By Jess Goulart
Joanna Gruesome at Piano’s in New York City during CMJ Week. All photos by Jess Goulart.
Even at 3 p.m., the scene outside Piano’s on Wednesday was packed with bodies, beer, and cigarette smoke. Brooklyn based Kanine Records assembled an amazing daytime line up for the intimate backroom venue, including the Welsh indie-pop group Joanna Gruesome. With the precision of The Velvet Underground, the edge of The Clash, and drum beats to shame Nirvana’s territorial pissings, Joanna Gruesome was an instant favorite that quickly beat the audience into an elated pulp.
Alanna McArdle sings lead vocals for the fivesome, alternating between cathartic screams of ripping teeth out and bashing in skulls, to a mesmerizingly sweet harmony with guitarist Owen Williams. Not to be outdone, his sound mirrors McArdle’s tactful unpredictability. Meanwhile, bassist Max Warren, the band’s second guitarist George Nicholls, and drummer Dave Sandford give a hardcore backbone that will set yours vibrating.
Alanna McArdle of Joanna Gruesome.
Suffice it to say that the small Piano’s venue was bursting at the seams during their performance, during which Williams rocked so hard he broke a string, while Warren and Nicholls nearly back flipped off the stage, jamming their way into the center of the head banging crowd for the set finale.
Warren tells BTR the stage theatrics are less for the audience and more for the band just to “have fun.”
“Sometimes we like to start on the floor, sometimes end on it,” continues Warren. “Just because it’s a laugh.”
“They’ll be lots of lunges and windmilling later,” Nicholls promises, “we’ve been practicing the Fall Out Boy rolling over each other’s backs, and I’ve been learning this thing where you spin your guitar around your neck, and I’m going to incorporate that with a busted jump off the stage and then shout ‘YEAR 3000’ when the sets finished.”
Joanna Gruesome’s popularity has not gone unnoticed at CMJ. Laughing, George says they’re playing “an insane amount of shows. By the end of the week, I’ll be a shell of a man!”
Guitarist Owen Williams of Joanna Gruesome.
Next door the scene calmed down at The Living Room, a more expansive, higher ceilinged venue that includes clustered tables and chairs for a sprawling coffee shop affect. Perhaps because the dim orange lighting lends itself to a mellow atmosphere, most of the groups who performed there on Wednesday were on the quitter side.
Marmalakes, a rock trio out of Austin, Texas, stood out as the exception. You could literally see drummer Josh Halpern playing with speed and volume, his lips making a silent hushing sound as he gentled the beat into an almost whisper before suddenly sending it smashing through the walls.
“The room is small, so we were hesitant to play a loud set, but we decided to kind of go for it anyways. After all, that’s what we came up to New York to do – rock,” guitarist Chase Weinacht tells BTR. “New York is always sort of crazy. Whether there’s a lot of people in the room or not, there’s always a lot of energy. And CMJ is like an amped up version of regular New York, which already feels like Austin at its most intense.”
Marmalakes at The Living Room.
Marmalakes sounds like Texas’ version of Vampire Weekend – with a folk thread, less pop, and more graceful lyrics.
Weinacht tells BTR that “for inspiration, I’m a big poetry fan, and a big fan of Ben Lerner who teaches at Brooklyn College. I’d really love to stalk him and sneak into one of his classes. I also like really quiet singer songwriter stuff, like Ireland’s Fionn Regan, who I don’t think enough people know about. Collectively, our favorite band is Wilco, which is the easiest answer to give because there’s no bad Wilco song.”
The group is set to record their first full length on Nov. 11, and are currently doing an Indiegogo campaign to help fund it.
You can catch Marmalakes Saturday at the Mercury Lounge, and Joanna Gruesome at Cake Shop tonight, plus over one thousand other artists all week at CMJ.