By Margaret Welsh
In the video for “Giving Tree,” Joy Toujours, dappled with disco lights and wearing roller skates, loops around the Belvedere’s dancefloor. “The things I used to do for you I now just do for me,” the song goes. “I’m feeling so much better now, I’m not a giving tree.” On one hand, it’s a celebration of newly-found freedom from codependency, an anthem for boundary-setting. But it’s also a melancholy goodbye to the kinds of toxic relationship habits that often feel the most comfortable. “
“Giving Tree” appears on Toujours new four-song EP, Postjoy, which was released via Soundcloud two months ago, and is the first music the experimental post-folk artist has produced in years. It’s a reflective, brooding, though not self-serious, collection of songs. Toujours slightly flattened vocals, along with the spare texture of the instrumentation, recalls the Magnetic Fields, or very early Destroyer, with strings swapped out for guitars. But Toujours — a multi-instrumentalist who primarily plays violin — is a busker at heart, and knows how to entertain on that level. Postjoy catches me the same way I might slow down and linger for a particularly engaging street musician.
“I just got back into music,” says Toujours in a phone call with the Current in late May, noting that they’ve stayed busy over the last decade raising a daughter and running Belvederes, in Lawrenceville (which, like other bars and music venues, is closed for the time-being). Old(er)-heads will likely remember the wild-n-wooly anarcho freak-folk ensemble Joy Toujours and the Toys Dujour, which was once a mainstay of the Pittsburgh scene.
But Toujours (who is non-binary and, while not picky about pronouns, prefers to be called by their name whenever possible) recently started writing music again, “intentionally getting back into it because I knew my kid was going to be starting to do her own thing … I wanted to have a thing to do.” Now, Toujours is preparing to hit the road in a van outfitted with a bed and a bathroom, with the hopes of focusing on music. There’s not a specific destination, or time frame, but Nashville, Vegas, New Orleans, Austin, Savannah, and eventually California are all potential docks.
“I want to go partake in the communities. I’ve toured already a dozen times — like, hit a town, leave, hit a town, leave,” says Tourjours who, as an experienced street performer, is less constrained by the question of where to play than many other musicians in the age of Covid. But, true to the spirit of “Giving Tree,” Tourjours says, “I’m always very cautious of the giver/taker relations with places, so I definitely want to … be more a part of the community.”
In addition to relationship dynamics, Postjoy deals heavily in what Toujours calls “my less than binary” perspective. In the video for “Giving Tree” Toujours’ costume — a red dress and black suit, each cut in half and sewn together at the middle — is an obvious nod to gender identity. And an extra gloomy cover of Cher (and Nancy Sinatra’s) hit gets a bit of gender neutral tweaking: “Bang Bang (They Shot Me Down).”
But Toujours rejects many of life’s other binaries as well. “Derelict Dreams,” a version of which was also recorded by the Toys Doujour in the early 2000s, goes, “When there’s only two choices I’d say both are probably wrong/Give Jesus or Satan I’ll stick with Tommy Chong,” before calling to bring back guillotines for all our modern kings and queens. It echoes the messages of the anarcho punk of Toujours youth, but the listener is reminded a few lines later: “The masses aren’t asses cuz they don’t know who Crass is.”
In most situations, Tourjours says with a chuckle. “I prefer the third road, as i call it. … Opening of the eyes to the grey spectrum is super important for … everyone’s life.”
For more information visit www.soundcloud.com/joytoujours