with Michael Parallax, Saskatchewan, Bellows
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15
Will's Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave.
This week, folky dream-pop band Day Joy became the newest Orlando indie act to make a legitimate step onto the big stage. Yesterday, their debut album (Go to Sleep, Mess) was released nationally under the highly respected Frenchkiss label umbrella, amid advance buzz from taste-making indie websites like Paste, which just last year named them one of the "10 Florida Bands You Should Listen to Now," alongside fresh Sunshine State breakouts Hundred Waters and Levek. It's as much of an auspicious trumpets-and-fireworks graduation as an indie band can dream of. Their story, however, began unassumingly on a downtown rooftop, without any aspiration, using introspection, quietude and psychedelics as kindling.
While other aspects of their respective personal lives were fueled by pressure or ambition, the collaboration between Peter Michael Perceval and Michael Serrin – the shared headspace that became Day Joy – started without any. In many ways, it was a therapeutic escape, emotionally and physically removed from all else up on Perceval's Thornton Park rooftop.
"He lived in the upstairs part of a big house," Serrin says. "You could step out the window onto the roof. And we'd just sit on that roof and hang out, get high, play songs. So, it was kind of this really calm [place], almost like above the hustle of the town, and we'd go out there and sit on the roof. That was kind of like the mood of our area where we'd write … it was this really quiet area to make a soft, delicate song; let it breathe and stuff."
The appealing calm of that setting invited sessions of loose, organic, almost incidental jamming. And the particular terroir of their context and condition – those deep nocturnal hours spent under the cathedral oaks of downtown Orlando – helped fundamentally shape Day Joy's sound. "When I first lived downtown, when I was writing these songs on my roof, and, like, being on drugs and walking around Lake Lawsona and Lake Eola at night – I don't think it could not be a part of it," Perceval says.
In Day Joy's case, it became a warm womb for spellbinding pop reverie suspended in deep, reverbed textures. Of their alluringly opaque lens, Serrin says, "I feel like most people, they write like, 'Oh, it's weird that this sound would come from Florida,' because sunny Florida, you know? But then I feel like if any of those people would take a walk around Lake Eola at night or around Lake Lawsona or Thornton Park, those areas that we were spending our time in, even in the Mills 50 area, they would get where it came from. There's kind of a dreamy beauty about that area, like all the old trees with vines on them, and the moss, the brick roads and the swans."
But it was in a different part of town that the two principals at Day Joy's creative core first crossed paths: in Spanish class as University of Central Florida students. Perceval, an avowed music aficionado, learned about Serrin's work as a musician due to the latter's ass-pull of a class presentation. Scrambling for an on-the-spot visual aid for a forgotten verbal assignment, Serrin improvised by pulling up his Facebook page on the classroom projector for discussion. On it were pictures of his then-band, notable locals An Introduction to Sunshine.
Their bond hence would be forged in music. And their dynamic – individual as well as interpersonal – is the essence of Day Joy. In background and perspective, the two collaborators approach music from different sides. As a player and student, Serrin has practical and academic credentials. Perceval, however, comes from a critical point of view as a music journalist and enthusiast (he's the founder of culture blog the Dropp), something Serrin prizes in a writing partner.
"I love that," says Serrin. "Constantly, as a band, you hear people after the show always like, 'Oh, great job, great job.' It's totally nice, though, when you have the few people that are just really honest."
Born and raised in the Orlando area, singer and lyricist Serrin, 23, went from teaching himself guitar and other instruments at a young age (through his childhood best friend's musical family) to formalizing his education in classical piano during high school at Lake Mary. By shadowing composer Christopher Weiss, who himself studied under noted modern composer Richard Danielpour, Serrin learned how to score music, write chamber pieces and perform recitals in front of large school audiences. He even became a paid pianist, performing large services at his church.
But in his personal time, his penchant was writing folk songs in his room on guitar. His foray into indiedom was with the aforementioned An Introduction to Sunshine, a technical pop group that started to coalesce toward the end of his time in high school, winning the battle of the bands in his senior year. By Serrin's college freshman year, the act was at its zenith as one of the city's more prominent indie bands, playing Orlando clubs regularly. That's the same timeframe for when Serrin and Perceval met at UCF.
By contrast, Day Joy serves as the first band for 27-year-old guitarist Perceval. The self-taught Pensacola native took an almost entirely intuitive path, beginning in high school when he started to write music and acquire instruments.
"All of my friends – like [Day Joy bandmates] Michael, Travis [Reed], Artie [Burer], Dave [Plakon] – they all come from musical backgrounds where they know a little bit of theory, and they understand music," Perceval says. "And I came from a background of critical analysis and being a writer, having an ear, you know what I mean? But I've always loved music, and I always would play it."
