Junior Boys Interview

Album “Big Black Coat“ (2016)

How did you approach the new album?

Jeremy Greenspan: Even though it was made over a few years, most of the record was made this last winter. So the record feels like a winter-record, made in our home town of Hamilton, Ontario, which is a post-industrial steel city in Canada. And I wanted to capture the mood and feel and smells and all that of this kind of bleek, dark, cold, wintery city.

So it is an album about the city?

Jeremy Greenspan: Yeah, but a special kind of city – not a city like New York or Berlin. It’s kind of an almost dying city. A city that most people don’t know, but that is filled with people nonetheless. And lots of people live in cities like that.

So how did you approach that? Matt, you’re still living in Berlin, right?

Matt Didemius: I went back several times per year over the course of the three, four years since the last record. And we made the record when I was there. And then Jeremy did some things on his own, and some things I started here. And then we, basically, in a short amount of time completed the songs while working there.

What does arriving in Hamilton feel like?

Matt Didemius: It’s one of this things about your home town: you’re very comfortable to insult it yourself, but the second that somebody else does, you become incredibly offended. So we might say: “Oh, fuck! This is bullshit, this is terrible!” But the second someone else – particularly another Canadian – were to say something like “Oh, Hamilton, that’s a piece of shit!”, you’d feel inclined… Those are fighting word, you know.

Jeremy Greenspan: The other thing is: very few people outside of Canada have heard of Hamilton. And because people haven’t heard of it, they get the impression that it’s some small town. But it’s a city of 800.000 people, it’s a big city by Canadian standards. So it’s not like living in a small town. It’s like living in a city – just a really weird one.

Hamilton is located on the shore of Lake Ontario – it must be beautiful there.

Track 05

Jeremy Greenspan: It’s one of these cities that would be more well known, were it not fot the fact that Hamilton is so close, geographically, to a much bigger city, which is Toronto. And Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, and it’s about an hours drive from Hamilton, which in Europe is a fairly long drive, but in Canada that’s like the shortest possible drive between cities you could imagine.

Is the sound of Hamilton embedded in the album?

Jeremy Greenspan: I don’t know, because I’m the one who makes the music or whatever. But I’m making music that’s about my city, about my life, about the people that I know in Hamilton. I’m not a person who hangs out with other electronic musicians or whatever. I’m a person who hangs out with people from Hamilton who are working and living in Hamilton, Ontario. And that’s what I know, and that’s what my live is all about, you know.

Matt, has living in Berlin changed your taste in music, and did it have an influence on the new album?

Matt Didemius: I don’t really feel like my taste has changed. It’s sort of been more or less the same my whole life. Well, not my whole life, there’s little dips and variations, but it’s not like I… You know, you hear these things that people go to some city and then they say: “That moment I knew!” There was never any Berlin epiphany or anything like that. It’s the music I listened to before, that I still listen to.

Jeremy Greenspan: The main thing is: all the music is more or less made in Hamilton. Some of Matt’s contributions started in Berlin, but the music is all made in Hamilton. And I don’t have to teach Matt what Hamilton’s all about. Matt’s a Hamiltonian. I we went off and made an album in the Bahamas or something, I’m sure it would probably be a sunnier record, you know. You sort of soak up those things. But recording studios are kind of secluded, isolated places, and the recording studio that we have in Canada is… My girlfirend always jokes and says: “It feels like a womb in there.” It’s not properly ventilated, it’s so hot. You just get in, it’s hot, is isolated, there’s no windows, there is no outside world in the studio – it’s just the studio. Anything from the outside world is just the stuff you’re bringing in to it, and for me studios are just the same all over the world.

Which studio did you record at?

Jeremy Greenspan: This is my studio. Matt has a studio in Germany, in Berlin, that he does his own production stuff in. But my studio is the one where all the Junior Boys records are made.

Is there a recording schedule?

Jeremy Greenspan: I have a very strict policy, actually, I always go to my studio every single day. So I got to my studio every single day and I always do something, some kind of thing. I’ve a very routinized way of life. Hamilton’s not a city with many distractions. It’s not like I’m up clubbing all night. There’s no parties for me to go to or whatever. I go to my studio every single day, and I work on music every day.

