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Herb Sundays 40: Jeremy Greenspan
A unprecedented display of Herb Culture from the Junior Boys founder and producer.
Herb Sundays 40: Jeremy Greenspan
Let's leave tonight
One last time
Before it gets too cold
Just one more round
In that tourist town
With another home for sale
And then one more year
Becomes one more year
And you'll forget me soon I fear
-“FM” - Junior Boys
Jeremy Greenspan is a musician, producer, songwriter, and engineer from Hamilton, Canada. In the last 20 years, he’s released five albums as part of the duo (though it’s a Nine Inch Nails type thing in many ways) Junior Boys, and co-wrote three albums with fellow Canadian producer and singer Jessy Lanza. Jeremy has co-produced and recorded with other artists such as fellow Hamiltonian Caribou, Morgan Geist, Kelley Polar, and Colin Fisher. He runs Barton Building Studio in Hamilton, and most recently he has produced an album for the artist Man Made Hill which is scheduled to be released on Orange Milk Records this summer.
You can’t talk about Jeremy Greenspan without mentioning where he’s from and lives. There are a few well-worn highways in my musical history. One of these is of course I-94 which will take you from Detroit to Chicago (and Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo, etc.), and the other big one is the ON-401 which took me and my DJ friends to Toronto in college and in the early Ghostly years. One of the signs you were getting close to Toronto is the sign for Hamilton, Ontario. As Greenspan explains in his earnest 2007 Red Bull Music Academy chat, “Musically speaking Hamilton is I suppose not particularly interesting” apart from the fact that other artists like Caribou and Koushik also have come from there. The banality of the “fairly depressing city” is to me, the bedrock of Greenspania. He’s actually writing about life in fairly plain terms living in a “Canadian version of Pittsburgh or maybe Sheffield” but in his grip, the lyrics take on cosmic importance.
I’ve loved Junior Boys from the jump, not just for the rounded, skeletal production and Greenspan’s delivery, but they always make me feel like something heroic is going on. I got the JB bug like many others at the first listen of the 2003 Timbaland stutter-step and Charlie Brown hunch of “Birthday” and the related singles and remixes. Greenspan cuts luxuriate in melody but rarely do they reach for the brass ring. There’s sort of a “fuck it” attitude which I love in their catalog, like a less oblique New Order. There’s nothing to sell apart from getting the feeling across. This earnestness for melody has made his output very approachable but you’re never concerned Greenspan has surrendered his values. It’s music made for its own ends, a part of a private mythology.
Their debut Last Exit formed sort of a global lovesick troika for me with other avant-pop/dance records like Erlend Øye’s 2002 Unrest (and the subsequent DJ Kicks mix) and Metro Area’s self-titled album/compilation, which recast disco in steely, modernist terms. All of these records emote without fully turning on the jets. A good sports car only needs a little pressure to get moving, so why floor it?
I met Junior Boys’ original label manager, Nick Kilroy at Sonar in Barcelona in 2004 who would pass the following year (and whom Philip Sherburne beautifully eulogized in 2005). He was shopping international partners for Last Exit and even mentioned we should throw our hat in the ring. We were coming off the success of our Disco Nouveau compilation which found its way into the electroclash hype vortex and I was paranoid about Ghostly being pigeonholed in a similar sound, which at the time seemed very risky. Obviously, I was misguided in this thinking (the band far exceeded any likeness to the musical moment) and it remains one of a few A&R regrets as I would have loved to have worked closely with Jeremy. The band has had a successful run with Domino and now City Slang, and to be honest, I’m not sure we were “ready for them” or at least that’s what I tell myself.
The Junior Boys galaxy forms a universe where even a less glamorous guy (and the object of his affection) are made into silver screen heroes. For those of us who weren’t confident in our looks (though looking back I can finally dig myself), there was a relatability to the Junior Boys as Greenspan in his own words relishes that he may “not look the part” of his sonic image. In listening to the JBS, all of our mundane relationship stuff and our personal idiosyncrasies are worthy of dramatic retelling. If you can elevate the mundane into the cinematic, you should be so lucky, and this is why Greenspan is one of the great herbs of the era. A true believer.
In fact, Greenspan’s catalog is so well-made and groomed, that you can maybe take it for granted until you remember he doesn’t need his honeyed voice to be devastating. His co-production work with Jessy Lanza for example is maybe even more effective. Nothing exceeds the speed limit. Her Hyperdub debut remains one of my fave albums of the ‘10s in its pure, steady-state groove.
I get the same feelstate from a good Greenspan track as I do when looking at the work of photographer Todd Hido. It’s a stylized melancholy but strangely, is no less honest for it. It elevates the banal to the sublime, but there’s still dirt on the show and the windows need cleaning. Now that’s what I call Desperation.
I’ve enjoyed a nice rapport with Jeremy over the years and he was kind enough to remix our signing, Mobius Band, for our 2006 Idol Tryouts Two compilation and he later remixed Lusine under his own name, both are of course low-key amazing.
The playlist here has a similarly unassuming approach, but soon it’s completely all-consuming. At first glance you’ll recognize the names (EWF, Prince, Scaggs, Stevie, Toto) and think, “oh cool” but repeat listens reveal this is simply one of the best of the 40 mixes to date. Slow magic from a real magician.