"With potent vocals, edgy guitars and a hard-driving rhythm section, JOYDROP is, first and foremost, a rock band. On their debut album, Metasexual, they tap into the timeless sound of rock music with solid songwriting, lucid melodies and memorable hooks, then add a contemporary vocabulary of samples, altered drum sounds and loops.
It's a sound exemplified in the band's name, which drummer Tony Rabalao defines as "a drug, or a candy, or the feeling you get when you're moved by a person or a thing of beauty."
Formed in 1996 in Toronto, JOYDROP's sound reflects the divergent backgrounds of its members. Vocalist Tara Slone studied opera and theater for more than a decade. Guitarist Thomas Payne, a student of musical composition and philosophy, spent his teens in front of a 4-track recorder. Bassist Tom McKay got his education in the UK, performing and writing with various artists. Drummer Tony Rabalao studied composition and jazz and has performed in a wide variety of musical contexts.
To record the album, the band called upon veteran producer and mixer Ron St. Germain (Creed, 311, Soundgarden, Tool, Bad Brains). "We wanted someone solidly rooted in rock," says Slone. "That's how we wanted to tie everything together. And when we met him, we just knew we were on the same wavelength." Adds Rabalao: "He's got amazing energy and, even during the 20-hour days, he kept the vibe up."
Working at Long View Farms Studio, a remote retreat 70 miles outside Boston, the band spent six weeks making the album. "It was a beautiful and neutral environment. You had to fill the space with your ideas," recalls McKay. Saint was key in bringing together the diverse ideas of the band and realizing the songs. "He was an empathetic person," says McKay. "That was the thing that impressed me the most. He could pull out of people the song they had in them and get it onto tape."
Each member of JOYDROP brings something unique to the music, creating a sound that moves seamlessly from lush and evocative to full-on assault. In songs like "Spiders," "All Too Well" and "Fizz"- which opens the album with full-sized drum beats and crunching guitars-JOYDROP proves they know how to rock. Exploring a full dynamic range, they push the extremes in songs like "Beautiful" and "Breakdown," which uses a string section arranged by Payne. "I knew that song could take a string part," says Payne, "It deals with some pretty heavy topics, like the idea of everything you know breaking down; whether that's a relationship or the way you thought the world worked."
JOYDROP also has a quieter more pensive side, as heard on "Until," the lilting "Strawberry Marigold," and "Dog Star Radio." McKay says he wrote that song to explore "those promises made by institutions. A lot of the systems we go through rob us of the spirituality that we have innately." He describes himself as a down-to-earth person who doesn't adhere to a religion or believe in an afterlife. "I don't think in terms of things that are not tangible. I draw mostly from personal experience. I find people and their real lives to be the most fascinating."
Many of the songs on Metasexual are infused with spiritual and philosophical issues. "Cocoon," with lyrics by Slone and music by Payne, addresses a term used in Shambala teachings, a non-denominational meditation practice based on Buddhist philosophy." "Cocoon" refers to being comfortable in whatever you're going through," Slone says. "Some people are comfortable in their misery, and it takes a lot of effort in dealing with your own mind to get out of that. That song has something to do with a relationship kind of getting weird," she says, adding wryly, "and with me wanting to just curl up and live underneath my bed."
Raised as a Tibetan Buddhist, Slone finds a creative tension between her life studies and the capricious nature of the music business. "As a musician, you're giving a lot to people, and that's very compassionate, but it's also a battle of the ego. In Buddhist practice, you train your mind to see the ego as something transparent. It's an ongoing challenge."
For Rabalao, meditation provides an anchor. "As a band, we try not to lose sight of the things that are important to us, like being in touch with a universal consciousness and natural things and beautiful things," he says. "We try to keep that in the music and all around us."
Payne's searchings have taken him through the writings of Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, James Joyce and others. The album title comes from the term 'metasex,' which was coined by writer Marco Vassi. "He was a daring sexual explorer with a philosophical edge," Payne says. "He used the term to encapsulate the idea of sex for pleasure, not procreation. But we like the idea of 'meta,' of going beyond, of going to extremes. We wanted a word that was powerful and captivating but that would allow people to come up with their own meaning."
With Metasexual, JOYDROP has fully realized their intention of writing and performing music with integrity that is also commercially viable. The intensity of the drive for success can be heard in the lyrics to "The Line." "It was written before we'd gotten a deal, which was something we really, really wanted," says Payne. "Tony would always say 'Failure is not an option,' and that kind of determination helps." It can also be heard in the words and the depth of musical range in every song on the album."
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