Grace Joyner, the Ashville-via-Charleston electronic-folk songstress is our August Artist of the Month. Hers is a story of reckless abandon, picking yourself up when you’re down, and chasing the dream to the end of the earth (which so far is a distance that spans from the Carolina coast to the outskirts of Kentucky). Nonetheless, Joyner’s voyage wouldn’t have even been possible if it weren’t for the pack of boundlessly collaborative strays known as Hearts & Plugs. We’re going to talk about them too, but first, let me lure you in with a little bit of old fashioned dialogue:
“Oh, what’s up Zimmerman?”
“So…you know Johnnie?”
“Yeah man, me and Johnnie are real tight.”
“Dude, you should come out this Friday”
“Let me text Dan”
“Yeah, you know, Jenkin’s friend”
“Oh, he’s friends with Jordan too I think”
If you’re an aspiring musician you’ve been part of that ‘crew’ before. You know exactly what I’m talking about. That group of friends that think they’re going to start a band, travel across the country in a minivan, and upend our entire social infrastructure. Maybe you meet in a basement, or perhaps a front porch. There’s no formal membership, no secret handshake. While you’re far from new age cult status, certain vestiges of hippy culture might seep in occasionally. Countless students have formed similar cadres. Why? Because they want to live in the moment. Be a part of the bonfire jam sessions that catapult musical revolutions. Discover new forms of sonic expression and collectively explore the universe together to make sense of its stellar enormity.
The thing is, occasionally, one of these slacker collectives actually sees it through to the other side. Occasionally, hipsters mobilize. Word spreads and they start to pick up steam. They score gigs, sell out local venues, generate revenue, invest in better equipment, chip in for a recording studio, and before you know it, are a permanent fixture in the local music landscape.
Hearts & Plugs is one of these collectives. Based in sun-scorched Charleston, South Carolina, Hearts & Plugs is a burgeoning music label built around an intimate nexus of friends that were probably jamming on someone’s porch not too long ago. They’ve since amassed a steady following thanks to a robust roster of folk-centric indie pop acts oozing with creative juices.
Front and center of the operation is founder and director Dan McCurry. He brings with him a breadth of business savvy accumulated from past business experiences; both the ups and the downs. The label started out of necessity when his own band, Run Dan Run, needed a new home to record their sophomore album. As such, they recorded Normal in 2011, Hearts & Plugs first official release. Hearts & Plugs’ in-house recording studio is operated by Wolfgang Zimmerman, who also plays the drums for Brave Baby. The sleek psych-pop outlet is also one of the label’s rising stars, having garnered critical praise for their sophomore release Electric Friends—think Arcade Fire in scope, sonically akin to Tame Impala, with a rugged southern twang. Other noteworthy members include alt-country rockers SUSTO, and doo-wop post-punkers Gold Light, and many more. Almost every act on the Hearts & Plugs team is a collaborative affair of interspersing band members. At some point while contributing backing harmonies, Grace Joyner joined the mix.
It didn’t take long for Grace Joyner’s woozy yet robust vocal palate to get noticed. Her first solo recording came in the form of Young Fools—fleeting and vulnerable songs culled from emotional pangs of successes, failures, trials, tribulations, ambition, and regret. Exemplified by tracks such as “Be Good” and “Young Thing”, the EP effectively captures Joyner’s essence, drawing comparisons to other strong female voices such as Kate Bush and Lana Del Rey.
Two years of relentless gigging and creative musing, Joyner was ready to record her debut full-length album. Maybe Sometimes in C is a vibrantly colored folk symphony that showcases both Grace’s impressive vocals coated in an immersive synth backdrop. Maybe Sometimes in C allowed Grace further opportunities to hit the road and expand her reach, recently touring through the Carolinas and Kentucky with Gold Light in support of their album Visions.
I got the chance to ask Grace Joyner a few questions about her recent creative pursuits, about living in Charleston and collaborating with Hearts & Plugs, and what’s next on the docket. Check it out:
Q: You’re a Charleston gal, a city which–although certainly known for being a great travel destination—it’s also a city with a jam-packed music scene, does Charleston feel underrated to you at all?
A: The Charleston music scene has been rapidly growing in the last couple years thanks to Dan and Hearts & Plugs, along with some amazing venues, such as The Royal American. Throughout that growing process, I believe it has been getting the recognition it deserves. There are a lot of amazing musicians there, and we have all been working together to get Charleston on the map for music. I really think it is starting to get there.
Q: Speaking of, it would be hard to find a group of musicians more passionate about and gunning harder for a music scene than Hearts and Plugs. How’s it been working with them?
