The short version:
Illusion of Joy is the duo of musicians Seth Warren and Maresa Whitehead. Initially conceived as a solo recording project of Seth Warren’s during the Summer of 2000 in the small village of Potsdam, New York, Illusion of Joy has been based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since early 2003. Maresa Whitehead joined both recording and for live performances in the summer of 2016. Influenced by a plethora of alternative 1980s musicians including The Cure, Public Image Ltd. and The Bolshoi, the retro aesthetic of Illusion of Joy is balanced by lyrics that alternate between contemporary and timeless. Live, Illusion of Joy has shared stages with acts like Christian Death, The Dark Clan, ThouShaltNot and Wax Idols.
The long version:
Illusion of Joy began as the musical project of keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter Seth Warren in Potsdam, a village located in Northern New York. During Warren’s time at college there in the late 1990s, often spent playing at a local coffeehouse and the open-mic night on the SUNY Potsdam campus, he was approached by Claude Aldous, head of Jetpack Records, to do some recordings for a reasonable rate. In the summer of 2000, thirteen hours were spent in a studio located on one of the back roads outside of Potsdam recording Crystalline, an EP of four songs.
Crystalline was well-received enough locally that people were dropping by Warren’s dorm room to buy copies. The EP was released through Anhedonia Records, a “label” made up of a five-way partnership between members of As Yet Untitled, a band based out of Albany and Seth Warren. The label was perpetually in the red and releases consisted of CD-Rs and home-printed booklets. As such, the label did about as well as could be expected when one has little capital to draw upon but a dogged determination to put out some sort of product. During the existence of Anhedonia, it was able to put out three total releases: The aforementioned Crystalline and two albums by As Yet Untitled.
Live performances continued in the form of the solo and open-mic shows as the musical project pressed on. Bitter Illusion of Joy’s debut LP came about as a result of Warren’s participation in a music class entitled “Recording Studio Techniques.” John Junklaus, whose main area of expertise lies in the remastering of jazz records, was the class instuctor. While Illusion of Joy bears little resemblance to Charlie Barnett, Junklaus was so impressed by the music and Warren’s drive in the class, that he allowed the recording of Bitter over several months of extracurricular sessions.
The album was initially released via the now defunct MP3.com (at the time, an early social networking site for musicians). Unfortunately Bitter was widely ignored, despite containing the open-mic hits “Billie Jo” and “Ebony.” It and Crystalline went out of print, when the site closed in December of 2003. There are currently no plans to reissue either release.
In early 2003, Seth Warren moved to Pittsburgh after his college career ended in a less than stellar manner. This move also brought about the dissolution of Anhedonia Records.
In the beginning stages of laying down new roots and acclimating to a new locale, Warren pushed forward and began recording another album. Sound waves were laid down at Masochist Monkey Studios, also known as the recording room at Joe Stacy’s apartment. Stacey had moved to the city a year prior and was continually working on his own musical project, Masochist Monkey Circus. The new Illusion of Joy album was titled Division and released in April of 2004 on HPL Laboratories.
During the time that Division was being recorded, illusionofjoy.net marked the return of the musical project to the internet. A presence on several social networking sites would soon follow (subsequently, Facebook and Twitter would eclipse them all).
Early in 2005, Seth Warren’s personal and professional relationship with Joe Stacey ended on very unfavourable terms. Neither one has spoken to the other since then. As access to Stacey’s studio was closed, Warren had just finished building a studio of his own in the form of a custom-made computer with multi-tracking software and a high-end sound card. In a twist of luck, the master files for Division were rescued from Stacey’s possession hours before the falling-out.
It was during the summer of 2005 that work began on another album. Titled The Forever Syndrome, the album was released in September of 2006. Prior to that, a single from the disc – ‘A Place Outside’ – was released in November of 2005, marking Illusion of Joy’s departure from HPL Laboratories and move to Randy’s Alternative Music, where the project resided until 2011. At present, Illusion of Joy is fully independent – a label unto itself – and the intention is for things to stay as such from here on out.
November 2005 also saw the opening of an online kiosk where purchasing Illusion of Joy CDs was finally as easy as entering a credit card number (or debit card, or PayPal account). ‘A Place Outside’ marked the first item ever available for purchase from illusionofjoy.net. A re-release of Division followed not long after as did the official release of The Forever Syndrome and ‘Michelle,’ a single which came out in early 2007. That humble “kiosk” was re-dubbed “The Virtual Merch Table” before being shut down entirely in 2015 as it is, quite frankly, easier to enlist third-parties to sell merchandise online.
In late 2007, Illusion of Joy was brought to the stage for the first time since Seth Warren had made his new home in Pittsburgh. However, in the grand tradition of being unconventional, said performances were few and far-between and all outside of Warren’s adopted hometown. It would not be until 2008 that Illusion of Joy would début live locally in Pittsburgh with a handful of performances during the Spring and Summer.
Live Illusion of Joy performances – both locally and otherwise – would continue sporadically throughout 2008 all the way through the fall of 2011 when the fourth album, No One Expects An Inquisition was finally completed and released. There would be another five-year gap with the same series of sporadic live appearances between the release of that album and it’s proper follow-up, A Stone Throw From A Glass House in October of 2016. During that time, the song “One Step Forward” was accepted for inclusion on the deluxe version of the cancer benefit compilation Electronic Saviors 2: Recurrence. Also while recording the album, IoJ ceased to be a solo project as Maresa Whitehead joined what became a proper group. The duo has been on hiatus since early 2017, due to personal issues, but rumour has it they may be planning something new…
In other words, watch this space.