Dan Milligan, co-founder of The Joy Thieves, discusses the group’s new album, how they formed, the idea of having an ever-changing collective of musicians, and what’s next for the group
The Joy Thieves is a Chicago-based post-industrial rock collective that encompasses the very essence of collaboration. Comprised of over 30 musicians, the collective includes current, former and touring members of Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Pigface, Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, The Machines Of Loving Grace, Skatenigs, Mary’s Window, My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, Blue October, Ashes Divide and more. With a sound that has been described as “Raw, yet precise. Combative, but refined. Tribal, dark and aggressive but layered with haunting melodic harmonies”, The Joy Thieves blend the industrial sounds of the past with their own modern twist. Signed to the UK label Armalyte Industries, the group just released their debut EP This Will Kill That along with an accompanying video for the title track. With plans to release more music and music videos and to plan more collaborations, the group has plenty of momentum to carry them into their next chapter. You can follow The Joy Thieves and stay up-to-date with all upcoming news and music, as well as stream and purchase their EP, via the following links. Check out their video for “This Will Kill That” below.
The Joy Thieves is comprised of 30+ musicians! You have said that you originally wanted to keep the band Chicago-based but that you had artists from Austin, Las Vegas and NY reach out about contributing. How do you feel that the advances in modern technology allowed the band to expand outside of Chicago?
More than anything, technology allowed me to easily connect with other musicians…both in Chicago, and eventually all over the world. Even a few short years ago, a project like The Joy Thieves might have been a logistical nightmare, but these days, it can be done with relative ease. It also allowed each Joy Thief to become involved in the way that best worked for them. These days, almost every single musician I know has some version of a digital recording studio in their home…and that makes recording music a matter of simply going down into your basement and doing it. And once you do, those musical ideas that you just created can be instantaneously transmitted to someone halfway around the world. As someone who started in this business when digital recording was nothing more than some sort of futuristic dream, it’s quite mind-blowing, actually.
How did the idea come about for the band and who was involved in the very beginning? Did you have a certain sound in mind starting out or did the different influences of the various members help to develop the sound?
In the VERY beginning, I suppose it was just me. Alone in my home studio at 3AM…insomnia-ridden…and madly recording some musical ideas. At that particular time, I was in serious music writing mode, and for some unknown reason, the ideas just kept coming. Ultimately, over the course of a few inspired months, I wrote nearly three entire albums worth of songs. I write a lot of music, but it almost never happens in bunches like that, so that was quite a nice surprise! When I sit down to write music, I very rarely have a certain goal in mind. Mostly, I’m just creating sounds that my brain is finding satisfying at that particular moment in time. And so, after writing sessions, I frequently have to go back and evaluate what I’ve done. So, I go back and listen with fresh ears and try to decide which musical ideas belong together, which ones are worthy of my immediate attention, and which ones are no longer worth spending time on. The majority of the songs I wrote in this particular time period were in the ambient/cinematic vein, so they made up the second and third Drownbeat albums. (Drownbeat is the name I use to release my more atmospheric work.) But, the remaining songs were different. Angrier. Uglier. Much more guitar-driven. It was clear they could never be Drownbeat songs, but I really LOVED them…and so I decided to create a brand new project. And that became The Joy Thieves.
I guess the influences of the other members began to truly take shape when I started sending out the demos to different vocalists. As I started getting vocal tracks back from each singer, they helped me more clearly define the sonic foundation of each song. And, of course, as each new Joy Thief was added into the mix, the sound was altered once again.
You have said that the band has humble beginnings and that it grew in ways you could not have predicted. What do you think led to the special energy surrounding the band that led to more and more artists asking to be involved? What has it been like to watch the band grow and change into what it is currently?
When it comes to momentum, and good energy, I have learned to simply enjoy those things while they last, because that is not always the case. To be honest, I don’t really know WHY this project feels different. And I’m not sure WHY so many amazing people agreed to be a part of it. But from the writing of the music, to getting to work with some of my favorite musicians in the world, to the making of our first video, to signing a deal with Armalyte Industries, to the release of This Will Kill That…everything has quite literally fallen into place. And in a business that frequently kicks your ass…that feels a little surreal. More than anything, I’m just enjoying the ride at the moment.
