Melding together renowned musical influences such as The Kinks with more modern contemporaries like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Canada-hailing Kiwi Jr. have garnered praise for their jangly sound, left-field observations and their firm grasp of humour they exhibit in their work. Their self-released debut album arrived just last year, but the four-piece have been hot on their heels to produce a quick follow-up.
Now signed to Sub Pop (Nirvana, Fleet Foxes, Beach House), Kiwi Jr.’s sophomore album ‘Cooler Returns’ will be unveiled to the world on the 22nd January. It’s an album that allows storytelling to take centre stage as the band considers the complexity of their motivations through songs inspired from true stories as well as wider political observations. Like their debut, humour is also rife throughout and this makes for a listening experience that’s both brisk and acutely engaging.
We chatted to Jeremy Gaudet and Brian Murphy from Kiwi Jr. to find out how they’ve coped during the pandemic, the creative process behind their new album and their hopes to make up for missed opportunities here in the UK.
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How are you all holding up? Does life in Canada feel a little more optimistic compared to the lockdown status here in the UK?
Jeremy: I don’t know how it feels in the UK, but it doesn’t feel good here. I just hope I don’t lose my job or have to move apartments or have something major happen.
How does it feel to have been signed by the same record label (Sub Pop Records) that picked up the likes of Nirvana in the past?
Jeremy: Everyone at the label is so nice and they work hard for us. I liked Nirvana as a kid, but I haven’t listened to them for a long time.
What was that, like over thirty years ago they were on Sub Pop? I’m not really worried about it. For me, it’s cooler that they signed The Constantines and Wolf Parade. They have great current artists that I’m excited about being label mates with. If we ever get to play live again, there could be some cool opportunities.
The Kinks were renowned for their left-hand quirks and observations in the 60s. How important are the band as a musical influence in your own songwriting?
Jeremy: My favourite Kinks album is unsurprisingly, ‘Village Green’. We tried to do a harpsichord effect with stringing and tuning some acoustic guitars really high up, and sort of plucking them in a percussive way. Lately, I listen to later Kinks albums like ‘Misfits’ and ‘Sleepwalker’. A lot of records get overlooked.
I try not to think of other artists when I write songs, otherwise I steer the ship right into the iceberg, but yeah... I’ve listened to enough Kinks in my life that I think the band has an influence on my songwriting.
Were there any changes in the creative process of ‘Cooler Returns’ compared to your debut?
Brian: I guess quarantine changed a few things during the process of this album. For several months we weren't able to get together, so we would work on parts at home. I remember overdubbing various guitar and keyboard parts on Jeremy’s demos and sending them back and forth. Once we all got together, it was back to basics, I guess. Four of us in a room barking about what the drum fill going into the second chorus should sound like.
We were lucky to find a nice big rehearsal space that was very pleasant to be in. In the past, we would get together in really dank, poorly lit basement rooms which would sometimes stifle creativity because we couldn’t wait to get outta there. This time we found a nice big room with a kitchen and bathroom, so we would stay all afternoon and into the evening.
What are the main themes running throughout your new album?
Jeremy: I don’t have them written down or anything, but if somebody listens to the album enough times, I’m sure that certain patterns will become obvious enough. I don’t like to analyse my own writing too much or else I become self-conscious.
There are ideas I had for this album: simple things like having more acoustic instruments, and having a set of lyrics written out in front of me when recording the vocals rather than going by memory, but I can’t (and won’t) define a through-line for you. That’s sort of the fun in getting to know an album, isn’t it?
Do you have a favourite line/lyric on the album?
Jeremy: There’s a list of people and places that I’m trying to squeeze into songs, and it doesn’t always work. It has to feel right.
On this album I was quite pleased to include Amy Adams on a train, and the Dufferin Mall line. The Dufferin Mall is a shopping mall in our neighbourhood. There’s a parody account on Instagram you can check out if you want to get the general vibe. I spent a lot of time in the mall before the pandemic.
Like you do so well in your music, do you think now is a more important time than ever for us all to embrace a sense of humour in our lives?
Jeremy: I don’t know. The humour in the songs is unrelated to the pandemic and other current affairs. I’m worried about approaching anything with some sort of cynicism or slant, songwriting included. But I’m not going to tell someone to embrace your sense of humour when there's a deadly virus everywhere.
What’s your goals for the year ahead?
Brian: It’s hard to have any lofty goals when you technically aren’t supposed to leave your apartment, but I guess playing a show would be up there. Hopefully Fauci is right, and concerts can resume in a safe manner come the fall. If that is the case, we would love to get back to the UK. We were there in January of 2020 for a few shows, and they all went really well and we all had a blast.
Also, we cancelled a May UK tour in 2020 which include Great Escape, Gold Sounds Festival, as well as an in-store at Rough Trade East so we would love to get over there to make up those missed opportunities.
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Kiwi Jr. will release new album 'Cooler Returns' on January 22nd via Sub Pop/Kiwi Club.
Words: Jamie Wilde
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