Published Jan 26, 2009Another year passes and another promising Canadian electronic artist leaves for Europe. This time round it's Victoria native Jeremy Shaw of Circlesquare joining the ranks of a West coast exodus that includes Mathew Jonson and much of the Wagon Repair family. Never the most prolific musician - this is his second album and fifth release since 1999 - Circlesquare made significant waves back in 2003 with the internationally acclaimed Pre-Earthquake Anthem, a druggy, deep-flowing mix of drone-y electro-pop that ended up being a high watermark in the catalogue of the now-defunct British label Output. Circlesquare circa 2009 still holds down some of those original markers but as the title suggests, Shaw has moved on from writing songs for dancing and drugs to songs about dancing and drugs. This is a more lyric-heavy, almost poetically wordy album. Along with the enhanced songwriting, Shaw also uses more of an indie rock framework that makes this album sound, ironically, more un-European than all his previous work. Rather, Circlesquare is operating more soundly in Junior Boys territory, replacing the dark emptiness at the core of Pre-Earthquake Anthem for terrains that are more melodic, sensitive and dare we say, mature.
It's been six years since Pre-Earthquake Anthem and this new album, with only an EP and a seven-inch in between. What have you been up to for much of that time?
Well, all sorts of things really, but I've been continually working on music during this time - writing it, reworking it, shelving it, revisiting it, etc. Part of the gap in recordings is simply that some of it just hasn't come out yet. I seem to always have had a pretty pronounced lag in my finishing music and the actual records coming out though. I think this is largely due to being with a UK label for so long - not being in the thick of things with the label right there to harass me - as well as, and maybe even more so, my constant problem of never quite being finished. Now that I'm signed to !K7 and living in the same city as the label, there should be far less of a gap between actual releases and a much tighter schedule on which they're put out.
The demise of Output was a sad time for anyone who was into unorthodox dance hybrids. How did the end of the label affect your music?
I don't think it had much of an affect on what I was doing musically but it definitely affected how much of what I was making saw the light of day. When the label folded, Fight Sounds had just been released and I was already well into working on Songs About Dancing and Drugs. So with the end of the label came the whole process of searching for a new label, something that I hadn't done in a long time.
This new album is noticeably poppier than the last one, almost a singer-songwriter record where the lyrics are front and centre. What led to this shift?
I think it's been a natural progression over the past few releases. When I first started making music, I was very interested in creating immersive types of songs, songs where the vocals were used more as a background instrument than a focal point. As time's gone on and with each subsequent release, I've become much more interested in writing songs where the structural influences of folk and pop are more prominent than that of say, shoegaze or techno. I find working this way to be a lot more challenging for me, and therefore more rewarding if I feel I've pulled it off. The ability to subvert pop art in any form is something I hold in very high regard.
Much of your past career has been connected to the European scene. Is it still that way now? Did you feel at all isolated on the West coast? Is there a community around what you do now?
I definitely did feel isolated in Vancouver. It's still a relatively small city and in general, a very hard one to showcase anything somewhat leftfield within. That said, there is certainly no shortage of artistic talent living there. We actually moved to Berlin just over a year ago now for many reasons but the disconnect from Europe was definitely a major one. We could play shows in Vancouver and surrounding towns but it was very difficult to gain any momentum, and touring North America in a van was never really something we felt would work with what we did either. Circlesquare has always been received better in Europe and so there were always offers for European shows but financing multiple international tours in a year was too difficult. Now that we're based in Berlin, the proximity to the rest of Europe is really making a huge difference in being able to manage proper tours, and the general appreciation/demand for forward-thinking music in Berlin is really something else. (BOOMPA!)