Published May 22, 2018"We're almost like a cyber, sci-fi version of our grandparent's generation," Joseph Hirabayashi tells Exclaim! It's a bright spring day in Vancouver — home for musician, songwriter and Jo Passed frontman — and Hirabayashi is sitting outside at a downtown café reflecting on his surroundings.
Indeed, it is a weird and transformative time, when media and how we engage with it is changing at a radical pace; a time of political, social and civil unrest; a time of economical strife. These are issues that Hirabayashi is deeply passionate about, particularly those pertaining to housing affordability, as an artist in his early 30s trying to live and work in an expensive city.
Hirabayashi explores themes of identity and place — within himself and his environment — on Jo Passed's new record, Their Prime. Following two EPs released over the last couple of years, the album, the debut full-length includes drummer Mac Lawrie, multi-instrumentalist Bella Bébé and bassist Megan-Magdalena Bourne.
"You want to write about what you know about," Hirabayashi says. "I partially grew up in the Downtown Eastside [and] was evicted from a house in Kitsilano, my childhood home, so I've had that whole experience. Ten years ago, I felt like there was a lot of, 'Vancouver's got to get with it and provide more spaces for artists and social housing initiatives' and now I'm like, 'This is everywhere now.' That's another thing I'm really curious about. Touring around North America, I started seeing more venues that are kind of illegal spaces and tons of shared living situations. I'm really curious about that resonating with other people in other cities."
On the song "Glass," Hirabayashi sings, "I'm just a tenant in my birthplace," while "Undemo," on the other hand, celebrates the enduring close-knit nature of the local music community. An integral component of that local community is being threatened with the loss of sustainable artist venues, mostly due to skyrocketing rent increases and re-developments. The Red Gate Arts Society, where Jo Passed are doing their album release, is one soon-to-be casualty.
"That's a place where I've developed as a musician and seen amazing shows," Hirabayashi says. "That's community work and community labour [that] we have [no] way or mechanism in our society of supporting. There's no monetization of that. It's simultaneously this work, and then there's this informative aspect when you're being challenged economically all the time."
Jo Passed recently signed to Sub Pop Records internationally (Royal Mountain in Canada), and for Hirabayashi, who's been working in a DIY capacity since he was a kid, receiving a lot of exposure and backing is something he's coming to terms with. But the Seattle-based label couldn't be a better fit.
"There's a dangerous line to ride between exposure and the co-option of ideas, when you get into marketing," Hirabayashi says. "That might be the ultimate experiment for me here, being someone that's been traditionally DIY. It's funny, though, because it's easy to get really black or white with that stuff. [Sub Pop founders] Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt were these working class Pacific Northwest dudes who were getting into the record industry during a time where anyone who was in the record industry was kind of, like, a Wall Street-style suit. They understand. It's super cool, and it's also cool to know that peripherally and actually meeting everyone there and actually seeing the label and be like, 'Oh, you guys are legit.'"
Hirabayashi grins. "It's funny because it's also like, 'I hope you buy the records.'"
Sonically, Jo Passed has given Hirabayashi the chance to explore sound the way he's always wanted to. He studied jazz and formed other bands that he describes as either the "punk response to jazz or Sprïng, which was a music school-y band." Jo Passed is the realization of his rock band dreams. And though some of Their Prime was loosely written before the project was signed, the notion of Sub Pop's interest — and revisiting a few of their albums — provided some artistic influence.
Yet Their Prime is no grunge copycat: melodic, with dynamic guitar, subtle trips of psychedelia, Hirabayashi's sweet vocals and dexterous contributions from the band members — it's all uniquely Jo Passed.
"I'd like to build a feeling like it's okay to value something as a home in the commodified sense, in terms of a place you actually occupy, that you've lived in. I hope the reception for people who like the album is to feel some sort of solidarity or comfort and less angst."
Their Prime comes out May 25 on Royal Mountain/Sub Pop.