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Joyce Wrice’s Uptempo Reinvention: ‘I Like Making Music People Can Dance To’

When Joyce Wrice reflects on the year-plus since her debut album, Overgrown, established her as a major new voice in R&B, she’s almost lost for words. “Oh my goodness,” says the Southern California singer, 30.  “Dropping that changed my life.” 

It’s New York Fashion Week, and Wrice — who will walk in her first show for TOMBOGO days after we speak — is sporting hot-pink boots, a white halter top, and jeans with pink stripes coming down the left side. The right side, meanwhile, is cut off, serving a half-jeans, half-jean-shorts look only a few can pull off. “Seriously, it’s been such an amazing journey to have been able to go on tour with Lucky Daye, open up for Kaytranada, and do so many festivals,” she continues. “Now I’m going to Japan and I did some headline shows in London. I can’t stress that enough: I’m so happy. I’m so grateful. “

Motive, her new uptempo, five-track EP, is a small taste of how that journey has shaped her. After touring, she realized the true joy she got from performing and how much she already incorporated dancing and choreography into her work. The songs from Motive show off the confidence she has that this moment was meant for her. On the Afrobeats-inspired “Spent,” Wrice reminds us that money still can’t buy love; “Bittersweet Goodbyes” serves as an instant breakout single, and “Iced Tea” captures the EP’s essence. 

“I wish I could put into words what I am doing right now,” Wrice says, smiling brightly as she thinks of the writing process behind her latest music. She worked with some of the same writers from Overgrown, including Trey Campbell and Mack Kean, whom she credits with a lot of the nostalgic R&B sound. The biggest change is that Kaytranada, who appeared on a track from her debut, produced over half of the new EP. 

Wrice spoke about “Iced Tea” set the EP’s tone, how important DJ transitions are to both of us, singing the new theme song for The Proud Family, and more. 

Last time we talked, your debut was out and you were excited about touring with Lucky Daye. How was that experience for you? What did you learn?

So many things. So, so, so many things. The tour was such an incredible opportunity for me to know what it’s like to be on tour. Taught me what I want my shows to be like, what type of performer I want to be, what kind of songs I want to have. It informed me on wanting to incorporate more and more choreography. It taught me a lot about taking care of my voice and my body as well. Do not skip my vocal warmups. Vocal rest is your best friend. Hydrate.  I’m dancing, stretching, getting massages, you know, doing everything to heal my body and nurture my body, because I’m like an athlete at this point with what I do. So I have to really take the recovery side seriously as well. I learned after taking a break from performing live. Luckily, it wasn’t anything serious. But I learned, OK, next time we go on tour, I can step it up on everything. So that makes me happy.

Overgrown seemed very personal as you talked about growing out of a situation or relationship. What is inspiring your writing now?

I would say everything going on in my life is what’s inspiring me. I also think the future is inspiring me. The people around me. The music that I’m listening to, the shows that I’ve been able to go to — not a lot, but a few. When I say future I mean I want longevity in my career, and I want to make timeless music. So whatever I can do right now to create that for myself is what’s inspiring me as well. I just really want to get out of my comfort zone right now. 

How did you come up with the title Motive

You know, it took me a while to come up with the title for this project. But my manager helped me brainstorm — she would throw out words that kind of would make sense. When she threw out “motive,” I was like, “That one feels good.” Then we kind of lived with it a little while. It was a phrase that I would just throw around, like, “What’s your motive? What’s the motive?” 

I just put my album out, so I don’t want to rush the process of putting out music. But there is this pressure of not allowing too much downtime to happen. These days everything’s just so fast-paced. But again, I don’t want that to tell me what I got to do. Because then the music is not good if you’re rushing it. So my A&R who also manages me, Eddie, reminded me that the purpose of this EP was that I wanted to put out some body of work, whether it’s three songs, whatever, to give people something to dance to, something to celebrate, something to connect to while we’re in this period of coming off a pandemic. All this shit going on in the world, I at least wanted to give something this year to hold people while I go into my sophomore album. So that also plays into the motive, the motivation of the EP.

You worked with Kaytranada on an interlude for Overgrown, but he produced three songs on Motive.  Was “Iced Tea” one of the first songs you all put together that inspired this EP?

