Hurricane season may still be a few months away, but electro-alt-pop trio Cannons are on course to make landfall at The Secret Group this Friday night. Expect bursts of heavy synths, a shower of hypnotic melodies and a booming dance floor as the category five storm, fronted by vocalist Michelle Joy, guitarist Ryan Clapham and drummer Paul Davis, soars. on stage to support their new album. Fever dream.
Fever dream, available now on Columbia Records, is the kind of career-boosting record that bands yearn for, fans long for and cherish, and playlist curators salivate for. Cannons’ canon rests on a soulful dance floor, guided by shimmering synths and shuddering rhythm guitars, and American ballad, as if time travels from a forgotten 50s jukebox to the playground group chameleon reference points. Fever dream paints its sonic palette with cinematic ambition, extending its magnetism to festival stages and intimate venues, like the clubs and theaters the band are currently headlining. All this to say: you just can’t take your ears or your eyes off.
“Hurricane”, the fourth single from Fever dream, makes sure. The surfing guitar and devilish whistle of the intro hint at the threatening chorus of the tracks: I come back like a hurricane. When Michelle Joy sings it on the record, it feels a bit like she’s not kidding. The idea of Cannons performing “Hurricane” just 50 feet above sea level in Houston might sound triggering, but Joy says the song uses the concept of natural disaster as a “symbol of power.”
A few days before the release of the album, Joy spoke with the Houston Press via Zoom about Fever dream“Hurricane” and her own experiences with hurricanes in Florida, adding an extra layer of flooded street credit to the song, which she says “is getting crazier and crazier [at] every show.
“I just remember being terrified. There was a little closet under the stairs which my parents thought would be the safest, so I hid in there a lot. I’ve been through so many hurricanes , I mean when I was younger too. I just remember the streets were flooded and there were little boats on the street. As I’m from Florida, there are water moccasins and alligators in the front yard. Crazy times. But definitely the scariest moment was when we didn’t properly close our windows and they opened upstairs in the house and the wind was blowing through – so we held mattresses against the wall with my mother for hours. [We] been through quite a few natural disasters.
The accompanying “Hurricane” music video is a beast to behold; the way she and the song engage with each other embodies the classic definition of music video: a couple of fully developed musical and visual offerings comprising a moment larger than its individual components. In the video, Cannons, at the center of their storm’s eye, laments their telekinetic weather powers to summon wind and fire to a soundstage. The concept, says Joy, was inspired by the 1984 film Fire starter starring a young Drew Barrymore, whose character – the pyrokinetic offspring of telepathic parents, subjects of a government experiment – bursts into nosebleeds after setting some shit on fire. Joy, too, explodes a blood vessel or two as her power builds, but she does it in style, dressed in a blood-red one-piece reminiscent of Selena’s signature purple jumpsuit from her last gig at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Cannons’ fashion statements seem to evolve in real time alongside their discography; Joy’s sequined dresses and sparkly jumpsuits are reminiscent of 70s and 80s daydreams. She says growing up, she was drawn to artists who “were not just wearing something comfortable that they would wear at home .
“They put a lot of thought and effort into their look, and they also looked the way they sounded. So you could look at them and be able to figure out what they might look like. I really wanted to do that with Cannons,” she says, citing Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and Tina Turner as totemic touchstones in her music and fashion pantheon.
“On the last tour, actually, we played [“What’s Love Got to Do With It”] every time we got back on the tour bus because we were driving and that song got us all pumped up. Joy affects the song’s title in Turner’s unmistakable punctuated rhythm: What is love… Got-to-do!
“I recently watched this documentary on HBO and it was really inspiring to me and she is just amazing. This documentary brought me to tears at the end. Joy says that as a woman of color she found the inspiration in Turner’s determination to rise through the ranks and sell out stadiums usually filled with male rock bands.
“Tina made me think a little differently because I didn’t even realize how rare and difficult it is to get to the top of these charts, especially as a woman in general too,” she says. .
