I ran across a small problem when I walked into Bowery Ballroom a few weeks back during sound check to interview the Junior Boys. I haven’t the slightest clue what the guys in the band look like. I meekly check my microphone and notes hoping that somebody would approach me asking who I was and what the hell I was doing looming around the stage a couple hours before the first set. I ask a couple sound engineers if they could point me to the band and they, too, have no clue who they were or what they looked like. Eventually I run across someone from the band’s label, Domino Records, and he informs me that they are still finishing up sound check.
When I walk back into the main room and peer onto the stage I feel a lump materialize in my throat. I am quite positive that about 20 minutes before I unknowingly asked lead singer/guitarist Jeremy Greenspan outside if he had any extra tickets he could sell me, to which he responded with a gregarious “no”, whose amusement at the time seemed to fly over my head and whose punchline had quickly become that much clearer. When I shake hands and introduce myself to the band formally, he considerately asks me if I have a ticket for the show this evening to which I blush and nod my head.
The band’s 2004 debut Last Exit made a huge splash amongst music critics last year and the current was kept strong by the underground strength of the blog community and the Internet. When I sat down with Jeremy, who is sporting an excellent Kraftwerk t-shirt, and Junior Boys second-half/keyboardist Matt Didemus, they are in the first leg of their national tour with Caribou (Dan Snaith, formerly Manitoba) and the Russian Futurists. Tonight, Four Tet is also making an appearance on the bill.
The two bandmates have been friends since they were 13, listening and playing music together becoming fixated on hip-hop, techno and various dance music. When I ask how their relationship with Dan Snaith culminated from him mixing a track off the expanded US realease of Last Exit to now becoming touring companions, Jeremy point to their common hometown ties: “We have long been friends. We are very particular about who we collaborate with. We only have two remixes out—one with him and the other by Christian Fennesz, who we are really big fans of. With Dan it was like, we like his music, he was doing really well, and we are all from Hamilton [Ontario].” I asked them their opinions about downloading and the support of the on-line community: “We are definitely in support of downloading if it gets our music to more fans’ ears. We certainly have no problem with that,” assures Jeremy.
As hard pressed as it is to find a negative review of Last Exit, it is equally as hard to find a critic not mention their music in the same breath as Timbaland, which I tell them seems like a bit of a stretch for me. “I was really a pretty serious fan,” says Jeremy, “but it is a really weird description, though, ‘cause I don’t really hear it that much. I think at some point we have a sort of blue-eyed soul kind of thing. At times, we kind of have an R&B influence. And because we use electronic instruments, and breakbeats and because Timbaland uses a lot of rave-like sounds, I think that is where a lot of the comparisons come from.”
Jeremy and Matt go on to explain to me the hardships of transitioning their well-polished studio sound into a live setting, forcing them to learn how to play instruments to reproduce their songs. “We have always considered ourselves a studio band. We weren’t even sure if the opportunity to tour our stuff initially would ever happen.” When I mention that I enjoyed their set opening for TV on the Radio a year back in Toronto, they both seem mildly embarrassed and apologize for “most likely sucking”. When I tell them that their unique sound prompted me to order their album later that week, they seem pleased and assure me that they have only become crisper since the last time I have seen them: “You definitely progress and get better live through time. We haven’t got a song that we are like, wow, look how much better this song is now live. We are pretty faithful to our songs, but since the record is somewhat old to us, we can go out now with some of our new songs and think about how to arrange the songs now and how they can be improved upon.”
I take this opportunity to ask them when we can expect their awaited new material, the Another Birthday EP, and they say they expect it some time this summer. I am curious if they feel the need to remain faithful to the hybrid sound they have cultivated to critical acclaim or if they feel the need to mix it up. Jeremy explains his desire for their music to constantly be evolving towards the future and the fear of some of their earlier catalogue dating poorly. Matt went on to add: “I think the new material will be a little colder. I think parts of our first record have a really melancholic atmosphere and I think we are pushing that angle. It is really sort of steeped in the early New Order type of music; a melancholic darker sort of sound.” They also tell me their new sound may be influenced by the abundance of Italian disco music they have been consuming of late.
I point out the recent gradual increased interest in imports and homegrown proprietors of ambient and electronic music here in the United States, noting the increased popularity of acts like Explosions in the Sky, M83, and LCD Soundsystem. I tell the band this must reassure them that the States are finally ready to get out of their chairs and get out on the dance floor. They politely disagree with me and begin to laugh.
“Generally I would say that America, as a whole, is very resistant to electronic music. And I think its very telling that the kind of music that is most accepted is the stuff that is kind of steeped somehow in rock and resistant to that which is wholly electronic. I think there was this explosion of rave culture years ago, that was like this blip, that kind of evaporated and I find that a little depressing.” Okay, I say, well it has to be rewarding that Canadian music is now beginning to broaden in Americans minds, expanding beyond Alanis Morissette and Bryan Adams. With bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, and Stars, Canadian music is finally getting some nice color while basking in the spotlight. Again, they clearly view this a bit differently than their Yankee interrogator.
“We don’t mind being lumped into this group because any press is good press, you know? But people have asked us if we are all friends or if we are all part of this great small Canadian scene. And there is a scene, but we aren’t part of it. We weren’t invited,” they say chuckling.
// Notes from the Road
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