When a band parts ways with a member, it can either tear the band apart or it can force some big changes to happen within the band in order for the band to persevere. After Nick Trask parted ways with Major League in January, that left a large and noticeable hole in the band’s line up, and left many people wondering how the band would choose to continue.
Instead of going through the process of searching for a new singer, Major League’s guitarist, Brian Joyce, was chosen to step in and fill the role. Although it is a position that he never felt like he belonged in before, Brian has now grown to accept his new-found duties, especially with the creation of the band’s latest record, ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Me’.
His sudden surge in confidence showcases itself, not only on the songs themselves, but in the band’s bold choice of album art. Daring in an artistic statement, yet simple in presentation, the artwork for Major League’s latest release, “There’s Nothing Wrong With Me”, resembles a Rorschach Inkblot Test in which the imagery is completely subjective to the audience. The colorful, yet mysterious album art also serves as a perfect metaphor for the album’s eleven tracks by reflecting the psychological testing with the therapy needed to overcome emotional and psychological scars. In the music, which the singer has described to be therapeutic, Brian opens up lyrically like never before by providing a previously unseen look into his personal life, describing the trials of a man who is finally ready to get his demons off his chest.
Just before the holiday break, Brian took a moment out of his time to not only discuss what the change in the lineup meant for the band, but to also discuss some of the deeply personal, and at one time painful, stories behind the songs on the new record. If you thought you knew who Brian Joyce was before, prepare to get to know him in an all new light.
AltWire [Derek Oswald]: For your newest album, ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Me’, you worked with producer Will Yip at Studio 4 in Conshohocken, PA. I’ve read that Will helped steer you guys in a new direction and further explore your boundaries as a band. In what ways would you say he helped you with this?
Brian Joyce [Major League]: Before Will it felt like every time we had written a song we wrote around [the idea of] just making catchy songs. Our previous singer left in January and I was completely cool with our old sound and playing guitar for that, but when it came to the idea of me fronting a band it was kind of like…well this is not the kind of music that I would want to be the face of a band for. That wasn’t the really the music I had grown up listening to so I felt that if I was ever going to front a band it wasn’t going to be that sound. So the main thing that we started to focus on when we first starting writing the new record was [making] the instrumentals first and letting the vocals come later. It was like let’s write the instrumentals, and let’s write songs that we actually want to play and songs that we all feel comfortable with.
So when we got into the studio with Will that was the one thing that Will really helped drive home because there were times where I think we as a band over thought things, and I think that’s something that a lot of musicians do. You’ll overthink certain parts or you’ll sit there and have this guitar part that you really like and you really want it to fit into a song somehow. But sometimes it was nice to have somebody like Will to be there and be like ‘Listen man, I know this song so far is only two chords but it really only needs to be two chords. Let the leads, let the drums and let the vocals really drive this song’. He kept reminding us that some of the best songs in the world are only three chords.
There would be so much that we were trying to do and times when we’d be like ‘I really want to play this’ and he’d be like ‘okay but, are you going to be able to play that and sing?’. So I think that was the thing that Will really helped with [the most] in achieving the new sound. He knew where we wanted to go; and that we wanted the album to have more of a rock and roll type vibe and be something that would be a little easier for us jam with and not so much punk beats or in your face. Will really helped the record flow and jam all the way through from front to back and I think that this is finally a record where we can play any song [on the record] live and not feel like ‘oh man we really didn’t run through that’. Everybody is really comfortable with their parts, and Will really helped shape that.
AW: How has the transition gone for you in becoming the lead vocalist? Has it been strange to finally be the front man after being the guitarist for all this time?
BJ: Yeah. I’ve never wanted to be a lead vocalist. I used to go to shows and see the lead singer and I’d be like ‘man I want someone like THAT in my band’ but I never wanted to actually be that, you know what I mean? So for me it was a little weird because I’m not one of those kind of people. I don’t do well with being the center of attention and I just like being the guitarist. I wrote all of our lyrics and melodies [before this] but I was cool with just writing the stuff and then just having my name be put in the booklet and having that be as far as it goes in terms of recognition. I didn’t need to be the one up there singing it. So once Nick left, I had it in my mind that we were probably just going to get another lead singer. But after he left the band they were like ‘alright cool, now you get to start singing your songs’. And I went ‘Me? Are you sure?’ and they were like ‘Yeah! You write everything anyway and when you demo stuff out you always sing it first and we’ve always liked your voice’. So it was hard for me in my mind and in my world to get through that and be like ‘Alright you can do this, don’t worry about it. I know you never wanted to do this, and I know it’s late in the game to start singing but you can do it’.
