Album premiere: Jess Joy talks about ‘Patreearchy,’ patriarchy and being the marionette who flips off the puppet master

Jess Joy

Blessed with a voice that can leap tall buildings in a single bound, avant-garde pop artist Jess Joy vivisects gender dynamics on her debut album “Patreearchy,” out Friday via Joyful Noise.

Premiering here in advance of its release, “Patreearchy” was made with producer Greg Saunier of Deerhoof. It’s the next step for the Louisiana native, born Jessica Ramsey, after migrating to Los Angeles with guitarist Andrew Martin to front the band Moon Honey. Known not just for their technical derring-do and wildly theatrical shows, Moon Honey possessed a certain visual mystique thanks to Joy’s costumes, headdresses and stage design.

On her solo debut, that mystique resonates with very vocal trill, quaver and warble — truth and vulnerability as if delivered with the innocence of a woodland creature — and with every visual gesture in the videos she has released. The messaging is heavy in “Thrashold”; binary gender roles are acted out in “Permanent Heaven”; and in choreography and mime, she gets to “the roots of my shame” (religion) in “Bless Your Name.”

And, yes, that’s a marionette flipping off the puppet master in the new video for “Her0,” out today.

“‘Her0′ is a song about killing one’s idols. In this original pantomime piece and self-directed video I play a marionette doll, who, in the process of gaining her own autonomy, frees herself from the controlling puppet master above by cutting her own strings,” Joy says. “The zero in ‘Her0’ represents the dismantling of the hierarchy of our heroes. Save yourself.”

In the Buzz Bands LA interview, Jess Joy discusses “Patreearchy” and (both sides of) patriarchy — and how her art fueled catharsis and personal growth:

Buzz Bands LA: Because what you do vocally is front-and-center and feels so extemporaneous, I’m curious about how the songs start. In their embryonic form, are they words and vocal melodies, beats, keyboard lines? And how do they arrive on producer Greg’s doorstep?

Jess Joy: They usually start with lyrical ideas sparked by something that is bothering me / an event I’m processing — a little sand in my oyster. For instance, when I started writing “Her0,” I was feeling let down by someone who I really looked up to, someone who I felt had power over me. The line “I don’t want to be in the power show/ I just want to feel your love” came to me, and after [journaling] out all the lyrics to the first verse, I sat down at my tiny keyboard with a drum machine to find the melody and beat that I felt matched those feelings of disappointment and sass.

Once the song was written, I recorded keys and vox with a friend Zachary Mouton at a local studio (this was pre-pandemic). I took it home and recorded bass synth and theremin on my computer. I sent the track to friends Bobby Victor and Davin Givhan to record on from their homes. Then it landed in Greg’s email inbox ready to be mixed.

Has there ever been a sweeter-sounding graphically violent song than “Thrashold”?

Jess Joy: Hmm, that’s funny, I suppose sugar helps the medicine go down. I believe a truth that someone doesn’t want to hear does have a chance of being received if it’s delivered in a way that’s unexpected. It’s like dropping off a cute, pink candy bag full of dog shit on someone’s doorstep. Though I didn’t mean to be sweet, per se, I was intentionally embodying how my voice gets really quiet when I’m very angry — I also tend to become a bit sarcastic and saccharine. You know, I really think Xiu Xiu and St. Vincent influenced me here — I always respected Xiu Xiu for their extreme vulnerability exploring taboo lyrics, and St. Vincent for being the first to show me the disorienting effect of playing a lovely sounding, birdlike melody paired with dark lyrics.

As a visual artist / designer / costumer, do you automatically “see” or project certain images or colors as these songs take shape?

Jess Joy: I love that question! Since I was a visual artist before a musician, I do think that I approached music in a way that was like sculpting. I start with a big lump of clay — a large mass of unrefined, raw, emotional material. I try every melody that comes to mind. I often write pages of lyrics, then I try to whittle them down to the essence: Which of these notes/words/movements best portray how I’m feeling? I’m subtractive.

I fell in love with mime three years ago, and that also changed the way that I think about, hear and write music. Now I think about the energy qualities: What is vibrational, what rises up, what slides down, what is still — I used to be quite pedal to the metal. Bombastic, one might say. Now I try to consider dynamics in emotion a bit more. Say something very softly to someone, then slap them in the face. If you’re yelling before the slap they won’t be very surprised at all. This is similar to decisions in color. When I think about an emotionally complex painting, I think about drawing from a large palette — if I can dab my paint brush in a bit of tragedy, comedy, love, joy and anger, and somehow make an arrangement in which all these emotions can coexist — well, that’s a very rich and interesting painting, in my opinion.

Is it hard to maintain your childlike exuberance when tackling subject matter such as this?

Jess Joy: It’s hard to maintain my childlike exuberance in real life for sure, where this subject matter truly exists, but not when I am recording a song. I’m in fantasy land then, and the spirit takes over. When I’m recording, I often make extreme faces and move my body in ways that reflect the emotion. It is my aim to be extremely emotionally articulate. I feel like a child when I make art, in that I let everything out. It’s really therapeutic.

On a scale of 1 to “standing in the pouring rain and issuing blanket apologies,” how guilty should men feel about the messages in “Patreearchy”?

Jess Joy: That’s dense. I won’t lie — I would thoroughly enjoy men standing in the rain and apologizing (also accepting $5 Venmo donations @jessjoymagic, chocolate and flowers) — but it was never my intention to make men feel anything with “Patreearchy.” It was my personal attempt to free myself from society’s opinions/power over me, and to let go of the male privilege I was clinging onto. I didn’t believe I could write my own music and that others would take me seriously without a man (a man’s ideas and validation) by my side. The songs helped me process and eradicate my own internalized sexism and to gain the energy needed to resist oppressive gender roles.

I feel compassion for the way patriarchy also harms men, teaching them to shove their feelings, to control, to be aggressive, etc. Toxic masculinity hurts everybody. I don’t want to make men feel guilty. [Male] guilt is sort of on the same scale as “white guilt,” which is pretty useless in helping to end racism. If men do feel guilt and are open to ideas on what could alleviate it, I’d say acknowledging systemic oppression, making a deep and fearless inventory of one’s own privilege and abuses of power, making amends to those you have harmed in a way that centers the victim, getting a therapist and showing up in new ways that uplift all women and nonbinary folks would be an amazing, radical move. Listen to us. Believe us. Share our stories. Respect our work.

The feedback I’ve gotten thus far has been really touching. It feels healing. But ultimately this record wasn’t intended for men. In my wildest dreams, it would help the next generation of girls and nonbinary kids to understand how the world has changed. I hope it encourages them to be bolder, more alive. It’s for women who struggle with low self-worth because society treated them as disposable and unimportant. I hope it helps anyone who has been oppressed by patriarchy and rape culture feel seen and held.

||| Online: Jess Joy, joined by Zhao and Liza Wallace, performs a livestreamed show at 5 p.m. Friday. TwoLips and Annabelle Maginnis open, and proceeds benefit A New Way of Life. More info here.