Interview with Jacques Greene
It’s hard to pin-point what exactly it is about Jacques Greene’s music that’s able to consume you completely, but the immense emotions that his music is embedded with are surely a part of the equation. The Montreal-based producer has the ability to approach sound in a manner most down-to-earth and void of gimmick, resulting in purely expressive and strangely raw tracks that are sure to please any type of listener. His first release, The Look, was recently released on LuckyMe and there’s another 12″ with his much anticipated (Baby I Don’t Know) What You Want coming out coupled with Optimum’s Broken Embrace on Night Slugs very soon. We had the pleasure of catching up with him on various angles of his creative process, the visual aspect of music, a whole lotta R&B and most importantly, his extremely broad interests in a spectrum of cultures. Plus, we have a lovely remix to give away of What Are You Feelin’ done by Ghostleigh for you to download exclusively and enjoy while you’re reading.
How have you been? I’m okay, been quite busy as I still have a full time job so it’s been a bit of a challenge keeping up with the other stuff. But so far so good!
Can you tell us a little bit about how you grew up with music? My parents were just really into music and exposed me to a lot of stuff early. I was introduced to electronic music when I was twelve or thirteen. My history teacher in high school lent me some Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada CDs and I was hooked. Aside from that, we’ve always had amazing music from Montreal. I was always a fan of bands like Godspeed you! Black Emperor, The Unicorns, Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire, and so on.
Were you ever inclined to participate in that indie rock genre yourself? Not really, I like drawing from those bands. But I think that the moment I heard those early Aphex Twin releases or what have you, I realized that I didn’t need a band to get my point across and that I could make machines just as full of feeling as a voice or guitar. It’s also a more contemporary approach. I’m more into a conceptual installation art piece than a painting.
How is the club scene in Montreal? It’s great, however not as big on new club sounds as London. I’ve felt encouraged by a few local DJs for sure, there are a lot of really friendly and supportive people out here. And there are some good straight up house music nights. For example, the Night Trackin party have played out my stuff a lot and book a lot of the newer sounds.
Have you always considered music as a future plan for yourself? I’ve always known it would be a big part of my life, however I thought it’d be on a more personal level. I’ve always made and recorded music, but actually releasing it and thinking of doing it in an “official” way is a relatively new idea for me. I got into it coincidentally. I mean, I would send tracks to friends sometimes and one from Glasgow was into it and sent that along.
What’s the best gig you’ve ever attended? And what about your own experiences performing as an artist? Silver Mt. Zion was really really impactful. It was just a nearly religious experience, haha! Twelve or so people on stage and an amazing blend of new and old. Other than that, My Bloody Valentine and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I love walls of sound. I love to let things wash all over you.
As for my own performances, There was a LuckyMe showcase in New York City on the day of my birthday that I played at this fall. It was unbelievable. Cake brought out on stage and everything. It was an electric night through and through.
That reminds me, there’s a video on YouTube of a cult-like #based gig of you and Lunice building what seems to be a shrine to The Based God Lil B. What are the details on this one? Ha! We were opening for Hudson Mohawke and decided to play together. So I bought candles and we edited a bunch of Lil B videos. I brought out one of my drum machines and my modular synth, and so we did a live improv remix prayer to the Based God. He even commented on the video! We want to do it again and push it further, I mean people were WILDING out the first time. Hopefully we can make it happen a bit more.
Can you tell us a little bit about the way you go about making your music? I’d say it’s a different process every time. I just kinda sit at my synths, play chords or something. I like playing music and having little jam sessions, most of the time I don’t record and I’m more impulsive. Music is a bit more of a therapeutic thing. Or a form of release, like people who play video games. I’ll just let the drum machine ride out and fiddle around with stuff. I create more when I’m stressed out. I can get slightly neurotic and let outside things upset me and that is definitely when I feel the need to work on stuff. That’s when I get the urge to turn the machines on. I think when all is well, there is no need for change or catharsis. But when you’re upset, stressed out, bothered, that’s when you come up with ideas for change or whatever. That’s not to say I make particularly sad music. There is a certain sadness to it, but also euphoria and excitement. Gotta keep it nuanced. There’s nothing more dreadful than an artist that either says one thing over and over or simply says nothing at all.
