A New Beginning: An Interview with Wolfie's Just Fine's Jon Lajoie
He made comedy YouTube songs and had a great guest spot on The League, but Jon Lajoie's turn for something more serious was a long time a-comin'.
You may be familiar with Jon Lajoie's YouTube classics like "Show Me Your Genitals" and "Everyday Normal Guy". You certainly may know know him from TV show The League as the lovable stoner-songwriter Taco. But where you may not know him from, are his days as a super serious, and very aspiring musician in Montreal's local music scene pre-YouTube.
Years later, after making himself a successful career in comedy, Jon Lajoie is back to his less comedic roots with his musical project Wolfie's Just Fine. Though, if the thought of the artist who demanded you show him your genitals suddenly taking a serious role makes you skeptical and hesitant, don't be. On his debut album I Remembered But Then I Forgot you won't find Jon trying to be Thom Yorke-level serious, but you will find him being Jon Lajoie-level serious, which fortunately is presented in a way not too distant from the person you've already come to know, just with an added indie folk touch.
"Well, I guess the goal in the end was to be able to make music without always having to figure out a joke," Lajoie tells PopMatters, "to sort of just put it out there in the world. My favorite things to do since my late teens has just been playing guitar, writing songs, writing music. I was in bands in Montreal since my late teens to mid-20s."
The voice Lajoie found fortunately is a somewhat familiar one. If the phrase Wolfie's Just Fine sounds somewhat familiar, you may remember it from the Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Though it may seem goofy to name your project after a blockbuster action flick, the connection of that scene to what it represents to Lajoie's music. Your mother's voice on the phone telling you your dog is just fine when in reality, your mother whom you were just talking to is really a terminator robot sent out to end your existence. I Remembered is tonally a lot like that minus the violent intensity and the apocalyptic ramifications.
"Part of the album is that," Lajoie continues. "It's me taking stories, a song like 'A New Beginning' is basically my first experience watching a horror movie which was the first time I ever saw a naked woman, and also the first time I ever saw someone get murdered all in like 30 seconds. That was traumatic to me and when I sat down to write for some reason I thought that would be something worth writing about.
"And [for] something like 'Todd and Janelle', I don't want to say where it's from, but basically I'm writing from the point of view from two supporting characters in a certain movie and I sort of completely imagined what their marriage is like and what their lives were like in a certain moment in that movie you see them together and I kind of project everything I'm going through. Or at least my sort of journey and all that shit on to them"
Similar to his comedic work, Lajoie can find himself at his best when he's able to insert himself into someone else''s experiences to shape it into his own. The combination produces genuine and heartfelt catharsis through these connections. "'The Pigeon Lady' song is from the point of view from the Pigeon Lady from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," Lajoie notes, "and I sort of imagined her 20 years later what she is up to. It completely became this song about friendship and connecting with a human for a brief moment, and then you go your separate ways and your both forever changed. That's the song I'm most connected to in an emotional way, and it almost sounds like a joke cause it's coming from me and that it's coming from the point of view from a character from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, but it really is. In the end I found that's my voice and that's how I best express myself as Wolfie's Just Fine."
Before breaking out as a comedy star, Lajoie had spent much of his late teens and early 20s playing in rock 'n' roll bands trying to make it. Writing songs and playing music for various bands, never singing his own songs himself out of shyness. "We really liked late '60s psychedelic/folk-rock type deal. Big on the Beatles, the Kinks, Pretty Thing, Donovan, Bob Dylan. All that kind of stuff. We weren't great. [laughs] I'll be the first one to admit that. We were all quite young and were doing our version of stuff we admire. And then when the band, or one of the versions of the last band broke up, we took ourselves very seriously and we were very philosophical. Looking back, it was so naive late teens/early 20s kinda stuff."
Though the songs written under Wolfie's Just Find name are more relatable and carry more populist appeal, there was a time when his song writing was more dark, and demanded more emotional recognition. Lajoie remembers this teenage angst and adolescent naivety fondly and with appreciation:
"I was getting into sort of getting into existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, but on a purely sort of surface level, I guess in a redaction sort of modes against the religious upbringings that I had. I had Pentecostal, protestant upbringing and I turned away from the church and any sort of belief in the community that I grew up in and then I sort of went to the other side of things where I guess I was drawn to french intellectuals who were like, 'God is dead -- and we have to figure it out on our own!'
"So I'd sort of vaguely write things that were sort of like ... this one song called "Rhinoceros", oh my god it's so embarrassing to say, but I think the chorus was, 'I think, therefore I am / But I don't understand'. Things like that. But I love that version of me. So I still stand by that stuff and it all has it's sort of place. All of that is what I was doing until finally this dam broke up and I couldn't, I just wanted to have fun and do comedy."
Lajoie may cite the '60s and '70s as his earliest influences,I Remembered But Then I Forgot is laced with some impressive modern folk stylings, with songs layered with Fleet Foxes-styled harmonies and the Tallest Man on Earth's rawness.
"I remember when Fleet Foxes first came out I almost said 'Hallelujah! There it is! Fuck, that's the thing!'" Lajoie extols. "It's a little rare that bands come out and do the thing the I respond to. Tallest Man on Earth is a dude I came across seven or eight years ago and I was like 'What the fuck is this!' and I'd play for other people and they'd be like, 'Sounds like Bob Dylan,' and I'd be like, 'No no no no: you're wrong! It's not just that!' Well, I mean it is. He sounds a lot like Bob Dylan. But I was still like, 'No, this is another thing.'
"Even randomly there are some bands like First Aid Kit, some of there stuff is fuckin' beautiful sort of acoustic guitars and two voices. I really like Lady Lamb The Bee Keeper, I think she changed her name to just Lady Lamb now though. Damien Jurado. That and some random weird things that I don't know are popular because I don't keep up. But like Soak, she's a teenager and when I first heard her I'm like she's doing the thing. I try to keep up but I don't know whats really happening. I'm not super current. I'm usually a few years behind."
Despite the difference in musical realms and goals, all that matters to Lajoie is producing quality work that others can enjoy. "To me it was always just songwriting. A good songs a good song. Even it was something as simplistic as 'Show Me Your Genitals' I always wanted to do that thing very well. Where at least it's good enough to get lodged into people's heads."