Was being in China around the evolution of It’s All True an exciting time? It seems in such a period of transition. It was, especially because I went there, my main interests were in trying to focus in on all of that transition stuff, and my sister lives there, she is an academic, and works at the university, and her work at the moment is about futurism and modernism as it relates to modern China, so she was my guide, and those were her interests as well, but even if you aren’t looking for it, you can’t hep but notice, everything is huge and new and growing at a phenomenal rate. It is like being in New York City in 1905, but the problem of course for me is when you don’t speak the language, and are not that educated in terms of the history of the place, you can only go away from being there for two months with a sense of disorientation, but it is not as though I left with some clear picture in my mind as to what it is all about, but I knew I wanted to go and work there for a little bit, and I definitely had some observations about that that are in the record, but I didn’t want to go for two months and then make a record about China, it’s such hubris! And I didn’t want to make a world music record which would be hollow and shallow, so I tried to be somewhat careful about what I said about it. I did a lot of the lyric writing there, I think it had a pretty big effect on what I was writing, but I don’t know if I have articulated it, it is easily possible that it had no effect at all, perhaps I would have written exactly the same thing elsewhere.
I believe that you had quite a lot of work left over from It’s All True, for example a lot of work from ‘Kick the Can’ that wasn’t included on the record? Yes, we did, and in fact they were ideas that we started that we are just finishing now. We are preparing an EP to release soon, a coda if you will.
That is a lovely way to express the sense of unity about the four records, that they have established a whole and complete body of work. Definitely. I have no plan to do another Junior Boys record. I am working on a couple of records at the moment, my own and with others. We are not making some announcement that we are not making another record, as we just don’t know, but before making these records I knew, and one of the things I am happy and proud of is the records we have made. I don’t have a vision at the moment, and that’s important for me. At the moment I feel proud of the records I have made, I don’t want to fuck that up. With a lot of people you listen to that old stuff and you can’t listen to it because of how bad they have become. That is a concern.
If you don’t engage with what is being created now, then maybe that’s the recipe for turning into Eric Clapton [laughs] and making your Delta Blues album-horrifying, right? That is what happens to the most embarrassing rock star people, they don’t know how to listen to music anymore.
Dance music is such a strange environment in a way. When I was growing up there seemed something quite free and subversive about it, and luckily with people like yourself, Caribou, Theo Parrish, Kode 9 and several others- that beating heart is still there, but the landscape has changed, hasn’t it? The impulse behind a lot of dance music now is not truth. I know, and clubbing has changed. When I was going to clubs there was all this fog, and you never saw who was DJ’ing, and if you did it was some non descript local guy or a guy from Detroit, and everyone who was there was dressed in some completely ridiculous way and everyone knew it was stupid, now it’s about being seen and people take loads of silly pictures of themselves at the club and the DJ doesn’t know how to DJ and instead puts on some ridiculous show, it’s the antithesis of what it is about for me.
The method of listening to music is changing, Youtube is not a way to listen to music, it’s not good. I feel for people in a sense, I think it is hard for people to find music now. The guy I started Junior Boys with [Johnny Dark] is still a close friend of mine, and he is great at navigating that world, he will ring up and say “check out these guys from Sri Lanka who do hip-hop”. I don’t know how he mines this field of terribleness – we used to have record stores to do that, Now you get reviewers who are so powerful, things like Pitchfork, but when I was a kid I didn’t care about what reviewers said about music.
It’s strange because that weird and murky internet world embraced you initially, but you were more old-fashioned than they were prepared for, perhaps – you wouldn’t enter into that dialogue. I sort of feel that when we started the band, the transformation of the music industry was just starting, all the blogs, and internet bands were just starting, and we were one of the first to have that kind of buzz, and that buzz never materialised into commercial success. What ended up happening was that a bunch of people listened to us, the vast majority went on to the next buzz band, but a group of people stayed with us. So by the time you make your fourth record, you start to recognise who you are making it for. When you are making your first record and people are telling you you are going to be a big star things get quite weird at that point, as you start thinking about that kind of thing. At your fourth record you resign yourself to having made certain decisions in your career that perhaps hampered things, things that would have made us more popular, we know this is how big we are going be, so you make music for a select group of people. When we were starting off people liked us and no-one had heard of us, so talking about it gave it a kind of power, then after you do four records and your latest record doesn’t have some ridiculous piece of marketing attached to it, people are not as interested, they say “oh a new Junior Boys record, it’s not going to excite anyone other than Junior Boys fans”. In a world of hype we have never known or wanted to market our record as something that has to be talked about other than the merits of the music. We make music that is supposed to reveal itself a little bit over time. You don’t really listen to our second song ‘Playtime’ on Youtube and say “this is a real banger” it doesn’t work that way [laughs].
It is the same for Caribou, because he has been making music for so long, but only in the last few years has really reached more people, yet for years enjoyed such critical praise. It’s funny with Dan [Snaith] because I had helped him a little on Andorra, his fourth record – and I felt that every song was this pop hit and I thought this was it, he was going to do phenomenally well. It got reviewed well and he won a Polaris but it didn’t make him take off. Then he asked me if I wanted to mix his next record, and he came to Canada and wanted me to mix the dancey numbers, as half were done with a guy in Wales [Bryn Derwen Studio]. So we did a bunch of recordings at his studio, and I thought it was great, but weird, and that it wasn’t going to do well, and of course that was his last record [Swim] which has been massively successful, so it was great for me because I am connected to this awesome record, but it just goes to show how wrong my instincts are! I thought this one was going to be a career ender for him [laughs].
In some ways your work is synonymous with the melancholy aspects of life, yet it is probably more that you explore very truthfully the emotional aspects of life, and there is this sense of real intimacy, something that great dance music, like any great music, can really achieve. My life became more complicated as I got older, and then I had to work through a lot of emotional stuff. I work obsessively as well, but on this one the major key pulled me through. When I was writing these dark lyrics I felt I couldn’t do it in a minor key, it seemed ridiculous to me, it seemed totally self-indulgent to write a really depressing record that I couldn’t pull off without laughing. So there is this juxtaposition with these major key songs, for example ‘Banana Ripple’ is this poppy dance tune, but the song is about losing your mind! So I ended up liking that aspect and there is a strength to the record,it is the darkest record I have ever made, but over these major chords. I found that through working through this thing musically, I started really enjoying what was going on. I was in a small studio I have downtown, cocooned in a small place, like a cockpit. I fell asleep in there a good few times, and even though I was going through this really bad time in my life, I really was liking the music I was making. You know, we have done a lot better than we ever anticipated. One reason we make music is for people out there to appreciate it, the other is sheer compulsion.
Junior Boys play The Twisted Pepper this Saturday, December 10th.