Matt Didemius: When we work together, it’s usually quite concentrated, because I’m there for recording. We don’t go there early in the morning, but we meet in the early afternoon, we usually work until the evening and then come back to the studio again after. So it’s a concentrated push. It’s easy to get out of the routine. So if you go in the studio and force yourself to do stuff – if you have your own studio… It’s good when you have the time to enforce some kind of restriction to push yourself to go and treat it like a job.

Why did it take so long?

Matt Didemius: We didn’t stop doing music at any point, it was just that we didn’t choose to release what we had recorded. It just got shelled. The songs on the records are 11 of 30 or so that will never see the light of day.

Jeremy Greenspan: The big thing for me was… We didn’t stop working, we kept on working, and we could have released another album two years ago, if we had wanted to. There was enough material, it just wasn’t good. It wasn’t very good material. We didn’t have a record contract, we fulfilled our contract with Domino who was our last label. And because we didn’t have a contract, there was nobody who was asking us first off. That was great. It meant that we could take as long as we wanted. And in the meantime I did an album with Jessy Lanza that I co-wrote and co produced. That took up a tremendous amount of time. And if you listen to this fake interview after January the 15th, you’ll know that I was also writing and producing Jessy Lanza’s second album while I was doing this Junior Boys album as well. So there was a huge amount of music work being done in the last four years. It will actually end up that I will have done four albums worth of music, if you count this Junior Boys album, all the solo releases I did, and then the two Jessy Lanza albums. It’s a lot of stuff, it just feels longer than it does.

What does you “hot“ studio sound like?

Jeremy Greenspan: I’ve always thought that there is all this kind of music that I listen to and that I try to make. I listen to an R’n’B song or some dance song and I say: “I want to make something just like that.” And I go and I try to make it sound just like the song that I wanted it to sound like. And I think I’ve been lucky – in the sense that I’m not good at sounding like the stuff I want to sound like. I can only sound the way our stuff sounds, or the way Jessy Lanza and me sound, or the way that Matt an I sound. I can only sound like that, I’m not able to… Some people can just sound like whatever they want to sound like – I can’t.

Matt Didemius: But I think that you do not only have one sound…

Jeremy Greenspan: No, but I’m not good a copying stuff. I can’t hear something and then duplicate that. And I think that’s actually a good thing, because if I was able to do that, then I probably would always do that. I’ve learnt to embrace my own limitations, I think.

After listening to the album, I would have never guessed that it was recorded in deep winter.

Jeremy Greenspan: That’s an amazing thing about music. I just see it as deep, dark winter music. And you see it as driving around in summer music. That’s music!

Matt Didemius: Maybe with Jeremy’s lyrics… Or that it has this vaguely sexual.. Or has a sexual vibe… But I don’t see… I don’t know, it feels pretty wintery to me, but that’s more in the way the songs… It’s hard to… I don’t know.

Jeremy Greenspan: I had a rule with writing all the lyrics for the album. I wanted to write everything quickly and I wanted to write about desperation, about desperate people who are not able to explain themselves emotionally. And I think that usually just comes out as a kind of raw lust or something like that. And because it was written quickly and it’s saying the word ‘baby’ over and over again, it’s just all about trying to have that feeling of a desperate immediacy – and that is sex. That’s what all great pop songs are for me. That’s what they are all about, so that’s what I wanted to do.

But the lyrics aren’t to be taken completely seriously, are they?

Jeremy Greenspan: No! No, they’re not. I want people to feel kind of weird and uncomfortable. I want people to find it kind of funny, I want people to find it serious, I want them to feel all the things you feel when you see people. No, I’m not serious in a sense that I want people to be sitting there reading my lyrics like poems. Because they are not poems. They are lyrics to pop songs.

The synths sound different to me. What’s the story behind that?

Matt Didemius: We wanted to make some departure from the previous stuff. I don’t think there was an intention to make a clean break, like we’d suddenly do a Jazz album or something like that. But you have certain conventions which you can start to fall into when you’re doing things after a while. And part of the reason that it sounds different as well was that we afforded the time to go through the material and pick what we want – something that sounded different. And with regards to the synths, we change synths probably more than we change clothes.

