joan: “Pop can be whatever you want it to be”

Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford - aka Arkansas duo joan - make chilled out, grooving retro synth-pop tunes that call back to the likes of 80s legends Pet Shop Boys in their sparkly heyday. 

It’s a warm day in Brighton, but joan are savouring the UK climate. In the upstairs apartment they’ve found themselves in, they’re finally taking a moment after rushing down to the seaside – and conversation has turned to the sounds that soundtracked their childhood. There’s Prince. There’s Michael Jackson. There’s James Taylor. 

“I’m a pop guy!” declares frontman Alan Thomas, sitting across from drummer Steve Rutherford as they call together a gambit of styles from singer-songwriters to out and out pop giants. 

“I loved it all. The thing is, the essence of pop is that it can be whatever you want it to be. You can play by a lot of different rules with that, but for us, let’s not corner ourselves in a sound so that then the next thing we put out has a different flair to it. It’s pop music, so we can. I’d hate to be pigeon-holed, or pigeon-hole ourselves.

“We’ll save that for when we move into hip-hop, and Steve comes out from behind the drums to rap,” he laughs. “Those will be the golden years…”

Knowing joan, there could be many golden years ahead. There may only be a scattering of tracks out in the world right now, but trading in mammoth 80s pop in all its styles and flavours is really the name of the game. An evolving lead of tracks with insatiable hooks and an effortless sugar-coated charm, it’s nothing short of unabashed fun. The sort of combination that would naturally start when… 

“Well, we actually got together for the first time to write for a licensing project” explains Alan. “We didn’t have a band in mind! And then we wrote ‘Take Me On’ and we were like, okay this is more than just a licensing thing. We put out ‘Take Me On’ and then we were playing live the month after.”

From the flicking grooves of ‘tokyo’ and the choppy euphoria of wide-eyed banger ‘love somebody like you’ to the mountain-top emotions of ‘i loved you first’ – everything joan does is dripped in unstoppable joy. There’s that ability to sound effortless but also pristinely slick in everything they do, and that frothing sense of ambition that could take over the world – they’ve got the anthems to have thousands and thousands in awe. 

joan: "Pop can be whatever you want it to be"
joan: "Pop can be whatever you want it to be"
“I’d hate to be pigeon-holed, or pigeon-hole ourselves”
Alan Thomas, joan

“Every kid, I would think, who picks up guitars or drums or sings at a young age is…” starts Alan, thinking how to word what he says next. “For me, it started out as a little basketball goal; I would dunk while Michael Jordan is on the screen and I would be like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna dunk one day’. That growth spurt never happened, so I was like, okay, I’m not going to do that. When I picked up a guitar, I saw it – all those people when I’m looking out on stage, so I don’t think I’ve lost sight of that. I see joan as big as our team and us can take it.”

“I think the goal is connecting with as many people as possible,” picks up Steve, “and that really means bigger stages, so that’s where we want to be. Even the shows we’ve had here have been small, but the crowd has been super into it, and it’s been amazing. To think of that energy, multiplied by a crazy amount, that’s amazing.”

They’ve already made their home across the globe, and the release of their debut EP ‘Portra’ is only set to extend that. joan are the pop sensation that you may not know about yet, but rest assured they’ll be soundtracking lives and becoming ingrained in what modern pop is in no time. 

“We’re in a building phase, putting out a track at a time and trying to get people to understand who we are and what we’re about and our lives,” rounds out Alan. “Every day we’re writing and working together – doing something. I think it’s really important, we’re being shaped right now.”

Dazzle in the lights, joan are ready to come out and play. 

Taken from the August issue of Dork. joan’s EP ‘portra’ is out now.

Words: Jamie Muir

  • cover
    Dork Radio
Year Of The Knife have announced a new album, 'No Love Lost Out'
Matt Maltese has announced a new headline tour for 2024
Eaves Wilder has announced a London headline show, and dropped hedonistic new single 'Freefall'