Ah, Junior Boys, how I’ve missed you.
After a five-year stint of silence, the deliciously cold electro-pop duo is back with Big Black Coat, their first full-length album since before I could legally drink.
I caught up with Jeremy Greenspan, the North American half of Junior Boys to talk about that coat, as well as where the fuck he’s been all my life. The conversation took a sci-fi twist and we ended up talking about more pressing matters, i.e., how Star Wars murdered science fiction and the awesomely nerdy back story behind BBC’s album art. That, and much more goo
Check out the title track from the new album while you read:
Where have you been? Were you ever gone?
Yeah, I was pretty gone! We finished the last Junior Boys record in 2011, we put it out and then we toured for about a year. After that tour was done, we were kind of exhausted and I felt pretty kind of sick of the whole thing at that point. At the same time, I was working with Jessy Lanza, so that kind of got me really working on new stuff. I was also doing some solo releases that I was doing for Dan Snaith from Caribou. After the Jessy Lanza album was finished and put out and it did well that I sort of felt really confident again and wanted to get working on Junior Boys. I actually ended up throwing out almost all of the material I had done for Junior Boys up until that point, and started on a new record, and that’s the record that’s coming out.
Was there a moment of impetus that made you feel like you were ready to come back?
I think the fact that the album with Jessy did so well. The album came out and we didn’t have any real expectations of it. It gave me a renewed energy and sense of urgency about doing other music. I think that if I hadn’t have done that record, I think I would sort of feel a little bit lost. Doing a record with Jessy, it gave me that sort of renewed sense of confidence.
Does this new album have any kind of the same inspiration from film and animation that your previous albums did (previous albums Begone Dull Care and It’s All True were inspired by Norman McLaren and Orson Welles respectively).
No, no, it doesn’t. I think the major shift in terms of making this record was that before, I had these sort of concepts that were useful for me in terms of making the records. But they were useful for me in terms of thinking about them abstractly, and having an idea as to where I was going. And with this record, I didn’t want to have any of that. I really wanted to make a record really quickly, and work on a lot of different songs. Like, before, what I used to do is, we would write a couple of songs, and then we would work on those songs forever, fine-tuning them and working on these mixes forever and ever. That’s how the last two albums were done.
So this album we did differently. This album, instead of doing that, we did a whole bunch of songs, many of which didn’t make it to the album, and we just did them really fast, and just chose the ones that we liked. There was no overarching concept or anything. The things all just happened too quickly for there to be a concept, do you know what I mean? But they’re kind of inspired lyrically, and to some extent they’re inspired by my hometown. By the people that I relate to in my hometown, and by my own past.
Are you still into film-making as you were a couple of years ago?
I do like sort of cinematic music. I don’t know why I got so into film in terms of the relationship with movies in the albums. I think it was more that on the last couple albums, there were these particular artists that I felt some kind of kinship with. I think it’s too arrogant to say I had a kinship with Orson Welles, but I sort of just felt inspired by. I have a particular kind of interest in science fiction and in some ways, it led me to an interest in electronic music. It has a definite sci-fi dimension to it.
What kind of sci-fi do you see in your guys’ music?
I’ve always been concerned with having our music relate to some kind of futurism. What excites me about that is the sense of urgency of it, in terms of us progressing towards some kind of new vision of the future.
Who have you been inspired by from the sci-fi realm? Who does futurism right for you?
I love Philip K. Dick, and Stanislaw Lem, and John Varley, and all sorts of great science fiction writers. The album artwork is actually inspired by this children’s television show that I used to watch as a kid.
You wouldn’t have seen it. It’s a Canadian show called “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.” It was like this sort of mid-70s psychedelic children’s TV show which starred Vincent Price, and there were all these monsters. It was kind of like Sesame Street, but if Sesame Street was horror-themed. I relate that to my childhood a lot, and to my city, because it was actually filmed in Hamilton, in my hometown.
The last year or so I’ve been kind of obsessive about sort of more old-timey kind of science fiction and horror, like hammer horror movies, and old British science fiction, and stuff like that that reminds me of the 70s, or 60s, just this more kind of retro-futurism.
One of the things that’s really present in your music, which seems to be pervasive across all of the albums is this notion of minimalism and experimentalism. In sci-f,i visions of the future usually mirror that; they’re always so deliciously minimal.
I think a lot of those ones are the ones that I liked the most in terms of aesthetic. I’ve disappointed a lot of my friends recently because I don’t like Star Wars.
You don’t? Why? Wait, explain this to me.
I don’t like Star Wars. I never really have, although there’s certain things about the original Star Wars I quite like. I really like the sound design in the originals. In fact, I just bought a piece of gear recently, called a Marshall Time Modulator, which is most famous for being the thing that they used for Darth Vader’s voice. It’s kind of like a phaser, or like a chorus pedal, but like a really, really weird one.
Anyway, there’s this argument among science fiction fans that Star Wars killed science fiction. Science fiction used to be about ideas, and about conceptual situations, and Star Wars is not about that. It’s about spectacle and action. It’s not really science fiction at all, it’s just fantasy.
To me, it seems like everybody is sort of pretending to believe that they haven’t seen it before. It’s like the movie equivalent of, in the 90s, there was all sorts of bands that kind of wanted to sound like they were from the 60s, you know? Like Oasis, or something like that. So everybody kind of would just pretend that they were new and exciting, because they wanted to be like, “The 60s were exciting, I want to live through that.” You know? It’s like everyone’s sort of pretending that they’re going through a cultural moment.
It’s also the opposite of minimal. It’s intensely cluttered.
That’s the big point. I don’t tend to like a lot of science fiction that’s about spectacle and bombast. I wasn’t really ever into Dune for the same kind of reasons.
