Adam Joyce developed a pain in his foot when he was thirty-one.
OK, he thought, maybe it's just wear and tear. He works with his hands, after all, at Skram Furniture Company in Burlington. Maybe aches and pains come with the territory.
But then the pain moved into his other foot, and then up into both ankles. And then up again, into both knees. Joyce went to see a doctor, who identified the source as rheumatoid arthritis. "I don't know what that is," Joyce admitted. But he learned quickly about the autoimmune disease that was causing symmetrical pain in his legs and working its way up. He learned that it can ruin your joints, rendering your hands useless and causing severe pain. He knew his furniture-making career and his time playing guitar in the Greensboro instrumental duo The Bronzed Chorus could easily be over. The future seemed bleak.
"I've considered a life of sitting in a fucking wheelchair for the rest of my years, of being angry. Luckily that didn't happen, because it can," Joyce says. He was terrified. "This disease—thirty years ago, twenty years ago, even—it would be over for sure. There would be no music for me anymore."
Joyce was in incredible pain and could hardly walk. If the medications his doctor had him on didn't catch, he knew his body would just decay. But they did work, and the musician got back on his feet with fierce optimism and a will to live. He went back to work making furniture, got married, and announced in a March 2015 Facebook post that The Bronzed Chorus had a new record on the way, its first full-length since 2009. Now it's ready, titled Summering, and the band will perform the record in its entirety at The Pour House to celebrate its official Friday release.
Three years have passed since Joyce felt the first symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and he knows how close he came to complete debilitation. As a result, he approaches his music—and indeed, his whole life—with the drive of a man making the most of a second chance.
"Now that I'm a living and walking genetically modified organism, I can still play music," he jokes. "Thank you, science!"
Rheumatoid arthritis runs in Joyce's family, but it rarely strikes someone so young. Joyce's paternal grandfather got it after he got cancer, Joyce says, while his great-grandfather had it when he was eighty. Joyce had never really seen rheumatoid arthritis in action, and he definitely didn't consider the possibility when he got sick.
The disease causes your immune system to destroy the body's joints, Joyce explains: your body thinks you have an injury or joint damage, and sends cells to repair parts of your body that have nothing wrong with them. That erodes the joints themselves and cause significant pain and swelling. When rheumatoid arthritis hit, Joyce dropped down to a shadow of his burly self.
"That's another thing that happens with getting sick like that. You lose a ton of weight. I was down to a hundred sixty-nine [pounds]," he says. "Now I'm drinking beer and getting it back."
The other thing Joyce did after he recovered was go public about his condition. In the same Facebook statement that announced the new record, Joyce shared the news of his illness and admitted to going through a powerful depression after the diagnosis.
"When I got sick I felt like I was alone, completely and totally alone, which I kind of was," Joyce says. "It was devastating because of how it affected your hands. I couldn't really play. I didn't really know anybody else that was going through the same thing."
He didn't want others suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, or any disease, to feel as isolated as he did. And if he could help anyone in a similar situation retain even a bit of optimism, he wanted to do that.
Thus, Summering became an affirmation of life. Its seasonal title directly follows the band's previous LP, 2009's I'm the Spring—written well before the guitarist's health issues. Joyce didn't have his excellent job at Skram yet. He was unemployed, making money off playing with The Bronzed Chorus and working side jobs. There are natural similarities, but these records could very well have been made by different bands.
Summering is a much thicker, brighter beast than its predecessor. "Rodeo Rodeo" starts off with heavily affected guitar, which drummer Hunter Allen interrupts with stuttering percussion before propelling it into an overclocked, chaotic bliss-out. "Decollage" and "It Snows Here Forever" skew bittersweet and gently apocalyptic. Joyce has been through a massive, life-changing experience, and such pensive moments are both expected and welcome. Summering closes with pure confidence, though, on "Widdely Wah ('Til the Break of Dawn." In two and a half minutes, the song moves from a sort of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots mid-tempo cadence into propulsive double time and, finally, a euphoric close. I'm all right, Joyce seems to say.
"It's taken five years to make that record because it's taken me five years to get the stuff that I have and write the songs and deal with all the other shit in life," Joyce says. "I feel like now we're ready to write more and put out more stuff quicker than we have before."
The Bronzed Chorus is also back to refreshingly pedestrian rock band concerns. Right now, for instance, they're trying to line up a reliable practice space and streamline their gear setup. They're thinking like a rock band again, too. The plan is to tour thirty days in support of Summering before heading to Europe for three weeks next April for the band's first overseas dates. In between the two, they'd like to work on a seven-inch on which Joyce, for the first time, plays more keys than guitar. He's deeply enamored with a little thirty-two-key Alesis keyboard, and he wants to see what it can do. Yet hitting the road again simply feels right.
"For me and Hunter, touring always makes music happen again. We haven't done a thirty-day thing in years," Joyce says. "That time we spend together, the madness and craziness of being on the road and shit, so many songs come from that."
It's taken years to get back to this point, but at least The Bronzed Chorus was able to do so. Joyce's illness might not have responded to the treatments. To have finished Summering, and know that it's real, is a catharsis to him. Still, he gets a weird feeling sometimes, knowing how close he came to disaster.
"It's hard to explain. When I look at that record and I hear it, it's like a ghost or something," he says. "In an alternate universe, it would never have existed."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Bronzed Mettle"