Phil Iglesias is a joy. After I checked his driver's seat, he surprised me by popping out of the back row of his car. He was kind enough to talk to me on a bitterly cold November day, but it was clear that he was underdressed for the occasion.
Phil is the frontman and chief songwriter for Old Joy, an indie rock band based out of New Brunswick, NJ. What started as an acoustic duo has grown into a rocking and rolling three-piece that fills local basements with enthusiastic and inebriated Rutgers students. Coming off of their second LP, Sleep by the Ocean, Old Joy has cemented themselves as one of the most popular acts in the bustling indie scene of New Brunswick.
"The band project was originally called Phosphenes," Iglesias said. "We changed it to Old Joy because there was this other band named Phosphenes in Michigan or something and they would send us hate mail saying, 'Oh, we were Phosphenes first, you guys are some fake Phosphenes...' or something like that." Old Joy was a suggestion from a friend of Ruby Ryan, former guitarist for Old Joy who recently departed the band in September 2019. Iglesias noted that there is a movie called Old Joy, but he hasn't seen it.
Old Joy's music is raw and powerful, with twists, turns and jumps that never let you feel like you know what's coming. "I'd say I have a lot of influences, but I draw mostly from some of my favorite bands like Chon, Dance Gavin Dance, Green Day to a certain extent...I guess mostly in the way that they play rather than the way they write their songs." Iglesias says that he also draws inspiration from a variety of artists and often hears parts of songs he likes and tries to write something similar. He also draws inspiration from other local New Brunswick bands. "For instance, Professor Caveman, I just love the way they play."
Iglesias's lyrics sparkle with a maturity rare to songwriters his age. They're at once personal, raw without being sappy, and refined without being distant. "When I start writing lyrics, it's mostly poems, kind of like my own thought, or just random stories that I get from dreams and stuff," Iglesias says. "I've noticed that generally through the words and the emotions that come out of the songs that I write, it's just being really sad and emotional and trying to be honest in how those emotions are expressed."
With two LPs and a loyal following, Old Joy already has an accomplished career in the basements of New Brunswick. But the future is less certain. Shakeups in the lineup have left Iglesias as the only original member and longtime bassist Natalie Kim as the only other current member. Nonetheless, Old Joy is playing its first show outside of New Jersey on Nov. 15 at Fordham University. Iglesias expressed a desire to keep Old Joy going. "As far as local or DIY or underground bands go they usually they kind of just fizzle out after college, when everyone graduates or when people move away and stuff, and I wouldn't want that to happen to Old Joy," Iglesias said. "If there was an opportunity for us to make it big or whatever, I would definitely take that. But I'm really just happy with playing shows in New Brunswick, playing basement shows or underground shows in the area or in neighboring states or whatever. That's pretty much where I see us going in the near future."
"As far as it goes for the far future...I'm not really sure, actually."
Sleep by the Ocean is out now on all streaming services.