However, I think having the confidence of the rest of the guys behind me and having them be like ‘Listen we love your voice we’ve always loved your voice and we would rather you do it and be a four piece and be our own band and not bring somebody else who would just be singing your songs anyway’ really helped. So it was definitely a struggle to get over. It wasn’t hard physically and it wasn’t hard to sing them because I had written them so I already knew how to play them and sing them and how they went, it was just more so getting it through my head that I’m finally taking on a role that I never really wanted to do, but that I probably should’ve done all along. I just never really had the guts before.
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AW: Since you write the lyrics, I’m curious about something I’ve read in the press for this album. You guys have said that this is your ‘most personal album to date’. I can understand it may be hard to share, but in what ways was this album so personal?
BJ: Growing up I’ve struggled with depression my entire life and I’ve been in and out of different therapists and been on different medications. It was never something that I wanted to talk about and it was never something that I felt we needed to talk about with our old singer because with him singing it was like ‘you don’t need to be saying this stuff’. I’m not going to put that on you to have to sing that stuff. Before I never really wrote about it, but there’s an acoustic song on the [new] record called Montreal and it was something I had written years ago that I kind of held on to. I think the reason that this record is so personal (as opposed to our earlier stuff) is because with me taking on lead vocals I didn’t just want to be the ‘next singer of the band’. I wanted there to be this transition of bringing people into my world. For the past three years you’ve known our old singer and you’ve known what he is about, but now that I’m coming in I don’t want to just be the next version of that. I want you to step into my world and be welcomed in, just like I’m being welcomed into the scene. I’m being welcomed into this new spot in the band, but I also want people to understand where I’m coming from and know my story.
The record opens up with a time period. The first song is about a time when I was six years old and my parents got divorced right there in the living room. They separated on the spot and a couple of weeks later they got divorced. That to me is one of my earliest memories and I think that’s where a lot of things I’ve dealt with [came from]. Now, there are millions of people across the world whose parents have gotten divorced. It’s not like what I went through was crazy traumatic, but for me, in my world it was, you know what I mean? For me and what I’m going through it really shaped who I was, because it was my earliest memory. From there it was the last time I ever remember seeing my parents together and because they’ve been separated for so long that’s the only memory I even have of them together, the memory of them splitting up.
I wanted to bring people into that world and I wanted to really open up and expose a lot of this stuff that I was afraid to talk about before, because doing so was also a release for me as well. It was something that I was kind of looking forward to, but also afraid to talk about. But I knew that it was something where once I got it off my chest I was going to feel so much better. It’s also something where like I said there are millions of people out there across the world whose parents are divorced, and millions of people out there who deal with depression. By talking about these things it could also wind up growing into something that somebody else could fall into or relate to and become theirs as well. And that’s the beautiful part about music when you can write something that somebody else can feel personally and really latch themselves onto. So for me, maybe this is the time to talk about this stuff and maybe this is the time to open up. I think that’s why this record feels so personal on all aspects. Even for the rest of the guys too, because they’ve gone through a lot with me and there’s been a lot of times when we’ve been on tour and I’d just have a breakdown. They’ve been there with me so I think for them it was nice to finally see all this come off my chest and have me talk about it. It was a good healing process for everybody in the studio and out of the studio.
AW: Do you feel that with Nick leaving and the band going internally for a new vocalist, thus allowing you to get all this off your chest that it helped forge a new identity for yourself and the band as a whole?
BJ: It’s funny that you used the word ‘identity’ because when we first started working with our manager back in January when Nick left that was one of his biggest problems with us as a band. We actually had done a tour with him in April of 2013; as he’s the lead singer of Senses Fail. So when Buddy [Nielsen] hit us up earlier this year he was like ‘Hey I want to work with you guys, I saw that Nick left, and getting to know you on tour, I really think this is a time that you band can finally wrap itself around it’s true identity’. And I asked him what he meant and he said ‘well to be honest, I never really felt like your band had an identity because you were writing these songs, but then you were having this other kid sing it and then when you guys got up there to do it live there really wasn’t this sincerity there that I felt behind it’.
