Hannah Joy is ready for her transformation. The vocalist for the Australian, alternative-indie band Middle Kids believes she becomes something else entirely on tour, a “road doggie,” if you will.
“You become a creature and it’s like a way of life,” Joy says. “I’ve gotten used to being a person who sleeps in a bed and has a green smoothie in the morning. Now I have to go back to my creature ways. It’s going to be very confronting.”
Though she can still acquire green smoothies on the road, she’ll undoubtedly forego the healthy option to fully morph. This isn’t surprising if you talk to Joy for five minutes, as she deftly balances absurdity, honesty and sarcasm within each of her statements, which she’ll likely never see. Luckily, a conversation with the musician isn’t necessary to see the world through this road dog’s eyes — all you need is the group’s March release, “Today We’re the Greatest.”
Though the album was recorded in 2019 and written even before that, when Joy was pregnant with her firstborn, it carries a personal heft, which navigates pre-pandemic anxiety, introspection and, to be corny, joy.
Each track compliments the next, with a throughline constantly acknowledging the intricate balance of things that suck and things that are great. Like she chants in the title track, “Life is gory and boring sometimes, but today we’re the greatest.”
If you feel the description above encapsulates your own experience, then you’re not alone. Despite stops and gos during its almost two-year release cycle, the record was always meant to arrive when we needed it most.
Before Middle Kids flew stateside, into the land of Delta variants and masked concertgoers, I talked to Joy over Zoom about how the album resonated with the emotional pandemic, her excitement to be back on tour, UFOs and “Hot Fuzz.”
District Fray: How has it been getting into touring mode again? Have you allowed yourself to get there?
Hannah Joy: No, I don’t even know how to; it’s going to be such a weird thing. Luckily, in Australia, we had some shows in April, May. Everyone had to sit down, but playing again was so nuts. I’m more excited for [the U.S. shows] because everyone will be standing up, and it’ll be more like rock shows.
I noticed you used the terms “raw” and “guts” a lot when talking about this record. How do those words reflect “Today We’re The Greatest”?
I’m a very instinctive person. I engage with music by using what’s swelling around inside and putting it out there. I try to live in a way that’s from the guts or kind of raw. I try to experience everything and channel it into the music. It comes from a very organic, natural place. It’s not necessarily trying to be anything.
Is there a dramatic difference between “Today We’re The Greatest” and “Lost Friends”?
I think “Today We’re The Greatest” is more holistic. It shows more parts of my emotional spectrum. “Lost Friends” is quite high energy. Before, I was more inclined to make a lot of noise because that’s safer and maybe more fun. I wasn’t in that place as much when I was writing this record, probably because I was pregnant for a lot of it.
Is there a purpose behind this approach — or was it more serendipitous?
Probably the latter. I’m not actually a very intentional, thoughtful person. I try to be, but I’m more of a, “Oh, this is happening now,” type. I’m just responding to the [life] season I’m in. In that season, I was introspective and reflective. The intentionality of this record goes with this purpose. We were intentional and wanted to express that feeling musically.
How do you navigate the [music making] process as a band?
I usually write a skeleton, either on the guitar or piano. I’ll have the melody and the chords done, like a first little demo. Then we’ll find a groove and a few more layers. With this record, I built a couple of the songs from the ground up with Tim [Fitz], which was an awesome experience. I’m usually solo.
Do you think that helped form the intentions more because it was a pure collaboration?
I reckon! Tim does a lot of producing, so he brings a lot of muscle to my songs. Often, I’ll start with a demo and it’s bright, little twinkly guitars and he’ll come in and just [guitar roar]. It’s a great coupling, so it was cool to build something with his energy and my energy from the beginning.
A lot of these songs were written before and during major moments in your life, such as becoming a mother and Covid-19. Do the songs still resonate with who you are?
It’s interesting, because I feel I don’t even know this record because I made it, and then was done with it. With the other record, I got to know it by playing it over and over again. I think it’s interesting getting to know this record now because life is very strange — but I think it’ll be a cool marker in our story.
You recorded “Today We’re The Greatest” in 2019 and it was released March 2021. Outside seated shows in Australia, you’re just now going on a big tour. Is it difficult to reconnect and disconnect again?
It’s true! I feel like I forget when I’m not playing and not in a band. It [comes from this] strange place of identity. It feels a little sad the record won’t have the life it would have, even in terms of our own experience. But, it’s interesting, during this time we are growing and finding parts of ourselves we wouldn’t have if we were moving and shaking all the time. I’m excited to see how our band’s identity evolves.
Did you keep the slower pace in mind when putting together the final tracklisting for the record — or was it a natural edit?
It was hard to choose the track order. In terms of the arc of the record, it could have gone several ways. To be honest, we didn’t have extra songs for the record. It was cool, though, because the 12 songs make sense together.
How did you land on the title “Today We’re the Greatest”?
It encapsulates so much of what we sing about. Life is really hard and gnarly, but it’s also amazing. For the first part of life you’re thinking, “What am I doing wrong?” because it’s so hard — but then you realize it’s just part of life. But you also realize life is full of so much beauty, and these feelings co-exist. When we can live in that realization: That’s a great life. The title felt like a great proclamation and we feel it to be true. It was a great way to frame the record.
Regarding the album cover, do you actually cry colorful prints — or are those just your normal tears?
Oh, yeah, that’s just a normal photo of me. That’s real life. We really like the artist, and he does these super-imposed things. But maybe they’re not tears, rather beams of light. It goes with what we talked about before: Part of it is a black and white image, and then you have hyper-vibrant beams.
Speaking of the supernatural, Middle Kids just released a music video for “Stacking Chairs,” and I couldn’t help but notice the UFO stuff. Do you think aliens exist and if they do, would they like your album?
This is a very important question. Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about aliens because I’m always thinking about how to get up in the morning – which is very, very taxing. I think there is other life out there, but I don’t think they’d like the record.
Wow, talk about self-deprecation! Why not?
It’s such a basic-bitch record. They probably hear such crazy frequencies and they’d be like, “This is so flat.”
So NASA comes to you and says they want to beam this into the universe, you’re not with it?
Yeah, choose something else.
What would you suggest?
They can send “Yeezus.” That’d be great.
Okay, last question: the Middle Kids tweeted about loving the movie “Hot Fuzz.” Was that you – and if so, what is your favorite part of the film?
Oh my gosh, it was me! There are so many satisfying moments, it’s hard to say. My favorite character is the girl cop who’s always trying to be one of the boys. I feel like I can relate and she’s just always saying way too much. It’s just too real.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.