The Price of Artistic Obsession: Inside the Story of Corn Puffians
By Harry Myles
Five months ago, the Corn Puffians released a single and the world was introduced to the first-ever Post-Cover band. Since then, the band and its members, Joey Litvak (guitar), Noa Bonen (bass), and Maia Harris (percussion), have gone through a dramatic saga of love, loss, and betrayal.
On Monday, June 29, this story came to an end. The band appeared on the Deadbeats Podcast hosted by Keshav Sharma-Jaitly and Zack Goldstein and held a surprise intervention for the egotistical frontman, Joey Litvak.
I have known Joey Litvak since 2010, when we met at a summer camp, and we have been close friends for ten years. I have been following the Corn Puffians story since the very start, first as a fan, and later as an active participant. Some of you may still have some questions about the Corn Puffians tale, so here it is, the whole story, from an inside-perspective.
On February 10, 2020, the Toronto-based Corn Puffians released their first single “This Sentence Will Ruin/Save Your Life.” “This Sentence” is a Post-Cover of a Born Ruffians song of the same name. The Post-Cover concept was created by Joey and involves reinterpreting an existing piece of art in a unique and original way.
The Corn Puffians went on to appear in an interview with Toronto’s Demo magazine, launch a fundraiser for Bernie Sanders, and release ingenious art prints based on their many influences like Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Weezer, and general 90s culture.
The band seemed to be doing well and signed with the new Toronto label Corn Puff Records. On April 18, Corn Puff Records put on a Livestream Festival for Charity over Instagram Live to raise money for Food Banks Canada’s COVID-19 relief fund.
The festival was hosted and headlined by the Corn Puffians and consisted of several Corn Puff Records signees (McKinnon, A Good Band, and Amelia Ear Heart’s Sonic Aviary) along with Toronto producer Pyari, Toronto pop-punk band Glass Cactus, Jay McCarrol from the television series Nirvanna the Band the Show, Feurd and Frankie of the Elwins, and Luke Lalonde of the Born Ruffians. Throughout the festival, the cracks within the Corn Puffians started to show as Joey became increasingly controlling, ignored his fellow hosts, and then finally ruined the Corn Puffians set at the end of the night.
To make a long story short: the shit hit the fan. During their headlining performance, the Corn Puffians experienced numerous technical difficulties and for their final song, Joey insisted on performing the Born Ruffians’ “I Fall in Love Every Night”, even though they hadn’t rehearsed it. The performance fell apart and Noa stormed off camera. Joey followed her and, not knowing the camera was still recording, accosted Noa for leaving and she eventually stormed out of the apartment. Later that night, Joey announced over social media that Noa was no longer a part of the Corn Puffians and that the band would be taking an “indefinite hiatus.”
I first entered the Corn Puffians’ story when Joey introduced me to Corn Puff Records founders Joe Alexander and Rachel Schwarz. I wrote for Demo, a University of Toronto music magazine, while I was a student at U of T from 2015 to 2019 and I was also the Demo Editor in Chief from 2017 to 2018. Given my writing background, I interviewed Alexander and Schwarz for Demo and later also interviewed Corn Puff signee A Good Band.
It was in the days leading up to the Livestream Festival when things between Joey and I started to turn. In addition to everything else, Joey was trying to make a new documentary about himself and his revolutionary Post-Coverband, Corn Puffians. Joey asked to interview me for the film and I agreed, but the answers I gave were not to his satisfaction. He wanted me to talk about our friendship and essentially glamorize his artistic genius. I insisted on giving honest answers and this culminated in an explosive argument between the two of us in which Joey thought I was trying to make him look bad and I thought Joey was just being an asshole.
Following the breakup of the Corn Puffians, I wrote a Buzzfeed Community Post covering the event on April 25 and later reviewed the festival for Corn Puff Magazine, Corn Puff Records’ music publication, in an article published on April 30. I did not hold back and received quotes from Noa and Maia regarding the breakup and Joey’s behaviour.
Since February, Joey had become increasingly controlling of the Corn Puffians brand and obsessive over his ‘groundbreaking’ Post-Cover concept. Noa and Maia were no longer equal members of the project by the time the Festival came around, and this ultimately led to Noa’s dramatic departure. In the reviews, I portrayed Joey, a person I had known for a decade, as he had become: a controlling egotist who cared more about his own artistic vision than his personal relationships. Perhaps I was biased, given my argument with Joey days before, but regardless of that, I felt like he needed to see the damage he was doing to his friendships. To say the least, Joey did not appreciate my comments.
On April 27, two days after the Buzzfeed post appeared and then was later removed by the website, Joey responded in a video posted on the Corn Puffians social media. In the video, Joey claimed I “lied” in the post and called me his “ex-best friend” and “devoid of journalistic integrity.” Of course, I had simply reported the facts and provided an outlet for Noa and Maia to express their frustration. I wanted to try and show Joey the kind of person he was becoming, but his response clearly demonstrated that he had missed the point. After the video, Joey and I stopped speaking.
