“Externally, every time I walk by a TV screen it’s like, ‘You’re gonna die! North Korea is gonna bomb us! There’s a virus!’" he says. "Whatever it is, it’s just always constant annihilation everywhere. It reminds me of the 1960s -- like the whole world is about to end.”
Inspired by the wider universe and how it relates to today’s tumultuous events, Armbruster, who produced most of the album, decided to use audio from Voyager’s Golden Record -- a golden disc curated by Dr. Carl Sagan and designed by NASA in 1977 to communicate what Earth sounds like to extraterrestrials who discover the spacecraft in the far corners of the cosmos.
“That’s, like, 14 billion miles away. That’s the perspective that I want right now," he says. "Everything is so polarized… I want to go as far away from that as possible and look back and say, ‘Everyone just take a deep breath.’” So that’s exactly what the singer-songwriter did when he produced Possession, out today (March 13), in the band’s hometown of Rochester, N.Y.
With Possession, the group was able to use the Golden Record’s audio in several songs, like “Blastoffff” and “Mr. Eastman.” On the title track, listeners can hear the sound of a heartbeat, also from the Golden Record. It makes for one of the most vulnerable moments on the album.
Furthermore, “Coming Apart” begins with a Korean greeting from the Golden Record, which felt natural since it came after the somber album opener, “Like A Kennedy.” “I was writing the song at peak North Korean nuclear fear news cycle time,” Armbruster recalls of "Coming Apart." “It’s, ‘Hello, how are you?’ Which is totally innocuous, but met by a loud irrational scream as soon as the song kicks in.”
But it's "Like A Kennedy" that holds a special spot in Armbruster's repertoire. On it, he questions: “Do you think they’ll build the wall?” and "My TV's talking to itself again/ Do we shoot 'em all dead?/ Or should we let 'em all in?"
“I always think of the first song on the record as like, 'You have to pay attention to this one.' It’s the one that’s most likely to get listened to, so I wanted to make the statement,” says Armbruster. The accompanying video references the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, and while it drew some controversy for its sensitive subject matter, Armbruster stands by his creative efforts.
“There have been some people, I’ll say over the age of maybe 45, who really, really did not like the video," he says. "They felt like it was sacrilegious because they remember that day [Kennedy was assassinated] and they feel like it shouldn’t be touched. But it is very much like, ‘Hey, we have this insane problem with gun violence and it’s cyclical and it’s been happening for a really long time.’"
Addressing dark issues isn’t a foreign concept for Joywave, who also have a solid sense of humor.
“With the guitar solo in ‘Like a Kennedy,’ there are fireworks behind him, which are sarcastically American in this moment of tribulation,” Armbruster says. “Humor is something that so many artists won’t go near with their music, because they’re afraid that people will think that their art is a joke. I think an artist’s job is to explore all sides of human emotion and having a sense of humor is certainly something that people experience."
They also exhibited that comedic side in the video for “Half Your Age,” a song about realizing it’s time to give up on what you might’ve thought was the dream. The visual is made to look like a never-ending advertisement for some kind of magical medication -- a man who is feeling sad and powerless goes to his doctor (played by Armbruster) for a cure, where he gets his hands on those meds.
Then his life is on a full upswing: he grows a full head of luscious hair, he’s able to lift heavy stuff, and suddenly he’s great at basketball. It’s a hilarious visual for a song that’s all about disappointment.
"Half Your Age" is based on a moment of self-realization Armbruster had many years ago. When he was a child, he dreamt of being an astronaut, then a professional hockey player, only to realize that he was not fit for either occupation. “My parents were like, ‘You know there’s no air in space, right?’ And I was like, ‘What? I can die?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, for sure.’ So I was like okay, 'I’m not gonna do that,'" he laughs. “By that time I was like, ‘I should get a guitar instead.'"
A lot has changed for the band -- comprised of Armbruster, Joseph Morinelli (guitar), Benjamin Bailey (keyboards), and Paul Brenner (drums) -- since their release of their sophomore album Content in 2017. Possession took a little over a year to write amid touring, whereas for Content, they holed themselves up in a barn outside of Rochester to knock it all out in four months. These days, Armbruster has his own home studio to work in -- and is intent on getting it right when it comes to recording, because “more people like us now," he jokes.
Joywave is also becoming more collaborative -- the whole band was in the room together when tracking this record, something they haven’t done as often in the past. Armbruster is starting to team up behind the boards with other artists, too; he recently co-produced the song “Death Of Me” by Pvris, who they also just supported on a European tour.
Overall, Armbruster thinks that there is a glimmer of hope throughout Possession. Sure, sometimes he feels like his sanity is slipping away, but he’s trying to change his perspective.
“We should be able to zoom out and detach. I’m not saying don’t participate in the process or don’t care about what’s happening to people or the planet," he says, "just be able to understand that a lot of things are presented in a hyper version of reality."