively influenced the band. Such influence can be seen in track The Sex Beatles, which acts as something of an ode to the indie powerhouse. “Sex Beatles was the name the NME gave Oasis as they were like a fusion of The Beatles and The Sex Pistols,” Pennington explains. In the track the band reminisce on the glory days of chart-topping rock ‘n’ roll and the communal feel that it brought about. This is perhaps most apparent in the line “Lost in a nostalgic haze”, where Pennington’s childlike whine seems to almost mimic the warm fuzziness of home video footage of the time: an easier time, a more simple time. “Our songs are meant to be stadium rock tracks but with a twist, something that just puts them a little more out there.”
However, the influence doesn’t stop abruptly there. More than the excess, bravado and attitude of the brothers Gallagher, what really made them stand apart was a sheer determination and drive to persevere against all odds to achieve their goals. This mentality has proved an inspiration for those behind Pure Joy, with the band setting up not only a rehearsal space but their own personal recording studio where they have recorded and produced their first album. “None of this would have been possible five years ago, y’know,” emphasises Freeman. “It’s only with the recent surge in technological development that we were able to not just afford it but actually set up the studio ourselves.” The studio may not be Abbey Road but it seems almost custom built for the band’s needs: adorned with glittery, fabric-covered sound insulation, the small room has a comfy sofa and a cosy production hub. It feels as though each wire, discarded plectrum and shred of paper is contributing to the overall Pure Joy story.
Pennington delves a little further into matters: “Having the studio here has completely revolutionised our recording process. The control is just perfect for the sound we’re trying to create. It’s allowed us to tweak tracks over and over again until they’re just how we want them.” “Getting the track just right was dead important,” elaborates Flynn. “Playing the tracks continuously till we got it right could get repetitive, but it’s definitely been worth it.” So, you see, it’s no accident that Pure Joy have just happened upon us – it’s taken months of arduous craft to get them to the point where their glorious statement of an album, Bang Flower, has been perfected and primed before they’ve even played a show. “Having the studio has allowed us to record tracks from the very moment of their creation,” explains Freeman. “Within minutes of a melody we were able to jump in the studio and start recording. I was listening to The Coral on the radio today and they were saying how they wish they had more time to play with the first tracks before playing them, as they have evolved with time. Having all been in bands beforehand we learnt this the hard way.”
“We’re not saying that live performance isn’t important to us but the album will be our legacy and what we’ll be remembered by,” adds Pennington. “We were extremely ambitious with the sound of the album and didn’t feel that being a three-piece should hold that back.” This definitely hasn’t restrained the band by any means, with them being happy to use multiple instruments in order to create the best sound possible. Their first live outing, supporting Flowers at Leaf in February, showed just this: playing to drum samples and incorporating the live bass of Paul Thomson, the band seemed meatier and grew in confidence as they grew accustomed to the power in their own interplay.
Unlike a lot of bands who seem to have jumped on the vinyl revival bandwagon with hands clasping for undeserved money, Pure Joy have reason to do so. Like Sgt. Pepper’s or Dark Side Of The Moon, their highly-anticipated first album, Bang Flower, is more than a set of songs thrown together. With such a smooth flow, the tracks seem to stitch together seamlessly, pushing the album out there as one in a minority of modern albums that work best when played from start to finish. Multifaceted, vibrant and full bodied, the composition acts as an antidote to modern existence, an escape from the grey, the dull and the stressful in favour of something more empowering and positive.
Freeman’s rose-tinted production has been expertly used to make the listener really listen out for the more pertinent and haunting lyrics which are often shrouded amongst the sonic blissfulness. This adds further evidence to the case that the album demands multiple listens, each uncovering something new not heard the time before.
“I’m not naturally a lyricist. Melodies come naturally but, no, words are something I really have to take time on,” offers Pennington, who takes on principal songwriting duties. “I suppose that, in some ways, my lyrics are semi-autobiographical in that I take things that have happened and tweak them. I think that music is very much a subjective art form. Everyone has their own perceptions of lyrics. By keeping the words knowingly vague, it allows the track to be more personal to the listener.” Though the album is radiantly bright in instrumentation, it is not afraid to juxtapose this lightness with thoughts tinged with melancholia. In Bang Flower’s final track, O’Sullivan On Song, amongst a sea of cymbals, synth and soaring slide guitar lie the words: “Love kills more people than war”.
With the release of Bang Flower imminent and a set of European dates lined up for the summer, the time feels ripe for this band. You may not have heard, or even heard of, Pure Joy yet, which is understandable for a band so early in their career, but remember that they’ve been running with this for a number of months already, and we’re the ones who’ve been standing still. They’ve fine-tuned their statement, and now they’re ready to stamp its authority on us, starting with their launch party and an invitation into their world. One thing is for certain, I think, as the group set off for home over the four bridges through the bitter wind: they’ll never forget where they’re from.
Bang Flower is out now on Fresh Goods/Republic Of Music