“A lot of people don’t know I’m half black; my father is from Trinidad. I know [on the] in the alternative charts, there are not a lot of women on it and then there are not a lot of black women on it… I’m not represented there too much,” says Joy. Being nominated for Best Alternative Artist at the iHeartRadio Music Awards on the day of our conversation made Cannons’ representation in the category that much more meaningful for Joy.
As the band’s name suggests, they are indeed exploding up the charts. Fever dream entered the iTunes Alternative Albums chart at No. 3 on the day of its release; Dream lead single “Bad Dream” peaked at No. 3 earlier this year on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay charts; 2019’s “Fire for You” reached the top of the same chart in early 2021. While charts aren’t the only measure of success for an artist, marking their target proves a tangible finishing point for a band. which followed a traditional trajectory: indie band with potential star signs to a major label; develops his live act; adds fire to the flame with a Netflix song placement. “Fire for You” placed in Mindy Kaling & Lang Fisher’s I have neversays Joy, might have been the biggest benefit the pandemic has brought to the group’s success.
“At the height of the pandemic, when everyone had to stay home and everyone was on their sofas watching Netflix, the number one show at the time decided to use the entire of our song in the most important part of the show. So that propelled our song ‘Fire for You’ to number one on Shazam and number one on [TV Songs] Graphics, and it completely changed our lives. It was a very crazy experience for us.
It’s a fairy tale dream that COVID nightmares are made of. None of the band members, including guitarist Ryan Clapham and drummer Paul Davis, evaded the darker plot points of the twisted fantasy of losing full-time jobs and being more preoccupied with paying bills and food on the table than by writing new music. About a month into the hiatus, Joy says bandmates Clapham and Davis sent her a track that would later become Fever dream highlight “Bad Dream”.
“When you’re going through a tough time, sometimes you don’t want to hear someone say ‘it’s going to be okay’, when no one knows if it’s going to be okay. You just want to hear someone say: it’s shit. It’s shitty.”
“Bad Dream” has already survived its quarantine context, but it still manages to capture every corner of it. The bass drum beats like a high resting heartbeat, more noticeable at home in its quieter silence; the bass line of the verses oscillates between two notes, only imitating the movement. Joy’s restrained vocals waver toward numbness as the lyrics elucidate COVID’s disruption of sleeping and dreaming patterns during the shutdown. On the track, Joy sings: I’ve been living in a bad, bad dream / I wish someone would wake me up / I don’t like this feeling, won’t you shake me / ‘Cause more could break me.
“I just wanted to express the feeling of not feeling good where you are right now. This is the situation and there was no resolution with the lyrics.
The Los Angeles-based band continued to work remotely during quarantine — a process they had been prepared for since their early days when they met on Craigslist in 2013. Joy says that in those prescient beginnings, Clapham and Davis were sending their songs by email, then she would write and record the vocals and send them back to the guys. Everyone’s different schedules made collaborating in person a challenge, but that all changed when Joy convinced the guys to move into her apartment complex.
“That’s when we really had that little fire, because we could meet anytime and it made working on the music a lot easier.”
Their steady output since their 2014 debut has resulted in a prolific discography of three EPs (Up All Night, In a Heartbeat, Covers by Cannons), three LPs (Night driving, shadows, fever dream) and a slew of singles that warrant a well-paced deep dive. Having seen the effect of their music on her audience, and at this nascent point in their career, Joy believes the music now belongs to the fans.
“I transfer him, I give him to the fans, and I hope he connects with them and is there for them for whatever they need. Which is good because on this tour…we got to meet and greet, so we got to talk to some of our fans and hear some really powerful stories of how our songs have affected them. It makes me really, really happy to be able to help people through the tough times, the healing processes, the different things they’re going through,” she says.
“I just hope people can find a part of themselves in it and relate to it. It always comes from the heart, so it seems like if it comes from the right place – which it did – then our music connects with other people, and that’s a good feeling.
Cannons perform The Secret Group on Friday April 8 with support from Madi Sipes & The Painted Blue and Jane Leo. Doors at 8 p.m., all public. The show is complete but you can join the waiting list if new tickets become available.