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Big Joanie’s New Album Back Home Encapsulates the Magic of Punk

By Catie Kline

Staff Writer

 

Illustration by Maia Hadler, Art Director

Big Joanie has the distinct sound of a band that’s too good to be true. Headed by Stephanie Phillips and her mystical vibrato, with Estella Adeyeri on bass and Chardine Taylor-Stone on drums, the band embodies the goodness of punk. Their first record, 2018’s Sistahs, drew upon the sounds of 90s sista grrrl and grunge while asserting the band’s wholly unique and modern voice. Big Joanie’s sophomore album, Back Home, explores the palpable pain of searching for home and belonging while expanding into a technicolor instrumental palette. Recorded at Hermitage Works Studios in North London and produced and mixed by Margo Broom, the album marks their arrival to Kill Rock Stars, record label home of Sleater-Kinney, Team Dresch, and Bratmobile.


Equipped with deep electronic synths and strings, the opening track “Cactus Tree” is a heart-wrenching lo-fi dive into sorrow. Among the gothic dissonance of a crunchy electric guitar and the pummeling heartbeat of Taylor-Stone’s drums, Stephanie Phillips unravels the pain of abandonment. The upbeat smash of “Today” encapsulates the sense of deep desperation that comes with wanting to be loved. Among the muscular driving beat, Phillips begs, “Please if you want me to go, if you want me to stay, just let me know/don’t turn this love away.” On “I Will,” Phillips makes the ultimate confession: that she’d stay with her unrequited love no matter what, with Taylor-Stone and Adeyeri echoing her admittance in haunting backing vocals reminiscent of both The Ronettes and Sleater-Kinney.


Back Home embodies the very ethos of Big Joanie, a band that looks down the barrel of our insecurities and dances and stomps alongside them with the knowledge that pain is what binds us together. What’s more punk than admitting we want to be loved? Big Joanie also embodies the spirit of punk by working to uplift fellow BIPOC non-men queer artists, fiercely discarding the ugliness in the history of punk while embracing the beautiful potential at its core.


“Confident Man,” a song written in response to Jia Tolentino’s essay “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams,” criticizes the trope that we must become the image of a confident, capitalist, powerful straight white con man in order to ‘defeat’ him. Estella Adeyeri works with Girls Rock London, a group that works to empower young women and nonbinary musicians. Phillips and Adeyeri both help run Decolonise Fest — an annual, volunteer-run, non-profit event organized by and for punks of color. Chardine Taylor-Stone, drummer and author of Sold Out: How Black Feminism Lost Its Soul, told NPR, “I think these kinds of ideas that we had in the past about what punk was were really patriarchal ideas of rebellion. Our thing is about changing that completely to be like, OK, so what is it that we want our society to be like, in truth, not just like a fantasy that looks good on a poster?”


The track “In My Arms,” a grunge-pop earworm on missing your ex, was released with an accompanying music video on the truthful universe Big Joanie works towards in earnest. The video features a heartwarming story of young pure real queer love, where a couple and their tightly-knit friend group dance to Big Joanie at a small show meant solely for them.


This ethos, which shines throughout Back Home, is spirited and comforting all at once, a vision of punk at its warmest and most welcoming. As Chardine Taylor-Stone said to DIY magazine, “I don’t ever think of us creating a scene around us, but then I sometimes forget we do represent that for a lot of people. When we play shows, we see older Black women in the audience who’ve been into punk for years and it’s almost like, by coming to see us, they’re coming home.”


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