We talked to singer Joyce Wrice about how she discovered her sound, working with Freddie Gibbs and Westside Gunn, and the process behind creating her new album, Overgrown.
Joyce Wrice focuses on songs that embody love and the restless feelings that come with it. Much of her work relies on real-life experiences. “So, So Sick” centers on what it’s like yearning to move on from a love that’s gone sour. While on “That’s On You,” she explores inconsistency and the need for clarity. Wrice succeeds when she’s being vulnerable.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, Joyce fondly remembers a childhood filled with love and calming energy stemming from the environment both of her parents helped cultivate. Her mother, who is Japanese always made it a point to include her heritage in her daughter’s upbringing, Wrice spent many summers there visiting her family. Her father is African American and she spent ample time in Flint, Michigan where his roots are.
From a young age, she was drawn to music, especially ‘90s R&B. “My dad listened to Tamia,” she says over a Zoom call from her home in Los Angeles. “Just a lot of ’90s, early ‘00s artists, as well as Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, [and] soul music.” Here she mentions she’s constantly inspired by vocalists like Brandy and Mariah Carey who she also grew up listening to.
Despite having an affinity for music, she chose to not pursue it in college. She attended Soka University, a liberal arts college in Aliso Viejo, California that’s based on Buddhist principles. Wrice has ambivalent feelings about her experience. She says she spent a lot of time there wishing she wasn’t in college. “I didn’t really enjoy the school setting,” she said. “I wanted to just be doing music to be honest.”
After graduating in 2013, she moved to LA and immediately started writing songs, connecting with producers she admired and working to support herself. Her debut track, “Ain’t No Need,” was released in 2015 after she’d garnered contacts and honed in on the type of music she wanted to make alongside her alto vocals. In those first few years of her career, she explored her sound before she was able to decipher what worked for her.
On her first project, Stay Around, Wrice worked with producers like Mndsgn and SiR. The release — which took four to six months to create — is filled with soothing uptempo R&B tracks, like the emotionally vulnerable “Do You Love Me” and the tense “Home Alone.”
Overgrown, her official debut album (out today) is a diary in musical form featuring a blend of R&B and pop she’s created over the past few years. On the 14-track release — which features appearances from Freddie Gibbs, KAYTRANADA, Lucky Daye, Westside Gunn, and more — she flexes how much her songwriting has grown as she expresses her thoughts on messy situationships and addicting partners.
“This is something that I’ve been working on for almost two years to make this album. And it started around 2018,” Joyce, who is still an independent artist, said. “I really wanted to make an album that is versatile, sonically, I tend to work on a lot of records that are slow and mid-tempo so my manager and A&R really challenged me to make uptempo records.”
Wrice’s A&R, Eddie Fourcell — who she began working with last year — is also the head A&R for Mary J. Blige. Under his guidance, Joyce was introduced to some of the industry’s best producers and writers. One person she hit it off with was D’Mile, who executive produced Overgrown.
”We had to get comfortable and find our place. [When] we made ‘On One,’ that song… basically set the tone for how we wanted the album to be,” Wrice said. “Once we did that, I started to get an idea of where I was going sonically.”
Overgrown isn’t just the result of songwriting sessions, it also pulls from a breakup Wrice went through when she first started working on the album. After the end of that relationship, she began dating someone and that situation started to get “complicated and messy.” Joyce adds that she used her sessions with D’Mile as therapy since she felt unable to speak up for herself.
Days before the album released, we talked to Joyce Wrice about how she discovered her sound, which vocalists she’s inspired by, and the process behind creating her new album Overgrown.
What was it like growing up in San Diego?
Growing up in San Diego was very peaceful. The weather is beautiful. It’s always sunny. And I have really sweet, loving parents that just created a really safe, quiet, loving place for me. So because of that, I was a social butterfly and I had a lot of fun, made a lot of friends. And I grew up Buddhist, too, so I was around a lot of older people — Japanese people. I went to a lot of Buddhist meetings. So I felt like that allowed me to get in touch with myself on a deeper level and find my spirituality.
What artists do you remember growing up listening to?
My dad listened to Tamia. I love Mariah Carey, Brandy, Missy Elliot, JAY-Z, D’Angelo, Minnie Riperton. Yeah, just a lot of ’90s, early ‘00s artists, as well as Anita Baker, Luther Vandross. just soul music. I [also] think about Brandy, I think about Mariah, I think about Missy Elliott. I listened to all these female artists’ music at a deeper level, too. I paid more attention to really what they’re saying, how they’re saying, and things like that so that I can develop my craft as well. Jazmine Sullivan, she’s one of my favorite writers and vocalists.
