Jacques Greene on Montréal’s Lasting Musical Influence

The stylistically restless producer on the lessons he took from his hometown scene

In early 2017, R&B-loving Montréal native Jacques Greene unveiled his debut LP, Feel Infinite, following a sterling run of emotional, shape-shifting club tracks on labels like UNO, 3024 and LuckyMe. Speaking with Shawn Reynaldo for Red Bull Radio’s First Floor, Greene detailed the lingering influence of his Montréal upbringing on his musical vision and explained why he’s perfectly comfortable moving between house, techno, R&B and more. Read an excerpt below and listen to First Floor on Red Bull Radio here every Thursday at 1 PM EDT.

Mathieu Fortin

You have this new album, and when it got announced there were several quotes from you about your relationship with your hometown of Montréal. But are you actually living in Montréal these days?

I’m not. The record by no means feels nostalgic – it’s more that it’s informed by my coming of age in Montréal's club culture. I moved to New York a few years ago, and it was a great time, but then I actually fell in love with a girl who is in Montréal, and so I’m now living with her in Toronto.

You spent time in New York and you’re in Toronto. How do you feel about your experience in those cities? Has that colored your musical experience at all?

You know what? I’m not sure it fully has. I think being in really fast-paced, intense, urban environments will get me a little more productive and a little more on my game, but as far as the sounds of those cities, I’m unfortunately of this generation that looks more inward or to the internet than a local scene.

At the same time, you did mention that the album relates to your coming of age in Montréal and its club scene, so could you talk a bit more about how you feel those experiences in Montréal manifest themselves in your music, and in the new album in particular?

I learned about electronic music and dance music, and clubs and after-parties, in a really tight-knit yet varied community. You’d throw these little club parties, but then cheap industrial loft spaces are very easy and cheap to come by in Montréal, so there would always be someone – who had probably moved in from Vancouver – who would rent a big loft space and then just start throwing parties two nights a week after club hours.

That’s when you would walk into the room and see everyone from your neighborhood, and this true social environment. It felt like a real life message board. It felt like a sprawling community that would just come together and get stupid into the morning. I think, when I say that Montréal informed this record, it’s more of that particular experience than any sound. It’s that warmth and family feeling, and that euphoria I felt there.

Jacques Greene - (Baby I Don’t Know) What You Want

You’ve been releasing music since 2010. What made you think that now was the right time to make an album?

I tried to make one a few years ago, and I definitely wasn’t ready. I had maybe seven tracks in the can, and the rest of the puzzle just wasn’t coming together, and I was banging my head against the wall.

I’m just old enough that I grew up buying CDs and loving having my albums on me when I was in high school, and albums dotted my life, so I really wanted to make one. It just didn’t come together, so I just took my favorite tracks from that, made an EP, and for a couple years I was like, “You know what? Maybe I am just a dance music guy that makes singles and EPs, and that’s what I do.”

Then a couple years ago, around the same time that I fell in love with this girl back in Montréal, I guess it re-centered my life, and things felt different. Music just started coming really easy, and music that felt like it wasn’t just an A-side/B-side situation. It was stuff that felt stuck together and told a story.

Is there any particular concept behind the album? Does the title, Feel Infinite, refer to anything in particular?

Yeah. It’s always a little strange when a noisy techno record will have a gigantic political statement behind it. I guess, in predominantly instrumental music, it can feel a little silly to attach a bunch of concepts and a storyline behind it, but I feel really strong about my use of small vocal chops and all these kind of things, of trying to bring this sense of humanity and sense of connection to people and to music that is otherwise just machine noise.

Feel Infinite is, on one level, this knowing nod to how ridiculously melodramatic and earnest my music can be. It’s all in the feels, or whatever. Then it’s about... I think, myself and everyone I know can end up being so self-centered and stuck in their own lane and their worlds and bubbles facilitated by our digital world, and I like that the club and the community of nightlife and stuff has often made me grow my empathy, and made me feel compassionate and have this realization of all these walks of life and different people that can come together for one thing. The feel infinite is, maybe, more about not feeling the boundary between yourself and those around you.

