Joan & the Rivers’ new generation-defining EP, ‘Lovebumps’

Joan and the Rivers
San Jose rock trio Joan and the Rivers, from left, Eric Smith, guitar, Mike Hickel, bass, and Caleb Dunkel, drums.

Joan and The Rivers’ new EP is less a collection of rock and roll songs and more a series of anthems detailing the scrambling quarter-life crisis brewing in every 20-something across the country.

“Lovebumps” takes the no-nonsense songwriting approach of straight ahead garage-rock and combines it with swirling, layered guitar tones and song arrangements that feel like classical movements and a lyrical sense of thoughtfulness. This is what would have happened if Rivers Cuomo listened to stoner rock, got drunk and ate a lot of pizza instead of going to Harvard.

Joan and the Rivers
Joan and the Rivers

The members of the San Jose rock trio met at church around 2004 and learned their instruments through playing in bands together, sharing music with one another and simply hanging out. It wasn’t until 2012 though, that they gathered up their widespread influences and begin writing, performing and recording as Joan and The Rivers.

Their songs have always been biographical and story-based but with “Lovebumps,” chief songwriter and singer-guitarist Eric Smith truly captured the intricacies of being an aging millennial in the smartphone era.

“I could be like my brother and rise above/ make a living doing what I love” he growls on “Stoggie,” a song about carving out a place in the world while dealing with the metaphorical hangover of your late teens and early 20s.

“I mostly just write about my life and my friends and memories and shit like that” Smith said, adding that he considers “Lovebumps” to be a concept EP.

The off-hand style of the writing is part of its hard-hitting nature; hidden within lyrics about getting high and eating fast-food are deceptively poignant lines like “I’m in a time warp moving backwards,” that deal with the tug-of-war between growing into adulthood and refusing to abandon the not-so-productive habits of your teens. JATR excels at expressing and giving voice to this dichotomy in front of an absolutely raucous backdrop of frantic drums, explorative bass lines and an army of guitars.

However, despite all of the depth contained in this EP, the band refuses to take itself too seriously. “I just want to keep on playing music with my two best friends,” bassist Mike Hickel said. This sentiment may as well be the band’s mantra.

On stage, Joan and The Rivers is an unstoppable, stumbling force. Smith and Hickel are hypnotizing frontmen. They give themselves wholly to the songs and the audience, and their performance is much like their songwriting: devoid of pretension or gimmicks.

“It’s all about having a good time and partying,” drummer Caleb Dunkel said. “If we weren’t having fun we wouldn’t be doing this at all.” Both live and in the studio, the band’s songs seem to be on the very edge of their own control. It’s the kind of pure, unwound rock and roll that seems to fall apart and pull itself back together by the end of each song.

As he and his band mates have started writing songs for their next release, Hickel is already looking past this enthralling EP, saying that “‘Lovebumps’ was just the beginning.” At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I must say that in its ability to package apathy and unrest with honest songwriting and visceral instrumentation, “Lovebumps” is the closest thing our generation has to Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” And if it is, as Hickel says, “just the beginning” the rest of the rock world should be waiting with baited breath.

ABOUT Spencer Kilpatrick

Spencer Kilpatrick
Author Spencer Kilpatrick is a part-time writer and full-time ding-dong. He is currently scurrying around Big Water, Utah.

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