The plight of the monarch butterfly may not seem like a fitting subject for a song, yet LA’s Moon Honey tackles butterflies, climate change, and death itself in their new single “Life Has No Meaning.”
Don’t let it get you down though. Frontwoman Jess Joy uses the flutter of her voice and a kilowatt smile to convey the wink inside the music: “In face of adversity, we wanted to make a piece that applauded pleasure, encouraged ourselves and others to live with levity, and held love and friendship as the highest of life aspirations,” she says. “I wanted the video to be a sacred ritual of sorts, in that it recorded and honored real emotions, real friends, and real transformation. The actors are our friends, who came over to my sister Krimsey Ramsey’s house to film in exchange for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, curry, and laughs. The person who played the grim reaper, Dylan Tirapelli-Jamail, was so committed that he volunteered to be permanently tattooed with ‘Life Has No Meaning,’ as I was also being physically transformed through my monarch tattoo.”
The interplay between morbidity and laughter makes “Life Has No Meaning” the kind of tune you hum after getting up in the morning. Who doesn’t want to face the endless void with a smile on their lips?
We chatted with Jess Joy about growing up in the South, how she overcame stage fright, and the art of turning a poem into a song. Listen to “Life Has No Meaning” below.
AF: You and Andrew are both from Louisiana. What was the music scene like where you grew up?
Jess Joy: Yes! In Baton Rouge, it was a small and very supportive music scene. In my opinion, it was an artistically inclusive scene, in that musicians and artists lumped together as creatives. Baton Rouge is a college town, with LSU football being the center of entertainment. All the music and art freaks congregated at The Spanish Moon for shows, a small brick building which once served as a morgue for a short time during a flood. When Andrew and I started playing music, we were in a bizarre prog band named Twin Killers—we were radically accepted by the community.
AF: Were you in high school together? How did you meet?
JJ: No, though we both went to small Christian high schools. We met through our previous drummer Jermaine Butler. Andrew and Jermaine were so desperate for a singer for the prog project, that they were asking everyone. They were shopping in a clothing store I was working in while I was in college for fine art, and Jermaine asked me if I could sing, if I would join their band. I said no, I couldn’t sing, plus I’m terrified of an audience. A few months later Andrew contacted me to paint his guitar cabinet in exchange for two bottles of wine. I ended up auditioning for the band. I was really bad! But they needed me.
AF: Have you always leaned toward the vocal styling you use for Moon Honey? It’s a wide range you showcase, even within the same song.
JJ: Gosh, I don’t even know! It’s not exactly on purpose. I write a song the same way I pick out an outfit in the morning. Today I feel great -how about orange! How about a giant necklace and ten rings! Today I feel sad – how about no clothes and I’ll just stay inside. I just feel my feelings and try to make something very expressive.
About a year into singing I did work with an opera coach named Rachel Cobb for a few months, and also a soul singer, Margaret Fowler. Later in LA, I worked with a coach named Stephanie WIlliams. They were all amazing—I think they influenced my style, but I could never afford to keep up training longer than three months.
AF: You grew up on Christian music (ditto). Does that genre influence any of the music you make today?
JJ: Is it bad if the first thought I had was “I hope not”? Because I hope not. I still find myself lyrically falling back on Bible metaphors all the time, though. I can’t help it. The Bible was my first storybook, my mythology, and it hovers above my creative life.
You did too? Did you like Jars of Clay? I’m trying to remember this really hip Christian (Australian?) rock band that I really loved right now. In addition to POD, which was fringe.
AF: I was into The O.C. Supertones in the late ’90s. They were a Christian Ska band… I felt very fringe at the time.
JJ: Haha oh yeah!! I loved ska.
AF: In an interview, you described your songwriting process “…we both start in solitude: Andrew composes a piece, records a demo and sends it to me. I write lyrics and melody for the piece, sometimes fresh, sometimes drawing from my bank of poems I keep handy. We get together and light candles to practice performing it to work out kinks.” Did “Life Has No Meaning” start as a poem?
JJ: Yes, “Life Has No Meaning” did start as a poem. It was my birthday, and Andrew surprised me by taking me on a drive to the Goleta butterfly grove (now closed due to dead and dying trees), where every year thousands of monarchs would stop in their migration on the same tree (even though every year was a new generation who had never visited the tree). The monarch is my spirit animal. At a certain point in the day when it became warm enough, the clustered monarchs would all burst into flight. It was so beautiful and touching, and I cried the whole way home and wrote the first draft. Eventually it made it onto the song.
AF: It’s the happiest version of existential dread I’ve ever heard.
JJ: Haha. Wow thank you! Can I use that as a press quote for my life?
AF: Can you tell us a bit about the themes on your upcoming album Mixed Media on Woman?
JJ: It is about the role self of a southern woman, and the desire to break free as an individual, struggling with existential dread, depression, delusions, fantasies, love, acceptance.
AF: You’ve said in past interviews that you struggle with stage fright, yet in performance you seem very controlled and in charge. Do you use a persona to fight the anxiety?
JJ: I’m happy to hear I come off that way! I do think a persona is in progress, thanks to the time I’ve spent performing music and lately training in mime. It’s been a very vulnerable and painful process, though, for someone as shy as me. The best I could do in the past was to pretend no one was there, and that I had a little Alice and Wonderland bubble, my own world that I was safe in. I was detached and in sort of a daydream state on stage. That, or on the verge of drunk. Now I think I am connecting more with the energy around me and letting real feelings come through. It’s liberating.
AF: The video for “Life Has No Meaning” was directed by you and Rayana Chumthöng. It’s very lush in terms of art direction and playful overall. How did the concept for it come about?
JJ: The concept is one I was holding in my back pocket for a long time. I wanted to show my friends and I going through each season of life together. I wanted to show myself happy when death comes to take me away. It’s my therapy and vision for my life: that no matter what, I will try to enjoy it. Rayana helped wrangle in all the ideas into a storyline, and was such a creative, powerful woman to work with. I asked her to do it because of her wonderful energy and sensitivity to color and content.
AF: Other than music, what’s something you’re passionate about? What makes you tick?
JJ: I am just obsessed with art, all of it! I love painting, films, comedy, cooking, books, poetry, mime, theater, you name it. Any chance I get to be inspired (and there’s so much to get inspired from in LA) I take it; any medium I can use to express myself, I try it.
Other than that, I am passionate about human and animal rights. I’m vegan, and I’m becoming more involved in social justice and environmental protection movements.
AF: Moon Honey has a tour coming up I hear! Where will ya’ll be heading?
JJ: Yes! We’re headed south. Here are a few dates:
09.28 – Los Angeles, CA – The Echo (Record Release Show)
11.02 – Baton Rouge, LA – The Spanish Moon
11.03 – New Orleans, LA – Siberia
11.04 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl
11.07 – Hot Springs, AR – Low Key Arts
11.09 – Austin, TX – Barracuda
11.10 – San Antonio, TX – Limelight
12.01 – Costa Mesa, CA – The Wayfarer
AF: To close, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as an artist?
JJ: I’d say the hardest part of being an artist is self-care, mainly money, and your work not being recognized as work. Someone along the way encouraged me to collaborate and grow friendships within the artistic community as a whole. Community has been my main resource to keep going. So much has been made possible for me through collaboration I could have never achieved on my own.
On the topic of making art, though, one quote that has stuck with me from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” It’s a reminder to be alive in the process of making art—be vulnerable and push yourself further than your comfort zone.