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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

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.”

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