There's a gauzy, spacious richness to Grace Joyner's voice. It's an instrument that won her notice even back when she was a backup singer and keyboardist for Elim Bolt. What her 2014 debut EP Young Fools proved, though, is that she also has a natural ability to craft an expansive, enveloping sound around her voice, which also happened with the help of producer Ryan Wolfgang Zimmerman. Young Fools is an accomplished first effort, but she herself is the first to suggest that she was merely beginning to test the boundaries of her creativity.
"When I first went to record the first EP, I was definitely just starting to dip my toes in the writing process," Joyner admits. "I had written a handful of songs, but I would never record them and never play them out. In one of my old bands, I think we like experimented a little bit with playing my songs, but really nothing too extensive — so it was really just a learning process for me."
And without a doubt, there's an increased sense of assuredness that marks Maybe Sometimes in C, the album Joyner is releasing this Saturday at the Royal American. The opening semi-title track is an a capella number that features a softly double-tracked and heavily reverbed Joyner flaunting her patience and control, holding on to phrases and then pulling away with the deftness of a jazz singer and the unadorned confidence of a folk balladeer.
From there, the record launches into the slinky, throbbing "Knees," a tune that shows off the pop smarts and adventurous arrangements that Joyner and her merry band have come up with.
"Something that I have been toying with a bit more for this album, that I just barely started doing in the first EP that I'm really looking to explore further, is weird time changes," Joyner says. "That's definitely something I had in the back of my mind that I wanted that maybe the listener's not expecting but that doesn't sound harsh or off — doing something that's new and exciting but also makes sense."
"Knees" also showcases her patented Jeff Buckley-inspired approach to singing, elongating syllables and gathering poignancy from the power of her voice.
"I never wanted to duplicate that, but I did want to harness what he was doing," says Joyner, who frequently cites Buckley as a vocal inspiration. "He's just so genuine — he can say even the simplest lines and, when you hear him sing it, it's so genuine you truly believe it. It sounds deeper than what the actual words he's saying are."
In addition to Zimmerman, Joyner's working band includes drummer/percussionist Nic Jenkins, Hearts & Plugs founder Dan McCurry on bass, and Camille Lucy Rhoden on keys. It's a purposefully guitar-less lineup, one that allows for a wide-ranging use of synths and pads and jettisons the typical melodic space guitars occupy for a more dreamy and open feel.
That feel is prominent on the other lead single from the record, "Dreams," which riffs on a title indebted to Fleetwood Mac and carries the same ethereal vibe and singular vocals. Joyner says she doesn't mind the comparison.
"I don't really know if I was listening to that song around the time I wrote 'Dreams' or why it's so similar. One of the things though, is that I really like the walk-down chord change — in that 'talk about your dreams' part, it walks down three chords. And Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams' does the same thing, but different chords," Joyner explains. "So I think that's another thing that makes it sound similar."
Both "Knees" and "Dreams" have been released prior to the record's release and have already been picked up by some cutting-edge blogs like The Revue and The 405, something Joyner credits to the promotional efforts of McCurry.
"That's something that he's been so consistent with and so amazing at, is just getting it out to the right channels and really spreading it. When we release something, he's just amazing at getting it out to the world."
Joyner, who moved to Asheville last December, will celebrate that album's release with shows in both Columbia and Charleston, a weekend run which has become increasingly common in order to continue collaborating with her band members. Despite their disparate locations, she says the arrangement works, and is even hoping to tour the East Coast this summer in support of the record.
"That's one of the things I haven't done a whole lot of, despite being a musician for the past however many years," she admits. "So I want to focus on getting that in the works."