By the dawn of the new millennium, Perceval was getting heavily into indie music, with bands like Radiohead and the Mars Volta expanding his musical horizon. But it was early Iron & Wine that gave him folk fever, which was fully consummated when his then-girlfriend bought him a banjo for his 21st birthday.
"Had I not gotten that, I don't think any of this music would ever have really started," he says. However, it was their breakup that would prove pivotal in bringing him to Orlando. Between his musical partnership with Serrin and his love for the city's downtown indie scene, it's where the next critical phase in his creative life began.
For all the soft, embracing hues of Day Joy's sound, there is a sharp emotional edge. As it turns out, the liberating comfort of the rooftop microcosm would unlock an expression of the personal demons haunting them at the time. Some specific, and seismic, personal ripples within each of their individual realities would bring them to, if not identical, then particularly complementary places. And so the crestfallen die of their sound was cast.
"My life was kind of turned upside down, and my father passed away, and my mom didn't work, so our house got foreclosed on, and my whole family basically had to move," Serrin says. "So, my whole life was fucked up, and I was fucked up, and the band [An Introduction to Sunshine] just kind of took a back burner. … Meanwhile, I was writing kind of more heartfelt songs with Peter. … Intro was a little too poppy to put the pain into what I was feeling."
"I met Michael right before his dad died," Perceval says. "And I think that all of the songs I was writing or creating, Michael sort of used as a catalyst or a vessel to put the real emotions he was feeling about a lot of things into [it] that he wasn't able to do with Intro necessarily." For his part, Perceval says, "I don't know how to write something really poppy or happy." Besides working through the culture shock of transplanting his life to Orlando, he further admits after some hesitation, "I think I have daddy issues probably to some degree, especially when I first met Michael. A lot of the stuff that he wrote was coming off of losing his father and dealing with those emotions. … He comes from the perspective of missing his father. But him and his father were much closer. And me and my father weren't, and so I was always missing my father also."
This translated into their joint creative process, Perceval says. "What I felt with what I was writing was almost always in tune with whatever he would say, to the point where I felt like I was writing that same song," he says.
But, again, there was no design, at least not in the beginning. "We never recorded it or wrote it down or anything," Serrin says. "It was just catchy enough or stuck with us enough that we just kind of had them all in our head. So we eventually had a bunch of songs." The threat of another move for Perceval – this time to Africa – finally impelled them to the first formalized step of the project: recording a lo-fi demo of six songs, just to document that period.
"And then he ended up not moving to Africa," Serrin says. "So then, once Intro kind of fell apart, we were like, 'Well, we've got all these songs, we're sitting on an album, let's make the album.' So we made the album. We still didn't have a band. We still hadn't assembled any band to play live. There was really no intention to play live, we just wanted to make it and put it out there."
But the music caught some attention, both locally and nationally, and has sprouted not just legs but what suddenly seem like stout wings. Now Day Joy is a full band with the added horsepower of an all-star support cast currently consisting of guitarist Travis Reed (Loud Valley), bassist Artie Burer (Loud Valley) and drummer David Plakon (co-owner of North Avenue Studios, Saskatchewan bassist). And they're signed to Small Plates Records, an up-and-comer imprint created by the influential blogs I Guess I'm Floating and YVYNYL that's now part of the Frenchkiss label syndicate. Even for a band that began without ambition, it's impossible to ignore the opportunity at hand. As they stand on the threshold, they're forced to honestly weigh their defining and beloved home context against the chances that lie not very far beyond.
"It has the right ingredients for the beginning stages of a band," Serrin says of Orlando. "There's a lot of really good ingredients here. The scene's big but just small enough that you can know everybody that you need to know. We've got a good studio in town, everyone knows everyone just enough that you can get the appropriate amount of networking done."
The difficult reality is that Orlando might not be the best home base, though, moving forward. Noting the number of national bands that began here, he adds, "When it comes down to taking that first step, a lot of people abandon it at that point because it's like, 'OK, we're in a bad spot to tour, there's not necessarily as many connections here as there would be if we went to Baltimore or if we went to New York City or San Francisco or wherever.'"
What this means is a possible relocation for Day Joy. Some of the peripheral band members are already preparing to move to New York City. Depending on how some upcoming opportunities play out, Perceval and Serrin may follow suit.
Until then, however, there's a big record to push. Their release event this week kicks off their widest tour yet, covering the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. Besides hopefully touring all summer, the band is slated to play South by Southwest as well as perform a Daytrotter session. There are even talks of a European tour, something they want badly.
But wherever the gathering winds end up taking Day Joy, Perceval is insistent on one thing: "I'll say this: Regardless of whether we move to New York or wherever, we're still going to be an Orlando band. We're never going to say we're a Brooklyn band, you know what I mean?"
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