Junior Boys Grapple With Greatness
Published Jun 26, 2011Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan hasn't been feeling quite so junior lately. "I became sort of obsessive about Orson Welles while I was making the record." he explains. "He has these themes of the anxieties of growing older and of losing the promise of your youth. These are big themes for Welles and what's interesting is he actually lived those themes. He was more or less a failure in his later life and he was such a success in his early life. Making this record I was dealing with a lot of those kind of feelings, so that was sort of important to me."
It's All True, the Junior Boys' fourth album written and produced with partner Matt Didemus, takes its name from an unfinished Welles film. And while growing old and fear of failure are typically uncommon themes in the world of pop music, It's All True retains the summery pop feel the electronic duo are famous for, despite a couple of melancholic moments. The concepts, as heavy as they sound, don't play out explicitly in the music, acting merely as a springboard, an inspiration to create. "I always have these themes and I don't need for them necessarily to be fully understood, they are just important for me when making the record," Greenspan explains. "That's your job as a maker of pop music, I think. Not to write completely obscure lyrical references that someone needs to be indoctrinated into to understand."
Inspired by Welles' final movie F For Fake, Greenspan also grapples with the concept of what makes great art. Is it the art itself or the cult of personality that surrounds the art? "When I started making music I had these naïve ideas that it was about the music and wasn't about how you sell yourself." Doing Junior Boys brought the realisation that the trap of self-promotion is impossible to avoid. "Nowadays it seems that musicians are made to be marketing strategists more than musicians in terms of what your online strategy is or whatever the fuck, you know. I didn't think it mattered who I was, what my story was. But apparently that's not true. You have to be a compelling personality, have a personal story. To me that was disillusioning. My favourite musicians don't have compelling personalities or compelling personal stories."
Greenspan comes from a musical grounding in dance music, where the DJ's personality is less important than the beat and is generally afforded more anonymity. "That's what I loved about dance music. Guys who are some of my heroes like Larry Heard or Pal Joey, these dance music legends, if they ever walked past me on the street I'd have no idea who they were." Greenspan found that facelessness exciting, partly due to a retiring nature and partly due to a belief that the music should be the focus. "In some ways I think it's the fact that I'm from Hamilton, which is a sheltered, isolated place and I'm a sheltered, isolated person. I don't like to see myself as part of a music scene or any of that dialogue."
Didemus, like many North American electronic musicians, now lives in Berlin but Greenspan is content in his unsung city of Hamilton, not tempted to follow his bandmate. "Berlin has too many, for want of a better word, hipsters. Too much of that scenester shit going on for me to deal with. One of the advantages of living in Hamilton is that you're completely divorced from that world. Nobody's trying to impress you with their coolness in Hamilton."
Living on different sides of the Atlantic obviously changes how members of a band collaborate but Greenspan insists that for Junior Boys, their process hasn't changed except for becoming more complicated logistically. "We don't have some process where Matt works on a file and sends it to me and I send it back. We don't work like that. For the tracks that we did together, it would either be that I'll start a song and he'll come over or he would start a track in Berlin and then come over to work on them together."
It's All True pays homage to '70s and '80s artists such as 10cc, Roxy Music and on "Second Chance" even a hint of George Michael. "The idea of making this record was to try and make a kind of R&B record or soul record and so listening to a lot of that kind of music, especially a lot of '80s boogie and bands like Imagination or Shalamar played into that." Greenspan hesitates to view the album as retro, however. "The album has less reference to dance music than the ones before and, by proxy, dance music has that kind of futurism to it. When a band comes and plays guitar, bass and drums nobody goes and says 'You kinda sound like Buddy Holly & the Crickets!' So when you use synths, because there was so much pop music using synths in the '80s you sort of have to answer those kind of questions. I always resent that a little bit."
Greenspan concedes that the period was an inspiration for Junior Boys, however. "What's interesting about music in 1982 is that it seemed more removed from the Beatles or from the '60s than music in 1992. For me that was an exciting thing and the promise of dance music ― techno, rave and all of that stuff ― was tapping into that futurism and that was what was exciting for me." The singer explains that it was important for him not to write pop songs using guitar, bass and drums. "I wanted to learn all of the techniques and all of the ideas I had gotten from dance music and apply them to making pop music so I've always tried to stay true to that original intention."