Domino Spinner is joining forces with the Red Bull Music Academy and…
- Posted on Jun 16th 2011 2:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
You've said that your last album, 'Begone Dull Care,' didn't quite go over how you wanted. This time around, are you feeling more hopeful?
I'm a pretty pessimistic person in general, so any time we've ever had any kind of success, it's been much to my amazement. But with the last record, it wasn't so much I felt the record went badly or anything. It was much more I felt a series of pressures that I wasn't able to understand or process. I felt as though there were all these things you're supposed to do as a musician nowadays I couldn't identify with. There were a lot of things I thought were trendy I didn't know I believed in. There were a lot of things people wanted from us ... pressures I would internalize more. [I'd ask myself], "How do you make it as a musician these days?" These are questions musicians grapple with, and they were really getting me down and bumming me out.
Part of the last record was this idea to make a record that was against the grain. I tried not to make poppy hit songs, so to speak. [In the industry], the pressure was to make this insipid, vacuous music, and I didn't want to be part of that. I thought, "Maybe I'll make this record that's really subtle and challenging in its own way" -- songs that are longer, and where we weren't going for huge bass lines and big huge leads, just trying to focus on the craft of songwriting. And I felt as though it didn't work. Ultimately, people don't want that. And that got me down a bit.
When I started making ['It's All True'], it was me trying to work through those kinds of feelings. And I realized working through these feelings and writing songs about those feelings, "Yeah, I can write about this. This is kind of interesting. Maybe people can relate to this." Ultimately, I started writing these songs that were way more personal than anything I'd ever written.
I ended up coming at the end of making this record much more positive about music than I have in years. In that sense, I have more hope, and also, I think it's a better record.
The new album is a lot more varied than the last one. Was that a major goal?
Totally. I started with this idea of, "I don't want to make a dance-music record." Part of making dance-music records is being locked into tempos and that kind of thing. But I really don't want to make a rock record, because that's not what I'm all about. How do I deal with this? Like going back to our roots, or my idea of the first album, the idea was, "I want to make an R&B record." I need these things to contextualize myself in some ways, because I'm never sure of what kind of music I make. When I started thinking, "I'm going to make an R&B record," that's when it really gave me the permission to do that kind of variation. It's not like I think I did make an R&B record or anything like that, but in my mind, it is.
When you first got into electronic music, were you interested in the dance aspect, or were you more intrigued by the sounds and textures electronic instruments allow?
I got into dance music through listening to industrial. That was my foray into it. Basically, I listened to bands like Skinny Puppy, who were using electronic instruments. Through that I discovered Detroit techno and UK techno stuff. For my generation, at least, the possibility of the whole rave explosion was so incredibly exciting. To me, that it was the whole package. It was this venue of listening to music in this context that had nothing to do with rock music, which is what I was excited by. You didn't have to be a performer. You could just make music, and DJs could play it, and people were into the experience of listening to music. I still believe in that in the same way. I want people to be into listening of music as intensely as possible.
In terms of dancing, [Junior Boys] have never made music that had to be played on the dance floor. In our career, we never really made big dance floor-type anthems. The culture of dance music is my DNA. It's where I came from. It's been the driving force of my musical career and my musical passions since I was 15.
You wrote and started recording the new record while visiting your sister in Shanghai. Was it your intention to work on music there, or did you just get inspired?
I knew it was going to be pretty intense. Historically and politically speaking, China is in a singular space at the moment. I knew that going to Shanghai now would have been very similar experience to coming to New York in 1900 and seeing a place growing at such an exponential rate, seeing people dealing with a cultural change and a cultural shift that is unprecedented in history.
What I think was good for me and really good for the album was the ways in which [China] has modernized in a way independent of the West. It's not reliant on our culture in any way, which is quite fascinating, and it's quite humbling. For a lot of people, I think they equate the notion of modernization with westernization. And that that's not what's going on there. That's really exciting, and it's also quite good for musicians, or anyone feeling the pressure of working in art, to realize there's this place in the world where a quarter of the world's population lives and they don't give a s---. They barely know who U2 is, let alone whatever popular band of the day.
You've said being there allowed you to make music without worrying about what was hip and cool at the moment. On the first three albums, is that something you thought about? It seems like Junior Boys have always done their own thing.
A lot of bands in interviews will say things like, "We just do what we do." The reality is there are a million different pressures when you get into music, and when you're in the music industry. There are a million people telling you what you should be doing and what you shouldn't be doing. There are a million reviews telling you what you should be doing and what you shouldn't be doing. And tuning that stuff out is really difficult. It takes some sort of concerted effort.
You guys have been compared to a lot of "yacht rock" bands. Why do you think that comes across in your music?
The short answer is I've listened to a lot of that kind of stuff, and there are a couple band in particular, like 10cc and Steely Dan. What I really love about those kinds of bands -- all those bands that are considered yacht rock -- I love the way in which those bands all seem most comfortable in the studio. They all seem to be these really awkward guys. [Steely Dan singer] Donald Fagen or Michael McDonald, they're these weird, awkward guys who are not natural performers in any way, who feel only at home in the studio.
But in terms of the sophistication, is that reflective of your personality? Listening to your records, we picture you at home wearing a tuxedo jacket or something.
I don't take it that far, but one of the things I do believe is that there are a lot of people who think pop music is for stupid people. People who go back to the '80s and even the '70s, who have obsessions with those eras, realize that a lot of those bands that were really popular were actually pretty sophisticated, not only in their music and approach. Bands in the UK like Japan and Roxy Music were big stars who had Top 10 hits.
I've always thought pop music can be as stupid as you want it to be or as sophisticated as you want it to be. The general population is not made up of morons exclusively.
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