And that’s not to say that everybody felt that way, it was just one of the things that he had mentioned. And you know we never really realized it because we were all like ‘well I thought he did a good job?’ [laughing] you know what I mean? I think he [Nick] gave it his all and I still do. But I can see where the band really didn’t have a set frontman before. Because it was like I was writing all the lyrics, but live Matt was doing most of the talking but Nick was the singer [laughing]. There was just this weird question of who does what! Who is the guy that I should go to for this stuff? So I could totally see internally how someone looking from Buddy’s standpoint could look at it and be like ‘So who is the front man? What’s going on here? Who is the identity of the group? Of course the band as a whole needs to have its own identity, but when it comes down to it, who is the face of the band? Because right now your band kind of lacks that’. So I think that is the good part about when the guys decided to go internally with the new singer and asked me to do it because we were keeping it in the family, and not bringing in the next random person out of left field and having everyone wonder where he came from.
It really has helped give the band an identity as well because it’s not like we’re replacing members or being like ‘okay let’s bring in the next guy’. No it’s our way of saying ‘look this is the band, and this has always been the band. It’s always been the four of us and of course there was a fifth member but now that he’s not there it doesn’t mean that the entire band needs to change’. The four of us can do it exactly how it is now, and we could’ve always done it as a four-piece and we’re going to show everyone that. I think that’s the part where it kind of let the band as a whole show its identity because it shows that just as we were a five piece, we can act as a four piece and I think that’s the nice part about keeping it within the family.
“I need it to be something where I can feel the emotions in the song and not have it be just another generic octave chord over a punk beat.”
AW: Do you think that since the fans already had an idea of who you were earlier, that they’ve possibly reacted better to you being the new vocalist (as opposed to how they’d act with someone completely new)?
BJ: Yeah I think it’s cool because when we were playing shows before as a five piece; kids would come up to Nick and they’d say ‘I just wanted to talk to you…Seasons really means a lot to me…’ and Nick would kind of freeze up and look at me and he’d say ‘oh well thanks, but actually Brian wrote that’ and I think that would put the fans in an awkward position. They’d kind of freeze and freak out a bit because they really didn’t know what to say. I know lots of bands do it that way, but it is an awkward thing [for the fans], and [being vocalist] has made it a lot easier. Even now when kids come up they’ll go ‘I had no idea you used to write everything! This song from your first EP means so much to me’. So it’s great now because they have a general direction of who’s doing what in the band, and there isn’t this fear of ‘well I don’t know if you wrote this song, or did somebody else write certain songs?’ and getting stuck in an awkward pickle with Nick with ‘oh, you didn’t write that? Well nevermind’.
I also think that some of those fans may not have wanted to disrespect Nick by coming up to the band and then coming up to me and saying ‘I really liked this song’. I think that made it hard for them because they’d likely be thinking ‘well I want to say thank you to Nick because he sang it, but Brian wrote it so I really don’t know who I should thank for this’. It just makes it a lot easier when one person is doing both the writing and the singing.
AW: In what ways does ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Me’ differ from you debut album ‘Hard Feelings’?
BJ: With Hard Feelings we did have a good time with that release and we did have fun writing it but it was also very forced. It was very much ‘well what do people want to hear? What should we do next?’ For me personally and musically we had songs on our first two EPs like the song ‘Take Me’ and ‘From States Away’, those were two of my favorite songs, because I like that big rock sound. I like big heavy guitars and giant drums and real clean-cut leads coming through. That’s more of what I like to write. So when we were doing Hard Feelings I was suggesting ‘well hey why don’t we do something like this’ and songs like Nightmares were my favorite songs from Hard Feelings because they had big drums, with loud guitars, crunchy leads and nice melodies over it. The rest of the guys were like ‘yeah but think about playing those songs live. From States Away and Take Me never really get a good crowd reaction’, and for the size of a band that we were, they did have a point. When you’re playing these songs live and there’s 150 kids in a room and the stage is only six high it does get kind of awkward because everyone just kind of stands there and watches you play, they don’t really interact. But then we play songs like ‘Subject To Change’ where it has punk beats the whole time and it’s in your face and those are the songs that kids really lose their minds to and get rowdy to. So it was like ‘yeah I guess you’re right, I guess we’ll write more of that kind of music’.
