Jeremy Greenspan and Johnny Dark are perhaps better known as Junior Boys, an electropop duo from Hamilton, Canada. Since their inception the band has released five full length albums and a number of EPs – the most recent album Big Black Coat received warm critical praise, and was followed by the Kiss Me All Night EP – Both releases cementing the Junior Boys as purveyors of only the finest, danceable tunes.
It was at this year’s FYF that ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Jeremy from Junior Boys to discuss the spontaneity of creation, his unwavering work ethic and eagerness to release tunes, oh, and was that a surprise release? Yeah… it was a surprise release… whoops!
Christopher Friedmann: We’re seeing you here at FYF Fest and you just surprise released a new EP Kiss Me All Night. Given the current landscape of the music industry and the obvious amount of time it takes between finishing a record and releasing it. What was so appealing to you about the surprise release format?
Jeremy Greenspan: Surprise release format? I guess it was a surprise release. I didn’t think about that, but I guess that’s true though. You know the thing is that we just did it really fast, so we just sort of did this thing and we’re like, “Do you want to put it out?” “Sure. “Okay, when?” “Like next month?” you know what I mean. Because it happened so fast it wasn’t like we had this EP done for like a year and were like, “How are we going to release it?” I kind of like that as in moving forward, I can of like the idea of putting out EPs and doing things really kind of like casually.
CF: Big Black Coat was planned out far in advance, while Kiss Me All Night seems to have just come to you all of a sudden. That being said, what are the similarities between the two projects?
JG: Well I wrote them in exactly the same way and under the same conditions. I guess the big difference is that Big Black Coat was our first proper album in five years, so there’s a lot of expectation, you’re wondering if people will like or if people will remember who you are, and all that kind of stuff, and the nice thing about doing EPs is there’s not so much pressure, you can just put them out, you know what I mean (Laughs).
And also you know this EP is not going to be like this giant statement, so you don’t have to worry about… I like the notion of doing work, and I work a lot, so I like the idea of being able to put out stuff all the time. I’m not really into making big statements. I’d rather just continuously do work and once it’s done just move on.
CF: It had been five years since your last proper album, It’s All True. What was the impetus behind this current creative explosion?
JG: I think it was just timeline in terms of, I did this… We finished that last record, It’s All True, and then we actually started working on another one, and I ended up throwing a huge amount of material and then at that point I started working on this record with Jessy Lanza, the first one, it was called Pull My Hair Back. And then after that started working on Big Black Coat and then [Jessy and I] started working on Oh No. And so, I was just doing a lot of work all at once and it all just came out around the same time, it’s just timing.
CF: You’ve worked with other artists such as Jessy Lanza and Caribou over the years. How has working with those other artists changed the way you create your music?
JG: Jessy had a big influence just because working with Caribou for example, I didn’t do all that much. I mixed records for him. But with Jessy that’s a real collaboration. It’s kind of like being in the band. So working with her so closely… when you work with someone you adopt their ideas sometimes or whatever, so the process of making her first record had a huge influence on the making of the next Junior Boys record, just in terms of the actual work involved, the main difference was I used to take my time with a sort of limited amount of songs and work them, and I stopped doing that.
I started working quickly on a huge amount of songs and editing the s*** out of them. A good example is back on our third record, I remember we went to the studio and I recorded all these vocals with like a… “This is the microphone from Motown Records,” all that kind of stuff, and just did it in this fancy studio, and on this last record I was literally like sitting down with a s***ty microphone and singing. So that’s kind of the different approach.
CF: In regards to Big Black Coat, you said “the coat became a metaphor and an analogy of a way to insulate yourself away from the harshness of a Canadian winter. It’s pretty bleak.” The music, however, has a certain catchiness and there is generally some weightlessness in your style of electronic music. How did you go about creating music that was both light and heavy?
JG: I like that kind of juxtaposition, that dichotomy. I’ve never liked very important sounding music. Music that musically has this sort of sense of histrionic largeness or whatever. But I was writing about my own particular life, or the place that I live. The place that I live is like a real working class town in Canada, so it’s like you can only write what you know. So were I to live in Southern California, it would probably be a little bit breezier (Laughs).
