Junior Boys found themselves in a rough place at the tail end of 2012. The duo had taken studio album ‘It’s All True’ on the road, but found themselves exhausted in every sense – creatively, physically, mentally, emotionally.
Jeremy Greenspan isn’t one to look back, and casting his mind over those events puts a grimace in his voice. “We were spent, as it were,” he explained. “We'd done the tour, and it was a rough time. There were some deaths in the family, it was just a heavy time. We needed to take a break.”
So that’s exactly what they did. For a while there, Junior Boys seemed to disappear into the ether, with Jeremy taking up all manner of other projects. Producing fellow Hamilton, Ontario resident Jessy Lanza’s debut record for Hyperdub exposed the Canadian musician to a number of fresh possibilities, and it’s artistic success caused him to re-visit his own material. “Working with someone else, and their methods, it gets you thinking about working in different ways, inspires you in different ways,” he explains. “It's only after that album was finished and out that I started thinking about really doing a completely different kind of Junior Boys album. I threw out all the stuff I had been working on and just started anew.”
Returning to Junior Boys with a fresh perspective, the duo began working at a frenetic pace. Afraid of over-thinking their next move, the pair decided to simply slap each idea down as they came, amassing hours of material in the process. “We wanted to work fast,” he insists. “On the last couple of Junior Boys records, we made them more and more complicated, with all these different changes in modulation, and all this kind of stuff. And with this record, the idea was: let's not do that, let's do as many tracks as we can. Fire them out. Whichever ones we like are the ones that we keep.”
“And that's what we did,” he continues. “Firing off ideas and not spending too much time with them. The virtue of that, that's what makes everything sound a little bit more raw, a little bit more immediate, maybe. Not so constructed, but maybe a little bit more buzzing, and a little bit more energy.”
- - -
- - -
The results certainly have a lot of energy. New album ‘Big Black Coat’ has a sparkling luminescence, shuffling between house abandon and the tones and rhythms of pristine modern R&B. It’s quite the journey. “I always liked the sound of things that are in between genres,” the producer explains. “Where it hasn't solidified into something that sounds rote, or commercialised, or determined.”
“I think what attracts me to modern R&B and hip-hop is that usually it's able to side-step those problems by having a cultural capital on innovation, where the weirder things are the more appreciated. Which you don't have in a lot of other pop music. I tend to like all the stuff that sounds... sort of ‘outsider’. I think that term is right – it's sort of between genres. Ideas that are coalescing, but by the time it becomes something that actually has a name, it's already done.”
There’s a curious pop element to ‘Big Black Coat’ – it’s there in the vocals, in the purring sighs of ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ or the slurping electro-funk of ‘Baby Give Up On It’. Indeed, this is perhaps one of Junior Boys’ most vocally adventurous records, taking enormous liberties with the melody line and placing effects on top of each honeyed line. As we speak, Jessy Lanza is rehearsing in Jeremy’s studio, and it’s clear that the Hyperdub artist has left an enormous impact on his own working methods.
“I've produced songs for other vocalists, and people tend to be quite precious about their vocals, they think of their vocals as being something quite separate from the rest of the song. Jessy's not like that – Jessy views her vocals as another instrument. And that's what I did with the Junior Boys - I liked working on the vocals in a way that divorced them from myself. In a way, I felt as though the songs, thematically, were about other people, so they weren't really about me. So I kind of liked the whole way in which when I was working on it, it didn't necessarily sound like me. I honestly got off on that, so I kept at it.”
- - -
Whichever ones we like are the ones that we keep.
- - -
What emerges is a curiously eclectic album – opening cut ‘You Say That’ is distorted, mutant R&B, while ‘Over It’ is slick 80s machine funk; ‘No One’s Business’ is an ambient bubble bath, leading to the jackin’ proto-techno of ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’. Its sheer breadth alone, I offer, is startling.
“Well, I used to have a sort of notion that an eclectic album is a bad thing,” he explains. “And I still kind of believe that, in the sense that if an album doesn't capture a mood or a singular tone, then at a certain point it ceases to be an album, because an album should draw you into a world. But what I've learned about myself is that I'm not that good as doing anything that doesn't sound like me. It all just sounds like me.”
“So for example, I listen to a lot of R&B, and this year a producer got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to do some beats for him. And obviously it just sounded like me. I was trying to do some R&B beats but it just didn't work. It sounded like the stuff we do. Or the stuff I do with Jessy. It all just comes off sounding that way, so no matter what I try to do there's a kind of unifying thing that brings it all together. So it frees me up in a way to try more eclectic things, because I feel pretty confident that it's all going to have a centre, a core, that is unifying.”
It’s a theme that recurs again and again throughout our conversation – Junior Boys shouldn’t be something that is forced, it’s something that simply is. What emerges at their finest moments is both completely natural and startlingly original, by virtue of the original voices at the core of the project. “Not to toot my horn,” he says at one point, “but I have always felt that one thing that I like about the band, is that I don't think it necessarily has a name, or fits perfectly into a genre, in a record store or someplace like that. And so, I think that's something I'm always careful about.”
‘Big Black Coat’ is the duo’s first album in five years, and it’s also their first on their new home of City Slang. It’s a fresh start, in many ways, and comes as Jeremy Greenspan prepares to put the finishing touches to his latest record with Jessy Lanza. With such a schedule, the producer doesn’t want to be pinned down on any future Junior Boys plans. “I have no idea, but I would say this much: I'm not the kind of person that would ever announce my retirement.”
Then he starts to chuckle. “Well, to be perfectly honest, actually, I am working on some new Junior Boys material. So I can see their being another EP or something very, very shortly, but beyond that I don't have a lot of plans. But, I would say that I definitely have absolutely no plan to stop doing Junior Boys, or to stop doing anything, for that matter. I'm a bit of a busy-body, y'know?”
On the phone from his studio, synths piled high in the background as Jessy Lanza warms up for another rehearsal, those words ring true – ‘Big Black Coat’ may well be Junior Boys’ first album in five years, but they’re certainly busy-bodies.
- - -
- - -
'Big Black Coat' will be released on February 5th.
Catch Junior Boys live:
12 Glasgow Stereo
14 Ramsgate Music Hall
16 London Oslo SOLD OUT