Montreal Producer Jacques Greene On Remixing Radiohead, Cameos With Azealia Banks, And The Inherent Honesty Of R&B
In the past few years, the definition of dance music has been smashed open, and no longer are we trapped by the constraints of its old definition of four-to-the-floor beats and uniform build-ups. As long as you can conjure something that will make asses shake, there’s no standard beat style or BPM favored over another. That’s the type of freedom that Jacques Greene enjoys. Hailing from Montreal, Greene is part of the generation of beat makers that came up on a rich variety of music, with an eclecticism that embraces the esoteric and doesn’t scorn sounds of pop. The openness makes for a style that isn’t defined by its speed or drumbeat, but rather its flavor in a pure sense.
Unless you follow the movements of boundary-pushing labels like LuckyMe, one of Greene’s homes, your first exposure to his work was likely his remix of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower”, which was hand-picked by Thom Yorke for the the King of Limbs remix album TKOL RMX 1234567, or perhaps “Another Girl,” a track that could be considered his breakout hit. If neither of those are ringing a bell, then this one should be easy: that’s him in the glasses in Azealia Banks’ video for 212.
In the past few months, Greene dropped his newest releases Concealer EP and the single Ready to enthusiastic ears, and went on the road supporting The xx, and it looks like his momentum is only picking up. We spoke with Jacques Greene to find out how he forged his house and R&B-influenced sound, from his discovery of vinyl at the age of 14 to his involvement in the Montreal music scene with Ninja Tune and beyond.
The Creators Project: When did you start creating music?
Around 13 or 14, I started buying records. A year or two after that, I started DJing clubs around here when I was 16 or 17.
That’s pretty impressive, since most people in this day and age don’t really buy records anymore.
Yeah, I got really lucky that I started hanging out with older people from the city quite young. When I was in high school, I actually interned for Ninja Tune for a long time. Their sole North American office used to be in Montreal. I worked for them, mailing their promo CDs and all that, and I was paid in vinyl. I was 15 or 16 and taking home a few records every week and the guys and girls who worked there all obviously knew quite a lot about music, so they would give me pointers on what to look for at the record store. Coming from and hanging out with older Ninja Tune artists and employees, I was raised musically from a more old-school attitude. I learned how to DJ on vinyl. It took me a while before CDs or Serato were even a thing.
LuckyMe is an incredible collective of electronic artists, such as Hudson Mohawke and Machinedrum. How did you get involved with them?
I’ve actually known all the LuckyMe guys for four years, back in the good old MySpace days. We all started messaging back and forth online. We were all sending each other quite a lot of music back then, and we were all connecting the same stops and culture and music. It was just kind of a friendship, love at first sight kind of situation, where it was like, “Oh, wait you guys really like Timbaland as well? You guys really like grain synths as well? Oh that’s cool!”
And this was all through MySpace?
Yeah, Lunice was like that with Rustie, we were all just talking. Lunice is out of Montreal as well. I actually booked Lunice’s first show of all time. I found him through MySpace, but it turned out that we were going to the same college. And so we became friends, and I booked his first show at a club ever. Then I was involved with him and a few others in running a party in Montreal for a bit. We booked the first LuckyMe show in North America ever, and when they were over we got along in the real world as well. It was just friendship. It was just common people just hanging out, and us sending [LuckyMe] tracks anonymously for a while because we were friends.
What are you been listening to right now?
That’s a good question. I’ve been going back to Four Tet’s last album; I’ve been listening to that a lot lately, again. And the Jeremih mixtape. He’s actually kind of a one-hit wonder a few years ago; he made that song, “Birthday Sex.” He’s put out a full other album since that song, which is actually amazing by the way, but lately, this summer he put out a mixtape last week called “Late Nights” and it has some absolutely incredible moments on it.
There’s a strong R&B influence in your music. What draws you to this genre?
I love the un-complication of it. There’s no real pretention. It’s just so straight up. If it’s a happy record that’s celebrating love, it’s gonna be the happiest record celebrating love at its the best. And if it’s gonna be about heartbreak, it’s gonna be about deep heartbreak. It’s operatic, it’s melodramatic. It’s always [about] extreme emotions, I like that.
