Daniel Armbruster gets out of bed. His own bed, after years of so many unfamiliar ones. He pours himself a bowl of granola, sets out the butter and bread for toast.
There’s some sugar and vitamin C in the cupboard. What’s this, a bottle of C24H28ClN5O3? A chemical formula, better known as Dramamine. The date on the bottle says it’s expired, and it's no longer needed since the high-speed rock-and-roll life has slowed to a more manageable pace. Throw it out.
And then, on to what “After Coffee" is really about.
“It’s the thought after the coffee,” Armbruster says.
Joywave released “After Coffee” as a single a few weeks ago. (You can find the song on the usual streaming platforms.)
Joywave remains very much a Rochester band even after finding indie-band success on alternative radio, nationwide tours, European tours, and even on late-night television talk shows. The guys — Armbruster, guitarist Joseph Morinelli, keyboardist Benjamin Bailey and drummer Paul Brenner — still live here.
Armbruster, the lead singer and main songwriter, bought a house in one of the ’burbs. So yes, there will always come a time when rock stars must mow the lawn. After coffee, perhaps.
“For me, personally, it’s being home,” Armbruster says of the song’s quiet, contemplative opening. “You know, we’ve been on tour so long, and now I’ve had this moment to sit at home and kind of like cherish the mundane things and the routine and time with my girlfriend and, you know, the cat being annoying.
"I guess one of the nice things about the song is it is what it is. Like, the lyrics are very much just going through the day and saying this is actually awesome. This routine and this boringness is amazing.”
This moment to sit at home that Armbruster speaks of has actually stretched on for more than a year now. Joywave released its new album “Possession” at the very moment that the country realized it was joining the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The tour to support the album fell apart. Was Armbruster distressed about this numbingly bad roll of the dice?
“No,” he says in a tentative tone, “and only because so many people had so many worse things happen to them, and I’ve really tried to maintain that perspective. I think most active artists probably lost one record or one cycle. We arguably had the worst Friday of anybody. Friday, March 13, and that’s when the stay-at-home orders were coming down. So nobody had any time or will for new music at that point.
"But again, it’s like, these times of like, war and pandemic, and famine and like crazy things throughout human history. This is one of those moments that is a one-in-a-hundred thing. I hope. So I try not to take it personally. I’ve taken it in stride, I think.”
The band’s 2015 breakout album “How Do You Feel Now?” and 2017’s “Content” had a worthy follow-up in last year’s release, “Possession.” That album’s highlight is “Like a Kennedy,” a gorgeous piano ballad accompanied by a video re-creating the John F. Kennedy assassination over and over and over.
Each version of the crime is deliberately bloodless, covered up by people wearing what look like hazmat suits. This is the endless cycle of violence in this country, and poses a disturbing thought at the end: What if it had been Jackie Kennedy who was shot that day?
And after a powerful message like that, what is “After Coffee”? It is actually a song that was waiting for its moment.
“I was writing this basically as we got home from Europe last year, as the virus was kind of weighing down on us,” Armbruster says. “And now it’s more relevant than ever, because everyone had a year like that, and everyone had time to reflect and slow down for a minute.”
He’s grateful for all of the experiences that Joywave’s success has brought him. Yet sitting at home, with his morning coffee, what has Armbruster now been thinking?
“It’s, am I doing the right thing with my life? I really like this moment at home, and do I want the anonymity and the opposite of everything I built?
“You know how when you were younger and you had summer break, and there just wasn’t anything to do? And you had time to just, like, think about what the next thing you wanted to do was? Or a lot of people had that time after college, looking for a job? No one gets that once you’re in it. You’re just seeking employment until it’s time to retire. This is like this forced moment of clarity, which I had in my late 20s. I was sitting in my parents’ basement writing songs. And it was like, so helpful to me to think about what’s really important to me, and no one gets that time after, like, age 22. So I hope that everyone at least had a week of that time to slow down.”
From that meditative opening, “After Coffee” moves on to what the esteemed music critic, Armbruster’s father, says sounds like The Alan Parsons Project. A full-sonic palate of electronic rock as Armbruster sings, “I’m too scared to jump.”
But after coffee, there is hope. And jump we must.
“I feel weirdly optimistic and healthier mentally on the, on what I think is about to be the other side of this,” Armbruster says.
The break from touring has allowed Armbruster to write and produce — online through Zoom meetings — with other musicians. His side project Best Frenz, with Jason Suwito of the Los Angeles pop band Sir Sly, released a four-song EP last summer. The cover art is a sticker with the album title on a moldy piece of fruit, “30% Off!” It is a buzzing electronica dish of post-pandemic doom. All the kids are dancing to that kind of stuff these days.
And “After Coffee” will be part of a four-song EP to be released in June, followed by a full album, including those songs, likely to be out early next year.
Armbruster is making this pandemic time work for him.
“It’s been a very creative time for me,” he says, “and probably the most unbothered stretch of creativity that I’ve been able to have since anyone cared what I was doing.”
Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].