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HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY? Yep. There is a definite buzz in and around Hannah Joy today, though good luck narrowing down the reason.

It may be the wash of approval in the wake of her first film role – hell, her first acting of any sort role – in Heath Davis’ hugely successful 2023 film, Christmess. It certainly would be the any-minute-now arrival of her second child. And you wouldn’t rule out the impact of another arrival that would coincide with the birth, a third album from her most excellent pop-with-guitars band Middle Kids, for whom she sings and writes alongside her partner, Tim Fitz, and Harry Day.

There is a lot to handle on any one of those topics. let alone three at once. But as it turns out there are connections aplenty, stories entwined with each other and with life. Which is handy for our purposes.

While the new album, Faith Crisis pt 1, was not written for or about the film or the character she plays in it – a recovering addict in a halfway house as Christmas approaches – both film and album do consider the fundamental questions of who we turn to, who we depend on, when shit goes down, and how do we handle that dependence.

In one new song ,Joy sings of how she “fell in love with my best friend”, explaining that this has enabled all that she has done since. Meanwhile, for the three damaged but not yet crushed central characters in Christmess, it is not the families they have but the families they choose who end up providing the strength for doing more and doing better.

As she says in another song, “you may be the only reason I believe in anything”. It looks like if Joy or the addicts have faith, it is in other people.

“I think that is a huge part of it. I think also that is where a lot of faith can be lost,” Joy says. “But something that is so incredible about going on the journey and not giving up, is that [faith] can be restored and healed and renewed. That doesn’t necessarily mean within those specific relationships, sometimes they break down and you have to walk away, but the fact that you can then choose to connect and be vulnerable again …”

Joy’s voice trails off, but she refocuses.

“When you have been hurt and you know that feeling, it’s such a crazy feeling that you totally understand why anyone would not want to take that risk again. But it’s so telling of the human spirit that you can go through legitimate pain and grief and try again, and be blessed, and be renewed. A lot of that happens in our worldly, day-to-day lives, that is totally in community and with people.”

It strikes me, I tell her, that believing in some higher power is fine I guess, even if I don’t get it, but not to put your faith in others, not to take that risk, is to not live.

“I feel, even now, having a kid, looking where we are at in the world, I feel like one of the big crises is that we are in a time where there is this creeping thing that can act to take the place of relationships,” she responds. “It’s kinda giving you this false sense that you don’t actually have to take the risk anymore, because you can have this whole big world in your hand and imagination. But actually what we’re seeing is that it’s not enough.”

Obviously, faith is at the core of this discussion and this album, but faith doesn’t have to mean all that it used to, and it is more nuanced for Joy.

“I feel that as society has moved away from some of these old religious structures, that is part of what we do: we find something else to replace it with. It could be a new god or a new structure to fit ourselves into so we don’t have to think,” she says. “It’s that impulse in all of us that we have to be fighting. We had to break down a lot of things that we were given and the structures that we were given because they weren’t serving us and helping us find out who we truly are, but you want to make sure that the thing you are replacing it with is not just going to be another numbing, restricting, isolating thing.”

Maybe what we all want is for someone to tell us that it’s okay to be scared, and the corollary to that is if we are scared then there is this fallback: an app, some god, your best friend, whatever it might be. It wasn’t necessarily fear for Joy, but it does raise the questions, why did she have faith, and why did she lose it?

“I don’t know if it’s just the way that I am or what I was brought up in, but I always found it a natural position to believe that there is a divine being, and a god. Even in the times when I’ve been through traumatic things and hard things, for some reason I never questioned the fact that there was still a god,” Joy says. “I’ve never really been a very religious person, not been part of the church, but this always been something in me that was very drawn to that theology and thinking.

“But I think it was interesting when I had my first son, we were going through Covid, and for some reason, whether it was a culmination of a lot of things, I found it so hard all of a sudden to believe that that would be true. It just felt too chaotic. My son was sick as well for the first year of his life and I just couldn’t understand – even though millions of people are experiencing this all the time – how something so precious and defenceless, that comes into the world of no choice of its own, would have a set of circumstances that feel unfair.”

Along with a case of writer’s block, which may or may not have been related, this questioning of the cruel unfairness of life-as-directed-by-a-god was laying the foundation for what would become Faith Crisis pt 1.

“While I feel that was a huge part of what I was moving through, I started seeing how so much of life is continually having these little faith crises. You come to some sort of conclusion or you believe something to be true, and then you have an experience that does not align with that, and you have to reckon with that,” Joy says.

“Sometimes, people don’t, but if you want to have a life that feels alive and authentic you have to let those experiences come and crush something that you might have upheld to be true or worshipped. While that is quite scary, I think that that’s living and we are all having these all the time, which is why we wanted to call [the album] part 1, because there are going to be more. There’s always more.”

God yes, always more. As Billy Bragg wrote, “crisis after crisis, with such intensity”. Though this isn’t automatically a bad thing.

“I think it’s a hopeful thing because, kinda like what you were saying, we all need to know that it’s okay to be afraid and to get crushed and that on the other side there is life, and that you can keep going, and there are things you can depend upon,” Joy says. “Even though we don’t always know what they are, we’re still figuring out, something that always felt really important to me in my songwriting – and I think that’s because it’s important to me in life – is allowing yourself to go into those messy places while still trying to fight for hope and moving through it.

“This [songwriting] came out of a time where I found that really hard to do, and that for me is unusual. I think that I’ve been able to go through hard things and be lost and messy, but still be like there is a way here, I’m going to find a way. But for a while I was like, I don’t know what the way is here.”

That isn’t an easily dismissed moment. If you have always thought about and seen resolution based on some foundational faith, then all of a sudden to have no answer, no way out that you can see, it can paralyse you.

“Totally. And it did,” she says. “It also reveals that actually the reality is, even if I could have these ideas or beliefs and they feel pretty solid, at the bottom of it, I don’t really know. I think that’s even more confronting, when you peel back and go, we’re just winging it out here. I will keep trying but truly, at the bottom of it all, I’m not really sure.”

If you want more proof that Joy has faith in something, something that might be the rest of us or life in general, there is the fact of that pregnancy. Since this conversation she has given birth, but it’s important to remember that is this is not a first child, where you can be excused for not knowing what a shit of an unforgiving place this world can be, but a second.

“And you know what that makes me think of? After we made the record I was a shell of a woman: I was so burnt out. We came back from England, I had never poured myself out in that way while having my [first] son with me, it was just so intense. I ended up going on this trek through central Australia for two weeks, by myself, well a guided trek, and it was, honestly, mind blowing,” she says. “I slept outside every night, such harsh conditions, and I think we walked 230 km in 30, 35° heat. It was such an insane experience. But something that was so striking to me was that such a dry place, such a harsh environment, that red dirt, in all of these cracks these beautiful little purple and yellow flowers are shooting up.

“It was compelling to me, the power of life and here is this very harsh, dry, tough place and yet life is forcing its way in and growing, it feels like, against the odds. I felt like that was a very restorative experience for me because so much of life is hard areas but there is still little cracks where the light and the beauty can grow, and it does.

“That was a faith restoring experience.”






Faith Crisis pt 1 is out now. Middle Kids will play (before an American tour in June):

The Forum, Melbourne, May 10

Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, May 11

Bass In The Grass, May 18

The Astor, Perth, May 23

The Gov, Adelaide, May 24

Hotel Brunswick, Byron Bay, May 31

The Tivoli, Brisbane, June 1

Enmore Theatre, Sydney, June 7



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