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Moss Appeal

Tonie Joy's first band follows him around--and molded his personal investment in music making

Michelle Gienow

By Michael Byrne | Posted 5/12/2010

The Convocation

The Ottobar May 16.

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Music's eternal question: How does an artist grow old without growing out of it? Over the past decade, many sloppy answers dashed into rock clubs on reunion/revival tours: the Buzzcocks, the Breeders, the Dead Milkmen, Pavement--the list goes on. You can pick out the survivors pretty easy, those that didn't go for the straight world's life raft. These are the dudes still not making any money, working crap jobs, maybe drinking too much--the "freaks and fuckups," in other words.

Sitting on a Mount Vernon sidewalk bench on a windy spring day, that is how Tonie Joy--erstwhile guitarist of Moss Icon, frontman of the Convocation, former bass player of Born Against--describes himself and his Moss Icon bandmate, Jonathan Vance. It's been two decades since Moss Icon had its run of turning various church halls and basements between Annapolis and Washington, D.C. into open channels of bleak young-adult angst and catharsis. Moss Icon only became posthumously "popular" in the underground world in the early '90s, after which the band's brief tenure became known as a foundational moment in emotional--but never "emo"--hardcore music.

"A lot of the people we played to I don't even know if they were really aware of the other sort of underground stuff," Joy remembers of the early Moss Icon years. "It was more, Oh here's this weird band of people we know. Then there was, like, the people that picked up on it after the fact and see our thing as being part of this larger subculture--that genre, the bad, the evil 'emo' word. [It] really had nothing to do with what we were actually into or a part of."

Joy gives off a subtle vibe that he'd rather not be talking about Moss Icon, however. Every now and again, he gets a call from a festival or show promoter who's been privy to the rumor that the band is getting back together, asking to come out for this or that date. Joy declines, but offers up his other longstanding band, the Convocation, which appears to be getting into another one of its "on" phases starting this week, or a new as-yet-untitled solo project. But the interest is usually in Moss Icon, not so much a shadow as a really obvious tattoo that you can't not mention.

It's "just being part of this larger organism, this line that runs through everything," Joy explains. "So whatever I'm doing, the Convocation or the ensemble band or whatever, it's all the same DNA. That's important for people to realize."

It's that ensemble band, set to premiere in the next couple of months, that Joy sounds most concerned about at the moment, a now six-piece unit that's been gestating in his mind almost as long as he's been in bands. "[It's] mainly just being able to try and do something with ideas that have been itching at my brain," he says. "Different approaches. Seeing it come to some kind of fruition. It's always hard. Finding people. Getting people together. Money things. Just being able to try and realize an idea that you have. Things usually work that way for me. They take, like, 20 years."

Fortunately and unfortunately, the Convocation, a shifting sonic palette most recently heard making a doomful punk churn, is a rather off-again, on-again kind of band, largely due to a somewhat revolving-door bassist slot. After Guy Blakeslee, who formed the Entrance Band, left the Convocation in 2002, Joy had a number of bandless years to start putting tracks and overdubs to tape. "I couldn't really afford the recording much," Joy says. "So I decided I should try and form a live band around this idea. Now, it's a collaboration with five people, maybe more."

But, yes, there is that Moss Icon reunion still hanging around. Turns out it's true. There's even a whole new album ready to record. "Jon Vance got in touch with me," Joy says. "He was like, 'Hey man, I've been working on new songs. We should work on something, even if it's through the mail.' He's kind of floating [around] again because of his job and other things. We've played less in the last year, but we have these songs written. I think we're going to record soon. I don't even know if we're going to play a show. I don't even know if we'll put out a record. Maybe we'll just give it away for free."

Moss Icon, maybe even more than all of the other D.C.-area post-hardcore/Dischord bands, was a band that sounded like angry youth. "It's funny, when we were a band in the late '80s and early '90s, we were just out of a high school," Joy says. "We weren't trying to be a successful, functioning band--we were all really dysfunctional mentally.

"We were all depressed, angsted-out kids," he adds. "We were not happy with our daily reality. We thought the world was fucked-up crazy and people were crazy and we were crazy. And we'd, like, go through this portal into this different reality."

It was a time that shaped his entire approach to music. "I'd never been in a band," Joy recalls. "It was just kind of fate that Jon and I crossed paths. He had his energy, I had mine. We played a handful of shows and when things went well or even if they didn't, the energy, it was just a surreal, altered state. I didn't do any drugs at the time, or drink. It was addictive. That's why I'm still pursuing music in one way or another. Things like ages and definition or numbers, I've never really cared about that. As long as it's honest. I don't think I've ever really grown up, so I could never really grow out."

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