If you’ve ever been to the club and heard a chopped-up Brandy sample over a bright synth, chances are Jacques Greene is the man responsible. Having first gained notoriety with 2010’s ‘(Baby I Don’t Know) What You Want’, featuring a chipmunk sample of ‘Foolish’ by Ashanti, Greene’s brand of euphoric melody and maximal production peaked with 2011’s ‘Another Girl’. The track has since been streamed over 4 million times on Spotify and earned him co-signs from fellow Canadian Drake, as well as Radiohead, who enlisted Greene for a remix on their ‘King of Limbs’ album.
Greene’s propensity for an R&B sample has found resonance with his contemporaries: Machinedrum, Kingdom and Jubilee, and after seven years of EPs and singles, this month sees the release of Greene’s debut LP, Feel Infinite. Less of a debut and more of a bookend, Feel Infinite is the confident manifesto of an artist who has fine-tuned his sound to a subtle art. We spoke about the club as an emotional space, the importance of humanity in machine music, and the DJ as soundtrack to the party.
How has Montreal influenced you and your music?
When I started this project, Montreal still had a big indie rock scene which a lot of my friends were involved in. A lot of that music from people like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Arcade Fire has a big sense of melody and catharsis. While much of the indie rock at the time was more arty – like Vampire Weekend – the indie rock in Montreal was maximal, earnest and melodic. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because we’re all from the same city or if it’s because I was around these bands playing so many shows, but I also developed a sense of melody which is similarly intense. Outside of that, Montreal is a city that prides itself on being extremely DIY and a little outside the box. It’s made me work on my material without striving for commercial success and instead, putting a strong sense of personal identity to the forefront. A lot of acts from Montreal who make it big, like Grimes for instance, have a self-assurance in these micro-worlds that we create. There’s less of a need to join a scene and more a tendency towards standing in your own identity.
Were you playing in bands when you were younger?
For a little bit. I played in a really bad post-hardcore screamo band for a few years in high school! I kind of enjoyed the cathartic nature of live music but the moment I found electronic music, I got an MPC and a pirated copy of Fruity Loops. I was always a bit of a control freak so having an idea that you could finish top-to-bottom by yourself was way more exciting to me than playing with other musicians.
What is your writing process now? Is it still motivated by that sense of control and isolation that got you into making electronic music in the first place?
Yeah, my girlfriend can’t even be in the house while I’m working! I need to be tucked away and lost in my thoughts to try and get to a place where I’m almost losing touch with reality. Any time I’ve made something good it’s because the surrounding days or weeks are spent with me looking inward. In a more intense writing period, like when I was making this record, I’ll listen to a lot of music but it’s stuff that’s not my immediate peers. Halfway through making this album my playlist became filled with albums from my past that meant a lot to me, things like The Knife. I’ll listen to them non-stop whilst keeping myself purposefully isolated.
The vocal, especially the R&B vocal, is such a big part of your sound – what draws you to that?
Because I’m a synth nerd and I make machine music, I love throwing in that vocal right away to bring an element of humanity to the proceedings. No matter how mechanical the chopping of the vocal can be, there’s something about the texture of the human voice which is infinitely comforting. It’s the difference between a polyester jacket and a cotton jacket – a natural fabric just feels better. A lot of what excites me also in the vocal samples that I use are weird, disparate moments throughout an acapella, moments between words, like the way someone’s breathing while they did their take. There’s a sense of chaos and accident and emotional depth, because you might hear a weird quiver in a vocal that goes from a full-body to a falsetto, and those are things you couldn’t write in a musical score. The vocal samples end up being an emotional shorthand where I can use two seconds of a vocal and it’s worth a whole musical movement.
How does that emotionality in the record translate to when you’re playing the tracks out in the club? Can the club be an emotional space?
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a lot when I was making the record. There’s something deeply human about the club. In a world where we’re running out of real physical spaces where we meet and bump into each other, the club is almost a sanctuary, but one with danger to it too. The vocal ends up being a reaction to that and a way of playing into that. By nature, the vocal has a literal face value, even if it’s just one word or an unfinished thought, and I enjoy the directness of its communication. When it’s played live, fucking loud to a bunch of strangers, that actually gains in power.
