Many of the tracks begin with a jazzy breath, as if warming up for the pop cabaret, before they are shushed to a delicate whisper by the onslaught of buzzsaw guitars or find themselves coiled around a slow-riding beat. Its the kind of stuff that reminds you of those loud-quiet-loud anthems of the 90s you never grew up in, but listened to, meditatively, as a teen. Her voice is drawn out just enough to effect something like Amy Winehouse before her voice broke or, say, Björk's more jazzier days. The band is Vada Wave, a newcomer to the pop scene whose debut EP is making some waves left of the dial.
And it's a world they're more than familiar with. Half of the band is Megan Joy, an American Idol standout who made a splash back in 2009 with her unique dancing style and named Björk among her influences. Since then she's released two solo albums and found a dedicated fan base: her first EP was fan-financed by a kickstarter campaign. But Vada Wave is her first band, and a duo at that. And the John to her Paul is none other then her husband of five years, Quinn Allman.
Allman is a well-known in a different crowd: until last year he played guitar for The Used, the Salt Lake City band he co-founded out of high school and many associate with the popularity of screamo in the mid-2000s. Do Björk and Warped Tour regulars sound like disparate corners of the pop culture? Maybe its the geography that brings them together: Joy grew up around Salt Lake City too and on the lead single from Out of Body, "Escape," she sings about the "lost children of the desert" and implores them to "run toward the lake." Joy wrote the song after reading Carolyn Jessop's bestselling memoir Escape, which details Jessop's experiences with the breakaway Fundamentalist sect of the Church of Latter Day Saints, one of the few remaining organizations that practice polygamy and whose former leader, Warren Jeffs, is currently serving a life prison sentence. "Escape" samples one of Jeffs' sermons and the music video, which Allman directed, features an adolescent woman making the run for it in a bleak and almost Martian desert landscape.
I had the chance to talk to Joy and Allman shortly before Out of Body was released.
POPDUST: Have to get this out of the way: how does a singer on American Idol and a guitarist for alt-rock legends The Used meet? How do they get married?
Talk about "Escape." Where does the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints fit in? What about Mormons, a majority faith in Utah, in the state's punk or alternative scenes?
JOY: The FLDS [Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints] world is pretty far from mainstream LDS [Mormon] culture. The FLDS are quite secretive and are not seen often, unless you travel to southern Ut[ah] areas. Its such a strict religion I can't imagine the members even being aware of any music outside of their own approved music. But as far as regular LDS people I find that they are super musical and often super involved in the music scene in Salt Lake. The more devout members will pass on artists with excessive explicit lyrics or morals that don't represent their own but for the most part I would say the younger generations within the church are pretty open minded regarding the music scene out here.
When I was listening to Out of Body, escape felt like more than just its lead single. On "Envy" the singer is trying to escape judgement online and on the titular "Out of Body," she tries to escape something even more existential. Was that a deliberate theme?
JOY: [laughs] I haven't thought of it that way! But there is a lot of escaping throughout the EP! It wasn't intentional, just happened naturally. "Take me with" is about escaping the pain of life before we had met each other. "Very Best Part" was written with a vacation adventure in mind, wanting to escape every day life, but essentially having that escape through love. "Envy" is about letting go of social media obsession and addiction, finding self peace/love through habitual freedom. "Out of Body" and "Escape" are pretty self explanatory in their message of escape. And "For Love" is maybe the only one not directly about escaping something. But I certainly find Quinn is my greatest escape from anything I need to be free of.
Did you feel like you were escaping something musically, as well?
JOY: Coming together in finishing/recording the songs this entire album has certainly been an escape from our past experiences of making music. We were both completely free within our motives and collaboration. We wanted to make something completely outside of the industry and we did.... it was an incredibly fulfilling escape from all the pressure Hollywood puts on art.
How do you feel like you come together musically?
JOY: An enormous part of what fused us together immediately was that we both love pretty much ever genre of music. We both knew and understood the music worlds we were each coming from. We could talk about all music and fill in little gaps that the other person might have had. Gorillaz, Grouplove, Santigold, Tame Impala, Animal Collective, Frank Ocean...the list could go on and on forever! All artistry inspires us and brings us together, We're grateful that we both love and appreciate music as a whole.
What are you listening to now?
JOY: We [sic] play lots of Grouplove right now, Big Mess is so so good. Also Phantogram/Big Grams, Tame Impala, Frank Ocean, Dead Sara, Goldensuns, Rihanna, Ryan Adams, Kurt Vile, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Pak...there's just so many!
I wondered, Quinn, since you left The Used last year, did you see VadaWave as a way to explore a different kind of music and reach an entirely different fan base?
ALLMAN: Yeah I think deep down I needed an outlet for myself that reflected more of my own musical tastes and abilities. I love all styles of music so being able to explore and experiment was something I was never fully able to do before. At the same time the songs came through me just as naturally just as they always do.
How did making the music you're making now feel different than working with your old band?
ALLMAN: I definitely felt more free this time around. There wasn't a built in voice saying "this is what we sound like" or "what will the fans think?" Being able to just write and produce the songs ourselves, however we wanted, was so fun and stress free.
How do you think some of those fans will feel about Out of Body?
ALLMAN: I think fans of The Used will hear and feel my signature in VadaWave. I still remember writing the first two Used albums in my bedroom when I was 18 with just my guitar and an 8 track. I would stay up all night writing music while everyone was asleep, creating my own sound that blended melodic chord arrangements with dissonance.
The same feeling still comes through me now with VadaWave as it did then. And I think Megan captures a sense of love and angst in such a unique and powerful way that fans of The Used and everyone can relate to.
What about you, Megan, how did it feel to make music with a band for the first time?
JOY: Making Out of Body was completely different than my first two albums. My solo albums were amazing to write and record but the entire process was brand new to me so I was learning more than anything. I was collaborating with so many different producers and songwriters learning their different styles. Because I was on [American] Idol the goal for me was sign to a major label and put out mainstream pop.... it seemed like the best and potentially most successful route, so our song motives and intentions were usually written with top 40 goals in mind. That's an incredible weight to put on your art. With VadaWave it's been magical because both of us wanted an experience entirely free of industry goals. We both wanted (and desperately needed) to create without any expectations, to birth something from our hearts and souls without a single other opinion or intention steering the art. We love and appreciate our past experiences but this freedom has been extra glorious.
Let talk about making that record. You're both listed as the only producers on the EP, how was the experience of being the only ones recording the music you wrote?
ALLMAN: With Out of Body, we did everything out of our living room and at a friends house, so it was a lot different than working in a proper studio. It was nice because we could work whenever we felt inspired. Our creative process usually starts with a musical idea sometimes from a guitar, other times just messing around with loops and samples. Once there's a basic foundation Megan will dive in and start crafting melodies and lyrics.
JOY: We are due to have a baby any day now. Woo! So we will take the rest of the winter for family hibernation and writing time. We basically have our [next] album half-way finished, so we'll work on that. Then come spring we plan to find our lineup and start playing, get some summer/fall tours lined up! Life is good and the future is hella bright.