From two different bands to fate bringing them together, we meet the pop duo, Joan, as they continue to soundtrack the stories of many, one song-inspired by rom-coms at a time.
The scene is set: it’s a young John Cusack with that cheeky smile opposite 90s Julia Roberts. There’s a spark, there’s magic, there’s love in the air. You know, it’s that typical romantic comedy film with just a touch of lessons learned. That feeling you get when you watch those moments, and you listen to those soundtracks. That is everything Joan is, and more: They’re nostalgic, comforting, and just so damn enchanting.
Joan is a little pop duo from Little Rock, Arkansas by Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford. Their story starts simple; falling in love with the drums before falling in love with music. Same college, two different bands running around same circles, before fate brought them together. Alan was a sporty chap who traded his baseball gloves for notes and tunes, and Steven grew up on piano and guitar lessons. Two halves of one whole, their connection came at proximity.
“Everyone was graduating college and starting their real lives—jobs, and all this stuff—except for me and Steven. Because for us, music was all it was going to be, and we wanted to do the band thing,” says Alan, talking me through their college days, prior to the creation of Joan. “Steven was having a lot of success booking shows for his band, so I asked [if he would] help me do mine regionally. And when he started to book shows for us, ironically, my guys couldn’t come out. So, I [asked what if he] just played in my band when we go on the road. Little did we know, that’s what Joan would eventually be.”
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Joan, An Introduction
The chemistry between the two is balanced. They get along well, laughing at each other’s jokes, but also offering different perspectives. Steven is more lyric-minded, and Alan has a knack for the melodies. Like a blend of sugar and spice, creating the perfect recipe for an 80s to early 2000s rom-com soundtrack, with all the kisses in the rain one could ever want. Even the name Joan is a fun little story to tell on the intricacies of their relationship.
“Steven threw it out. He had like a list of names—I don’t know, ten, fifteen, a hundred, one thousand names,” Alan says in a deadpan voice and Steven by his side, laughs while drinking water, almost spilling it over the memory. “Joan was like the top name, and I was like—yeah, maybe, I don’t know…And then he sent me this graphic: it was like Joan italicized in this cool font. I was like, alright—I like it.”
Their writing sessions are composed of late nights and mumbling voice memos; of melodies that catch them, and fiddling around with the chorus and verses to see where that takes. They write about the vast subject of love, exploring its every little crevice. From toxic relationships to the unrequited, making songs out of cinematic scenes. Their genre is pop, but it’s indie and old-school, and hits different in this modern age.
Figuring It All Out
“I think when we got together and started writing, we unintentionally started writing music that was influenced by stuff we grew up on. A lot of that was what our parents showed us while we were growing up. So, stuff from the 80s and 90s. I think the things that we naturally fell toward as we were writing Joan music was kind of that era of music,” Steven explains, and Alan chimes in.
“You grow up listening to what your parents listen to, and for me that was everything–from Guns n’ Roses, to James Taylor, to MJ and Prince,” he reminisces. “Then boy bands started becoming popular, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera—that whole era of Max Martin bands. And that’s I think where my brain really started studying music. Things like, man why do these drums make me get so excited, or why does that melody just get lodged in my brain, you know?”
They’ve toured with bands like Flor and Coin, absorbing and learning from them along the way. For Alan, it’s all about how they were treated as supporting artists that he carries with him. It was the kindness afforded to them that he learned to value. And for Steven, it was the balance of writing songs on the road–playing gigs at night and driving everyday to the next destination, working on something new. “That’s one thing we usually have a hard time with because we are such a small team, and we try to figure out how that looks for us.”
As of right now, Joan are exploring newer soundscapes and using more instruments for their future tracks. This is mostly spurred by partly cloudy, the re-imagining of their cloudy EP. “We are somewhat known for taking retro elements and bringing them now. While we’re totally for that and proud of that, we also don’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves so much that you just expect [we’re] going to release this 80s thing every single time. Because I think we have more range than that. And it’s simply because, we listen to a lot of stuff and we have a lot of influences.”
Three EPs down the line, and more songs in the making, the question of whether there’s an album somewhere in the horizon for Joan is something left mostly unanswered. “Anyone can do anything these days; you can release singles for your entire career and it doesn’t seem to really matter anymore–or mixtapes, like whatever new Spotify iteration someone has figured out,” Alan muses, leaving the future open for anything.
“We really like EPs because they’re like little mini albums; little nuggets of songs. I don’t know that we’ll ever be the band that retreats for two years and you don’t hear from us, and we just drop 14 songs. That feels a bit—just not us.”