Music

Indie-Pop Duo Joan on the Hi's and Bye's of Relationships

The Arkansas-based band releases two new EPs.
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Joan is no stranger to Philippine audiences. The indie-pop duo consisting of Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford visited the country twice in 2019. Their debut performance was at the Wanderland Music & Arts Festival, where they performed with other amazing musicians like Clairo, The Kooks, Two Door Cinema Club, and Honne. Later that year they went on a mall tour alongside fellow Philippine returnees Honne. The Little Rock, Arkansas-based duo’s fanbase in the country has grown tremendously since then. Formed in 2017, the band’s music continues to evolve, releasing hit singles like "love somebody like you" and "drive all night." They've also come out with a bunch of EPs, two of which they dropped just recently.

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“We would have never imagined like a year ago, two years ago, playing in Asia but especially not on a virtual Zoom [meeting] with all you guys. We're super thankful to be doing it.” Thomas says in an interview with Esquire Philippines and other members of the media in a special Asian junket for the release of their EPs hi and bye.

Joan reveals in a short introduction that the double EPs were a product of an ambitious idea they had where they wanted to release a new song each month until the end of the year.

“We had this crazy vision in February or March this year and we were like, ‘Why don't we just put our heads down and write as much as we can?’ And then we decided to write, record, and release a song a month for the rest of the year. It was a wild journey,” Rutherford explains.

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The band’s reason for releasing two separate EPs instead of combining them into a single one is because each one is trying to tell a unique story–hi is about the beginning of a relationship while bye is about how it ends. That is pretty neat from a storytelling perspective, if you ask me. 

“[The songs] ended up going into those two camps. We could just do one EP but we're like [releasing a double EP] just makes sense,” Rutherford states.

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To get things started, Joan gave a live virtual performance of their songs "something special" from hi and "so done" from bye, which got everyone dancing on Zoom and bobbing their heads along to the smooth dreamy tunes.

After their lovely performance which got silent, on-mute applause and clapping emoji reactions, the band explained the meaning behind both of their songs. Alan and Steven explained that "something special" is dedicated to both of their wives, Hannah and Lola respectively, with whom they both recently welcomed their first children. 

“We wanted to make a cute song. Kind of a love song to our wives. We're both happily married to our wives,” Thomas reveals. “We both were lucky to fall in love with our best friends. They were our best friends first and then the love came later. And so it was a cool, cool testament to that.” 

Rutherford then tells everyone that "so done" is one of their rare songs where everything clicked just instantly. “We sat down and it felt like we blinked and we had the song completely done. It was just like every decision we were making just felt right.”

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But that wasn’t usually the case with every other song on their EPs. They would usually take months to complete other songs. “I think we started "right back" from the hi EP last year sometime [during the height of] the pandemic,” Thomas says.

The band feels that their new EPs are extra special because of how they touch on different aspects and phases of relationships which makes it easier for listeners to connect to their songs.

“We've had a lot of people already reached out and talk about how much a certain song means to them and it's really cool,” Rutherford says. “It's been fun to kind of release over the year and kind of see which song hits certain people differently,” he continues.

“We tried to encapsulate the rollercoaster of a relationship, the ups and the downs, the valleys–all of it. Even if it's not like a partner. Maybe it's a family member or a friend that you've had for a really long time. There are themes throughout this that everyone has gone through to some degree. We try to write all of our music to be relatable,” Thomas adds.

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Unlike most people where they learned new hobbies like gardening or cooking during the height of the pandemic, the duo made it a point to focus and devote their time in lockdown to become better musicians. “We were like, you know what? Let's do something that's really beneficial to our job.’ And so we just buckled down and said we're gonna learn how to produce better, we're gonna learn how to write better songs, we're gonna learn how to be even more independent,” Thomas says.

