An Interview With the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan
by Cory Perla (@ExitMusicCory) - posted 5:03 pm, October 6, 2011
An Interview With the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan
Interview by Cory Perla
The name of this band says a lot about them. The Junior Boys—a purposefully redundant and simple name—sums up the complex concept behind the band in those two words. The Hamilton, Ontario based synthpop duo, led by singer, guitarist, and songwriter Jeremy Greenspan, have spent the better part of four albums dealing with the pain of aging, a pain that we all feel but find hard to express. Now, with the release of their latest album, It’s All True, Greenspan and band mate Matt Didemus have put an exclamation point on seven years of song writing. This week I talked to Greenspan about the mentality behind the group’s engrossing music, where the inspiration behind It’s All True came from, and what dance music really means to him.
Artvoice: One thing I’ve always found interesting about your band is the idea of lost youth in the whole concept of the band from the name Junior Boys, to the lullaby like tones and melodies, to songs—especially on So This Is Goodbye— like “In The Morning,” and “Like a Child.” How does the idea of aging and getting older physically and mentally play into your writing?
Jeremy Greenspan: It has a tremendous effect. I often write about nostalgia, about lost youth, all of those kinds of things because I think they are universal ideas that people think about all of the time. We probably down play how much we think about the past, and how much we think about where we came from. I feel, musically, that I’m in a weird place. I write about being haunted by the past, but from a musical perspective I want to ignore the past as much as possible. As a musician I think the most negative thing that can be said about you is that you’re derivative, so I think the job of musicians is to be futurists, to be exploratory, and to not sound like things from the past. It’s like balancing on a weird line because you’re trying to evoke some sense of nostalgia in people, but you’re also trying to sound new and fresh and unique. That’s the challenge.
AV: You’ve mentioned Orson Welles as a source of inspiration for some of the tracks on your latest album, It’s All True. Why is that man so important to you and the album?
JG: I was going through a bit of a crisis before making this record in terms of feeling like I was aging in a world that isn’t kind to aging, like the world of dance music. I felt like I was losing touch or something like that. Those anxieties about getting older and losing confidence are real anxieties and I wanted to talk about them artistically but I didn’t feel like I had the artistic license to do so. I just didn’t know how that was done. Then I saw Orson Welles’ last film, F for Fake, and I started to realize he was an artist who almost talked exclusively about those anxieties. He was even writing about that when he was a super young man; about growing older and losing your confidence, and also being corrupted by lies and forgery. Those are the most important themes for me. When I realized he could write about that as an artist it gave me a kind of artistic license, an inspiration. He was someone who did what I wanted to do with my art. It was a great release for me to realize that. Is it important for people to listen to records and know about Orson Welles? No, not really, even though I reference him a few of times on the record, its not that important, but it’s important for me.
AV: When you were writing your new record, did you take into account what is popular in the dance music scene right now, i.e. dubstep?
JG: To some extent. We took into account what we’re interested in. The new stuff we like. In terms of dubstep, that is an offshoot of UK garage music, which I was really really into when I was in my early twenties and forming the band. In terms of what happens in dubstep nowadays I have very little interest. I do like a lot of offshoots of it, like UK funky music, UK funky house, some of that stuff is terrific. One of our earliest supporters and one of my closest friends is a guy called Kode9 (aka Steve Goodman), he runs a record label called Hyperdub, which has been a big dubstep label, but is sort of not really dubstep—I’m always interested in what he is doing. I tend to be interested in more abstract dance music these days. I’m still interested in what is happening in Detroit, I still think there are really important and vital people working in Detroit at the moment—not just guys like Carl Craig, but guys like Kyle Hall, Theo Parrish, and Omar S. There is a whole crew of people making American dance music that isn’t so popular necessarily, but it’s the stuff I still listen to.
JG: I went to China because my sister lives there and she has lived there for about a decade. She has a family there and teaches there. I always knew I would go to China at some point, but I decided to go for a little bit longer than expected. Instead of going for two weeks I went for about two months. Because I was going for such a long time, I decided to bring some recording equipment with me. I ended up doing some recording and a lot of writing there. A huge amount of the lyrics were written while I was in China. A lot of the early songs were formulated there. That was funny for me because I was typically just writing in one place, in Hamilton, and although the vast majority of the album was written in a tiny little room in Hamilton, it was nice to get out a little bit. So even when I was back in my room I still had these Chinese sounds and the sense of adventure I experienced there. China is an exciting place at the moment, it’s changing and in transition. It is a place that is growing at a rate beyond anything that we have experienced in our lifetimes. It was like being in a place at the right time, at the precipice of a revolutionary moment.
