In therapy, there is a thought experiment known as the “miracle question”: If everything were to change for the better tomorrow, how would you know?
“I like the question because it’s focused on what’s good, on what you want to see in the world and not what you don’t want to see,” says Jenna Marx, singer and guitarist for the indie punk band Joyride!
This week, Joyride! pose their own Miracle Question in the form of their fifth full-length and first in six years. Released via the ironically not Bay Area–based Salinas Records, the album captures the band at their biggest and most urgent sounding to date, a welcome surprise from a group already 12 years into their career.
That urgency, Marx says, wasn’t purely artistic.
“I work in schools, so last summer I was like, ‘I really want to record before five more years get away from us,’” she says. “I had so many songs.”
Recorded in a brisk three days at Oakland’s Atomic Garden studio, Miracle Question surges with energy, warm and woozy as it swaggers through tales of heartbreak, longing and Bay Area life.
“I think I had a lot of emotional energy to express,” Marx says. “I’m a pretty reserved, calm person; I feel like I have a poker face on a lot of the time. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I had some slower songs and we just didn’t learn them. We just wanted to play louder and faster.”
On Miracle Question, no song exceeds three minutes. Feedback is frequently and creatively employed. Certain images recur with dreamlike persistence: old loves and baseball, rainy San Francisco streets and an ever-present getaway car.
“I’m like a stay-put person. So I think a fantasy of mine is being a person who does not stay put,” Marx says. “I love to entertain alternate realities. It’s a really productive exercise.”
In the chorus of pop-punk anthem “Emergency Broadcast System,” Marx teases the alternate reality of leaving everything behind—if only for the evening.
“If that was just a test, this is just a thought: what if we go but we don’t go far?” she sings over a suddenly droning organ. “What if you get in my getaway car and I get you back before it’s dark?”
The Peninsula natives first met in the early 2000s at a show at the Foster City community center The Vibe. Almost a decade later, Marx and drummer Jason Brownstein both found themselves on a break from their previous projects (“It was my first hiatus and I was eager to get it over with,” says Brownstein). Over the years, between them and bassist Eugene Goldin, Joyride!’s members have played in roughly a dozen Bay Area punk and indie groups including Soar, Saltflat, Fischer, Hey Hallways and Joy’s Panic (to name only a few).
Having grown up in the Bay Area and stayed, Marx says certain locations now exist in a kind of dual consciousness of overlapping memories and associations. Opening track “St. Mary” explores the strange feeling of frequenting a bar with the same name as the hospital where she once visited a sick childhood friend. Years later, she returned to the same hospital to visit Brownstein when he fell ill.
“It’s about being surprised to suddenly be an adult at the hospital. Wondering, ‘how did this happen?’ I still feel like I could so easily be with my friend’s dad.”
On lead single “The Afterglow,” she again considers leaving behind her firm Bay Area roots. However, problems quickly present themselves: “It doesn’t matter where you are when you don’t know where you are going, when you’re leaving or what you’re looking for,” she sings.
As bittersweet as it often is, Joyride! say Miracle Question is overall a positive and optimistic record. Its energy is often palpable, blooming from deep within, like the feedback that envelops the outro of “St. Mary’s.”
Returning to the idea of the “miracle question,” Marx stresses the importance of imagining a better world, even if only for yourself.
“My life motto is Girls Who Wanna Realize Themselves,” she says. “I tried to popularize it on Twitter as a hashtag but literally no one else has ever used it.”