Djo, the musical project of actor / producer / songwriter Joe Keery, releases his highly anticipated, co-produced sophomore album DECIDE today. DECIDE is Djo’s follow up to TWENTY TWENTY, Keery’s 2019 critically acclaimed guitar-forward record and his first solo-effort since departing his band, the Chicago psych rock outfit Post Animal. Keery –who is of course also known far and wide for his acclaimed acting roles in such blockbuster projects as Stranger Things – has been making music since his teens, spending over two years with Post Animal before making his solo debut as Djo. DECIDE was created with musician / engineer Adam Thein throughout the pandemic with final recording taking place at Sound Factory in Los Angeles. DECIDE serves as a sort of aural history of Keery’s late 20’s. It features reflections on growth, relationships and navigating it all in a world filled with technology at its center. It’s his sonic ambitions however that take these introspections and melt them into a warped reality with each layered synth pulling the listener’s emotional strings.
From the release of TWENTY TWENTY and subsequent singles, Djo’s music has had an enormous amount of success. #Djo has racked up nearly 102 million hits on TikTok, has nearly 171+ million global Spotify and Apple streams and over 212,000 Shazams. “Change” and “Gloom” also entered the Spotify Viral 50 charts in the USA, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. Djo has been performing live throughout 2022, road-testing the songs from DECIDE and making appearances so far this year at Lollapalooza, Shaky Knees, Boston Calling, Bottle Rock festivals. Keery self-releases all his music through AWAL.
Djo – the critically acclaimed brainchild of multi-talented musician/actor Joe Keery – makes its long awaited return with the game-changing new album, DECIDE. A spellbinding collage of snaky pop hooks, neon melodies, and deeply personal singer-songwriter lyricism, the album melds high-tech songcraft with quick wit, irrepressible spirit, and an impressive breadth of vision that showcases glowing synths and big beats over the trippy guitars that defined 2019’s acclaimed debut, TWENTY TWENTY. Blissed-out bops like “Change” and “Half Life” see Keery delving deep into a broad spectrum of eclectic influences, deconstructing hyperpop, euphoric psychedelia, spiky new wave, and symphonic 70’s rock into something utterly unique via dauntless melodies and technical innovation. Audacious and imaginative, DECIDE expands and refines Djo’s sonic multiverse into an exuberant strain of modern pop rooted in tradition but as current as tomorrow, unapologetically swinging for the fences with melodic flair, forward-thinking fervor, and a 21st century grasp of musical history.
“I wanted to do something that people could move to,” Keery says. “Something that sounded a little larger in scope. But at the end of the day, the goal is always to write great songs that people remember, that you can listen to over and over again and glean something different from every time.”
Keery – who is of course also known far and wide for his acclaimed acting roles in such blockbuster projects as Stranger Things – has been making music since his teens, spending five years with Chicago psych pop outfit PostAnimal before making his solo debut as Djo with 2019’s TWENTY TWENTY. The album earned applause for its hypnotic songcraft and colorful classic rock approach but Keery found himself eager to explore different terrain, surprising fans with 2020’s funk-fueled single, “Keep Your Head Up.” That track, like DECIDE, was created in partnership with musician/engineer Adam Thein, who mixed TWENTY TWENTY and “really took the album to the next level.” The two first began writing together in 2019 and kept at through the long quarantine that followed, bouncing ideas back and forth online and then mixing and producing via video chats and screen sharing. Quarantine allowed them to linger on their creative path, the weeks and months passing by as they logged melodic, rhythmic, and conceptual ideas, somehow managing to balance detailed craftsmanship while also keeping an air of spontaneity and excitement.
“It was a long process,” Keery says. “I didn’t really realize it at the time, but in retrospect, you can definitely tell that it was made in the pandemic – I don’t know if we would have gone into such detail and done it so intricately if we were in person, I think we would have gotten to a certain point and then maybe moved on to something new. But because we were all stuck inside, we just kept working more and more, getting deeper and deeper into it.”
Throughout DECIDE’s protracted gestation, Keery searched for rules to break and boundaries to cross, bridging avant-garde genres and techniques while steadfastly exploring the infinite possibilities of pop. The result are cutting edge songs like the synth-powered “Runner” and the pulse-pounding “Gloom,” uniting bedroom ingenuity with IMAX-sized sonics and a limitless sense of invention.
“I just tried to come at it in the most creative ways that I know how to do,” Keery says. “The main technique I was trying to use here was like, what’s like the reverse or the opposite of what we should be doing? Let’s try to do that. Maybe it’s a terrible idea but also maybe it’ll work and do something unique and different.”
Keery pushed equally hard to create lyrics that both captured his own experiences yet also stood as wholly universal. From the joyous “On and On” to the spirited “Figure You Out,” DECIDE serves as a kind of aural history of Keery’s late 20s, touching on themes of growth and personal development that ultimately prove powerful collective articulations for any age.
“I was just trying to really speak my mind and not shy away from an idea just because it sounds maybe a bit cliched,” he says. “A lot of the songs turned out to be about getting older. About the passing of time and also just taking matters into your own hands. Having agency in your own life to make decisions based on what’s best for you. The realization that it’s better to actually take a stand on something and maybe make some mistakes along the way, than just waiting to let life happen to you.”
As the world reopened, Keery and Thein moved the project from their respective homes to Los Angeles’ Sound Factory for a pair of ten-day recording sessions in September and December 2021, joined by longtime friend and drummer Teddy Matthews. The change in environment proved invigorating, allowing them to push their creativity in heretofore unexplored directions. Though a number of songs – including the anthemic album highlight, “End of the Beginning” – were essentially built from scratch in the studio, more often than not, Keery found the original tracks required only a bit of technological embellishment.
“We went in with the intention of re-recording a lot of stuff,” he says, “but when you’re re-recording parts for an existing song, you’re trying to capture something that you felt months or years ago, in our case. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but it has character.”
After spending much of the past few years at home, Keery is unsurprisingly excited to bring Djo to the live stage, beginning with a series of summer festival dates and then followed by what he hopes is a long run on the road. The trick now is how to reinvent DECIDE’s elaborate computer-generated energy to fit the parameters of live performance.
“Honestly, it’s been a challenge,”Keery says. “I’d love to be able to tour with eight players or something crazy, but it’s not really super feasible. We’ve got five guys and using modern technology, we’re able to cover about 90% of the stuff of the stuff that’s on the record. So it’s pretty cool, we’ve got live bass, live guitars and drums, three of the members are playing keys, people are kind of jumping all over the place.”
Having devoted the better part of three years to the creation of DECIDE, Joe Keery has already begun considering Djo’s next move. As the new album clearly affirms, Keery is unwilling to settle down, always looking towards the far horizon in his determined search for musical quintessence.
“The goal next time is to try to capture a smaller chunk of time in my life,” he says. “It’s funny, working mostly on the computer for the last three years, it’s totally made me want to just do something that’s completely the opposite. Like, just sitting down in a room with a guitar, writing the songs, recording the songs, and boom, there you go. To go in with nothing, just maybe a little nugget of an idea, and see what happens. It’s kind of like a leap of faith but that’s what makes it exciting.”