So it’s just where you are and what you know and who you’re interacting with and all that kind of stuff. But as an aesthetic, I kind of like that, I like that sort of pop music with a little bit of grit.
CF: How did these sad, lovelorn characters wandering through the Canadian winter inspire you?
JG: Just from exposure. Just by being the people that you know. I don’t a lot of people who are like… if I lived in L.A. for example, I’d probably have a lot friends in the music industry or people who were maybe successful because they live in L.A. (Laughs) or are at least trying to be successful (Laughs).
I feel like L.A. is a place you come to to try and make something happen. Hamilton is not a place you go to make anything happen. And so that’s just like the people I know. That’s certainly not to say my friends are like that necessarily, I have lots of extremely accomplished friends who live in Hamilton, but as a city, as a character of the city, it has this kind of, it’s like a poster, it’s like the quintessential rust belt city that fell on hard time, and it’s slowly been remaking itself, and it’s largely been quite successful in the last 10 years or so, much in the same way that a city like Pittsburgh has, but it has a similar feel.
CF: You’re about to head out on a long tour that will take you across North America and then to Europe. Are there any destinations you are particularly excited to play?
JG: So we did a tour in the spring where we hit all the major American markets, we played in L.A., and New York, and Chicago, and all the cities you’d expect to play, so this time I wanted to go across Canada because we hadn’t done it on the record, and we had a couple of anchor shows we were going to play. We had a big festival in Miami and a big show in Minnesota, and in order to get from one place to another, we we’re like we could go around the West Coast and try and do some more shows like we did before, or we could play all these places we haven’t played in a long time, if ever, which are obviously way smaller markets, Montana and Kentucky and all these places, but I wanted it to do it.
I had this feeling that I wanted to have a tour like we used to have, which was like you going into somewhere and just having zero expectations and you have no idea what’s going to happen, and three people are going to show up, but you’re going to have a fun time. That’s the kind of tour I want.
CF: Let’s talk FYF for a second. What does a festival like this offer that particularly appeals to you and why?
JG: This is a good festival. I’ve been to this festival. I did sound for Jessy Lanza when she came and we played at the Coachella festival, which I think they put on, and I don’t have much experience in what it’s like to go to one of their festivals, I only have the experience of what it’s like to play at them, but these are the best festivals in North America in terms of how they treat the artist. It’s really super nice. They give you all this nice stuff and everyone is very friendly and helpful. So that kind of thing makes all the difference. I think that’s probably why they’re successful because everyone likes to play them because they get treated well.
CF: Who were you most excited to see coming in and why?
JG: I think I’m most excited to… the guy who mastered our last three records or something is a guy named Bob Weston, and he plays bass in Shellac, so he’s a really good friend of mine, but I’ve never actually seen Shellac play, so I have other friends who are playing like Hot Chip and Floating Points who are good friends, but I’ve seen them a lot of times, but Shellac I’ve never seen, so I’d like to see Shellac, although I don’t know if I can, they’re playing like really close to us. But maybe I’ll go and try to catch a couple songs.
CF: Aside from the creative accomplishments of the band, and the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ experiences that you’ve had throughout the years, is there one particular memory that was grounding, and of a more human scale?
JG: I had a moment like that many, many years ago where… Tempelhof Airport is in Berlin. It’s a famous airport that they used to do the plane drops in. It was an airport that was built by the Nazis at that point, and they closed the airport. In fact, I remember, I flew out of Tempelhof, so it must have been in the last couple months they were flying out of there. I remember about a year later or something, they turned it into a park and then they had this thing called the Berlin Festival.
So we were there, and I don’t know if it was the first Berlin Festival, but it was definitely the first Berlin Festival at Tempelhof. It was definitely the first concert ever at Tempelhof, and I was playing, and I remember thinking to myself, “As a Jew it is pretty weird that I’m playing Tempelhof Airport.” So I thought was kind of neat.
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