Few other emerging composers embody the spirit of blooming creativity so well as Molly Joyce. Talented and exacting, open-minded and committed to her craft, Joyce is laying the foundation for a supremely interesting career.
Earlier this year, New Amsterdam Records released her debut EP, “Lean Back and Release,” a set of two pieces for violin and prerecorded electronics that captures Joyce’s interest in blending traditional acoustic with electronic music.
We caught up with Joyce to talk about what it’s like to pitch that first EP, what she values in collaborations with other artists and why she won’t be traveling anywhere soon without her signature vintage toy organ.
21CM: You’re just at the start of your career as a composer, but how would you say your voice has developed into what it is today?
Molly Joyce: When I started at Juilliard, I thought I would write pieces for more traditional and acoustic instrumentations, like string quartets and orchestras. However, once I got to know composers like Missy Mazzoli and several others associated with the indie-classical scene, I realized there’s so much more out there as far as what you can write, especially with electronics.
From there I think my style totally changed. A lot of my music now has some sort of pulse in it and also an electronic element, which is usually sampled from acoustic instruments. Typically the electronics are pre-recorded and they interact with the track and live performers.
21CM: That leads us to your debut EP, which consists of two works for violin and prerecorded electronics. How did you come to select these pieces?
Joyce: It’s interesting. I never wrote these pieces envisioning them as my debut release. The impetus came from Adrianna Mateo, the violinist on the title track “Lean Back and Release.” The work was programmed on the 2014 Bang on a Can Marathon, and when we realized it was gaining some traction, [Mateo] suggested putting it on iTunes. Of course I started thinking, wait, I’ve been working for New Amsterdam for four years now. Why don’t I at least submit it to them?
21CM: And the second piece, “Shapeshifter?”
Joyce: Yeah – then I started thinking, well, a single would be great – but I’d just written this other violin and electronics piece for the Dutch duo of violinist Monica Germino and the sound engineer Frank van der Weij. So I submitted those two tracks for the entire EP.
21CM: Did you make new recordings once New Amsterdam picked up the project?
Joyce: We used the recordings I submitted. I’m usually pretty persistent about getting recordings of my pieces because I feel like the work is practically dead if you don’t have a recording of it. That’s always been an important part of my career, to invest in and push for performers to record my pieces.
21CM: Do you always try to get the most professional-sounding recording as possible?
Joyce: It’s changed a lot recently because I’ve been performing more on my toy organ, so I can record myself very easily. But I always try to get a solid recording. Since a lot of my pieces have electronics anyway, I know that there’s much you can manipulate in post-production. I definitely value working with others on mixing and mastering. Sometimes I feel like I could do the mixing on my own, but I also love getting someone else’s opinion on it.
21CM: You like that editor relationship.
Joyce: Exactly. I value the back-and-forth. Sometimes I try to have people mix my backing track, but I usually don’t like it because it’s almost too clean. I feel that there’s a bit of rawness or dirtiness to my processed tracks that I always try to keep if possible.
21CM: Back to your relationship with New Amsterdam – it seems like they were part of your music education.
Joyce: I first started working with them the summer of 2011, after my freshman year at Juilliard. We were all working in a hot garage in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Despite the heat, it was an amazing and eye-opening experience for me. I love every album they release. And being able to spend time with people like William Brittelle and Judd Greenstein – hearing their conversations and ideas first-hand – it had a big impact on me. I also learned that you really never stop pursuing career goals. You may think that at a certain stage you’re going to stop pitching or entering things, and that opportunities will just come to you. But I soon realized that that’s not necessarily the case. Specifically from working with them, and a little later for Missy Mazzoli, I learned that the self-promotion and drive is continuous.
21CM: What was the submission process like?
Joyce: Once I decided I wanted to submit, I spoke to co-artistic director William Brittelle to get his initial thoughts and to make him and the staff aware. It would be weird if I submitted and didn’t tell anyone! It went through the normal process. I had to wait six months, but I definitely feel fortunate to be on the label. They offer a lot of flexibility in that you keep the masters and can really guide the release artistically. They have input, but I could pick out my cover artist, Benjamin Ganz, and pursue producing a music video.
21CM: Speaking of the music video, you can’t take your eyes off of it! Can you describe how that project came about?
Joyce: That was with the production company Four/Ten Media and the actress is Christine Nelson. I knew that I didn’t want to do the whole “Shapeshifter” track because it’s six minutes – too long for a video. So I chose excerpts and had it re-mixed and mastered. I also told Four/Ten that I wanted projection mapping. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there for the actual shoot, but I trusted their artistic intuition and there was some back-and-forth in the editing process.
21CM: What advice do you have for young composers who want to release a debut recording? Would you encourage them to do a self-release or do you think everyone should try pitching to a label first?
Joyce: I think it’s definitely worth pitching to a label. Most labels have an administrative fee, so you have to realize that coming in – it’s an investment. But I think any label is better than none, especially when you consider distribution. Like everything else in your career, it’s not going to be an overnight success. But I believe that you need to invest in yourself before others do. It’s also worth trying to get someone else behind it, pushing it, besides yourself.
21CM: So what’s next for you?
I just graduated from Yale and I’m going on to artist residencies for two years.
21CM: Where are you headed?
I’m starting with residencies in Washington, Miami, Austria and Norway, and my toy organ is coming to all of them. I aim to work on my debut full-length album – I want everything, sound-wise, to come from the organ. I think I also want there to be a visual component to the album, as I feel that my performances on the organ are completely different live than just hearing the recording. Specifically, I feel that the organ fits my body well as I have a physically impaired left hand, so I’m thinking about how to engage filmmakers and visual artists for the final product.
21CM: We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it. Thanks for your time, Molly.
Joyce: Thank you!