Yes. I actually made “Iced Tea” with Kaytranada last year. I made it with him in April, a month after the album came out. It was too late to get him to properly produce a full song on the album, which is why the interlude came about. We made “Iced Tea” in April and at first I was like,
“Damn, this would have been perfect for Overgrown, because I don’t have a song like this on there.” But look at timing, it all works out. So we had this record, we didn’t know where it was gonna go. As I had been performing it while doing Overgrown live shows, I liked the way it moves — I need to enter this space more. It definitely kicked off the feel for the EP, which is I guess dance, uptempo. With that, he sent me a batch of beats. We also worked in person too. Some of the songs that we did didn’t make the EP, but overall “Iced Tea” set the tone.

What were some of your favorite tracks by Kaytranada before working with him?

Huge fan of the Teedra Moses remix for “Be Your Girl.” Especially because I love her as an artist. Complex Simplicity is just amazing music, so that remix for sure is one of my favorites. I love the Sir track, “Go DJ,” the Goldlink and Tinashe records. “Girl “with the Internet, the Craig David song. I think what’s cool, too, is him working with so many different types of artists, like from up-and-coming to legends, it’s just a crazy range. It’s so huge that he can bring that out of anybody with his art. That’s what’s really great about him.

Tell me more about that dance, uptempo direction you chose for Motive.

I think through this journey of me finding my voice, learning more about myself as an artist, performer, singer, and songwriter, I learned that I love performing. I really like making music that people can dance to, because I love to go out dancing. So why not make music for that?

Your production has always stood out to me. What were you looking for in the beats you put on this project? 

I’m very particular. I’m very picky when it comes to beats and production. It’s just got to hit my soul. It’s like a soulful thing. I had a session with this producer Spin Off, and he kind of read me, because when I was picking the beats, he was like, “OK, you like bass.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” Then he’s like, “Seems like you like production with life to it.” Musicality is big for me. And I think maybe that’s why [executive producer] D’Mile and I fit so well, because he’s such a dope musician too. My favorite part of the process is choosing production and also sequencing.  How is everything going to transition? I love doing that. 

Speaking of sequencing, when you’re putting tracks in order for your projects, do you sequence songs in different orders to test it out sonically or is it more about the story that you’re trying to tell?

I feel like with Overgrown It was both. I wanted this theme and I wanted everything to flow thematically. For me, no offense, but when you’re at a party and the DJ transitions just crazy, that’s a big no for me. 

I couldn’t agree more with you. The right transitions are so important and essential. 

Yes! So I kind of have to live by that with the project too. For Motive, it was more fun and experimental. I didn’t want to think too much about it. It’s more of a sonic transition. The way I picked the order was every day I would listen back to the songs and I would play them in certain orders together, or I already knew like this would go well together. So that’s what helped me. I always talk to my managers about what they think as well. But for me, I have fun doing that process.

As far as your sophomore album, is there anything you want to share about the process?

I just want to keep experimenting. I want to surprise myself. I want to surprise everyone else. I really want to be a little more unpredictable, but still also signature Joyce. I want to dabble into all of that. 

You also did the opening theme music for the new Proud Family series. I grew up watching the original show, with the theme song by Beyoncé and Solange. How was that experience?

That experience was unreal. I feel like a lot of things that I’ve been experiencing in my life right now have been so surreal, like I’ve never imagined doing the Proud Family theme song — because like you, I grew up watching, loving that show, loving that theme song. So to have been given that opportunity, it’s just incredible. Working with [composer] Kurt Farquhar was so much fun. He really encouraged me and inspired me so much to do what I do. He’s like, “You know what to do!” It reminded me of who I am and how that was meant for me. So it was a really great learning experience and great process. 

With all these opportunities coming to you in your career, what are some things that you are looking forward to doing next?

I want a world tour, that would be amazing. More theme songs, more TV and film. More collaborations, features, late-night TV show performances, stadiums, arenas, and more festivals. I really want to open up for a big artist as well. I think that would be really fun and another great opportunity for me to learn more about how I want my live shows to be. I look forward to making great, timeless music. I just want to keep outdoing myself and keep challenging myself and just get better.

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