Listening to the album, it sounds really bright. There are a lot of big melodies on it, but at the same time, this is a sound palette that you’ve been using throughout your career. I was wondering, what draws you towards those kinds of sounds as opposed to, say, dark and distorted ones?

I've dabbled in the dark and distorted a bunch of times. Now that this record’s out, I’m trying to work on switching my studio workflow to take it elsewhere. This mode, this gear, is something that I’m really comfortable in, and it feels natural. To be honest, I think I can trace it back to three things, which is the very bright, synthy Timbaland productions that got me into pop music, when I got into this whole Turbo Crunk era of my music career, and that sound design is something that left a huge impression on me. Also, being straight up, some of the dubious post-hardcore that I loved – At the Drive-In and Thursday – was always very hook and melodic-driven, and I think somehow that still is drilled into this pleasure center part of my brain.

Jacques Greene - To Say

Then the first studio I had outside of my house in Montréal was in a small room at the bigger Wolf Parade studio, so I always had this connection to this era of Montreal indie rock that was big at the time of me getting into music production. I think that if there’s one thing that unified Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arcade Fire, the Unicorns, Wolf Parade and all these bands, [it] was this strong, hooky melodic sense and big, dramatic moments. I don’t know if I can trace that back to something in the water in Montréal or whatever, but that sense of big melody seeped its way into what I do.

When you first came up as an artist, there was a certain strain of producers that were combining elements of house and techno with hip-hop, R&B and various strains of dubstep and bass music. Obviously, there have been all kinds of attempts to give it a genre name. At the time, people were saying post-dubstep and future garage, or just bass music, but regardless of the name there was an energy around this kind of hybrid sound. Now, five or six years later, it feels like things have splintered and most producers are either just doing house and techno, or just doing bass music. Are you still trying to bridge the gap between these different genres? Do you still love techno as much as you love R&B?

Absolutely. I think my Recently Added in iTunes would reveal I’m all over the place, and I think I am still operating in a way that feels like it’s... I think you might call it bridging the gap, but I call it stuck between those things, because I’m not very good at executing a particular genre. I don’t have that kind of self-control, and I don’t have the interest to develop it. I guess I’ve learned to embrace that.

At this point in your career, you’ve obviously played all of the world, but do you think that your music translates as well in Europe where people haven’t grown up with hip-hop and R&B to the same degree that they have in North America?

Yeah, I think so. I think the way that I sample a lot of these genres is not unlike early house guys sampling the disco from their era. I’m bringing it into a framework that is undeniably club music most of the time, for a lack of a better word. My work that is like that, if anything, has resonated better in UK and Europe than it has in North America.

I’ve had this DJ style for years where I’ll try and drop at least one R&B song at half time – one for me, one to scratch that itch. There have been a couple moments like in the UK where that tied the whole set together, where just this one The-Dream song, three quarters of the way through the set, is this big moment. But other times I’m in Amsterdam or somewhere in Germany and it’s just... Not that people start throwing shit at the stage, but there’s definitely this, “What are you doing, man? Why are you playing something half the speed of everything else?” In those moments I definitely realize, “Oh! You guys never had Sean Paul and Aaliyah at a school dance. That’s not something that exists here.”

When you think about your career, where do you want it to go? Do you want to be DJing at Panorama Bar? Do you want to be making beats for R&B singers? Maybe both? Maybe something else entirely?

For the last few years, I’ve been able to have my cake and eat it too. I’ve played Panorama a couple times, and I’ve also had my hand in Tinashe records, for instance. If I can, I’d love to keep that going, because also that creates variety and movement in my life.

In the same way that my music is almost, not schizophrenic, but can jump between these different arenas, I think if I was a guy who ended up being a studio guy in LA, or if I was just doing weekend warrior DJ gigs across cool Euro and techno clubs, both would end up losing their luster. It’s very nice to miss them and go back to them. If I can keep this charade going and keep doing both sides, I really would enjoy that. I don’t see why or how they can be mutually exclusive.

By Shawn Reynaldo on March 9, 2017

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