Sentimental and romantic duo Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford talks music with AsiaLive365 ahead of their set at Neon Lights Festival 2019.
Together, Arkansas duo Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford craft indelible synth-pop with a strong emotional quotient that sounds timeless. Thomas and Rutherford are crafting new memories for future generations, and if last year’s portra EP and the new single “drive all night” are any indication, they’re just getting started.
The pair settled on joan from a list of band names that Rutherford had leftover from a previous project, explaining, “We felt it immediately fit super well with the songs we were writing.” Drawing from formative influences ranging from Prince and Don Henley to James Taylor and classic pop, joan followed ‘Take Me On’ with the swelling ballad ‘i loved you first’, which almost immediately became a SoundCloud sensation, attracting record labels and management alike.
Their EP ‘portra’ was released in July 2018.
“How do we, as songwriters, help people transcend mundanity and find joy?” “That’s my personal goal. Connecting with a song can lift your spirits. Seeing how our music brings people joy—why else would we do it? It’s what keeps me going every day. I love it.” And once you make first contact with joan’s music, you will too.” – Alan Thomas
Ahead of their set in Singapore at Neon Lights Festival 2019 on 24 November, the duo had a chat with AsiaLive365, explaining more about their music and the visuals and colours that come from within their songs.
Hi joan, Vanessa here from AsiaLive365. We’re really looking forward to seeing you guys on November 24th!
ASL365: You once said that, for your music “you set out to elicit the feeling you get when you watch a John Hughes movie…” My first thought is all the Home Alone classics. Partly because of the parallels between the feeling those films give and the feeling say, a song like “i loved you first…” gives. Out of curiosity though, what John Hughes film were you thinking of when you said this, and why?
joan: (laughs) Well yeah, that was John Hughes, so that’s perfect! Yes, I would group that in there. More specifically, we really like John Cusack movies (he was in a lot of John Hughes films). Movies like say ‘Say Anything’ and ‘Serendipity’. There was just like this era of American film and like late 90s where there were just like these romantic, there weren’t really necessarily comedies, like how you would say now, but more like romantic light-hearted movies. And there was something about that era in music and film that, when you tie them together, and with John Hughes specifically tied-on together, it was just magical. Like there was just an entire genre of film and tv, film and music that was this perfect marriage.
And the vibe – man if we could capture what they captured, and just kinda modernised it in our own unique way, that would be a win.
And that’s kind of what we set out to do with ‘portra’ in a certain way. I wouldn’t necessarily say that that’s a focus on our new songs, as there’s a bit of a different vibe on some of them, but we still try to think of our songs in terms of like – how would this work, how would this look with a visual behind it, especially for our music reveals and stuff.
ASL365: It’s interesting that you say this about the visuals. How would you, therefore, describe the effervescent, glow and colours of the ‘joan’ sound?
joan: It’s hard to describe it. I do know that since we started the band, we took visuals as seriously as we took the music. So since the beginning, it’s been very much hand-in-hand. But yeah, it just depends on the song. I think overall those songs are very good reference for the kind of music that we had at the beginning. Driving late at night in the city with the windows down, playing our music – that’s kind of what we’re envisioning whenever we’re writing new songs. I think for the songs that we’re creating now that haven’t been released yet, I think there’s a lot of bright colours, you can see it in more and more daylight kind of feeling, where it’s very “dancey and filmy”.
So yeah, it just depends on the song and depends on the group of songs that we’re working on at that time. But I think overall, our goal is, whenever you just listen to the music, you can hear and you can kind of see a visual whenever you listen to it. And I think that’s what special about it. It’s like people may see something visually different than we do, even. But as long as we’re able to pull off a visual, and why you’re listening to the music, I think that’s important.
ASL365: The song “i loved you first” is such a beautiful pieces; the textures and colours are quite sublime with an overtly incandescently feeling. I love it! In your opinion, why do you think the song became so popular when it did? What do you reckon was so special about it at that time, and even now?
joan: It was a very special one to us. We actually released that song under a different title, as our very first song ever. However, we just released it on Soundcloud. We were brand new – we started writing at the end of 2016, and we released that song near the end of that year, maybe around Fall and Winter of 2016 and just put it out on Soundcloud. Maybe, I think some blogs picked it up, and that’s actually how we ended up signing our first little Indie label that picked us up, for the first couple of singles. We ended up taking the (original) song down, it was a different version, and we worked with the producer out of LA to help us polish ‘Take Me On’ and ‘Love Somebody Like You”, and those became our first pieces.
