Analogue Music | Junior Boys

Junior Boys

By Matt Conner

Jeremy Greenspan has some requests for you.

It's not as if the Junior Boys haven't already made some demands of their fans given that they took six years to deliver another record after 2016's Big Black Coat. However, with the good news of Waiting Game's arrival comes another ask from the duo—which also includes Matt Didemus—in the very way you take in the album itself.

Waiting Game is best heard front to back, a bit of a listening demand in the face of our short-attention spans, but Greenspan says it's what he was interested in writing. And he's right, there's an oft-serene beauty waiting for those willing to engage with the Junior Boys latest, an exercise worth undertaking for the sake of the sonic payoff.

In order to hear more about the songwriting on Waiting Game and the space between albums, we sat down with Greenspan shortly after the new album's release to hear about the journey since 2016 and how the pandemic affected his plans.

Analogue: The new album is Waiting Game and I wanted to start with that banner itself as our portal in. Is that about six years since the last album? Is that a pandemic thing? Is that something altogether different?

Jeremy Greenspan: It’s both of those things, which is why it’s such a clever title. [Laughs]

Analogue: [Laughs] Well done. Well done.

Jeremy: In fairness, all of the songs are about that. It’s one of those things that’s like, ‘Okay, you’re writing a COVID album,’ but I wrote so much of it in the spring of 2020. So what else are you going to write about? You can’t ignore the fact that you’re living in this bizarre time. From my perspective, I’m a parochial person. I often write about my hometown and the little myopic world I live in. I don’t usually write songs about global themes or things like that, so I wasn’t going to write a song about a global pandemic or a song about a global phenomenon. I also don’t write political songs generally.

From my perspective, what was interesting about that particular time was that it was this combination of both an extreme quietness—the winding down of one’s daily activities and the hustle and bustle of life—which was good, but it was also the crazy anxiety of everything going on—people suffering and dying and all of that happening around you. So it was this anxious quiet time.

'I don’t usually write songs about global themes or things like that, so I wasn’t going to write a song about a global pandemic..."

So I went to my studio, which was the only place I was allowed to go since we were locked down pretty heavily in Canada. The studio became this island of respite from craziness or whatever. So I was just in that mindset and all of the songs were about waiting around or what is coming or what is going on. That’s the genesis of it.

Because of the pandemic, it took a long time to release the album. It actually took us a long time to mix it because I went through a really laborious process of mixing it, so it ended up being this really long period between records.

Analogue: Were you surprised by how much time had passed?

Jeremy: No, I knew it’d be a while before we’d make another Junior Boys record because when I finished the last one, I’d started working on All The Time, which was the Jessy Lanza album at the time. That took a while so I was busy with a lot of projects, just not ones that people would necessarily associate with me, just because I was doing a lot of production work. So I knew it’d be some time before there would be another Junior Boys album. I just didn’t know it would be six years.

Analogue: It’s interesting to hear that the music was a quick oasis because some artists will tell me that they just couldn’t write anything early in the pandemic because it was just too much. That a sort of writer’s block hit in the face of global crisis. That’s not true in your case?

Jeremy: No, I’m lucky that way. I’ve never had that kind of a writer’s block. Even when I was going through really bad times in my life, when people were sick or something like that, I’d always turn toward music. But I understand it, y’know? I could imagine a time when you didn't want to make music because you were distracted by anxiety. I can imagine that scenario where you could not put your mind to the task at hand. I guess I’ve just been lucky that it hasn’t happened to me.

I usually don’t have writer’s block. I typically have lots and lots of energy to make music. What I do have is the inability to make something good. [Laughs] I’ve definitely had periods where I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m prolifically making some terrible, terrible music.’ But that’s a distinct thing from writer’s block.

Analogue: You’ve been at this for 20 years or so, so when it comes to another project like this, do you have to put any sort of creative challenge in front of you to keep you as interested as ever?

Jeremy: [Pause] Well, one of the fringe benefits of not being very successful is that you don’t have a huge amount of pressure on you to maintain your success. [Laughs] So for us, at the end of the day, you say, ‘What if we really modified what a Junior Boys record is?’ Well, no one is actually going to give a shit. [Laughs] It’s not like the internet is going to blow up. So who gives a shit, y’know?

One thing about it is that we’re super fortunate to have a career in music, and the reason we have a career in music is that there are people willing to listen to us and fans and all of that. But at the end of the day, I don’t have that much connection with that world. To me when I put out a record, it’s always startling that there are people who listen to it. I have no real connection to my own career in my own life. I live in a city that is not the epicenter of cultural activity, so my friends aren’t in music and my world isn’t really revolving around the music world. So yeah, it’s always shocking when I put out a record that I actually do this for.

Analogue: I love the serenity that can be found on this new record. It made me wonder if that’s either what you needed to make musically or what you wanted to offer listeners—or both.

Jeremy: Well, thinking about people listening to the album had me thinking about how people listen to music in general. So I was fascinated by this idea of dynamic range in music—meaning how much you can push differential elements, between a quiet sound and a loud sound. For technical reasons, that’s actually challenging today even though it shouldn’t be because the technology exists to have the most amount of dynamic range ever possible in music. But that’s not how the technology is generally utilized.

So I thought a lot about that and the listening experience. I’ve become a kind of budget audiophile. I have a nice music studio, but as I get older, I get into the ritual of listening to it. I don’t have very fancy equipment, but I care about it and stuff.

So I kind of took that as a conceptual point of departure for making the album insofar as a lot of times when people produce a record now, they say, ‘We want to make a record that sounds really good on speakers but it also sounds great on your laptop or your phone.’ I struggle with that for a while and came to the conclusion that I know it was not going to sound okay on a laptop or phone and I would be okay with it.

I wanted to invite the audience to have to lean in to listen to it. Which poses a challenge because that’s outside the zeitgeist a little bit and I knew it would limit the commercial potential of the record and all of that. I also knew that the album wouldn’t work very well if you listen to one song on its own and that requires something of people. So it’s a little bit of an ask, y’know?

Analogue: Do you know your audience well enough to make that ask?

Jeremy: You know, I don’t think I do know our audience that well, if I’m honest about it. Like, I’ve met lots of fans over the years and stuff like that at shows, but I’m always surprised by places where we’re more popular than others, for example. I have no explanation for that. I don’t understand it exactly. On the one hand, my whole life is dependent upon this audience. On the other hand, you can’t make music thinking about your audience too much. As David Bowie said, don’t play to the balcony. So I don’t anticipate reactions to my record as a way to make a record. You just go with what you’re feeling. I have some degree of anticipation that my music career could fall apart at any second. I don’t want to hasten that, but I’m prepared for it. [Laughs]

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