Hot Joy


Small Favor EP 

The nascent St. Louis-based band Hot Joy’s debut EP Small Favor is centered around emotional immediacy and uncomplicated fun. Composed of four longtime friends and members of the city’s DIY scene, the band’s welcoming bond is what anchors their galvanizing and effervescent sound. Small Favor is an unrelenting dose of infectious, fist-raising choruses, muscular guitar theatrics, and ramshackle exuberance—all helmed by the charming vocal interplay between lead singers Austin McCutchen and Nicole Bonura.

Hot Joy started with an existential crisis. McCutchen, who has fronted local punk mainstays Choir Vandals for over a decade, had slowly grown disillusioned with writing songs by himself. “I’ve spent so much time feeling like a lonely mad scientist up in my lab that it started to get to the point where I wasn't really happy with songwriting,” he says. Though he’d spent most of his life creating in solitude, he realized he needed to scrap that formula to rediscover what he loved about making music in the first place. So he called up childhood pal Curt Oschner to play guitar, and after a couple of freewheeling jam sessions, the two had nearly 15 songs started. McCutchen then enlisted Squint member Wil McCarthy to play drums and Bonura (who has a solo project under the name Nicole Grace) to sing and play bass, before recording with producer Gabe Usery in St. Louis. 

The driving force behind the group’s early writing sessions was an organic impulse to just have fun with it. “For me, this record is about play,” says Bonura. “My own music is super tender and soft but this allowed me to flex being a little bit of a brat. I experimented with my voice going super nasally like a cross between Kim Deal-vibes and Linda Belcher. I got to be a little sassy.” The result is swaggering alt-rock that’s also playful and inviting; take the ebullient opener “Fingers on my Side,” where she sings, “I’m just waiting for / a shopping cart disaster / a frozen aisle flirt /  a shy sharp little smirk” atop a breezy and ambling bass line and jangling riffs. 

Hot Joy make music that’s cathartic and validating, for moments that overwhelm to the point of bursting. These indelible songs firmly establish the quartet within the Midwest’s burgeoning indie-rock scene, alongside acts like Slow Pulp, Wishy, and Ratboys. And that sense of catharsis is palpable, as McCutchen and Bonura’s voices soar together on the shoegaze-inflected “Folded Tongue” and the anthemic ripper “Scared of Everyone.” On the latter, they capture the stomach-churning fear and endless possibilities of a new crush with vivid lines like, “I taste the blood in my mouth /  I swish and spit it out / It’s desire, let out the air from my tires.” 

EP standout “Head Out of the Window” is the emotional centerpiece of Small Favor and the north star for the band. After years on the road with Choir Vandals, as well as being a go-to fill-in guitar player for Foxing and Squint, the song finds McCutchen reflecting on the life fulfilling joy he gets out of being in a band. McCutchen wrote it to capture the satisfaction that comes with being a touring musician, despite the rigor and inevitable fatigue of the lifestyle. “When you're driving on tour, and you're in the middle of the country, your head is out the window—everything could be going wrong but in that moment, everything feels right,” he says of the track. 

While they sing about daily anxieties, interpersonal relationships, and tour-induced aimlessness with grace and wit, Small Favor is first and foremost a document of the euphoria that comes from making music with your closest buds. “The weekly act of just practicing, hanging out, and writing together re-instilled the fun of making music,” says McCutchen. “Hot Joy is just a great time playing with people I love.”