By Alyssa Donyae
“I like to make people feel positive. I like to make people feel good.”
If you can’t get therapy, Joy Clark is the next best thing. An angel you’ll usually find dripped in black, Joy has been weaving peaceful compositions embodying all things good since the age of 12. Five minutes with her and you feel covered in the warmth of a bonfire, but don’t let that soft voice fool you. Find her a guitar, and you’ll discover a beast of a musician.
Whether you need a song to dance around to in your kitchen (“Here”), or to help you go to sleep and send the nightmares packing (“Watching You Sleep”), Joy has gotten feel-good melodies down to a science. In this conversation from AmericanaFest in Nashville, Joy comes across as the old friend that you may not have talked to in a while, but things fall right into place when you connect again.
Firstly, we’re here in Nashville at Vinyl Tap, and you just got done playing a set at the Rainbow Happy Hour. How was that?
I’m feeling pretty great. I just got done playing some lead for Lilli Lewis, and it felt like something I needed to do this week. To be able to play some lead guitar and just be in the moment, it felt good.
Everyone is in the city this week to tend Americana Fest. With that in mind, what is Americana to you?
Americana is…I feel like I never really know what it is. I just know what feels good, and what sounds good to me. I couldn’t tell you what Americana is. I just know that maybe I fit into that umbrella of Americana. But I think it’s just playing what you feel, and playing what resonates with you, and what touches your soul. I think that’s what Americana is.
With PoC and queer folks being erased from and pushed out of Americana spaces for so long, why do you think spaces like The Black Opry House and Rainbow Happy Hour are so important?
I think these spaces have offered us a home. I’ve been saying all this week, “it feels really great to not be the token.” Something happens when it’s always just you and your surrounded by people who don’t have most of the same experiences that you’ve had. You begin to feel comfortable being around people who don’t even understand where you’re coming from. And when we get complacent in being in those spaces alone, I think it silences us because we’re always being careful as to not make somebody feel uncomfortable. Instead of really going hard for ourselves and telling our stories and talking about things that affect us…in spaces like this, we know what’s up. And so that way, people can come in and see our world and maybe join in, maybe not. But we have a place to be our authentic selves without feeling like a unicorn or some oddball. We’re not the different type of Black people, or different type of queer folks. We just are.
I’m sure you’ve had plenty of folks that have influenced your music over time, but with all that you’ve experienced this week and all the new incredible artists that you’ve met at the Black Opry House, who’s a new influence that you’re taking away from Americana Fest?
Oh gosh. I’ve learned from Roberta Lea. Leon Timbo. Jett. Adeem Maria. Lizzie No. Everyone in that circle, really. I don’t want to leave anyone out because I got something from every. Single. Person. Oh my gosh. Everyone inspires me to dig a little bit deeper, or take a different perspective from songwriting. Everyone makes me feel like “I can be a little freer.” And not even trying to compare but…basking in their genius feels really great.
Earlier we had a talk about how social media influences how we create. And I know Instagram has become a chore for a lot of us, but I heard you’ve broken into TikTok…so what’s that been for you.?
Well, I always tell people, I’m not on there doing dances. But I moved to TikTok because I was feeling a little bit creative. It’s something powerful about when people don’t know you. Something about people not having a “Joy” experience previous to Facebook or Instagram. I started posting videos sometime last year. And I wasn’t deep into it, I was just posting covers. But I liked the fact that I didn’t have a following on there. Nobody knew me. And when I think of Facebook where I have a following because I went to college. There’re hundreds of people from college. But they don’t know me. I talk to like…three people from college. And then I think of my Instagram following. It’s people who sort of know me. They’re sort of vaguely familiar with me or they’re at least aware of what I do. Who knows? Whereas TikTok I instantly went with music, and I started getting follows here and there.
The fact that people didn’t know who I was, they stumbled on me. I feel like the reception, the feedback, and the freeness I felt to experiment and do different types of clips made me a little more creative and little bit more daring. Not that I have anything daring on TikTok. It’s just, sometimes it’s silly and sometimes it’s not. But I’m sure to keep mental health at the forefront. I like to make people feel positive. Maybe it’s because my name is Joy, it’s hard not to do it. It’s a new way to steer people towards my music, and it’s fun. It’s for a purpose. It’s for me. It’s for creativity. And it’s to be social and creative with people.
You just said something: “It’s for me”. All of us here are trying to make a living off of our art, and that can absolutely take the fun and creativity out of things. So how do you balance wanting things to be successful, but also keeping yourself grounded. How do you make sure that you’re still always doing things for you, and not just what will make the masses happy?
Um…that’s hard. I’m not gonna lie. TikTok is cool but then you can find yourself glancing at the last video that you posted. Seeing is someone commented so that you can comment back. So it can build up your comments. So it can change the algorithm so that…so on and so on. It can get tricky. I have to constantly remind myself that I can’t control that much. I can only put out what I want to and take a break when I need to. And always remember that if it’s causing me stress or making me feel like I have to meet some expectation, then – take a break. I always go back to that. And sometimes, when your own manager and own booker you have to temper those things and remember that it’s not that serious. It’s never that serious. I think covid sort-of taught me that, whatever you think is THE big thing that you have to do…it can be cancelled. And then what? Why are you stressed out? Now you have to find something else to be stressed out about. So, my whole approach now is: if it happens, it was supposed to happen. If it doesn’t happen, maybe it’ll happen later. It’s just another opportunity to grow.
Alyssa Donyae is a Texas-raised, New Orleans-based photographer and journalist currently focused on the world of Americana and country music.