AV: I don’t think I would have guessed by listening to the album that there was much Chinese influence on it, had I not already known. How do you think your experience in China affected the sounds and what eventually became It’s All True?
JG: I wasn’t too interested in making anything like a world music album. I did hire a couple of Chinese musicians to play instruments on the album. There are about four songs where there are Chinese instruments. On “Itchy Fingers” and “Playtime” there are Chinese string instruments being played. And then there is another song that hasn’t been released; that we will be releasing, which probably has the largest amount of Chinese instruments on it. We had a girl that played this thing called a guqin, which is like a harp, and also pipa, which is a little Chinese guitar. I wasn’t trying to make a record that sounded like world music though. I’m a big fan of the band Japan. They have a really Chinese sounding album and I was really not trying to replicate that. That would have been pretty obvious.
AV: When I listen to this album I feel like deceit and the idea that there is an absolute truth to everything are pretty important themes, of course the album is called It’s All True. What are the major themes in your mind?
JG: That is the major one. Authenticity, truth above forgery, those are the things that are important to me, especially from the perspective of someone in dance music. I felt that dance music used to be about total truth, about not caring about what is stylish, thinking only about what sonically compels people. It was about creating the ultimate visceral, sonic experience, and I don’t think that dance music is necessarily about that anymore, so that was an anxiety for me. Also just the anxiety of getting older, of losing your way, of losing your sense of what is good and what is not good. Those feelings were all present and that was a huge theme for me.
AV: I think the title of this album can be read in a positive way, but when I read the title and relate it to the content of the album it seems like you’re trying to say that all of your worst fears and paranoias in various relationships are all true. Can you talk a little bit more about what the title of the album means to you?
JG: That is a good way of reading it. The title refers to a project of Orson Welles’ that was scrapped. He went to Brazil and was commissioned by the US State Department to make a series of films called Its All True about Brazil, but it was a failed project and he ended up squandering all of his time there. I wanted to reference Orson Welles, but I also thought it was a great title because the record is about truth. The original working title of the album was You’ve Been Cheated, which was a reference to Johnny Rotten asking an audience “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
AV: I feel like that would have worked perfectly for the album too. It gives a different sort of insight into it.
JG: Yeah, I liked it, and that was the title of the album for a long time, but I think it’s too confrontational.
AV: I saw you guys play at the Phoenix Theater in Toronto in June and this was five days before your album dropped. You went into your final song, “Banana Ripple,” and the audience reacted as if Prince was coming on the stage to play “1999″ or something. People went nuts. It was as if it was the biggest hit of your career and it hadn’t even technically been released yet. What is your reaction to that?
JG: It’s been crazy because we’ve been playing that song every night, and every night we get that same crazy response. It hasn’t been our biggest single in the sense that we’re still probably way more known for “In The Morning” from So This Is Goodbye, but we’ve never had a live response for a song like we do for that one.
AV: Where does the excitement come from? It’s really an epic song and you guys don’t do epic songs.
JG: It’s the opposite of every one of our impulses in music. Our impulse is to really strip back and do less, to try and be subtler. But that song is sort of about indulgence, and like the lyrics says “losing your sense of it all.” So for me, I was writing the song and I kept on adding more and more parts to it and I didn’t know how to strip it back, so at that point I thought ‘I’m just going to indulge in this song.’ It was one of those rare instances where it just kept working and there was no point at which it felt like it was a mess. It worked out well. They don’t always.
AV: How does Its All True fit in with your previous albums?
JG: To me it feels like a conclusion. I don’t know what is next for us or for me. I definitely feel like if we did another Junior Boys album it would have to be radically different. I feel like the four albums stand as a single statement in some weird way. I’m more excited at the moment, once we’re done promoting this record; to try something new, do some different types of projects. I actually just finished a song with (Providence, Rhode Island based dance producer) Kelley Polar. He’s got a new album and his new single is a song that we co-wrote together, which I sing on. That is coming out very soon. After that I think I’ll work on my own stuff for a little bit. These albums feel like a complete package to me at the moment.
Don’t miss the Junior Boys when they appear live at the Tralf Music Hall on Saturday, October 15.
Below: The brand new music video (released 10/6/2011) for the Junior Boys’ “Banana Ripple”