It’s interesting how your contemporaries like Kingdom, with his Tears in the Club release, are thinking about the concept of emotionality in the club at the same time and yet are also recognising the physical loss of those spaces. Are there still spaces that you hold dear?
A lot of them have closed down as well. I just realised in the last week that Ezra’s record is approaching it from a different angle but we’re definitely thinking about similar things. I love when those moments happen, it’s like a zeitgeist. I came of age in clubs, in a community that was going out, and every weekend you would see a lot of the same faces. I love that the club provided me with that. When I speak about my favourite spaces, none of them really exist anymore, but I don’t get nostalgic or sad about it because there’s always a new one and that’s part of the continuing thrill of the underground and the culture. These spaces end up being places where a lot of people find themselves and can be themselves, as well as meet people. Bodies just collide and you have to appreciate the surface level of it all.
How does your DJing in clubs compare with your live shows?
With the DJ set, I’m creative vibe-setting and thinking on my feet what’s best for the room at that particular moment. There’s a danger to that kind of improvisation which is so exciting and thrilling. I get bummed out in DJ sets when people are just looking at the stage – you should be finding a cute boy or girl, partying with your friends, just going about your night and enjoying the soundtrack. I did a 180 turn over the last seven or eight years because when I was a kid and throwing parties, I wanted people to pay attention and listen to the set, the sound system always had to be better and louder. Over time I’ve realised that although the music is essential because it has to be good to pull you in, what really makes these spaces and communities special is the social aspect. The music should make you lose yourself dancing for a while and feel a rush, but then also enjoy your surroundings and get inspiration from the other people there. I’ve come to enjoy the surface-level culture of the club, in a way that when I was young I thought detracted from a pure idea of DJing and music. I want to push boundaries and play exciting music but I also want to hear that someone got laid or had a great time catching up with a friend – that’s the DJ set. With the live show, I want people to be moved and understand the music on a deeper level, one that requires more attention.
Has releasing an LP been something that you’ve always been working towards?
I love the EP format because with three or four songs you can tell a small story and there’s a beautiful symmetry between the A side and B side. I grew up having a strong relationship with a lot of albums, though, so I’ve always wanted to make one. For a long time, I wasn’t sure whether I had it in me and I didn’t want to make a record because I had to, or because management or the label wanted me to. It came together now because I had some time off of shows and I was going to the studio and I happened to be making a lot of tracks. I realised that all the songs were connected, so I ended up making an album without really consciously realising it, capturing this time in my life.
You mentioned in your recent RBMA lecture that Feel Infinite is the culmination of your current Jacques Greene sound. What was that decision prompted by, and what direction are you thinking of going in next?
I think I did a pretty good job of creating my own world and sound palette, and I like the idea of owning that because it’s a manifesto that ties together all my disparate singles and EPs. Also as a music fan, I’ve been really disappointed when a producer who I’ve followed finally releases an album and it sounds absolutely nothing like their EPs, or it has a different feature on each song and is trying to be a commercial pop record. From here on out, for stylistic reasons and because of sample clearance fees, I’ll be moving on from sampling things I can’t afford. In the album format, I’m too big to get away with not fully clearing all my samples and not big enough to afford all my samples! I’m glad I got to make this record that encompasses that sound I’m known for, but now it’s time to challenge myself and do something else. I got into electronic music through Boards of Canada and Amon Tobin and Aphex Twin, so it’d be nice to break out of the club BPM. It felt right to stick to that for this record because it’s so much about the club and my relationship to the club, but as I’m moving forward I’m curious to hear what my sound palette would be like brought down-tempo.
Does commercial success and mainstream recognition ever appeal to you, though?
Not really. If I was the kind of person that was trying to win over people, you better believe I would’ve released different kinds of records after ‘Another Girl’. I had the opportunity to become a Ministry of Sound guy but I’m not very good at making straight-and-narrow commercial music. Commercial success always feels better when it comes to find you, as opposed to being mad thirsty and searching for it.
Feel Infinite is out now on LuckyMe. Get it here.
Jacques Greene curates the Convergence closing party with Eclair Fifi, Yves Tumor and more in London, March 25. Tickets available here.
Featured image: Mathieu Fortin
Words: Ammar Kalia