Junior Boys Band Interview: Conflict & Confluence

“Selling art doesn’t bother me. Making insipid, vacuous art bothers me. The cult of personality bothers me especially because I feel as though I have very little to offer. I’m a bad self-promoter, and I’m constantly reminded of how bad a trait that is for an artist to have.” — Jeremy Greenspan

When it comes to the very basic language and musical form of Junior Boys’ fourth full-length release, It’s All True, there is very little obscurity. Clearly, it is an album that only contains words from the English language. Clearly, the music is fairly customary for indie electronic musicians of the Western world. However, a deeper look at the album actually reveals that the songs speak in many different tongues. Whether it is the striking contrast of upbeat electronic music and dark lyrics, which each tell conflicting stories, or the worldly expeditions that were necessary to complete the songs, It’s All True turns out to be somewhat of an affirmation of a universal language. Not only did the making of the album cross cultural barriers, but it also explores themes such as, honesty, deceit and authenticity, which have been questioned repeatedly by people over time and around the world in varying ways.

“Selling art doesn’t bother me. Making insipid, vacuous art bothers me. The cult of personality bothers me especially because I feel as though I have very little to offer. I’m a bad self-promoter, and I’m constantly reminded of how bad a trait that is for an artist to have. I think that it is sad and frustrating.” — Jeremy Greenspan, of Junior Boys

Conflicting Stories

Though songwriter and vocalist Jeremy Greenspan technically started Junior Boys in 1999 with now former band member Johnny Dark, most people know Junior Boys as Greenspan and engineer Matt Didemus, who entered the picture in 2002. For almost 10 years, Greenspan and Didemus have shown the world that they can make fun tunes with punchy electronics that make listeners want to dance. It’s All True is no different. The first – and most immediate – story the album paints is light and upbeat, typical of a dance record. Like opening track “Itchy Fingers,” the songs are sultry, enticing, and full of bright keys and wiggling tones.

F For Fake is loosely a documentary which focuses on Elmyr de Hory’s recounting of his career as a professional art forger.

It’s All True features three stories about Latin America. ‘Bonito the Bull’, retitled ‘My Friend Bonito’, was about a Mexican boy’s friendship with a bull; ‘The Story of Samba’ was centered around Brazil’s 1942 Carnaval; ‘Four Men On A Raft’ was a reenactment of a Time Magazine article about four impoverished Brazilian fisherman who traveled 61 days and 1,650 miles in harsh weather and without navigation instruments.

The second story is quite different, when a listener realizes the lyrics of “Itchy Fingers” are clever but a bit condescending. Lines like “It’s never easy to tell if you’re playing with my mind” and “Baby I won’t blame you if you go and find something better to do/ We call it moving on” show deep damage and bitterness. It is the result of a deceitful relationship and the victim’s struggle between keeping it cool and showing bruises.

That marriage of happy sounding instrumentation and profound poetry is something that Greenspan says he enjoys crafting.

“The happier the music sounded, the more honest and self-pitying I was willing to be,” he says. “I think it gave me a sort of license to honesty, because morose music with those lyrics would’ve seemed self-indulgent to me.”

The contrast on It’s All True allowed Greenspan to do something a bit different, as he mentions that he started feeling an expectation to continue with the minor key sound found on earlier Junior Boys records. Incidentally, the idea of a minor key sound transposed itself to the intense lyrical content, which has ties with Orson Welles. Greenspan credits Welles’ work as inspiration for the album. Not only is the album named after an unfinished Welles film about Brazil, but Greenspan also closely studied Welles other films, such as, F For Fake.

“I took influence from his themes and his ability to tackle the subjects of aging, confidence and truth, from the perspective of an artist,” Greenspan says.

“What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I’m afraid the pompous word for that is art.”
Orson Welles, in F For Fake, 1973

F For Fake, for example, loosely uses the documentary story of a professional art forger to examine ideas of authorship, authenticity, and the value of art. Greenspan connects those themes to the high value that is given to marketing tactics.

“For me, I was less interested in griping about marketing taking precedence over art as a whole, and more about the role of artists as marketers,” he says. “Selling art doesn’t bother me. Making insipid, vacuous art bothers me. The cult of personality bothers me especially because I feel as though I have very little to offer. I’m a bad self-promoter, and I’m constantly reminded of how bad a trait that is for an artist to have. I think that it is sad and frustrating.”

Listen to Junior Boys’ “Itchy Fingers”DOWNLOAD MP3

So patient, so kind
It’s never easy to tell
If you’re playing with my mind
You hide your itchy fingers well

Are you really awake
Or just afloat at the top
Keep living on season it’s barely enough
Do you wanna just asell it off

Do you wanna just stop
In the back of the room
You keep asking me away for a minute or two
Oh what was she supposed to do yeah

Baby I won’t blame you
If you go and find something better to do
We call it moving on
You can call it moving on

Barely barely back home
Like a little fly
Like a little fly stuck in the window
Dying to get inside

What if you do
Would you go back outside
Out where they’ll crush you with a paper folded
Just to see you die

— lyrical excerpt from “Itchy Fingers”

Cultural Confluence

With his eagerness for doing something different and the need to get his mind off the pressures of marketing, Greenspan was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend two months in China during the early writing stages of It’s All True. Greenspan visited his sister who lives in Shanghai and used the trip as a way to immerse himself in a world that did not have the same North American mindset of what is considered to be hip.

While Greenspan had no intention of incorporating a Chinese influence into the record, he did want to work with musicians from the area. He exhausted a few avenues and ended up contracting musicians through a studio that made music for advertisements.

“The whole experience was pretty funny,” Greenspan says. “I mean, it was me and my haphazard studio that I made in an apartment, the musicians, and a team of translators. The translators ended up being useless because they didn’t understand musical terms like ‘scales’ and ‘time signatures,’ so we ended up communicating by playing a little MIDI device at each other.”

The collaboration between Greenspan and the Chinese musicians is an impressive accomplishment as the album shows no signs of disconnect. “Itchy Fingers” and “Playtime” even feature some Chinese string instruments, which all fuse well with the Junior Boys sound.

Another instance where there could have been a disconnect was after Greenspan’s trip when he joined Didemus to finish the record. As Greenspan lives in Ontario, Canada and Didemus lives in Berlin, the distance put a bit of a burden on them. While Greenspan had very specific experiences in China, he says that sharing his ideas with Didemus was not the hard part. Rather, the difficulty lied in getting closure after their cross-Atlantic trips.

“I think the hardest part is knowing when it’s done,” he says. “There is a sorta post-album depression that you have to endure.”

While the process of making It’s All True hit on different anxieties and Greenspan might not consider himself a great marketing man, the music speaks for itself. The honesty that he seeks shines in the musicianship and enlightening lyrics.

Listen: Junior Boys Remixes

Junior Boys – You’ll Improve Me (Caribou Remix) by DominoRecordCo

Junior Boys – Banana Ripple (2 Bears Remix) by DominoRecordCo

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[…] “You’ll Improve Me” is actually my first choice for tracks from It’s All True — but “Itchy Fingers” comes close. As with all Junior Boys tracks, subsequent listens will reveal the stuff brewing underneath is way weird. VIVIAN JUNIOR BOYS BAND INTERVIEW […]

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