By Jessica Jordan-Wrench
The eclecticism of their latest recording, “It’s All True” (Domino, 2011), is striking. Junior Boys paint from a broad palette of influences, with unabashed (if also unintentional) abandon. As Matt Didemus, a half of the Canadian duo alongside Jeremy Greenspan explains, the breadth of their sound is a liberating force, their genre-hopping experimentations belie the confines of a specific scene: “By defying definitions, we are not limited by them”. Consequentially, we are rewarded with the pivot shifting pulse of disco-house - textured by UK Funky - within the structure of a classic pop song. Furthermore, Didemus’ draws inspiration from beyond the boundaries of the music industry – “Artistically we are influenced by everything!” – celebrating the cross-pollination of artistic mediums.
Yet, despite the diversity of Junior Boys output, it is far from aimless – gaining constancy from the emotional generosity of its composers. Like a well-honed mix tape, the heart of its compiler weaves a path through the music; their honesty threads close the sound. We caught up with Matt, and here’s how it went.
“It’s All True” possesses an eclectic sound. Was it a conscious decision to draw from a wide range of influences?
It’s not intentionally eclectic – we didn’t set out to make an eclectic album – but I guess we do have a wide range of influences. We listen to a lot of House, Techno and Disco. Not so much older stuff, a bit of New Wave perhaps.
Do your influences extend to the non-musical variety?
Absolutely! Artistically we are influenced by everything!
I understand that your third album was heavily inspired by the animator Norman McClaren, for example.
Yes. That was Jeremy’s idea. He really saw Norman McClaren as a kindred spirit, in terms of his methods and ideas. His creative ideals fit with how we wanted to approach music.
I enjoy the cross-pollination of artistic mediums. I understand you in turn invited people to make videos for your album tracks?
Yes, that was a few years ago. We ran a competition with our record label. Anyone could submit a video and there was a cash prize. I don’t remember how much . . .
It was 1000 dollars.
[laughs] Yes. We got a lot of entries. Some really cool ones. They all got posted onto a site and a lot of people got together to judge it. It was really cool.
I understand you formed in 1999 – but your first release wasn’t for four years. Why was that?
It was a combination of different things. Initially we didn’t feel there was any rush – we were young, we were finding our way musically, listening to a lot of stuff. Then when we decided we were ready to put something out – there was no strong interest from record companies! Eventually, some friends put some of our tracks on a website – streaming them – which garnered some attention . . . a few journalists . . .
From early on, you’ve had some pretty amazing people re-mixing your work – Caribou, Fennesz – how did that come about?
We’ve known Daniel [Caribou] for a very long time. We grew up in the same city – he’s one of our best friends. We made a list of people we would be keen to remix our work and Fennesz was on it, that one just seemed natural.
The vocals on “It’s All True” stand out. Lyrically, it feels quite upfront. To what extent are they autobiographical?
Well I can’t really give a definitive answer to that, as Jeremy writes the lyrics. I don’t think they are particularly autobiographical – they’re more often inspired by an image or idea. But [pauses] I think they are perhaps more personal on this album then in the past. Yeah, more autobiographical than previously, I would say.
In terms of production, your work takes full advantage of a well-equipped studio - how does that translate live?
Yes! We are very much a studio band! Some of our songs have over 100 tracks. Obviously that’s pretty tricky to recreate live. We have to make modifications. We have a live drummer for example. It’s about finding a balance: we want to create a live experience, but we are not the same as going to see a band play live. Over the years I think we are getting better at finding the balance. Initially we had no idea – it was really awkward! But now – after 6 or 7 years – I think we’ve learned to be more thoughtful.
Would you equate the atmosphere to more like that of a club then, rather than a traditional gig?
I think it really depends on the venue - whether we are playing a festival or a tiny club. We try to avoid playing our slower work live - they are difficult to translate. We tend to play our poppier ones . . . get people dancing! It’s difficult because we are kind of an in-between music, we’re a mix.
It’s interesting you say “in-between music”. Do you associate yourself with a particular genre or scene?
No. I don’t think we are rooted in a specific genre or scene and that is a real strength for us. By defying definitions, we are not limited by them. We allow more flexibility. But if I had to choose I would say we make pop music - particularly in terms of structure. I also think we are heavily influenced by dance music. We make dance tracks that aren’t dance tracks!
What did you grow up listening to?
Largely electronic music. We did a lot of half-amateur djing. But then we listened to people like Neil Young too . . .
I hear you moved to Berlin recently.
Yeah – I moved to Berlin four years ago! It makes travel more difficult. I go back to Canada for extended periods – a month, six weeks . . .
Has the move been a major influence on your output?
Of course, it’s an influential force – Berlin has a strong identity – but I don’t think we really fit the Berlin sound. Unlike a lot of people we didn’t go there to make music – we weren’t there to ‘make a record in Berlin’. But living in the city does influence us. We are exposed to certain gigs, producers clubs . . . to the Berlin sound. “It’s All True”, their forth album, consolidates Junior Boys’ presence as one of the finest pop acts of the last decade. We talked to Matt Didemus to discuss equipment, recording locations and a bit of history of the Canadian duo.
Review: “ It’s All True”