Usually an album’s title inspires the cover art. When Leo Vondracek had his photos taken for his first record as Joey Joey Michaels, however, that process worked in reverse.
“I kept doing a fake smile, [but] it wasn’t on purpose,” Vondracek said. “I was feeling weird that I paid someone to take pictures of me. I’d never done that, and I felt awkward.”
That’s when he knew to call the album “Manchild.”
“‘Manchild’ is a buffer. The album is immature,” Vondracek said. “If someone says they don’t like it, I can say, ‘Yeah, it’s called “Manchild.”’ It lets me off the hook and allows me to be immature.”
At nine tracks of breezy, Mac DeMarco-esque pop, “Manchild” combines sincerity with Vondracek’s sense of humor. It’s a balance Vondracek achieved by combining his sensibilities from past projects, including those with Hot Freaks and www.cars.auto.
“This is trying the best of both worlds,” Vondracek said. “How can I make a sincere, serious piece of music, but also have the approachability of something that’s fun and silly and light?”
After collaborating on tunes with Elliott Kozel of Tickle Torture, Vondracek assembled a band with Skyler Nowinski of Rupert Angeleyes and Mark Ritsema of Suzie, plus Gabriel Rodriquez, Sarah Darnell and Darin Dahlmeier of Hot Freaks, to play under a pseudonym of his: Joey Joey Michaels.
Once they solidified the band’s sound, Vondracek and co. recorded “Manchild” with Ali Jaafar at Ecstattic Studio. True to Joey Joey Michaels’ pop spirit, Jaafar and the band recorded the entire album live in about 15 hours.
“The Beatles recorded [most of] their first record in one day,” Vondracek said. “I like the idea of getting back to a live band doing pop songs that are really straightforward and accessible. I don’t think that happens anymore.”
Similar to The Beatles’ first album, “Manchild” is a collection of 2- and 3-minute easy-going pop compositions. Though the lyrics come from the heart, Vondracek tackles simple themes of love and yearning throughout the record.
The music matches Vondracek’s sultry mood. Standout track “Next To You,” for example, opens with a watery, minor-key guitar hook before Vondracek’s falsetto lifts the tune into a shimmery synth groove.
With crisp drums cutting through the murky keys and guitar, “Manchild” strikes the middle between hi- and lo-fi, giving it the quality of a lost record from the ‘80s.
Time plays an important role throughout “Manchild” — on “A New Day is Rising” and “No One Knows the Changes,” Vondracek reflects on where age and maturity conflict and intersect.
“I guess it’s about being a man in a child’s body,” Vondracek said, before taking a moment to consider what he just said. “Or, the other way around.”
What: Tickle Torture, Swimsuit Area, Joey Joey Michaels at the 331 Club
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: 331 NE 13th Ave., Minneapolis