With off-the-beaten-path genre descriptors like “avant-garage” and “mumblecore,” the post-punk band You’re Jovian features one of the more interesting sounds originating out of Norfolk these days. They hazard a vibe reminiscent of something The Cure might have released in between Seventeen Seconds and Head On The Door—that is, if Thurston Moore had stepped back in time to team up with Robert Smith. In April, they released the much anticipated They Were Selected and Divided on Funny Not Funny Records, their first full length in five years.
The group has been around since 2008, but has suffered many line-up changes over the years. Its current membership solidified in early 2016 with Ana Velez on bass, Ryan McPherson on drums, and John Fatigate on lead. Through it all, the common thread has been the singular vision of songwriter and vocalist Elliot Malvas. Although they currently stand rock tight and ready to rumble as a four-piece, Malvas is careful to note the contributions of on-again-off-again players like Kenny Bunting and Wesley Bunch.
Though he cited a wide range of influences, Malvas shared that it was an early love for Weezer that started everything. “One of the first albums I was really interested in was The Green Album. I was probably about 11 or 12. I was playing drums in this band and the dude’s brother was a huge fan. That was all we listened to—and then I got Pinkerton and I hated it,” he laughed. “Later I loved it. I had to grow up a bit to understand that record. But for a long time, that early Weezer album was all I listened to.” From there, Malvas described a musical history filled with false starts and day-to-day trifles, including his stint as a guitarist and songwriter in his first band of note, The Slow Wonder. As he got older, his tastes drifted towards darker, noisier bands like the Pixies. He also learned how to record using a Fostex 8-Track.
If mumblecore doesn’t immediately suggest any sound in particular, that may be because it was originally a film term, one that is not generally associated with music. Malvas explained, “The way I understand it is that it’s like an organic, awkward performance. You’re almost making it sound bad on purpose.” As a description of You’re Jovian, it most aptly refers to Malvas’s evocative vocal style. “For us, no one can ever really hear the vocals when we play live. I just sort of mumble them and the music is really loud and low fidelity.” That may be the case when they perform, but the new album has a more subtle, dreamy mix to it. “There’s a balance between the studio recording and what we do live.To me, the live performance is almost like it’s own instrument versus what the album is.”
Elliot is essentially an instinctive musician, learning to play instruments through personal experimentation rather than formal training. This approach deeply informs his songwriting. “I usually start off with a riff. From there, I try to find something that goes with it, something interesting. I don’t entirely understand the process. It freaks me out sometimes because nothing happens. And you’re like, ‘Well, fuck, now what?’” He seemed nearly as ambivalent about his role as lyricist and singer. “The lyrics always come last to me. I almost hate writing them. I don’t want people to focus on that more than the music.”
Central to the sound of You’re Jovian is a fairly unique tool: an all-original 1966 Fender Jaguar. “I was working at Alpha Music in high school,” Malvas remembered, “and a guy brought it in to sell. They ended up not wanting to buy it, so I tracked him down privately and got it off of him. I love it so much, it has such a variable tone. You pick up a Stratocaster and you just sound like Stevie Ray Vaughn, like everyone who’s ever played that style of guitar. And I’m like, fuck that, I want it weirder than that.”
The band began recording They Were Selected and Divided in 2013, a process peppered with lengthy hiatuses and other complications. Malvas explained, “Sometimes you get discouraged and that slows you down. You lose that steam. Sometimes you’re just broke as fuck and can’t make it happen. It’s a tough process.” More recently, they finished the remaining tracks over a two-day studio session. With assistance from former M.A.E. bassist and notable sound engineer Mark Padgett, the final recording, available on cassette tape, was released this past April 15. The album release show, hosted at Charlie’s American Cafe, was supported by Fat Spirit of Richmond, Gold Connections of Charlottesville, and Suburban Living of Philadelphia.
Now they’re on to the next phase of releasing an album: touring to support it. For a self-managed band like You’re Jovian, this can be challenging. “I get really stressed out,” Malvas admitted. “It’s in a good way. When it happens, you get that sigh of relief.” Malvas detailed an ambitious multi-state schedule, noting a stop in that music mecca, the city of Nashville. Given the long road that led to the release, Malvas is cautiously optimistic about the future. “The past year has been about just really trying hard. Everything has been a conscious effort. It took a lot of work to get this to this point, now we’ll see what it can do.”
You’re Jovian will be performing at Charlie’s American Cafe on May 8. Doors open at 7 PM, $7 cover. Hear the new album, They Were Selected and Divided, at yourejovian.bandcamp.com.
Photography by Jeff Hewitt