How much value do you attach to the visual aspect of your music? It’s huge, even though I don’t have a mental image when I make a track. I’m really into album artwork and online visual presence etcetera. I would happily spend half of an album’s budget (if I were ever to do one) on getting an artist or designer I really like to do the cover. I would also love to score fashion shows. It’s a world I really want to get involved in.
Who would you get to do your album cover if you had unlimited budgets and connections? Rei Kawakubo, the founder and head designer at Comme Des Garcons. She is someone I really admire. All the CDG ad work for the shirt line is fascinating. Otherwise, Wolfgang Tillmans, the photographer. I just see links with their work in my mind that make sense. Rei designs fashion not entirely meant to be attractive, often even referred to as anti-fashion, and I make dance music that I feel would sometimes feel out of place in the environment of a club.
Favourite album covers? Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin Bob Dylan— I love the personality and candidness of the shot. It sets the tone so appropriately for the album.
Radiohead – Kid A— The jpeg perfect triangle mountains, it feels like the end of the world. Or that the world has already ended and some shitty windows PC that remains is illustrating what was there before.
Tom Waits – Small Change— It’s his world. He’s the drunk piano bar player. He’s a mess. What is he doing backstage at this strip club? Is that his girlfriend? Did he just get rejected by her? There’s something so tragic and quintessentially American about the photograph and the whole album
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours— I love the colours and poses on this cover. I’m not even into much old rock, but I love this album. There was something so chaotic about the band, from their wild drug use to the crazy fights between members. So the calm studied poses on this cover are so great.
New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies— I love the dichotomy of new and old throughout the whole packaging of the record and the inner sleeve for the 12″ of Blue Monday. The painting of the flowers that is totally oldschool and traditional, the old graphics, the shapes cut out on the back of the sleeve really showcase the same kind of attitude they have in their sound which mixed elements of traditional rock and music structure with a bunch of ultra modern stuff. The back, with the other weird shapes close to the center being cut out to the inside is really pretty and somehow works so well with the painting.
While we’re on the subject of the visual side of music, how involved are you with music videos? What’s the story behind the video you uploaded for (Baby I Don’t Know) What You Want? That was simply one of my favourite film scenes ever. The scene is from Space Odyssey 2001, when Dave finally decides to turn HAL off. The pace and colours of the moment as well as the general vibe of the shots fit the aesthetic of the track in a nice way. Next to that, two of my good friends just made what will be the official video for Tell Me, off the LuckyMe record. They just finished shooting it in Vancouver. We brainstormed a few kind of ideas, but like I said, I never have a specific mental image when making a track so we had to kind of come up with one. But eventually they did their own thing to a large extent so the video is much more their project than mine, which I am completely happy about. But in the future, I’d love to try and get involved in my own. Who knows, maybe even do some for other people at some point.
R&B seems to influence a lot of you work, have you always been into it? I’ve always checked for the top 40. Make my way through all the albums. TLC, Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child were pretty big when I was in elementary school and high school, and I remember when Pony by Ginuwine came out. That was was just the pop music you were flooded with and it was so much better than the nu-metal dreck coming out at that time. To this day I can still find myself enjoying big R&B hits that’ll have my girlfriend cringing or something. I think R&B is brilliant in its simplicity and earnest delivery of big emotions. It’s not trying to be realistic, it’s like a Broadway musical. It’s not trying to go for nuance or subtlety. If the song is about sex, you can feel the sweat dripping off the speakers and the windows fogging up. If the song is about the breakup, the dishes are being thrown at the wall and clothes thrown out the window. All the emotions are delivered in such an over the top surreal way. It’s like the opera I guess.
What do you think connects R&B and the club scene you’re in so well? House music came from disco, which had a lot of big vocals. A lot of amazing early house music had great vocals on them, from the New York Divas to the cut up samples in early UK Garage. I think House music has always had a side to it that fully embraced the vocal and the emotion that comes with that and so if I’m using more contemporary R&B vocals in contemporary house music, I think that only makes sense.
