Coffee with Joywave: Pranks, mugs, and inconveniencing the majority

| Senior Editor

I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff during my college experience. Mostly T-shirts and stickers, but also some posters and pens—and even a planner that I lost some time ago but had for a moment.

The crowning achievement of all this knick-knack gathering, though, came my sophomore year, during a concert at an innocuous college bar near Saint Louis University. The knick-knack? A coffee mug. The band? Joywave.

Indie pop-rock band Joywave performs onstage at Coachella in 2016. The band recently visited St. Louis, where it performed at The Firebird, a bar located near Saint Louis University.Brian van der Brug | Los Angeles Times

Indie pop-rock band Joywave performs onstage at Coachella in 2016. The band recently visited St. Louis, where it performed at The Firebird, a bar located near Saint Louis University.

It’s a simple mug: matte black with white letters reading “Coffee with Joywave.” My fascination with it is decidedly unwarranted, but never before that moment (nor ever since) have I found a band as infatuated with coffee as I am. Not only was Joywave selling mugs, but it also was selling its own coffee grounds. Something special was brewing.

Joywave came back to that innocuous bar—The Firebird—this past week, performing the day after Thanksgiving. The band has released a new album, “Content,” and Joywave is making the rounds again with its off-color brand of satire synth pop.

But back to the coffee for a second. Daniel Armbruster, the lead singer of the Rochester, N.Y.-based band, said his personal love of brewed beans stemmed from giving up alcohol. Coffee became his “liquid of choice,” and ever since, he’s sought out a coffee shop in every city Joywave’s tour passes through.

For the band’s previous St. Louis stops, Blueprint Coffee on the Delmar Loop has been his go-to. Armbruster decides on his coffee shop after a rigorous process—which includes Yelp and latte art.

“You open up Yelp, and you look at the pictures people have uploaded. If there’s latte art, then it’s good. If there’s not latte art, then it’s usually bad,” Armbruster said. “I don’t really care about the art itself; I just care that someone cared enough about the coffee to draw a little picture in it.”

Armbruster’s favorite coffee place, outside of Rochester, resides in Portland, Ore. It’s called Heart, and its cashew milk—or maybe macadamia nut, he can’t remember—latte sold him.

The coffee though, or at least the Joywave merchandising of coffee, does more than just signal Armbruster’s love for the drink; it also speaks to the band’s ethos.

Unconventionality and quirky humor run through most of Joywave’s music and live performances. In 2016, the band realized an album entitled “Swish,” parodying the original name of Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo.” The Joywave version consisted simply of the same song, “Destruction,” repeated nine times with different titles attached. To be fair, there was also an original bonus track.

Similarly, during their live performances, the band is known to play the same song again and again and again, intending to entertain or anger its audience.

“I don’t like people feeling indifferent about our band. If people love us, that’s great. If people hate us, that’s great,” Armbruster said. “It’s usually when we play a song like that a few times in a row that there are people just staring with mouths open—just like ‘this is horrible.’ And other people are laughing along with us like ‘oh my god they don’t care,’ which is correct.”

Joywave’s entire shtick is not caring about what the audience thinks and focusing on what makes the bandmates laugh. It’s that mindset that allows the band to play with lower stakes, especially when so much of its career has been opening for bigger acts.

“At a massive show of maybe 4,000 people, and only 300 of those people have bought a ticket to see you…you’re just inconveniencing 3,700 who want to see their favorite band,” Armbruster said. “I like to kind of antagonize people. [We] tell them things that it’s in the contract that we don’t have to leave the stage until we’ve been satisfied by the crowd’s reaction—things like that.”

Those moments, when the band pranks the audience, allow Joywave as a collective to carry more of a personality than other pop artists can. The band isn’t trying to hide the parts of life that inevitably influence everything else. Part of the band members’ process is asking what they shouldn’t do as a band—and then following up by doing it anyway.

Joywave is worth seeing because it makes the performances fun for the band memmbers themselves, and by association, fun for the audience. I vaguely remember a keyboardist in a dinosaur costume when I saw the band perform sophomore year. But Joywave has already picked up and left town, continuing its tour around the United States.

Luckily, for everyone dismayed to have missed Joyware, there will be other tours—and Spotify to satiate in between. Personally, I’ve got my mug. And that’s all I need.