- Words Aimee Phillips
- Photography Connor North Goad
Pop duo joan make music that will instantly warm your heart. Notion sat down with the pair to hear about their new single "Something Special", upcoming two-part EP, and whether we're alone in the universe.
Meeting through church, both Alan Benjamin Thomas and Steven Rutherford had played in separate bands previously, but they tell Notion that “the first day we ever wrote together, we knew we had found something special”. Originally setting out to write songs for film and TV, the pair soon realised they were on to something bigger. A natural path of label signings and support shows for bands like COIN followed, with their songs rapidly climbing in streams (their official debut “love somebody like you” is still one of their most popular to date with almost 17m streams on Spotify alone).
Basing most of their tracks around love and heartbreak, each joan song would feel right at home in an epic romance movie thanks to their soft, boyband-esque vocals and dreamy synth production. Having toured with Bloc Party, Jeremy Zucker, HONNE and The Aces, joan are now ready to take on the big time, manifesting a headline tour next year.
With three EPs already under their belt, joan are back for more with not one but two EPs, ‘hi’ and ‘bye’. The first encompasses all the experiences and rushes of emotion felt around the start of a relationship, whilst the latter deals with the ending.
Notion sat down with joan to chat about the healing power of music, the organic way they created their two-part EP, whether we’re alone in the universe, and much more. Jump in!
You’re set to release a two-part EP, titled ‘hi’ and ‘bye’, which is about the beginning and end of a relationship. Was it a personal experience that inspired it or was it more of a general collection of emotions and stories blended from across the years?
A little of both! We try to draw from both the personal experience of our past, the personal experiences of those around us, and some fictional storytelling as well. The main goal is: how do we write songs that relate to everyone? It’s not 100% possible, but the more accessible the song emotionally and story-wise, the greater the audience. So we aim to write songs that are timeless and relatable in nature.
Can writing music help mend personal grievances and heal the heart?
Well we surely believe so! The way music has intertwined with our personal lives since an early age is proof for us. For as long as I can remember, when *that* melody or *that* moment in a song hits, I get chills. I escape. Everything around me fades and it’s just me in that moment in time. It feels as if that moment was written for me. We truly believe music is therapeutic. We get so many sweet messages from fans saying that a song of ours has assisted them in some way, or has been one element in helping them get through something in their life. That’s the greatest aim and reward for us: that our music might help someone.
Had you always intended for it to be in two parts?
We honestly just sat down one day and realized “oh wow, these songs are kinda falling into two thematic camps: the beginning and the ending of a relationship.” and so it just made complete sense to start forming everything around that idea. Every idea and decision afterward just felt all the more complete with that mindset. It happened quite organically.
What was the creative process like for making the records? Did it differ from your previous records in any way?
Our process is essentially: there is a phrase, melodic or lyric, or musical idea that comes out of nowhere that we then kinda filter between us. We’ll ask “is this worth chasing?”. If it passes that test, we hit it hard. It usually then develops into an intro/verse/chorus idea (we’re talking like 1min long) and sits for a sec on dropbox. We live with it for a bit, go work on other songs, then ultimately revisit it to see if it still has that spark that gets us jazzed. If it does, we dive deep into it and it becomes a song. Now, normally we try to finish a handful that will be whatever that next release is, however, this time we’ve kinda been working as we go. For instance, we are currently finishing the next single that is due by the beginning of next month. So we have some time limits around us which honestly has helped us buckle down and finish stuff 🙂
You grew up in the small town of Little Rock in Arkansas and are still based there today. As you’ve grown into a big act, have you felt any pressure to move elsewhere?
We’ve honestly felt zero pressure to move. The internet has made the world much, much smaller. We’re a flight away from anywhere. Sure, there are perks of being in music towns: easy meetings, co-writing, big studios, etc etc. But to date, we haven’t needed any of that to make joan what it has become. We found our sound on our own, in a small bedroom studio in the back of Alan’s house, with a brilliant manager in London, and amazing teams all over the world. We’re an international band who gets to come home and be with our family and friends in a place where there is no ego or fast-pace. We kinda love it like that.
Looking back on your career so far, did you foresee your success?
The first day we ever wrote together, we knew we had found something special. I don’t think either of us is arrogant enough to think it will grow to this size or that, but we knew the stars had aligned in some way. But at that moment we knew it was just time to hunker down and get to work. We were fortunate enough to have some key people find out about us and invest their time and attention into our forming, which has made all of the difference. It def takes a village and we’re so thankful to have an amazing team.
If you weren’t musicians, what lives would you be leading in an alternate universe?
Alan: I have found a love for remodeling old houses with my wife, Lola. We’re on our 4th house right now and it’s been so fun (and stressful at times) to learn new skills and work with my hands. If you would’ve met me even like 5 years ago you would have NEVER expected to see me with a power tool in my hands haha.
Steven: Great question, I think about this a lot. By day I would be a marketing agent for a New York corperation, doing whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s tough but so rewarding to see the client happy. Once 5 o’clock hits, I’m done for the day, and I quickly change costume and head to the club where I’m Las Vegas’ newest and most predictable disc jockey, “DJ Stinky Steve”. I exclusively play to the early crowd, usually consisting of 40-60-year-olds trying to catch an early dinner before the wheel of fortune comes on at 6:30. They want the classics, I give them the classics. At 9 pm, I run home to start my daily Twitch stream, I’ve got 50 thousand fans waiting to watch me play online monopoly again. I win, of course, and by 11 pm I’m in bed ready to start it all over.
Or maybe i’d be an interior designer or a painter or something.
Speaking of the universe, do you think we as humans are alone? What do you believe is out there?
*Puts on tin foil hat* We LOVE all things space and science. It’s truly hard to fathom the size of the seemingly ever-expanding universe and not imagine that there is at least some sort of other life out there. It’s too big and vast, there are too many other habitable zones, etc etc. I will say, however, that if we are the only ones, it’s both kinda beautiful and also humbling to know that it’s just us.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
Alan: I would want to be able to fly. It would be so sick to just launch into the air and go anywhere, uninhibited.
Steven: I would have super speed and I would race Alan to wherever we were going to see who between land and air. I bet I could beat him.
What are you manifesting for 2022?