concerts are dress-up dance parties. People wear sparkly outfits. They wear strappy red jumpsuit situations similar to what vocalist/frontwoman Michelle Joy wears in the “Hurricane” music video
. As that video progresses, Joy starts knocking people down with distant hand gestures. Her nose begins to bleed. Her pupils disappear, leaving opaque monochrome marbles where her eyes should be.
People don't normally show up to Cannons shows with bloody noses and blank, milky eyes, but they would be welcome if they did. “It’s important to give everyone an escape from everything. It makes us so happy to see people stepping out of their everyday life,” Joy says. “We just really want to give them a good night — have fun with them, sing with them, dance with them.”
People didn’t always dress up for Cannons shows. They didn’t even reliably show up to them for a while.
Joy grew up in south Florida and went to college at Florida State University. She stayed in Tallahassee for a few years after school, then moved to Los Angeles around 2012. “I didn’t really know anyone out here, and I didn’t have any friends,” she says. “Everything was changing. My dad passed away, and my mom was sick. I had so much going on in my life, and I didn’t know how to deal with it or where to channel it. I started writing [music] to escape a little bit from reality.”
She had always been musically inclined, but she’d never played in a band. “I wasn’t sure how exactly to finish songs or how good they were,” she says. “I wanted people to work with.” Through Craigslist, she found Ryan Clapham and Paul Davis, childhood friends who were looking for a singer to create a new band. Joy and her bandmates spent years paying their dues, working non-music jobs to pay the bills. Joy spent some time as a behavioral therapist for children with autism, which she found rewarding but incompatible with fronting a band. “I didn’t have the energy to write and create when I came home,” she explains. She found jobs that were easier to work around writing, recording and touring, including as a representative for photographers and then a server at a restaurant in Los Angeles. “It was overwhelming,” she says. “I would stay up until three or four in the morning to try and finish writing, then go to work at nine in the morning. I was kind of a zombie toward the end of it.”
Still, by the beginning of 2020, the patience and persistence were paying off. The band’s music had appeared on a couple of TV shows, and local gigs were promising. The crowds weren’t huge, but they knew the words to the songs. Then the pandemic hit.
Joy and her bandmates lost their day jobs. People shut themselves inside, but luckily for Cannons, they were also turning on their TVs. On April 27, 2020, a show called Never Have I Ever
debuted on Netflix, with Cannons' "Fire for You" playing throughout a key scene. “It was almost like a music video,” Joy says.
Forty million people watched Never Have I Ever
in the weeks after it premiered, and the first concert Cannons played after the pandemic was at Lollapalooza. As of August this year, “Fire for You” had been played over 100 million times on Spotify.
Joy and her bandmates no longer need day jobs.
“I’m so glad that I put in that work, because once people heard ‘Fire for You’ and it blew up, I felt like all of that was totally worth it,” says Joy. “Somewhere inside, I knew it was, but it was exhausting to not have the time that I have now to work on music and shows. I just feel grateful.”
The first album Cannons wrote and recorded as full-time musicians, Fever Dream
, came out in March. Despite this triumph, it’s the darkest collection of songs the band has released to date. In addition to the relatively macabre “Hurricane,” it includes a single called “Bad Dream.” Joy wrote the lyrics in early 2020, during a run in Venice Beach, where she lives. "This is usually a very happy place,” she says. Not this time. “Everyone looked so distraught. It wasn’t the place I was used to. No one could say, ‘Everything is going to be okay,’ because no one knew what was going on. Sometimes when things are horrible, it’s good to hear that.”
does not live entirely in the horror movie of the pandemic. Life moves on. In the past couple of years, two of the three bandmates have gotten married. The album closes with the loveliest song in the Cannons catalogue, an acoustic ballad called “Lightning.”
“I remember Ryan sending me the guitar and first verse, which sounded really romantic and was geared toward Amber, his wife,” says Joy. She was in the right place to take it from there, finishing the chorus and remaining verses. “I was feeling very content in my relationship and love life, and I’d never felt like that before.”
Joy and her bandmates have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Venice Beach is pretty much back to normal. The next album is mostly written. They have headlined approximately 100 shows so far this year, with their next at the Westword Music Showcase
on Saturday, September 10. And Joy never gets tired of seeing what people will wear.
The Westword Music Showcase returns to RiNo on Friday, September 9, with free performances by dozens of local bands at nine venues in the area. On Saturday, September 10, more local bands will join national headliners the Flaming Lips, Saint Motel, the Main Squeeze and Cannons at three stages at the Mission Ballroom Outdoors; Cannons plays the Brighton Stage at 2:35 p.m. Tickets for the day are $55-$85; get more information at westwordshowcase.com.