“…create (art) out of a sense of play, a sense of problem solving, and not out of a sense of ego, or achievement.” By Sam Tolman
It’s quite an adventure being handed an interview for a band you’ve never heard of, such as the Canadian electronic duo Junior Boys. After thoroughly digging through a lot of articles, reviews and interviews, I found myself infatuated not with just the music of Junior Boys, but more so with the thoughts and concepts of Jerry Greenspan, one half of the band. In his past interviews he has had with other journalists, he has given such depth and well-chiseled out ideas that they felt more like those 1 A.M, slightly intoxicated, deep conversations you have with a close friend where at the end of it you look at the ceiling and say “Wow. Damn.”
With Big Black Coat, this idea holds true. The duo explores the individual struggles of the people in Greenspans hometown of Hamilton, Canada, which can only feel like it can be applied to the loneliness and isolation that millennial generation feels sometimes, so Big Black Coat can be seen as an accidental, concept album of such. I got to talk to Greenspan about his music, Norman McLauren and much more. Check it out –
Ontario, Canada is where you were born and raised, and in your music, there seems to be quite a bit of nostalgia thrown in there. Is there anything in the mix that feels particularly indebted to your Canadian upbringing or history?
For me, music is all about place and time. There is an aspect of music making that is divination, and so it’s impossible to separate a piece from the context in which it was made. But on the subject of nostalgia, yeah, I definitely feed off of nostalgia, which predictably becomes more intense as you get older. And if you stay in the same place, your own history starts to follow you around, which I think that can be hard for some people. Fortunately I’ve had a very happy life.
Junior Boys was founded in 1999, and you’ve remained at the vanguard of electronic music in the nearly 20 years since. Have you found it difficult to maintain the sound of Junior Boys in this ever-changing electronic music scene?
Not at all. One of the benefits of making music that is so technologically driven is that you can let the equipment do all the heavy lifting. I don’t ever think about my sound, outside of my process of working.
From what I’ve read, your influences are quite interesting — particularly Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren and his perception of ‘stream of consciousness’ when it came to his work on his films. How does his work and life play into your music, if at all?
McLaren is, to me, a sort of “perfect” artist. He is compelled to create out of a sense of play, a sense of problem solving, and not out of a sense of ego, or achievement. The creative process is the reward, for me that is truest form of art that we should all strive towards.
You’ve also mentioned Neil Young and Steely Dan as influences on your music, which may come as a surprise to some of your fans. Could you expand on what you find in their music that influences yours?
Funnily enough those are both artists obsessed with this notion of perfect sound, but have two totally different approaches. Neil Young wants to document everything like a sort of musical vérité, and Steely Dan refine the studio into its own instrument. Truth be told, I think my process is probably closer to Neil Young’s, but I probably wear my Steely Dan influence more heavily on my sleeve.
There was a five-year gap in between 2011’s It’s All True, and your latest album, Big Black Coat, but you seemed to be keeping rather busy during that gap — working with Caribou and Jessy Lanza, to name a few. Did working with these other artists influence your new album, and if so, how?
Doing the albums with Jessy has had the biggest influence. I sort of see everything as changed through that process, because I changed my whole mentality about how I should work. These days I focus much more on speed — the ability to commit moments to tape fast, and not to get too precious with them.
You’ve been quoted saying “I’ve made this album, and I really don’t care who likes it or not. I like it,” which obviously has worked in your favor, considering the favorable critical reviews. So, how do you separate the music you want to produce from the music others want to hear you produce?
I’m lucky that I live in a bubble. I don’t live in a place where I run into a lot of people who care that much about what I do. If I did, in think I would start to make bad decisions. For this album I made a conscious decision that I would stop reading reviews. I read a few of the good ones, because that’s obviously easier on the ego, but I think not reading reviews is a lesson that everyone should take. I am thrilled that people like the new record, I’m happy to come and play live, but my musical decisions are my own, and I love the isolation of the studio.
What’s the biggest mental blocks or creative hurdles that you have to get over when writing music, and how do you alleviate them?
The biggest hurdle is trying to polish a turd, as they say. Being able to walk away from your own garbage material is important.
Last question — we Montanians are always interested in hearing what people from outside the state think of Montana, particularly our city Missoula. Have you guys ever been here before, and if you have, what are your thoughts?
I have never been. I have always been in Montana when passing through. This is a weird tour, we have decided to go to all of these places that we have never been, and that a lot of our friends have never been to. It’s a real adventure!
The Junior Boys will be playing in Missoula at The Top Hat Lounge, September 20th. Tickets can be found here.
You can keep up-to-date with the Junior Boys by following their Twitter.