JUNIOR BOYS

Somewhere in the dusty archives of an old Birmingham, England recording studio lurks the early work of Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan. Those recordings
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Somewhere in the dusty archives of an old Birmingham, England recording studio lurks the early work of Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan. “Those recordings are all terrible,” Jeremy shudders. “I'd never want to listen to them again!”

As awful as those old tunes may be, they still helped Greenspan get a tremendous opportunity to develop his skills on analog equipment. A mere 16 years old, he smooth-talked his way into an engineering job at the studio while on a year-long stint in the UK and learned the ropes from the more experienced assistant assigned to him. Along the way, he acquired a taste for organic recording processes, which he revisited for his second Junior Boys album, So This Is Goodbye (Domino, 2006). “On this last record, I started to realize the value of doing things on a board, having outboard effects and being able to mix the old-fashioned way,” he says. “I think that gets you into the whole buzzing electricity of the thing. The whole music-making process becomes much less trapped in your head and becomes a much more visceral experience.”

Greenspan digs deep to push his equipment to the limit. He attributes the warm, glowing character of Goodbye to the machinery he used, most notably a Roland Juno-60, Sequential Circuits Pro-One, Clavia Nord Lead 2, ARP Omni 2, Yamaha DX27, Studio Electronics Omega 8 and Moog Minimoog, but he's also partial to software such as Pro Tools, Logic Audio and Ableton Live, as well as Arturia soft synths, Focusrite plug-ins, Audio Ease Altiverb, Destroy FX and Cycling '74 plug-ins for sounds that just can't be made or manipulated by hand. He also employs a Roland CR-68 drum machine and pulls drum hits and stabs from vinyl. “I think equipment, fundamentally, is what writes an album,” he says. “When you're using a lot of analog equipment — synthesizers in particular — you have to change the way in which you work.”

For Greenspan, that means accepting all the quirks and peculiarities of analog gear as music in the making. “I like the sound of equipment making mistakes, and I like the sound of myself making mistakes,” he says. “It traps the mix in a moment. The sounds that I always find most interesting are the ones where you feel like the instruments are going out of control. I like songs that sound like they're so fragile, they're on the cusp of completely breaking apart. So many of our sounds are done with that in mind.”

In fact, Greenspan's aesthetic is strikingly similar to that of the original techno innovators, which is perhaps not surprising given the proximity of his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, to Detroit. In the studio, Greenspan often defers to the machines themselves, twiddling knobs, pressing buttons and capturing sounds trying to escape. “[We're] trying to induce things out of machines,” he says. “The difference with us is once we induce these things, we then have to try and build a pop song around it.”

That Greenspan was listening to early house music while crafting the songs on Goodbye is undeniable — the crunchy beats, assertive bass lines and remarkable strut and swagger on display certainly harks back to that era. But there's an intangible, irrepressibly modern feel to this record that sets it firmly in the 21st century. Pop music may seem a surprising category for Junior Boys, but the hooks and sing-along melodies make that description absolutely fitting. Unlike the current slate of pop stars, he leaves his vocals virtually untouched, recording them quickly to keep them immediate. “For me, saying that I make pop music was very freeing because when you're saying you're making pop music, there are no conditions under which you have to conform. That's the beauty of pop music; the only thing people ever assume from that is you're making music that people will like. All the pop music I like has one foot in the most bizarre fringe elements of culture and the other foot nicely placed in popular culture. It's not alienating to people, but at the same time, it's often extremely bizarre.”