Don’t call it a comeback. Because it isn’t really. That said, the critical response to Junior Boys’ third album, 2009’s Begone Dull Care was markedly less enthusiastic than that of their debut and sophomore efforts. June’s It’s All True saw songwriter and producer Jeremy Greenspan mulling over his place in the electronic music world and the world in general as he absorbed the influences of a stay in China and commercial R’n’B radio stations he picked up at home in Canada from across the border.
I keep reading about the supposed influences of your trip to China on this record, and of Chinese musicians playing on it but I don’t know anything about Chinese music. What influence did it have?
I didn’t want to make it so that it sounded like some world music record, it just so happened that I was in China and I was there for a couple of months and I did some writing while I was there and I used some Chinese musicians. I didn’t put a huge amount of thought into how that would affect the record, I was just working, you know? Working in a different place and working in a different atmosphere. On the first two songs on the record there’s Chinese instruments and in fact we’re just finishing another EP with a song with the most amount of Chinese instruments on it that we did there. Being in a different place and being in an unusual place has its effect on you, especially somewhere so different and so…
Entirely alien in terms of culture.
It is. Especially considering that it has such a vast culture that is so foreign to me but also being in Shanghai, it’s a city which is undergoing a very fast and extreme transformation so it has a cool excitement to it. Being in Shanghai now is probably similar to being in New York City in 1905.
For me, a lot of the concerns of the record are about your place in the musical world, or your career – all those kinds of every day thoughts. And being in China made those concerns seem somewhat irrelevant because you get that worldly sense of what is going on in spite of your small concerns. My small concerns being the world of independent electronic music!
Did you have any ground rules that you set about for this album – any external limits on what you were going to write about or how you were going to write it?
Well I knew thematically what I wanted to discuss but in terms of the music I had this vague idea of making an R’n’B record.
Do you mean R’n’B in the old-school sense of in the modern sense?
I don’t know that there’s much a distinction in my mind, I think of it being linear. To be fair, I would have thought of it in a modern sense because I didn’t think I was going to try to make a revivalist, Joss Stone-sounding record! One of our saving graces is that we’re not very good at doing what it is we set out to do. So in reality, its not like we ended up making an R’n’B record at all. We ended up making a Junior Boys record. The importance of thinking about it in terms of the R’n’B record meant the way that the songs were started. Basically, if I was resolved to not making a dance record, that informed the tempo choices I was going to be making. With this record we varied the tempos much more dramatically. We started off the record with the fastest song we’ve ever done but the second song on it is the slowest song we’ve ever done. We obviously come from a background of dance music but I think at a certain point we wanted to be able to not make a straight up dance record but at the same time didn’t want to make an alienating indie record either. So how do you make pop music that is dance-infused that isn’t straight up dance music? And I guess the answer for me was R’n’B.
How important is the live element for you?
It’s become increasingly important doing the live thing because we do so much of it at the moment, but its kind of an afterthought in a way because playing live doesn’t reflect how we go about writing the music. We write songs in the studio and then transport them over to a live thing. We’re not unusual in that sense. We are a studio band but we’re also not a karaoke set. We spend a huge amount amount of time thinking about how to make things sound really good live because we knew instinctively that we weren’t great performer type people. We make things very difficult and expensive for ourselves to pull it off!
What are your favourite things from last year, in terms of music, film, TV, books – anything you want to recommend.
For me, it was mainly listening to a lot of R’n’B. There’s a station from Buffalo, New York that’s near me called WDLK, I just listen to it all the time. All of my favourite tracks from last year were pretty commercial R’n’B like Lupe Fiasco and Wiz Khalifa and Chris Brown. It’s hard being a Chris Brown fan, he’s a pretty gross guy! But Look At Me Now is one of my favourite tracks of the year. Words: Ian Lamont