We’re kind of done with calling things “chillwave” at this point, right?
After all, the first wave of the bedroom-borne genre of synth-heavy midtempo dance-pop has already crested, even if some of its most notable acts, like Washed Out and especially Neon Indian, are still releasing large-scale albums to this day. Sure, you could argue that Toledo’s John Jagos, who records under the name Brothertiger, is of the same ilk, but even that wouldn’t be totally fair in the long run, as his soundscaping has been a kind that focuses less on tone and more on songcraft outright, nailing the hooks time and time again, which is part of the reason why he already has a sizable audience even after releasing his debut set, the excellent Golden Years, a mere three years ago.
Since then, he dropped sophomore disc Future Splendors in late 2014, and will follow that one up almost to the day with a third album slated for the end of 2015. Yet between recording and touring, Jagos keeps a level head to himself, focusing on making the best damn music possible, honing in on a sound that would work on both dancefloors and private pajama parties all the same. In answering PopMatters’ 20 Questions, Jagos reveals a lot about his influences, ranging from his love of Brian Eno to his obsession with Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair, to say nothing of the fact that he likes to wear “a baseball hat when I travel; I’m not sure why, but it just feels right.”
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I think Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl was the last film I saw in a theater, and it definitely hit me right in the feels at certain moments, especially somber points that were soundtracked by Brian Eno. “Always Returning” is my favorite song of his, and the point in the film when it played definitely hit me. I’m a sucker for an emotional soundtrack.
2. The fictional character most like you?
That’s a tough one. I never saw myself as the hero type who saves the day or anything. I’m pretty quiet and introverted, and I love exploring and discovering new things, ideas, places. Maybe I’m like Mowgli from The Jungle Book. My new album is about my own personal connection to the rest of the world, how I sometimes feel out of touch with what’s normal, and that I shouldn’t let that bother me. I feel a connection to him in that way. He was raised by wolves, lives apart from society, and is friends with a bear. That’s pretty much me, right? I’m also obsessed with the jungle aesthetic, as illustrated by my album art.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair. The production quality from that album is what I’ve been striving for in my music. I think I’m getting closer. I like the album not just for how well the songs were written, but for the synth sounds they used. A lot of people don’t know that Roland and Curt had a ton of production help from their keyboardist, Ian Stanley. There isn’t too much information out there about the recording process for the album, and I’ve been trying to find out what Stanley has been up to since he left the band in the late ’80s. Apparently he runs a studio in Ireland somewhere. Would love to work on something out there.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars, hands down. I never really got into the Star Trek series or films. Star Wars just speaks nostalgia to me. I have always loved the soundtrack, since I was a kid.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Books. I get a lot of inspiration from novels I read, mostly science fiction books about space and the future of the human species. I really enjoy books by Arthur C. Clarke because he makes his stories seem so real by injecting actual scientific know-how into them. I find that really cool, and I try to emulate that characteristic in my music.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I’m just proud that music I created made it onto vinyl. As a kid, I always thought my dads vinyl collection was the coolest thing. I would read all the liner notes and listen to stuff I had never heard of, and that’s how I discovered a lot of music at that age. I always knew I wanted to be in a band or create music for people. To know that it’s out there on someone else’s turntable is really amazing to me.
7. You want to be remembered for …?
Obviously, I’d like to be remembered for my music. I like to think I’m pretty humble about it so far, and I like to keep myself grounded like that, in terms of how I feel about my own career in music. I don’t think that what I’m doing is groundbreaking in the music scene, but from what I’ve gathered, it’s had a positive effect on a good amount of people, so that’s what makes me happy.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
To me, Sufjan Stevens has been an enormous influence on the way I do things in music. No, we don’t exactly have the same type of sound, but his way of releasing music, his production, and the way he conveys his music to an audience live has influenced me like no other. Brian Eno has also affected the way I do things, specifically his methods in electronic music.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
2001: A Space Odyssey the film! I love films by Stanley Kubrick, but this one resonates the most with me because I love science fiction. His method was so unique and interesting. I would have been very, very proud to have directed such an amazing adaptation of an equally amazing book.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
I like drawing a lot, and I’m pretty decent at sketching things in front of me. My dad is an artist. I don’t think I could cut it in art school, though. I’m not very accepting of criticism.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
My parents were very supportive in my decision to go to school for something creative (music production). They said I should try to do what makes me happy, and I followed through with it, all the way to Brooklyn, where I live today. Both my sister and I studied in creative fields, and we both are doing something close to what we set out to do. That piece of advice definitely inspired me to make a career out of my music, and I’m very grateful for it.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I borrowed my dad’s ’70s Epiphone acoustic guitar as a teenager so I could learn how to play, and eventually it assimilated into my bedroom. I left it at home went I went to college, and every time I come home to visit I play it. I do believe every guitar has a different feel, and that is certainly true with that Epiphone. In some way, it helped me get where I am today.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
I swear by Levis 511’s. One pair I’ve had for about three years now, and they still feel great. Also, I like wearing a baseball hat when I travel. I’m not sure why, but it just feels right.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Brian Eno. I think he and I would have a great conversation on music, art, and creativity in general. I appreciate his take on things, and I think we would have a lot to talk about.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
1984. I would like to be the same age I am now, in 1984. That year was, in my opinion, the greatest year for pop music. Just to be there at that time, to see shows I’ve only seen footage of on YouTube, would be huge. The culture at that time was so fresh and vibrant. The ’80s were just starting to become established. It seems like it was a very exciting time in history.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Walking. If I’ve got writer’s block or am frustrated with something, I’ll try to take a walk around the block or at a park. It calms me to just walk and only think about what’s in front of me, to not worry about a current problem I’m facing for a short time. I can go for a walk, come back, and reassess what I’m working on.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
Iced coffee and avocados. I drink iced coffee like it’s my job. If its cold, I will settle for regular hot coffee, but once spring hits I have one almost every day. Avacados are my favorite food (not favorite dish, obviously!) I buy them in bulk every week, and I never let one in my possession go bad. If I were on a desert island and could only have three things, it’d be avocados, more avocados, and a Juno 106 synth to keep me company.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I’m going to cheat on this one and say “a hybrid of the two.” I love the country, mostly well-forested areas. But I like living in cities too. Here in New York, I have to travel quite a distance to get to a well-forested area, so I’m still not sure about it. But in a place like Portland or Seattle, the forest is a short drive away. So, maybe the Pacific Northwest is my ideal environment.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
I don’t think there’s anything he can do about it at this point of his presidency, but I’d like to ask Obama if he could do something about student loan forgiveness in this country. I think forgiving loans for a lot of students would be the ultimate mic drop in Obama’s last few months of his term.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I have a new album out in December, so I’m working on getting the release details of that wrapped up. I’m also touring starting in late October, so I’m working on my live set every day to make it the best it can be. Here and there, I’m also sneaking some new song ideas into my daily schedule.