Jeremy Greenspan: Speaking also to what you were saying earlier, where you were like: “Did you feel this urgency to do anything when you were running out of money?” Well, for me things were so successful with Jessy Lanza, in so far as I did an album with someone who was a complete unknown and then we put it out and it did so much better than Jessy and I ever anticipated. Suddenly there was this other music career. That was obviously exciting for me. And it also meant that I didn’t have to do Junior Boys. I could make Jessy Lanza albums, I could do whatever I want. So when we came to doing the Junior Boys album, I felt like after one year or two years of writing when I didn’t have a bunch of songs that I liked that much, I was like: “No, I’m not gonna put this out, because I don’t want to and I don’t have to.” I wasn’t going broke and we could afford to take the time to make sure that we put out a record that we actually were into.

So you bought a lot of new gear?

Jeremy Greenspan: Changing gear for us doesn’t mean buying a new expensive synthesizer. It can mean something as simple as changing the room that your equipment is in. Or changing the most smallest, subtlelest detail about equipment that you have, that makes the equipment that you’re using seem new and interesting to you. It could be as simple as, literally, putting your synthesizers on a new table that suddenly gets you more engaged with them in some different way.

Matt Didemius: As well as these temporary things, too. Someone might give you a cool pedal that you have for two days, and you record something with that. And we both got to do some cool studio recordings in places that had some unusual instruments and synthesizers we would never get to own. So you capture these little moments and then incorporate them into a song.

Sounds like the 80s, doesn’t it?

Jeremy Greenspan: There’s a tonal palette that people associate with the 80s which is the palette of synthesizers. And of course we use a lot of synthesizers from various eras. We use a lot a synthesizers from the 80s, we use a fair amount of synthesizers from the 70s, more and more I’m into synthesizers from the 90s, and then we use a huge amount of contemporary gear. But people associate that sonic palette of synthesizers with the 80s, because that’s when they were first introduced. I do think of the 1980s as a very special time for music in so far as it’s a time of incredible experimentation and incredible departure from everything that came before. So that’s what I find inspiring about that time, but I don’t try and make music that sounds like it’s from the 80s. I wouldn’t be that good at it. And we don’t make music that could have been made in the 80s. There’s just too much equipment and there’s too many production things that are happening in the music that just wasn’t around in the 80s. So we couldn’t have achieved the sound unless we were like gazillionaires.

So what are those things that you actually did not want to copy?

Jeremy Greenspan: There’s a kind of nucleus of musical interest that I always veer around. One is modern R’n’B and the other is Techno and Dance Music, and there’s Synth Pop and Post Punk music, like New Wave Synth Pop music. That sort of nucleus of things that I’m interested in are the ones that I’m always rotating around and sometimes one of those things becomes more dominant than the other. But that’s my basic things that I’m interested in musically. There are certain types of music that I just have no interest in, that are just not part of my repertoire at all, and so if you hear this influence of classic Synth Pop on there, it’s because it’s there.

Is it sometimes difficult to come to an agreement?

Jeremy Greenspan: Matt and I live in different places. So a lot of the work has been me by myself and then there’s another half of it that I do with Matt. The distance between us – phyiscally, geographically – means that we don’t see each other every day and that we are not involved in each other’s personal lives in that way everyday like we were when we were 15 or whatever. But we’ve never had that issue of being in the studio and not knowing how to communicate. We have almost exactly the same ideas about what’s good and what’s not good, musically. I have certain leanings that I lean towards and Matt has certain leanings that he leans towards, but we basically are on the same scope of influences. Pretty much, yeah. And I think we also give each other a huge amount of flexibility. If Matt thinks that something is good and he’s interested in pursuing it, then I’m going to trust that that’s going to be something good. And I think it’s the same way around.

What’s the story behind the album title?

Jeremy Greenspan: Well, it’s just the name of the last song on the record. And actually, the album had a different title for the longest time. While I was working on it, it had one title. And then it had another title when it got mastered. And then right at the end it had this last title “Big Black Coat”. I was never happy with the titles and then I thought we should call it “Big Black Coat”, because for me it was like a metaphor for a couple of things. It was a metaphor for the feeling of a Canadian winter and building something in the winter, and also the fact that it was like a black coat, it was kind of like a reference back to a sort of nostalgia when we started making music and becoming interested in electronic music in the 90s and everybody I knew wore big, black coats. Like big Goth coats, or shiny bomber jackets and things like that.