Hot Joy is making the music they want to hear

After 10 years as the lead singer and songwriter for indie-rock group Choir Vandals, Austin McCutchen began to feel pressured. As the band acquired a sizable following, McCutchen became increasingly aware of how his audience might receive his music, and he soon found himself writing for the listener more than for himself. 

“It got to a point where I knew at least somebody would listen to this thing that I’m writing,” McCutchen says. “I’ve always written songs that I’ve liked, but maybe I didn’t keep that as the number one goal in my mind.” 

This led McCutchen to start jamming with guitarist and longtime friend Curt Oschner in 2023. After just a couple of jam sessions, the pair had almost 15 songs started, prompting them to contact two more friends—drummer Wil McCarthy and bassist/singer Nicole Bonura—to get involved. Thus, Hot Joy was born, and what started as a freewheeling creative outlet quickly became a full-fledged project in its own right. 

Hot Joy’s debut EP, Small Favor, is out April 19, and the band will host a release show on April 7 at The Backside.

The musicians describe Hot Joy as looser and more playful than their previous projects. This certainly shows in the music—lead single “Fingers on my Side” is an upbeat, breezy slice of washed-out indie pop, and the follow-up single, “Folded Tongue,” channels the ramshackle drive and searing guitar leads of slacker-savant godfathers like Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement. 

McCarthy says Small Favor has the potential to appeal to a wide range of music fans, from casual listeners to seasoned indie-heads. Both of its singles strike a deft balance between pop songcraft and raucous noise, adding weight to McCarthy’s prediction. 

But Hot Joy’s only M.O. is to have a good time, and to play the sort of music they want to hear/ Others can listen if they want to (and it’s not difficult to imagine that they will). For Bonura, who has a solo project under the name Nicole Grace, this has been a refreshing approach. 

“A lot of the music that I write in my solo project is very personal and vulnerable,” she says. “I wanted to have more fun and be playful, and I feel like Hot Joy lets me do that.” 

At this Sunday’s release show (Hot Joy’s second performance as a full band), the group will play Small Favor in its entirety, with physical copies of the EP available for purchase. In the near future, Hot Joy plans on playing more shows locally, as well as touring and releasing more music. But for now, it’s time to celebrate. 

I feel accomplished,” McCutchen says. “This is my first time making music with new people in over 10 years, and you never know how you’re going to vibe and collaborate with new people. I think it worked out really, really well.”

Hot Joy will play its EP release show on April 7 at The Backside. They will be joined by Paul Cherry, JW Francis, and Googolplexia. Details can be found here. The venue requests that you email them at or send a DM via Instagram @thebacksidestl for the address.

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