Album Review + Q&A: Joytrip — ‘Mr. Time and the Joyful Ploys’

“You said you didn’t want love. You said that you didn’t want nothing. I don’t think it matters at all,” wistfully recites Joytrip’s Michael Schodin on “Taken Aback,” the infectious opening song of the band’s debut EP, Mr. Time and the Joyful Ploys.

Schodin, Joytrip’s vocalist and guitarist, describes the band’s sound as “road trip music,” propelled by mountains, lakes and human connections. The bittersweet “Taken Aback” beautifully synthesizes the scenic with the sincere; harsh yet cozy winters are the backdrop for homesickness and an all-too-familiar longing for love. The song’s intricate lyrics — a “dark past” that is both metaphorical and literal in the gloom of a Midwest February — are perfectly complemented by guitarist and trumpeter Eddie Hochman’s backing vocals. His chorus refrain — “Taken aback, taken aback, I’m taking it back, taking it back” — lingers in the mind long after the opener concludes.

In contrast, “Mr. Time and the Joyful Ploys,” the EP’s eponymous second song, strikes a more optimistic note. The bright tones of Hochman’s trumpet adds a melodic warmth to the song, a dynamism matched by the lyrics. “Who are you? We are the joyful ploys” sings Schodin in the playful chorus: “What does that mean? We are the joyful ploys!”

“Different Views” is the closest the EP comes to outright indie-rock, a sonic environment Joytrip clearly thrive in. After being lulled in by an opening 15 seconds of soft guitar chords, Bennett Shapiro’s thumping drums initiate a dramatic change of tempo. This shift is fully realized moments later by a crescendo of jangly guitar riffs, underpinned by Mitchell Wisniewski’s subtle but sophisticated bassline. Exactly four minutes of indie bliss, it’s a shining example of how to craft momentum in a song.

“The Candle Flickers On” offers the EP a breezier conclusion; softer vocals meld exquisitely with whimsical guitars, fashioning an audio aesthetic that is more dream-pop than indie-rock. Indeed, when heard with the band’s affinity for nature in mind, the EP itself mirrors the cyclical progression of seasons.

From the introspective winter rolls of “Taken Aback” into the vibrant spring of “Mr. Time and the Joyful Ploys”; “Different Views” paints a frenetic summer that eventually gives way to a mellow autumn in “The Candle Flickers On.”

For a debut EP, it’s a staggeringly mature record, one designed to reward repeat listens. It’s also a project that sounds fantastic live. Schodin and Hochman kicked off the live music at Iowa City’s Rock the Chalk festival on Aug. 11, combining cuts from Mr. Time and the Joyful Ploys with earlier songs and a superb selection of covers. Listen to the EP and catch them during their “mini-Midwest tour” in November. You’ll be taken aback by their stage presence.

Tell me a little bit about your band’s inception. How did you come together?

Michael Schodin: So previous to this band, I was in a band for about eight years called the Grapevines. And we had played all throughout college, various house shows. Towards the end of that band, I actually brought Eddie [Hochman] in as our trumpet player. He ended up playing a lot of guitar in that band, too. We played a whole bunch of shows together and toured in California. As COVID came, that slowed that band down.

Well, we [Michael and Eddie] both lived here in Iowa City, we’ve been good friends for a long time. So we decided, “let’s get serious about a new band,” and set a routine schedule and started practicing every week and writing songs to build the base of the band. We brought in two more of our long-term friends from college, Bennett [Shapiro] and Mitch [Mitchell Wisniewski], who play drums and bass [respectively], and they joined the band. For the last year, we’ve been writing, recording, mixing music and playing shows.

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Your short promo for the EP on TikTok is a montage of road tripping and appreciating the beauty of nature. Were these inspirations for the music?

Schodin: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I always feel like our music is very natureful, if that makes any sense at all. What we’re writing about when we write these songs is how we see the world around us, how much we love nature and the people around us. So, it is road trip music, at least to me it is. So yeah, I think that’s a visualization of what we all see in our heads when we play.

I really enjoyed your covers of “As It Was” by Harry Styles, and “Beige” by Yoke Lore. What’s your process for picking what songs to cover, and how do you approach reworking them?

Schodin: “Beige” was chosen because I just absolutely love that song. I always have. I’ve always loved Yoke Lore and the songs he makes. And yeah, I just heard that song the other day again, I was like, OK, I’ve just gotta go and rework this song. I love it too much. I can’t not play it. “As It Was” I mean, Harry Styles’ whole new album is super cool. I really dig it, and the world does too. So that was a good opportunity: this is the kind of music I like, and here’s a little bit of it in the mainstream. And I think that would be nice for people to hear. So, we just jam on the songs and make them our own, whatever feels natural. We’ll just keep going in that route.

Eddie Hochman: Yeah, I agree completely. And while we all do have a little bit of varying music interests—definitely there’s a little bit of jam band influence for a part of the band—it’s just fun, also, to take a pop song and see where we can go with it. We were playing “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy the other day. And I know you said this too the other day, like we’re playing a little bit of “All Along The Watch Tower.” But—Michael was saying too—I love playing that song, and we for sure will play live and we have, but like, just in terms of putting out a live version, it’s better to, I think, put out an “As It Was” because it’s new and it means like: we heard it. We listened to it. We played it our way, you know, with our tone and our sound.

Do you fold the covers into your live sets?

Schodin: Yeah. Absolutely.

Hochman: Yeah, we have some staples of covers that we play. One of the first gigs we played was a three-hour set, and that was the first time we’d played as a band. So, we had to throw a couple of covers in there. But they’ve been fun too, just to figure out what works. One of them that we’ve played just consistently is “Misnomer” by The Brook & The Bluff. And, you know, just a lot of gratitude to that song, it’s one that truly I don’t get sick of. It’s so pretty and just wonderful.

Have you got any more live shows planned for the future? How’s the end of the summer into fall looking for gigging?

Hochman: We have some shows coming up in November. We have like a mini-Midwest tour: we’re gonna play in Minneapolis, Wisconsin and Iowa City. And then in December, we’ve got a Chicago show coming up, and [the details] will all be on our Instagram and stuff. We’re working on some promo for that right now. We do love playing in Iowa City, but we’re excited to branch out a little bit.

According to Spotify, the city you have the most monthly listeners in isn’t Chicago, isn’t Iowa City … It’s Helsinki, the wonderful capital of Finland! Do you know why you’re relatively popular in Scandinavia?

Schodin: [Laughing] So a little bit, but not entirely. We do our best effort of getting our music out there, so we’ve been reaching out to various playlist curators on Spotify. I don’t think this is one that I actually reached out to, which is the goofiest thing.

Hochman: It was not!

Schodin: Which is why we’re a little confused. They added us to their playlist, and then it had a whole bunch of listeners, and they’re all out of Finland!

Hochman: It’s really chaotic! But yeah, that song’s almost at 4,000 streams and largely from that playlist.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s September 2023 issue.