Can you speak on what college was like for you and how it molded you into who you are today?
College for me was tough because at the time I didn’t really appreciate being in college. I didn’t really enjoy the school setting. I wanted to just be doing music, to be honest. And unfortunately, the school that I was at — it’s a great university. It’s so unconventional and liberal.
Looking back, I cannot believe I was there for four years. I’m surprised I didn’t drop out. Because it didn’t make sense. I should have been studying music and learning how to write, learning how to harmonize. It’s just the journey that I had to go through and looking back, now I know why I had to go through that. I don’t think I would have the wisdom and knowledge to get through this industry as an independent artist if it wasn’t for that university.
Once you decided you wanted to move to LA, what was that like for you?
It was hard. I wanted to give up so many times. There was a lot going on. Because of my Buddhist practice and the friends that I have, I was able to really push through and not give up and just get through it.
How exactly did you discover your sound?
I met a producer by the name of Mndsgn, and when he sent me his beats, I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is the type of shit that I want to do.” This is what I love. That really kicked off my sound and really got me excited about creating. And so once I made songs with him, I feel like that helped me find my voice, that helped me just have fun and not overthink it.
Also, I realized, I’m a product of what I listened to growing up. Someone [once] told me, the way you can find your voice or figure out your sound or what you want to do is compile a playlist of songs that you love or that you wish you wrote or made. Listen to those and study those and learn from that, and you can develop the direction you’re trying to go and get inspiration from that and create magic. So I did that. And as you can tell from this album, it’s similar to what Mariah Carey has done. It’s similar to what Missy Elliott and even Mary J. Blige have done.
What was the process like putting together Overgrown?
A lot of the songs on here are very collaborative. I love collaboration. I love getting as many heads together as possible because I feel like so much more can come out of that. So I mostly wrote it with my friend DC and then my friend Sean Butler joined, my friend Matt Kean joined, and Lucky Daye, and Davion Ferris. So it was just really organic and it was a lot of freestyling melodies and freestyling lyrics and then listening to what we came up with, cutting things out and then piecing it together and building off of it.
That’s kind of how the album was written [with sessions] put together by my A&R Eddie Fourcell. [The] songs were made from conversations and everyone sharing how they could relate to it and then us writing together.
You have these songs that are driven by melodies, and then the lyrics are relatable and very soft. Did you immediately set out to center emotionally driven tracks for Overgrown?
I really wanted to make an album that is versatile, sonically, so I tend to work on a lot of records that are slow and mid-tempo so my manager and my A&R really challenged me to make uptempo records. D’Mile was really able to help me do that; he executive produced the album.
I still wanted to stay true to myself and do what I’m known for, which is more slow jams. I feel like you hear that with “Addicted,” you hear that with “You,” you hear that with “That’s on You,” and “Overgrown.” So yeah, the intention was to just make records that can resonate with as many people as possible and give different vibes. And I’m so happy that we were able to accomplish that.
What was it like working with Freddie Gibbs and Westside Gunn?
Working with Freddie was really fun, very easy. I DM’ed him on Twitter ‘cause he was kicked off of Instagram. I told him, “I have a song that I really want you to be on.” Prior to me hitting him up about that, we had been talking about collaborating. So the opportunity finally came. He told me to go to the studio the next day. So I went, I played him the record, he loved it. And he wrote his verse in his head, pretty much, just so easy. He’s a legend, he’s a veteran. I’ve been a fan of his since I was in college. So it’s such an honor to have him on the song.
Westside Gunn was in LA and he had a show. I went to go watch him perform, then I went to The Alchemist’s studio, that’s where he was working on his project, Pray for Paris. He had me singing over his part of the hook and [doing] a little outro. [He has] such a beautiful spirit. We ended up doing a swap for that. I asked him to do an interlude for my project because I wanted to do an interlude, like a lot of albums that I listened to growing up. When I asked him, I said, “do whatever you want, just freestyle, whatever.”
Is there a specific message you hope fans leave with after they listen to the new album?
I end the album with “Overgrown,” and “Overgrown” is really a message to myself to keep shining my light, to not give up on my goals and my dreams, and I just want people to feel something from this album. If something I’m saying resonates with you, it can help you get through something you’re trying to get through, or you are like me and you love R&B from the ‘90s, early ‘00s, and this feels nostalgic for you, that’s all I want. I just want to encourage people and uplift people and give them something that they can listen to. Especially during these times, I think all of us are pulling from art to keep us sane right now.
Banner Photo Credit: Logan Williamson