I’m trying to think of some sci-fi that’s minimal and futuristic, and the first thing that comes to mind is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Is that more your speed?
Again, that’s like, really grand ideas. The kind of science fiction I’m really into is simpler.
On the album, there’s a song called “And It’s Forever.” That’s a reference to a science fiction television show from the 80s called “Sapphire and Steel,” which was like a really, really wacked out version of Dr. Who. The two actors in it were supposed to be these creatures that lived inside of various dimensions, these trans-dimensional creatures that represented the elements of steel and sapphire.
It’s really hard to explain. They were detectives who would solve these problems that erupted in time and space. There would be some sort of rupture in time, and they would have to go and try to solve it … It was a really, really weird show.
The final episode ends with that line, “And it’s forever.” It’s an extremely dark ending, actually. It was a children’s show, so it’s really weird that it had that dark of an ending.
I also like John Carpenter movies a lot. Like, “The Thing.” Those are the kinds of slow science fiction films I really like.
My favorite song on your album is “C’Mon Baby” (unreleased). It’s just super fucking sexy. Can you tell me a little bit about that one, how you made it or what it’s influenced by?
I’m glad you like that one the most, because in some ways, that’s the most important song on the record. When the last album was finished, I started making a new album, and I threw out all the songs. I didn’t like any of them, because they all sounded too much like old Junior Boys. It sounded to me like if someone were to go into a studio and try and write something that sounded like a Junior Boys song.
After doing the album with Jessy, I wanted to try something really different, and inspired by her way of working, and stuff like that. I ended up doing that song, “C’Mon Baby”, and for me, it was a pretty radical departure. It seemed really different than everything else I was writing. It was the first song that was written for the album. Because I liked the song, I was like, “This is really different, this is really new, and I can do this, I don’t have to try and sound like other Junior Boys, I can sound like whatever I want to sound like.” That inspired me to keep on going.
Alright, what’s the deal with jacket?
The big black coat! Basically, I was sick of having shitty jackets. I bought an expensive jacket, because it’s really cold here. I wanted something that was really insulating and huge, and I sang a song about it. I didn’t really think anything about it at the time. I was like, “I don’t know why I’m singing about this coat thing,” whatever. I sang it, and that was the song. When it was time to name the album, and I realized that all the songs were all kind of about the same thing, they were all about me trying to talk about people I had seen in and around my studio, and this is in downtown Hamilton, in a city which is kind of like a Rust Belt Canadian city, kind of a lonely, cold city. So the image of a big, insulating jacket seemed like the metaphor I wanted for the record.
David Bowie. Are you still crying?
I’m actually not a massive Bowie fan. But, I’m a massive fan of the band Japan, and it’s impossible that they could have existed without David Bowie. So I’m eternally thankful for him. There’s also this weird movie he’s in called “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence“, which is not a very good movie, but he co-stars in it with Ryuichi Sakamoto, who’s in a band called Yellow Magic Orchestra, who I love a lot. He’s great, I mean, what am I going to say?
Check out Junior Boys on their upcoming trans-continental tour, and look for Big Black Coat, out February 5th via City Slang. They’re in LA March 15th.
2/04 Waterloo, ON – Starlight Social Club
2/05 Guelph, ON – eBar
2/12 Glasgow, UK – Stereo *
2/14 Ramsgate, UK – Music Hall *
2/16 London, UK – Oslo *
2/17 Paris, FR – Point Ephemere *
2/18 Zurich, CH – Papiersaal *
2/19 Milano, IT – Magnolia *
2/20 Munich, DE – Ritournelle @ Kammerspiele *
2/21 Vienna, AT – Grelle Forelle *
2/24 Hamburg, DE – Uebel & Gefahrlich *
2/25 Berlin, DE – Berghain *
2/26 Malmo, SE – Babel *
2/27 Warsaw, PL – Fabryka Trzciny *
2/28 Copenhagen, DK – Lille Vega *
3/02 Amsterdam, NL – Tolhuis *
3/03 Cologne, DE – Gewoelbe *
3/04 Zwolle, NL – Where The Wild Things Are *
3/10 Vancouver, BC – Imperial [tickets] *
3/11 Seattle, WA – Neptune Theatre [tickets] *
3/12 Portland, OR – Star Theater [tickets] *
3/14 San Francisco, CA – Mezzanine [tickets] *
3/15 Los Angeles, CA – The Regent Theater [tickets] *
3/18 San Diego, CA – Casbah [tickets] *
3/19 Tuscon, AZ – The Flycatcher [tickets] *
3/21 Dallas, TX – Club Dada [tickets] *
3/22 Austin, TX – The Mohawk [tickets] *
3/23 Houston, TX – The Warehouse Live Studio [tickets] *
3/24 New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks [tickets] *
3/25 Birmingham, AL – Saturn [tickets] *
3/26 Atlanta, GA – The Loft [tickets] *
3/28 Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle [tickets] *
3/29 Washington, DC – Black Cat [tickets] *
3/30 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer [tickets] *
3/31 New York, NY – Webster Hall [tickets] *
4/01 Allston, MA – Brighton Music Hall [tickets] *
4/02 Pawtucket, RI – The Met Cafe [tickets] *
4/04 Pittsburgh, PA – Altar [tickets] *
4/05 Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom [tickets] *
4/06 Chicago, IL – The Metro [tickets] *
4/07 Pontiac, MI – The Crofoot [tickets] *
4/08 London, ON – London Music Hall [tickets] *
4/09 Toronto, ON – Phoenix Concert Theatre [tickets] *
6/12 London, UK – Field Day Festival