With so many members who have rich musical histories/resumes themselves, how did you go about developing the songs and creating a cohesive sound?
This is a great question, because from the beginning, it has been VERY important to me that the sound of the band not become too scattered…no matter how many people were involved. And in the case of The Joy Thieves, we’re literally talking about organizing and streamlining hundreds of performances that were recorded over the span of a couple of years, by 30 different musicians. So, the task of keeping The Joy Thieves songs cohesive is not a small one. But it’s one I take VERY seriously. I suppose the simplest answer is that so far, I have been acting as the singular point person for the band. For the most part, I contacted the potential players and singers….collected their amazing musical ideas…sifted through them…arranged them…and ultimately sat there in the studio as the songs were mixed. So, while many were involved with the creation of the music, you could say that all of the songs eventually filtered through one single point before anyone else heard them. I love working on collaborations, so in the future, I definitely plan on expanding the writing process to include more people, but it’s safe to say that I will continue to act as the point person for The Joy Thieves’ recordings. I just think its necessary, in order to avoid having the sound of the band become diluted or disjointed. It also helps that so far, all of The Joy Thieves material has been mixed by the same two guys, at the exact same studio. That certainly added an element of consistency that might not have been possible any other way.
What was the process like in making the video for “This Will Kill That”? What led you to make the raw, band only version, as well?
Much of the concept for our debut EP, This Will Kill That, related directly to series of nightmares I had a few years ago. So, once we decided to film a video, it was pretty clear from the beginning that portions of those nightmares would play a large part in the video…and they did. I took my ideas to Joel Lopez, the guy who created the video, and he did an EXCELLENT job of bringing them to life. I had a blast during the filming of ALL of the scenes, but for me, the best part of the making of the video was the filming of the live band scenes. When we initially decided to incorporate live band shots into the story line, there really was no set “band” to use. Lots of musicians had participated in the recording of the EP, but many did not even know each other. So, I just started reaching out to some of the Thieves, and putting together a band to use in the video. (One of my favorite moments was being able to introduce Dave Suycott and Marcus Eliopulos on the set of the video. They had both played with Stabbing Westward, but at different times!)
Orchestrating the live portion of the shoot took quite a bit of effort, but for me, it was the culmination of many different dreams. That night I just couldn’t get the smile off of my face. And so, before we ever thought of releasing it, I asked Joel to make a raw, band-only version of the video for me, simply as a keepsake. Eventually we did decide to release it, but honestly, I mostly just wanted to have it for myself.
I read that rather than being influenced by a particular band, The Joy Thieves were influenced by the Chicago music scene in the 80’s and 90’s. What do you feel was special about that particular era? What kind of changes has the scene gone through since that time?
Much of that influence has to do with the fact that many of The Joy Thieves were actively involved in that scene. It truly became part of who we were as musicians, and as people. And obviously, those influences tend to creep into the writing of music. The indie scene in Chicago in the 80’s and 90’s WAS special to me. It was special in the way that ALL music scenes were special to people back then…because they revolved around a certain physical location. These days, that’s clearly not the case. Thanks to the internet, music scenes are no longer location-specific. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it took many years of adjustment for music fans to understand how to truly support and grow music scenes that only existed online. Back in its infancy, many people were happy that the internet age would “level the playing field” by getting rid of labels, and allowing bands to truly own their own futures. And while there was a LOT to be said for that, let’s be honest…there were many prices to pay for the leveling of that field. For many years, it became almost impossible to find great bands, because they were lost in a sea of hundreds of thousands of mediocre ones.
And not only did the net destroy the major label monopolies that everyone had grown SO tired of, but it also killed the spirited, indie labels that music fans like myself had truly come to rely on to discover quality music. It’s refreshing to see that people are now discovering, and relying on indie labels again. I used to go out and buy literally ANYTHING that was released on labels like Wax Trax, SubPop, Touch & Go, etc….because I had grown to trust those labels implicitly. If they thought enough of a band to release some of their music, that’s all I needed to know. And then….suddenly one day, there were simply gone. For the first time in many years, I once again feel like I have someone to trust. Labels like Dais Records, and my own label, Armalyte Industries are really filling that void for fans. And in that way, they are truly helping online music fans connect with bands that are worthy of attention. And I LOVE that.
