Grace Joyner was a fixture in the Charleston music scene for years even before the release of her six song E.P. Young Fools in 2014, often hopping on stage to harmonize with Elim Bolt, Brave Baby (then Wylie), and a handful of others. While Joyner has consistently maintained a presence through her own live performances over the years, there hasn’t been a lot of tangible output.
However, her first full-length album, Maybe Sometimes—In C, is a shining example of an important lesson: It is better to make something good than to make something quickly.
“I always dreamed of writing 10 songs real fast and going to the studio and knocking them out in a week or so, [but] that has never been [the] process,” said Joyner of recording with Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman--Hearts & Plugs’ mainstay producer and drummer of Brave Baby.
“It has been a very slow and careful journey to record this album. I didn't have all the songs written when we started, so I would contact Ryan whenever I had a new one and we scheduled to give it time.”
Maybe Sometime—In C is unapologetic, effortless and not wanting. While not presumptuous, it also has a prevailing feeling that Grace Joyner does not need you to like this song. And that is what makes it intriguing, almost mysterious (in all the ways that make something artful). There aren’t a lot of smoke and mirrors here, the music speaks for itself--and its voice is equal parts soothing and haunting.
Joyner says that her inspiration came from a newfound sense of self-security.
“I spent the last couple years learning how to pursue my personal happiness, whereas in the past I had been mostly focused on the happiness of someone else. This was a major shift for me. A lot of the songs have an underlining theme of making the decision to take action on your desires and dreams. Or in some cases, the frustration with others not taking action for theirs.”
The first track, “Maybe Sometimes” barely breaks the one-minute mark, but serves as an overture for what lies ahead when Joyner sings, “I’m not scary / Or maybe sometimes / But I know, I don’t, I won’t / Push you too fast.”
This is a promise fulfilled throughout the record, a loose holding of hands through a world of unrequited love, personal battles won and lost, and the feeling of being very, very close but somehow still far away. Maybe Sometimes—In C is a reminder that music is to be felt, a shout into the emptiness trying to capture something indefinable but also something we all know to be true.
This bit of complexity is maybe best framed on the track “Kid”: You make me feel like a kid again / Sittin’ around waiting / I can’t decide if I like it / Or if it’s dated / I could just hate it. It is as if Joyner is pounding on the door of her own soul, trying to break in.
The record is also satisfying in its completeness; it feels like a full record. While the top reels off ghostly monologues filled with the atmospheric keys hallmark of Joyner’s sound, the back half takes some new strides with a bit more pop. There seems to be a turn around the sixth track, “Royal Stare”, which has a bigger, brighter chorus and electric organ sounds. The percussion on the record, a collaboration between Zimmerman and Nic Jenkins (“They are both geniuses and it is truly magical when they work together”), bounces from more traditional to 80s synth--like the lead in to “Sick”, an effect that conjures electronic raindrops.
Maybe Sometimes—In C is a real accomplishment, and though it may wander, it is not sleepy. Enthusiasm is too often a substitute for personality. Grace Joyner doesn’t need that, and she reminds us that it is okay for us not be needy, either.
If this is any indication of Joyner’s future direction, then Charleston music fans will be fortunate onlookers.
Maybe Sometimes—In C will be released by Hearts & Plugs on Friday 5/20.
The release show is set for Saturday 5/28 at The Royal American with ET Anderson and Hermit's Victory.
Tickets are $10 and include a CD.