So with writing Hard Feelings, it was difficult for me because I had songs like ‘Homewrecker’ which was a very personal song. It basically was about a guy that came into the family after my parents had split up and it was just a bad situation. Writing that song I had this whole theatrical type song in my mind, and then we go to write it and everybody is like ‘I think the second verse should be a punk beat or do something where people can circle pit to here’ and I was just like ‘what the eff…no!’ It doesn’t fit the song! But we wound up doing it anyways and it just kind of left a bad taste in my mouth for that song. That’s not where I wanted that song to go.
But when it came to writing this record, I was like ‘listen, you guys have to work with me here because if I’m going to be fronting this band and singing these songs I do not want to be playing stuff like we did on Hard Feelings’. I’m completely cool with playing stuff from Hard Feelings live and of course I’m going to honor the songs. That was our debut record and I’m not going to just completely shut it out, but with the new sound and me fronting the band I needed to be comfortable playing it and I needed to still be passionate about it not just lyrically but instrumentally as well. I need it to be something where I can feel the emotions in the song and not have it be just another generic octave chord over a punk beat.
I think that’s where the record really differs from the old stuff. The way it all came about and the mindset that we had going into it. The rest of the band I think has finally come around because we started playing bigger shows, and we did a tour with Funeral For a Friend over in Europe and then we did the tour with Senses Fail. We started getting these bigger tours where we’re not playing smaller stages anymore and now these punky songs aren’t translating well in these giant rooms because now we just sound like a young band trying to make a big sound. It would’ve been nicer if we had songs like Take Me or From States Away that give off an arena type sound in those giant rooms. I think the guys started to realize that and we’re like ‘okay we did our thing with the smaller songs. I think it’s time to really write these big, massive, arena sounding songs’. You know, to finally be the band we wanted to be and go where we wanted to go. I think this is a perfect time for it, and I think that these songs will translate even better in smaller venues
AW: You have an upcoming tour, that I’m sure you’re pretty excited about. Where are you most excited to go on this tour/what are you looking forward to most about this tour?
BJ: This tour is going to be awesome, and we’re very excited. I think I’m excited the most to come back to California. We’re playing the House of Blues in Los Angeles, and the last time we were in California was in January or February. So it’ll be almost a year since we were there and on this last tour that we did, we didn’t hit California so it was like ‘damn’. We really wanted to get back there, and then we saw the routing of the Silverstein tour and all of us were really excited because we’ll be having like six days in California (or around that) with an off day which is so nice because I love off days in California!
The thing that I think we’re most excited about with this tour though is that Silverstein was a band that growing up was one of the key bands when you were a teenager in 2005. They were one of the bands that I remember my friends coming over after school and being like ‘yo you’ve gotta hear this record!’ and playing songs on ‘Discovering The Waterfront’. Us sitting there and learning the guitar riffs.
So to be asked to do that tour you kind of just shake your head in disbelief. It’s like first of all I can’t believe it’s been ten years since that record came out – and wow I feel extremely old – but the other part is that I can’t believe we got asked to do this. I would’ve never thought when I was in tenth grade sitting in my living room and listening to these songs that ten years later that I would be playing with this band on their anniversary tour. I think that’s a bit of shell-shock there and it still hasn’t sunk in. But we’re also the most excited about meeting everybody and hanging out with everybody. They [Silverstein] have already sent us an email saying ‘hey we’re very excited to have you guys, and we’re loving the new stuff’ so it wasn’t a case of us just being a ‘close your eyes and pick a name out of a hat’ band. It was very genuine. So I think we’re very excited to just get to know everybody and get to meet these guys and some of the other bands on the bill. We knew some of the guys in Beartooth already because they used to be in a band called City Lights, but we’re also excited to meet the guys in Hands Like Horses and My Iron Lung.
It feels like this is going to be a fun tour for everybody because there are five bands on the bill, so there’s always going to be somebody to hang out with that’s not in our band. We always try to hang out with other people as much as possible because we’re stuck with each other in a tiny ass van for 16 hours at a time!
AW: That’s pretty much all we have for you, but is there anything else you would like to add? Perhaps about your big plans for the year ahead?
BJ: Yeah! The only thing that I can say is that I’m completely blown away and humbled by the response that we’ve gotten so far on the new record. We have a lot of very cool things coming up for 2015, and we cannot wait to announce them. We’re literally jumping out of our skin with some of the things we have lined up, and we’re really looking forward to the announcements and getting back there to see everybody that we haven’t seen in a long time and million new faces that we haven’t met yet.
Thank you for everything so far, and we can’t wait to see you.