You have said that without James Scott at Populist Recording Studio there would be no Joy Thieves. How did he help to make the band what it is today?
That is absolutely true. James owns Populist Recording, and while I have access to several recording studios in my area, when it comes to mixing, Populist has been my studio of choice for many years now. And much of that has to do with James himself. Over the years, we have grown to work really, REALLY well together. And by that, I mean that many times when we’re working, I will go to ask him to change something in a mix…and find that he is already doing what I was going to ask him to do! Over the past couple of years, we have become a true production team. James also plays many instruments well, and he has an amazing singing voice. So as we were working on mixes, if we ever found that a song needed another guitar, or a different bass track, or a vocal harmony…James was the guy who could make it happen, and make it happen quickly. Without his skills and dedication, I can truly say The Joy Thieves would exist as something VERY different from what it is today.
What can you tell me about the idea of an ever-changing collective of musicians? Have you had other artists reach out to you, or do you have other artists in mind, for future albums?
I love the idea of the “ever-changing collection of musicians” because it avoids placing any restrictions on the band. If I have learned one thing with this process, it’s that The Joy Thieves will become exactly what we’re meant to become. The band exists for the sole purpose of making, and releasing, music that is meaningful to us. Members can come and go as they like. They can choose to contribute to future recordings, or not. There will never be any pressure put on anyone to continue to work with the band. The people who like what the band is about, and want to be involved, will be involved. And I truly believe that that sense of artistic freedom will be the lifeblood that keeps The Joy Thieves growing, and expanding into new territory. In the past year alone, I have made dozens of connections with musicians I had never previously worked with. And in many cases, those connections led to brand new ones. Artists from around the world have somehow found us and asked to be a part of the band, and honestly, it just continually blows my mind.
As far as having certain people in mind for future recordings, the existing Thieves and I have been talking quite a bit about the future, and we are currently dreaming up some VERY intriguing collaborations to pursue! 2020 is going to be a VERY fun year.
The Joy Thieves recently released their remix of “Sick Like You” from fellow Armalyte Industries’ labelmate Drownd. What can you tell me about that remix, as well as the other remixes the band has been working on over the past few months for other industrial artists? What do you enjoy about remixing songs by other artists?
The fine folks at Armalyte Industries asked me if I might be interested in doing a remix for Drownd, and as soon as I heard “Sick Like You” I was in. The instrumentation on the original track was very sparse; whereas I tend to build many layers into my own mixes…so that alone let me know I was going to be able to put my own stamp on it. And hopefully, that is exactly what happened. It may sound counter-intuitive to some, but creatively speaking, I find doing remixes for other artists extremely satisfying. I love how the same song can be reinterpreted in countless ways, depending on who is at the helm. The entire process appeals to me. I love sifting through other artists’ recordings, finding the musical pieces that speak to me the most, and then building something brand new from those pieces. And more than anything else, going through an artist’s individual tracks gives me a much greater appreciation of their artistry. An appreciation that I don’t think can be truly discovered any other way. In addition to “Sick Like You”, I have been quite busy remixing for some other artists, as well. In the near future, you can expect to see the release of many remixes I’ve done, including songs by Chris Connelly, <PIG>, I Ya Toyah, Machines With Human Skin, and more.
You plan to release lots of new music going forward, much of which is already recorded! What can people expect from your next release?
That is true. We are currently sitting on quite a bit of new material that is almost ready to be released. I don’t want to give too much away, but we already have plans for several more Joy Thieves releases, so people will not need to wait very long for more. The material will include some stellar remixes by a few legendary remix artists, our reinterpretation of a classic goth/alt/rock song, and another EP of all original music.
What’s next for The Joy Thieves?
The near future involves the release of the new music I mentioned above, as well as several music videos that we are working on right now. Looking forward, it’s extremely important to me to keep the momentum of The Joy Thieves moving forward, so I have also been writing lots of new music, and making new connections with people for future collaborations.