Joy Kills Sorrow has always had a knack for writing and performing intimate songs. Now the Boston-based string band is emphasizing their epic side, too, on Wide Awake, a new EP out June 4 on Signature Sounds. The seven-song collection serves as a milepost in the blossoming career of a group the Los Angeles Daily News praised as "virtuoso art folkies who understand the value of being just folks."
"It's a statement about where the band is now and where we're heading," guitarist Matthew Arcara says. "With this record, we're concentrating on getting a fuller, bigger, more powerful sound from the band. We want the epic sound of an indie-rock band plugged in, but on acoustic instruments."
Wide Awake features six riveting new original songs that showcase singer Emma Beaton's soulful, enveloping voice on lush acoustic arrangements fleshed out by Arcara on guitar, Wes Corbett on banjo, Jacob Jolliff on mandolin and Zoe Guigueno on bass. The EP also includes a cover of the Postal Service's 2003 electro-pop single "Such Great Heights," which Joy Kills Sorrow has been performing in concert for a while after learning the song during a residency at the Lizard Lounge in Boston.
"It's a tune that people recognize and it gives them a lens to see Joy Kills Sorrow through," Arcara says. "We've always been interested in this idea of how to play non-traditional music in a traditional string-band setting. "Such Great Heights" gave us an opportunity to say, OK, how can we take this mostly electronic recording and spread the bits and pieces around to the different instruments?"
The EP, which follows the full-length albums Darkness Sure Becomes This City in 2010 and This Unknown Science in 2011, is also a chance to introduce listeners to Guigueno, who joined the band last fall.
"She's a really strong, dynamic bass player and a really strong singer," Arcara says. "She helps unify the band's drive and pulse, and we've really been able to tighten up and fatten up the groove.
Joy Kills Sorrow will show off that fattened groove in concert when the band goes on tour starting in May and continuing through mid- August, before the group gets to work on their third full-length LP. Which is not to say that Wide Awake doesn't stand fully on it's own.
"There's no filler, no down spots," Arcara says. "These are just tunes we feel really good about and wanted to put out to the world."
Joy Kills Sorrow formed in 2005, bringing together virtuoso musicians who share a love of American roots music. Beaton, who studied cello at Berklee College of Music, won "Young Performer of the Year" at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2008. Arcara took first place in the National Flat Pick Guitar contest at the Walnut Valley Festival in 2006. Jolliff, who was Berklee's first full-scholarship mandolin student, won first place in the National Mandolin Championship in 2012 at the Walnut Valley Festival. Corbett teaches banjo at Berklee. Guigueno, a British Columbia native, graduated with the President's Award for the Creative and Performing Arts from Canada's prestigious Humber College in Toronto, where she studied jazz bass. She recorded and toured for years through Canada and Europe with acclaimed Canadian bands Fish & Bird, Crooked Brothers and Bull Kelp before joining Joy Kills Sorrow.
Together, the band members are beginning a new chapter for Joy Kills Sorrow as part of a story that continues to unfold. "It's a little bit of a new direction for us," Arcara says. "We're excited about where it's going."