Oh yes, definitely, but it also seems like people are finally getting over that guilt and cringe factor with R&B now. I think we’re finally over the decade of irony and guilty pleasures and if you think George Michael’s made some good pop tunes, that’s okay because he made some good pop tunes. A lot of that is due to Timbaland. He made R&B and glistening pop cool to listen to by going on a multi-year streak where his chart toppers were essentially the best music out there. The best song writing, the best deliveries. There’s no way Promiscuous Girl, My Love or Say It Right are guilty pleasures. They are simply amazing pieces of music. Accessible and technically simple, but brilliant. For a bit, Timbaland and his team members such as Danja and Keri Hilson were pushing the envelope in such a huge way. I mean, Chingy’s Let Me Luv U is simply brilliant.
How do you feel about his latest Shock Value work then? Even the most diehard Timbo fans seem to hate it. Yeah, I thought most of it was terrible. Give It To Me was a gem, but the spark is gone.
What makes Ryan Leslie a successful producer in your eyes? I just find him quite inventive and clever. A lot of his tracks strike me as quite intelligent. The piano moments in Valentine and Addiction are brilliant moments, but even moreso within the context of the full songs. He’s also able to do restrained minimalism incredibly well, like with Cassie on her first album from Ditto to Me & U.
Best R&B album of ALL TIME? That would have to be R.Kelly’s 12 Play, because it was the manifesto upon which ninety percent of subsequent R&B was based. I could say some Trey Songz or The-Dream albums, but ultimately it just comes down to the influence of 12 Play.
Top three slow jams? Aaliyah’s One In A Million, Jodeci’s Forever My Lady and R. Kelly’s Sex In The Kitchen.
Track of the year? Yamaha by The-Dream.
If you could revive a late boy/girl group who would it be? I’d bring back the members of Jodeci before they fell into their downward spiral and got old, circa Diary of a Mad Band / Forever My Lady era.
Most promising R&B artist for the next decade? It’s hard to say who would be the best R&B artist for the next decade. A lot of people releasing great singles at the moment but no one really changing the game in the sense that you feel they just released their 12-Play. I would say The-Dream, except that he is already 3 albums deep and penned some of the greatest R&B tracks for other artists in the last 5 years
Pick one for an upcoming Jacques Greene collabo: Ashanti or Cassie? I’d love to work with Cassie, hence my remix of her track.
As a Canadian, who do you feel most proud of: Drake, Justin Bieber or Egyptrixx? Ha, tough question! I’m going to have to say Drake because the odds of his career reaching the height it has was improbable. The wheelchair-ridden kid he played in the cheesy TV show. Going from that, to doing tracks with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys in about 2 years is pretty phenomenal. And I’m not going to lie, I’ve grown to be a huge Drake fan. I was a hater at first. Couldn’t stand the guy but I came around and now I just listen to that new What’s My Name single by Rihanna. I’d love to meet him – he seems like an interesting guy.
He totally stepped it up, I guess Wheelchair Jimmy is in the past. Well I almost think that adds to his character. It’s okay to not be from the street and be a rapper and he is fully aware of that. It’s not like he’s trying to claim to be thug. I mean, all he raps about is breaking models’ hearts. Also I just realized that the two only official mixes I’ve ever done ended on tracks involving Drake.
Although all of this may change when Egyptrixx releases his first record next year… what I’ve heard from it is so promising. All in all I’m extremely happy for any Canadian that does it big on an international scale. I’m not even mad at Bieber. He’s probably having the time of his life!
What does the future hold for Jacques Greene? Where do you see yourself in two years? Right now I’m working on making sure my first releases make it out okay, and finishing up some things that should surface between now and march. In two years, hopefully I’ll have released a full album and hopefully found ways of working with labels and people that I admire in music, fashion and maybe art. I’d like to get my hands as dirty as possible in as many aspects of culture as I can.