This was just the beginning of the Joey Litvak vs. the world feud. I continued to write for Corn Puff Magazine and eventually I became a staff writer. I interviewed new Toronto band Second Hand Hand Pillow and later spoke with their producer Prodücer D.J. Salingér, a Montreal artist who recently relocated to Toronto.
On May 7, Noa Bonen released a solo track, “Intentional”. I interviewed Noa the same day for Corn Puff and later reviewed the track on May 12. Joey took Noa’s release, and my subsequent support of it, as yet another betrayal and he revived his rap persona, Jo Fre$h, in response.
Fre$h had not released solo material since 2015, but on May 15, he released “Diss Track Will Ruin/Save Your Life” and a lyric video for the song on May 23. As you may have guessed, “Diss Track'' is a diss track railing against all of Joey’s haters, namely myself and Noa, while comparing himself to such artists as Ice Cube, Tupac, and Biggie. The track was produced by Jean Gerome, Joey’s new go-to producer, after he and Pyari, the producer of all of the Corn Puffians’ material, had a falling out over Joey’s demanding behaviour.
I should also add that on May 8, Joey announced that he was the new Chairman and CEO of Post-Cover Recordings. This came after Corn Puff Records promoted Prodücer D.J. Salingér’s latest track earlier in the day on May 8, rather than a "Post-Edit" version of the Corn Puffians track Joey had released. As a result, Joey created a rival label and
started a “beef” with Salingér, a Montreal native, for “stepping on his turf” in Toronto. By this point, Joey had made it clear what mattered to him. His band had fallen apart, his personal relationships had suffered extensively, and it seemed the only thing he had left was his relentless pursuit of the Post-Cover.
I have known Joey since we were 12 years old and since then we’ve become best friends, attended university together, and lived together for three years. But after graduating in April 2019, I left Toronto for a teaching job in New Brunswick and Joey began the Corn Puffians project. At summer camp, we used to make films together and during university we would often share ideas with each other, write songs together. Joey has always loved film and music and he has always been incredibly creative.
Before the Corn Puffians, he directed and wrote a mockumentary, This is 1 Ross, about the end of our university time together and later that summer, made Birthright, Birthwrong with our friend Zack Goldstein while they were both away in Israel.
These projects were fun ideas Joey wanted to work on with his friends, and that is how the Corn Puffians began with Maia and Noa. But somewhere along the way it became ‘Joey Litvak’s band’ and his own artistic project. He became increasingly demanding of his bandmates and his other friends, like his producer Pyari, a.k.a Keshav Sharma-Jaitly. During a podcast interview with Jojo Richard Mitten, the Corn Puff Magazine Editor-in-chief, Zack Goldstein commented that he hadn’t spoken to Joey in a while because he wasn’t treating Keshav and himself as friends. When his friends, like me and Noa, confronted him over this behaviour, he just became more and more angry.
This brings us to the Deadbeats podcast. On Monday, Joey appeared on a Zoom edition of the Deadbeats Podcast under the impression that he would finally have a chance to tell his story of the break-up of Corn Puffians. But Keshav and Zack pulled a fast one on Joey and turned the episode into an intervention, during which Noa, Maia, and myself entered the Zoom call to confront Joey for his behaviour over the past five months. As expected, Joey did not take well to the surprise. When Noa and Maia joined the call, he refused to listen to what other people were saying and spoke over everyone in anger until Keshav muted his mic. Noa and Maia explained that the Corn Puffians was no longer a collaborative project and Joey did not understand, thinking that he'd been inclusive by bringing his friends into his Post-Cover idea. To Joey, the “art comes first” and any repercussions from that, like broken friendships, was just a necessary consequence. I eventually entered the call and Joey immediately went on the defensive, saying that I never asked for his perspective when I wrote the critical articles after the festival. We tried to explain to Joey that he’s transformed over the past several months into a person we no longer recognize, who abuses his friendships and demands too much of people to progress his own artistic vision. As Keshav summarized, Joey got “lost in the sauce.” Eventually, Joey began to realize what the Corn Puffians obsession had done to his personal life and he apologized to all of us. He broke down and said he was just tired of being angry all of the time and was willing to move on from the Corn Puffians.
Things between Joey and I are on the mend and I think the same goes for his other friends that collaborated on the Puffians project and the various offshoots. We all go through moments of inspiration and intense focus, during which we try to do everything possible to see our ideas come to fruition. This happened to Joey, but more importantly, he was able to recognize this change in himself. This is the story of the Corn Puffians, the world’s first Post-Coverband. This is also a story of the band’s frontman, Joey Litvak, and his transformation from collaborative band member to controlling ego-maniac and back again. Above all else, this is a cautionary tale of the price of artistic obsession.