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All that hardwork paid off because joan has put out the two EPs with songs that people will want to listen on repeat. However, despite improving leaps and bounds since their very first single, it hasn’t really been a walk in the park for the duo. They admitted that they’re still having some difficulties when creating music even though they’ve been doing this professionally for around five years now.

“The hardest part is that I think, for me is the discipline to sit down and finish [writing a song] because you can write an awesome chorus that [people will love.] [But] then I'm like ‘Crap, where would I take it? How do we develop that story?’,” Thomas reveals.

Despite encountering creative blocks in their process, Thomas believes that the band continues to overcome those obstacles and thrive because of the chemistry in their partnership.

“It's such a joy to be able to kind of work together. While it does feel hard to kind of find inspiration sometimes and push ourselves to keep getting better and better, it feels like we can bounce off of each other all the time and kind of challenge ourselves. Which is a really great thing in our partnership,” he says.

In just a short amount of time since they formed joan, the duo have quite the resume, but they still believe their pre-pandemic Asia tour was the highlight of their blossoming careers thus far.

“Not because we’re on a Zoom call with our Asian country friends but our last tour we did in Asia was kind of the peak for me,” Rutherford jokes as Thomas laughs. “It'd be hard to beat that right now. I think about it a lot and I have such fond memories of every place we went to and everybody we met. It was all around such a great experience that I literally can't wait to go back,” he continues.

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On the topic of touring, Thomas adds that they can’t wait to go on tour next year and they’ve been longing to perform live in front of their fans once again. 

“We realized early on how important it was to tour and how much we love being on stage and playing these songs live. That's probably the one thing I miss is figuring out how to translate these songs live because it's just a different experience,” Thomas says. “You've seen a million shows yourselves like it's such a different experience to hear a song on the radio or hear it in your headphones and then experience the artist doing it live,” he adds.

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Being world-renowned musicians with fans all across the globe doesn’t make them immune to being fans themselves. The duo reveals which artists, past or present, they would want to get stuck on an island with to create a full-length record.

“First of all, I'd have to make a record with James Taylor. The great James Taylor is one of my dad and mine’s favorite. I got to see him live one time. He's amazing,” Thomas admits. “I'd add Charlie Puth in that, just because he's pure genius. And then probably throw in like a Bruno Mars,” he continues.

“Mine’s not an artist, but I'd love to work with Rick Rubin. He's a huge producer,” Rutherford says. “And I've been watching the latest Beatles documentary and it's kind of lit a fire back in me. So I think it'd be fun to be in a room and kind of just see how they worked out.” he continues.

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Just like the rest of us, the duo also looked at their Spotify Wrapped and revealed their top songs. 

“It's so embarrassing to say but every single one of my top fives were joan [songs],” Thomas reluctantly admits. “Let me explain why. I don't just sit and listen to my music, I promise. I have this thing that when we release a song, I like to mentally get in. Like if we released it and you were listening to it in your room by yourself or in your car, I want to get in your mind and I like try to put myself in your shoes as a listener. And so I like close my eyes and I listen to the song,” he reveals.

“I know Justin Bieber was on there with the release of Justice,” Rutherford shares. “And then Daniel Caesar was on there a lot as well. I'm having a hard time remembering the other ones but probably it was probably joan,” he says as they both laugh. 

When asked about their time in Manila, Thomas had nothing but praise for their Filipino fans. “Everyone we met in Manila, it truly felt like home. It felt like we didn't leave Arkansas. The whole time was a blast. It was our very first time in Asia, we played [in] Wanderland which we have so many fond memories of. We absolutely loved meeting everyone. It was such a beautiful time there,” he says.

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Joan ended the Asian junket by performing another song from their bye EP called "not over you." Seeing how passionate they are with their music and the enthusiasm they have for engaging their fans will surely take them places where they’ve never been before. I, for one, am truly excited to see the succeeding peaks that this band will reach.

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MJ Pagaduan
MJ Pagaduan is the Content Producer of Esquire Philippines.
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