And we sat on ‘i loved you first’ for a while, and then took it into the studio with our buddy Matty, who has helped us. He helped us wrap up the rest of ‘portra’ and he did all the way, and he’s doing our new songs with us. And when we got into the studio with him, to answer your question, that’s when it really took its shape in terms of dynamically – it just became a different song. We added real drums to it, the guitar solo became huge, we ended up changing some of the structure, and I think when we wrapped it all up, we were like…this could be like…this tied it all together – this would be the song, if I wanted to say of any song that best represented joan at that moment in time, it was that song.
But it was also a small grower. It did pretty well when it first started when we first released it. But it’s now like our highest streamed song daily. And as more people are discovering us as we grow, it’s kinda becoming a favourite. But it’s been my favourite for a while.
ASL365: The bouncy, almost eclectic vibes of “Drive All Night” and the storyline of the song is really sweet. We love the guitar textures in it as well. Would you say that joan are a romantic and sentimental bunch of guys? Where do you draw inspiration from for your songs?
joan: I would say that…(laughs). ‘portra’ – there was kind of like a theme that ran throughout ‘portra’, that was somewhat intentional. We have another song that we haven’t released called ‘Dance with you tonight’, it’s one that play live every once in awhile…when we need to fill like a bigger set. It fit really well in that area. I’m really not sure why we never landed on that one, but it’s kind of like the theme how I felt when I was in Junior High in High School.
I was popular like everyone, but I was also younger than everyone, cause I skipped a grade. So I was too young among my peers. So I never really felt like, I think I belonged, but like dating girls and stuff was interesting because they were all older than me, so I felt like everyone’s little brother, you know…
So I kinda felt like the nerdy young kid in my grade. And so, proms and stuff, I would go. But I never felt really comfortable in my own skin. And so, a lot of our songs kinda come from that perspective – the young kid, with the tux that’s too big for him, and at prom, trying to gain the confidence of asking the girls out to dance. You know… the person that attracts you. That kind of vibe… So, ‘Drive All Night’ kinda shares that sense in it. ‘i loved you first’ kinda shares that sense in it. ‘Love somebody like you’, that definitely shares that sense in it.
Yeah, I think it’s kind of like this hopeful romantic, nervous romantic kind of vibe that we have in our music and I guess we still have.
ASL365: What’s in the future for joan? For instance; What’s after the very pop-ish “ease your mind” single?
joan: Well…yeah… In early 2020, we’re giving our first headline tour in the states, and next year in general, we’re just planning to release as much as we can, and a lot more frequently than we have been. And so, we’re super stoked about that! We’re really excited, we just got out of the studio, and started on what we’ve been working on!
ASL365: Apart from making music, what sort of music do you guys listen to? Or gigs that you go to. Any faves?
joan: Hmm… Halsey’s new stuff, and Post Malone’s new stuff are amazing. We’re actually playing with Honne in the Philippines right now. We love their stuff – they’re so good.
Yeah..we’re both pop-heads, we listen to new music every week and just try to listen to as much as we can.
ASL365: How excited are you guys about being in Singapore, playing at Neon Lights Festival, and what can we look forward to hearing at your set in November?
joan: It’s really cool that we’re heading out and going to play all the songs that we’ve released, and it’s able to take up all of our set. Just being at a new place – we’ve never been to Singapore. We’re so excited to be in Singapore and play at the festival.
More than anything, we’re just as excited to put on a great show and give it our all, and kinda see what Singapore has to offer. We’ve never been there so we’re just excited to be there!
ASL365: Thank you guys for the interview and see you soon at Neon Lights Festival 2019!
joan will play at Neon Lights Festival 2019 on 24 November. Tickets to the festival can be purchased via SISTIC or Ticketflap.