By Rob Funk
Independent Arts Writer
[This story originally appeared in slightly different form in the November 24, 1992, issue of The Independent, at The Ohio State University.]
On Friday Nov. 12, many fans were undoubtedly confused and disappointed upon discovering that what had been publicized as a triple bill of the Mighty Lemon Drops, Too Much Joy, and Material Issue at the Newport Music Hall was actually only a double bill; Too Much Joy did not appear that night. If you think this is no big deal, you have never seen a Too Much Joy show. If you saw them when they came to Columbus in September, you know their performances are among the most fun and energetic around, and they should not be missed.
Too Much Joy's last show with the Mighty Lemon Drops and Material Issue was Thursday Nov. 11 in Ithaca, New York. According to Jay Blumenfield, Too Much Joy guitarist, the band never planned to continue any farther with the tour.
"We left when from day one we said we were going to leave, because it would cost too much to get us to Ohio -- we'd rather go there on our own. We were playing way too short and people were paying way too much money so we didn't want to rip people off anymore. We wanted to come back, play for a cheaper ticket price, and play for a longer time. It was frustrating to us to have people pay all this money to get in, then only be allowed to play for like half an hour."
Blumenfield calls their music "anarchic punk-pop." He goes on to say, however, "We've never fit into any little scene. We just sort of got together, played, hated everyone around us, played music because of it, and just went for it, and some weird kind of music comes out, and we don't know what it's called 'cause it's not really part of anything."
The band is currently promoting their fourth album, Mutiny. The cover depicts their old tour van driving off a cliff, and the title is not an obvious joke like the titles of their other albums (Green Eggs And Crack, Son Of Sam I Am, and Cereal Killers) because they had a more serious message this time. "We didn't feel wacky anymore. We just felt pissed off, and we wanted everyone to have their own private mutiny," Blumenfield said. "So we had to throw our van off a cliff and show everyone how to get started on their own private mutiny. It was very satisfying."
When I told him the story of how The Independent got started, he replied, "Say a thank-you to the whole staff for following our principles before we even thought of them. Now what you really have to do is take the staff of the other paper and push them off a cliff and then take a picture of it and put it on your cover." We'll keep that in mind.
Too Much Joy's debut album, Green Eggs and Crack, was released on an independent label in 1986. Unfortunately for fans, only 1000 copies were made. Blumenfield said he doesn't even have one himself, but he said it will probably be re-released eventually. "It's the one thing about ourselves that we own 100 percent of. So as soon as we have some time and some money we'll re-release it, and anyone who wants to can buy it and put some money in our pockets. Actually, the title is the best part about it."
Jay Blumenfield on success: "I think we're successful; we don't have to work. From day one we always thought we were going to be the biggest band on Earth, and we've never understood why that has taken so long to happen. But at the same time when we aspired to that, we never really believed we'd be able to get out of my basement, so everything we do we're really excited about, but yet we also kind of say, 'Oh, well of course.' But then we're like 'Oh my god, we're playing a show and people are coming and paying to see us.' It's this weird dichotomy of knowing that we deserve to be the biggest in the world, but also knowing that the world is not a just place and being surprised anytime anything good happens."
Blumenfield says he wanted to be an astronaut once, but then he realized that's not as fun as playing guitar. Even if they're not astronauts, they're among the most educated bands on the national scene. Blumenfield say, "Sandy [Smallens, bassist] went to Yale and got a degree in political philosophy; Tim [Quirk, singer] went to Stanford and got a degree in communications or creative writing or something; I got a degree in drugs; and Tommy [Vinton, drummer] got a degree in criminal science." Vinton even used that criminal science degree to become a policeman.
"You know, every band needs a cop," Blumenfield says. "If we're ever late to a gig, Tommy can drive as fast as he wants with a beer in his hand. I mean, that's pretty much why we like having him in the band."
Too Much Joy first played together in 1982, when they were high school sophomores in Scarsdale, New York, and the lineup has been the same ever since -- through high school, college, and four albums. I asked Blumenfield how the band has managed to stay together so long: "Well, we hate each other, but we hate everyone else in the world a lot more, so we sort of have to stick together."
Jay Blumenfield on songwriting: "When we write, it's just sort of like vomiting. We just go into a room and two hours later we have a song with lyrics and music and beats, and it's all part of the same thing. The music says what the lyrics are saying and the lyrics say what the music's saying."
Too Much Joy is no longer excited by the music of others. "We don't really listen to music anymore. We like the Clash, and we like Steve Martin movies. It's hard to listen to bands now because it's all 'This is alternative. This is your packaged rebellion. Here it is.' That's not what it's all about. It's about passion and soul and trying to think for yourself. It's hard. We like to talk to people at shows and while we're traveling and get into discussions; I'd almost rather do that than go listen to a Pearl Jam album."
"We and all our fans all feel like we're strangers in our own land, and we're all disenfranchised and we don't know why."
Blumenfield also had some news for fans. "We're writing the Too Much Joy movie -- which starts with the Too Much Joy cartoon." No word on a completion date. The plot? "I can't say much about it. All I know is that there are these evil vegetarians that are trying to take over the world, and Too Much Joy has to stop them."
"Columbus is a really good town for us, 'cause people are open-minded, and they're really fun at the shows. Columbus is one of our favorite places, and I'm not just saying that. It's really cool because whenever we play the Newport, the guy comes over and thanks us and says, 'You know what? I make so much money whenever you guys play, because your fans drink like fish!'"
"Being in Too Much Joy is pretty much a full time occupation. And you have to live the life; you can't just pretend it." As for long-term plans: "Long-term plans? Keep doing this. Get bigger and bigger and better and better. Hopefully change the world. I wonder if you could elect a band as president? If you could, maybe that's our long-term plan."
"Just tell everyone to go buy our records so we can keep doing this, 'cause it's a lot of fun. If there's people that thought we were coming, we're sorry. It's not that we don't like Columbus -- we love Columbus, and we shall be back, probably early next year. The only reason we didn't come by, which is true, is that we didn't want to rip you off, 'cause that tour was just ripping people off; it was too expensive and we weren't playing long enough. We didn't want to do it to our fans in Ohio because you guys have all been really cool. And that's the truth. We'll be back soon and it'll be cheap."