A: It has been truly inspiring to see Hearts & plugs develop into what it is now. It is such an example of what a good idea can become if you combine it with hard work. Dan is an amazing visionary and I am very thankful to be a part of what him & Megan are doing.
Q: I’m try to pin down the Charleston music vibe—there are lots of artists, lots of musicians, so it’s impossible to boil it down completely—but what’s separating Charleston from another large music scene in the vicinity, like say, Asheville or Carrboro?
A: Something about the Charleston music scene that I think is very special is the sense of community. We really are a family. We all collaborate all the time and are constantly supporting one another. Some of us have known each other for nearly a decade. We have maintained such a comfortable creative space, and I think that is what sets us apart.
Q: Speaking of Asheville, you were recently on the road with you were recently on the road with Gold Light, they seem like a fun crowd—and it looks like you hit up some cool places—how was that tour overall?
A: The tour was magical. Joe, from Gold Light, contacted me a couple months ago with the idea of collaborating and doing a short run together. I don’t think either of us were expecting it to go so smoothly and seem so natural. The band we had with us were such a great group of people and at almost every spot we hit we had these serendipitous moments. Everything fell into place on that tour, and we are about to start working on another one with the same group. Hopefully the details will be worked out in the next couple weeks.
Q: I didn’t realize the album cover for Maybe Something in C was a cropped photo of you in a bathtub filled with some kind of dark blue liquid–what was the story behind that photo? Who took it?
A: So that was an idea I had, and we just kind of went with it to be honest. My roommate Keex took the photo in my bathroom. We used a blue bath bomb to get the coloring. I just thought the image was interesting. My bathroom has this mundane vibe to it, and I thought adding a romantic contrast would turn out well.
Q: So is Maybe Sometimes in C, actually in the key of C? Or are you riffing off of a completely different reference and I’m just completely missing it?
A: No you are pretty much on point. There was a running joke with my producer, Wolfgang Zimmerman, about how often songs are in C. It is easy for me to write in that key, so he was always teasing me about changing it up. Of course they are not all in C, but it is a reference to that. Also there is a line in the first track, “I’m not crazy, or maybe sometimes…” It has to do with recognizing value even when there are faults.
Q: I saw an Instagram pic of Hug O’ War, were you a big Shel Silverstein fan growing up? Has his poetry snuck itself into your lyrics at all?
A: I LOVE Shel Silverstein. Hmm…that is a good question though. I think I resonate with a lot of themes he plays around with, but I can’t pinpoint any direct lyric references. My favorite poem of his is “The Perfect High.”
Q: There’s another pic of The Velvet Underground performed by ET Anderson & Grace Joyner? Seriously? That’s the coolest thing ever!
A: That was an awesome night. ET Anderson let me join in for a Velvet Underground cover set for an event as Nico. I was honored. It was so fun.
Q: I saw you also posted a Tina meme, are you a big fan of Bob’s burgers? Is there a particular burger joint in Charleston we should be aware of?
A: Wow I am so impressed. You have done so much research. I am a fan of Bob’s Burgers, but to be honest I don’t eat a lot of burgers… I will say Moe’s Crosstown has amazing brunch & I hear they have great burgers so that is what I am going to go with for this question.
Q: I’m a North Carolina guy myself–I was glad to see your allegiance to the Carolina Panthers, did you enjoy watching them kick ass last year? Are you excited for the season to kick off again?
A: My family is from North Carolina so I grew up a fan of the Panthers. Watching them kick ass last season was so fun. Cam is such a babe. I am sure we will kill it this season.
Q: Last one—this is all you—what’s up next for Grace Joyner? Any new projects on the horizon? Cool collaborations? Hitting up the recording studio anytime soon? When’s your next show? When are people not from below the Mason Dixon line going to see Grace Joyner live?
A: We have a little run in Columbia & Charleston the weekend of 8.19-8.20. Then we have some other Carolina shows coming up in the next couple months. Currently about to start planning another tour with Gold Light for the Fall & we are working on extending our reach! I haven’t had a whole lot of writing inspiration until recently. So many ideas are rolling around in my head & I am just about ready to start working through them. I expect a good amount of new songs on the horizon, and soon after that it will be in the works to get them out.
Hearts & Plugs is an excellent source of fresh musical discovery, and even though I’ve listened through more than a handful of their artists this week, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. They’ve put a lot of work into honing their craft. More importantly though, their label is a guiding light post for the bold, the artistically curious, poetically odd, and all around atypical. We’re eager for more!