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Members include JeffCloud(born 1974, Orange County, CA), synthesizer operator; RonnieMartin(born 1970, Orange County, CA), vocalist, synthesizer operator. Addresses: Band--Joy Electric, P. O. Box 30164, Santa Ana, CA 92735.
Ronnie Martin and Jeff Cloud are well aware that the music they make as Joy Electric strikes some as unusual. They play synthesizers, write pop melodies, have a punk attitude, and sing lyrics with a Christian message. Singer and songwriter Martin has noted that this blend of secular sound and religious message has made it difficult for them to get heard in either music market.
Addressing the difficulty of getting airplay on popular radio, Martin told Jeff Niesel of the Orange County Register, "It might be hard for the people at the label to have confidence in us, because I think we sound kind of weird to them." He went on to say; "The Christian rock industry avoids us like the plague. We are so baffling to them." In spite of the puzzled music industry, Joy Electric has found a devoted following. Todd Durant, an online music retailer, told David Richards of Billboard, "We sell-through our order in the first week. The band's fans are very dedicated." The band rewards this dedication by playing in music stores when touring in support of new releases. Besides offering intimacy, these performances allow fans to hear the duo on acoustic guitars instead of their usual electronic keyboards.
The band's sound in the studio and in large venues, though, draws on an electronic rock tradition that dates back to the 1970s. Martin has cited electronic bands such as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Human League as major influences. Martin grew up in Orange County, California and started recording with his brother Jason in 1992 as Dance House Children. In 1993 Cloud, another Orange County native, joined the brothers for an album titled Rainbow Rider. This effort got them a deal with Christian alternative-rock label Tooth and Nail, which gave them national distribution for their work for the first time. In the meantime, though, Jason had left the group for other ventures, so Ronnie and Cloud became Joy Electric, and their first album, Melody, came out in 1994.
Even by that time, Martin was frustrated by the pop music world's rejection of Christian music and the Christian music world's rejection of electronic pop. He admitted to Todd Brown of the Lighthouse electronic Magazine that the song "Never Be a Star" came from Martin's anticipation of a lukewarm reception for Joy Electric's first effort. "I had this aching feeling before Joy Electric came out that the reception to it was going to be less than low, and I was totally right, and I got more depressed about that." Their follow-up EP, Five Stars for Failure, was born of this low mood. Still, Joy Electric kept their religious perspective, citing scriptural sources for several songs on the CD's cover.
The band's commitment to their electronic sound continued to grow. Before their third release, Melody Maker, Martin worked on building his own analog synthesizers, wanting to rely exclusively on a single instrument without resorting to samples or drum machines to fill out the sound. Before the album came out, Martin told Brown, "The new record is just going to be the purest electronic synthesizer record ever released in the Christian market." While relying completely on synthesizers, Martin and Cloud also kept up their punk attitude. Martin described their 1997 album, Robot Rock, to Niesel as being "like our version of a punk album with synthesizers." Cloud added, "What we're doing is more punk than what the punk bands are doing."
Attempting to reach an audience that could appreciate such an attitude, they released the single, "Monosynth," a song about the power of synthesizers, and supported it by shooting a video for MTV. Martin and Cloud felt that openly expressing the religious beliefs helps make them punk. They called their 1999 album Christiansongs, which marked the first time they mentioned religion in an album title. Martin told Richards that the title had a double meaning: "It's a recognition by us that, yes, we are a Christian band. But it is meant to shock people a little. All the bands you see on MTV try to be alternative but seem uniformly bland."
Although Martin and Cloud have stayed busy with Joy Electric, releasing four albums and three EP's between 1994 and 1999, each has taken on other projects during that time. Cloud formed a band with Jason Martin called Pony Express. In the meantime, Ronny Martin expanded his role in the music business, forming his own label, Plastiq Musiq, to produce and record music by other electronic acts. The label's first release, You Are Obsolete by House of Wire, gained praise as one of the best electronic albums of 1998.
If the synthesizers, beliefs, and attitudes set Joy Electric apart from the MTV pack, their melodies put them firmly in the tradition of popular music. Martin considers his song writing as the crucial first step for Joy Electric. He composed on piano, looking for what he described to Brown as " three-and-a-half minute songs with catchy chord changes, melodies, and choruses that you don't forget." Next comes the electronic arrangement. Martin believed this emphasis on songwriting is what distinguished Joy Electric from electronica acts such as the Chemical Brothers, whom he described to Niesel by saying, "they have cool beats, but it's not like you can hum along with it."
Even as he continues to expand his role in the electronic scene, Martin has consistently been outspoken about the indifference of the Christian music industry to Joy Electric. Although they performed live at religious music festivals, they had trouble receiving airplay on contemporary Christian radio. He sees hypocrisy in the way the industry operates, telling Brown, "[Y]ou read in magazines, 'Christian musicians need to be more original.' Then, as soon as you get an act that is really trying to push down boundaries they reject it totally."
At least in the world of secular music, Joy Electric could get noticed just for being Christian. As he told Richards, "Mention that you're Christian and you get a reaction from people, sometimes negative, but a reaction nonetheless." No matter what reaction they got, Joy Electric remained committed to both their sound and their message.
by Lloyd Hemingway
Joy Electric's Career
Signed with Tooth and Nail and released debut album, Melody, 1994; moved to BEC recordings and released Robot Rock, 1997; released the single and video "Monosynth," 1997; released their fourth album, Christiansongs, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Melody , Tooth and Nail, 1994.
- Five Stars for Failure , Tooth and Nail, 1995.
- We Are the Music Makers , Tooth and Nail, 1996.
- Old Wive's Tales , Tooth and Nail, 1997.
- Robot Rock , BEC, 1997.
- The Land of the Misfits , BEC, 1998.
- Christiansongs , BEC, 1999.
- Billboard, March 13, 1999.
- Orange County Register(Santa Ana, CA), January 9, 1998.
- Lighthouse electronic Magazine, http://tlem.netcentral.net (May 12, 1999).
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