Boys’ own story
Ontario duo Matt Didemus and Jeremy Greenspan, aka Junior Boys, have succeeded in exploring more emotional territory with every album, Greenspan tells Siobhán Kane
ORSON WELLES may be an unusual starting point for a dance album, but Junior Boys singer Jeremy Greenspan makes no excuses for finding him both relevant and inspirational. “I rewatched his last movie, F for Fake, which is really a docudrama about making art, and his own struggles with himself, and whether art is illusion or honesty, and that was so inspiring. Welles gave me creative licence, but you don’t have to have seen his movies to get into the record.”
In many ways, Junior Boys’ latest album, It’s All True (the name of Welles’s famously unfinished 1942 film) is about the shapeshifting expectations that can come from creating art. “I should be in the main theme. Born to compete, you should know me” is a lyrical snippet from Playtime. They have been here before, but this timewelles is the touchstone.
Junior Boys’ music is so layered, it unfurls itself with each listen, and the production is full of artistry, having more in common with what was coming out of early Detroit, and a golden period for r’n’b in the 1990s with producers such as Timbaland and Rodney Jerkins.
“Hamilton, Ontario is pretty close to Detroit, so I was at those raves. What I like about dance music is the fact it can be such an intense listening experience. It wasmy generation’s punk, people doing what they wanted.
“If you listen to a lot of early Detroit techno, or early Robert Hood or Dan Bell – the minimal scene had this super subtle variation going on, you were listening to subtle filter sweeps on a snare drum. Now it’s knock-you-on-your-head music.
“In early UK hardcore dance, drum and bass was about subtle and precise changes, and for me that has been lost. I listen to a lot of modern r’n’b and I don’t think any of it is as exciting as it was. I never know whether music was actually better when I was younger, or if I am turning into a curmudgeon.
“That was something that informed this new record because it is a big sphere, making music, but also ingesting and digesting musically what is happening around you.”
This sense of anxiety about almost everything creates an honesty in the work of Junior Boys. From 2004’s Last Exit, to the searing melancholy of 2006’s So This Is Goodbye, to their last two records that have been somewhat concept-driven, with 2009’s Begone Dull Care holding its breath, It’s All True provides a sense of completion. It’s as if the four records were chapters in an epic novel.
“The completeness is bound up in getting older and an acceptance that you might start being terrible. If it happens, how do I protect what I have made? I don’t make any secret of being a big David Sylvian fan, and Mick Karn just died, which is so sad, but we now know that there is never going to be another Japan record, and isn’t that great?”
Greenspan’s black humour is something that filters throughout the conversation, but Junior Boys’ musical world is more melancholy, and Greenspan’s vocals, which are softly direct, provides a sense of intimacy that rattles but resonates, leaving both musician and listener vulnerable.
“The ironic thing is while making our first record, and even So This is Goodbye to some extent, my mental state was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, whereas the last two records are more honest emotionally than the first two, and I started writing the last record when I was in a very bad place. I am much better now, but I was very low. I was also heartbroken about what had happened with Begone Dull Care as I worked so hard, and felt it didn’t connect in the way I wanted.
“Making music is a real crutch in my life. This is a thing that musicians are blessed with, if you are happy with what you are doing it is the best therapy you can imagine. I didn’t want to release this record in a way, and endure the guy who listened to it for five minutes on his blog and says ‘this is shit’. I felt like I just wanted to give it to my friends, but I also value having a career making music.”
Back to anxiety versus instinct again. We talk about the idea that perhaps Orsonwelles was such a genius because he could never shake off his self-doubt, mixing frailty with an unstoppable ego.
“The great paradox of Welles is that he makes F for Fake, which is about the cult of personality, yet there is a scene where he says the finest human creation should be the cathedral at Chartres in France, because it is a perfect piece of art that has no author, because there is no record of who the architect is, so it stands alone, and you judge it solely on its value as a piece of art.”
This generosity towards art for art’s sake is something that Greenspan also possesses, through supporting other musicians such as Caribou or Miracle Fortress along the way.
“I am far more pessimistic about myself than other people. Miracle Fortress’s new record is a great record. He has this uncanny talent for melody, and I sort of feel that will carry him through. I think he will be a big success one day, but that might not be true at all – who knows!
“I have a friend who I have done music with called Chris Cummings, who goes under the name Mantler. He is without question the most talented songwriter I have ever known, a living genius, like a modern-day Harry Nilsson, but he can’t get a break. That injustice can drive you crazy, and all of that fuelled this record, these phonies who do so well – it’s awful.”