I really like glossy pop production and rap producers, but R&B allows for so much more melody because there’s a singer in it. There’s just certain things and chord progressions on Tricky Stewart, who’s The-Dream’s main producer, and people like that, like Timbaland… there’s some incredible melodic moments in that music. It’s interesting song programming. It’s uncomplicated music in a sense that the emotions and messages are always very clear and pure and straight up. If you listen to it a lot, there’s often moments where I’m like, “Damn, how’d they do that? What… that’s genius!” So little vocal harmonies—there’s going to be 8 vocal tracks and one of the adlib lines are harmonizing with everything or doing a counter melody—that’s just brilliant, I like that.
What’s the story behind your appearance in Azealia Banks’ music video for “212”?
Oh, that’s kind of a weird one. She’s known Travis, Machinedrum, for years, and I’ve known him for years, so I guess we were friends of friends for a long time. Travis’s manager, Mike Defrates from Montreal, took her on, as per Travis’s suggestion and Mike happens to be a good friend of mine, and he moved Azealia Banks to Montreal for the summer to help her with writing and to get her into some studios. So she was in town for two or three months and my friend Mike was like, “You know, just take her out, show her a good time, show her around the city,” because Azealia and I are relatively the same age. So we started hanging out and became good friends, and she made that “212” record and asked Lunice and I to appear in that video. But at first I was under the impression that it would be one of those videos that has a million cameos, and that I’d only be in a second of it but I don’t know what happened with the making of the video. But it ended up just being Lunice and I and I’m just staring at the camera for 10 seconds. It’s funny, it’s become such a weird thing. For a long time, many people thought that I had produced the track, but it doesn’t really sound like something I would make.
Jacques Greene’s cameo in the video for Azealia Banks “212”
Some of the most talented electronic musicians have been coming from Canada, such as Grimes and Purity Ring. Being from Montreal yourself, why do you think there’s been such an emergence of electronic music there?
I don’t know, I think one of the reasons is maybe just rent is so cheap here that it’s actually possible to live off music or whatever it is you choose to do quite easily. It seems a little vain, but not having to hold a job at the same time—or working—I mean I used to work a 60 hour a week job, but you don’t have to and that allows so much more time to work on what you want to do.
But also—I don’t know, there’s something about this place that’s just—a sense of community isn’t that huge, but when you go to a show you’re going to recognize a bunch of other producers and artists. It’s just a small enough city, it’s just over 2 million people. But our neighborhood, which is essentially where everyone seems to live, is quite close-knit. You’ll run into a member of the Arcade Fire at the café or whatever. It has that. I live two blocks away from the studio owned by Godspeed! You Black Emperor. When I first had a studio outside of the house, I shared it with Wolf Parade. I think there just is that in the city, and even though they’ll make indie rock, having Wolf Parade, rehearsing for their new tour back then, was inspiring. I think there is something to be said about having creativity around you. It ends up feeding your soul and contributing to your own ideas in some way shape or form. If you lived in a city devoid of any cultural expression, how could you possibly feel inspired or driven to be creative? In some cases, that’s created the art out of desperation, out of the need to create something. But it is easier to just feel comfortable to make stuff when there’s so many people around you. It’s kind of a Snowball effect, you know?
You did the remix for Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower.” What’s the story behind that?
I got an e-mail from XL Recordings, going, “Hey, Thom Yorke would like you to remix the single off of King of Limbs. Are you interested?” It took me a few days to answer the e-mail. I guess Thom Yorke and the band handpicked everyone for the remix compilation and I was lucky enough to be on the first release of that with Caribou, who, back in my formative electronic music days, I used to be a huge fan of Caribou back when he was called Manitoba, so to be on a split 12-inch remix for Radiohead with Caribou, which is huge because Manitoba and Radiohead were huge for me back then, and to be on the record with the two names was a crazy thing.
It was just kind of like, “Whoa, I’m remixing one of my favorite bands of all time backed by one of my favorite electronic musicians of all time, on one of my favorite labels." It was just one thing after another, it was crazy. I was a nervous wreck while working on it. So it got approved by the band and everything, and I knew eventually it was happening. None of my friends knew, my parents didn’t… I didn’t share that information with anyone until I knew it was for sure approved and happening.
Besides music, is there anything you’re else you’re passionate about?
I would definitely say fashion is kind of an obsession.
What are some of your favorite designers?
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of Damir Doma and Dries van Noten. Undercoverism, a Japanese brand, the designer’s called Jun Takahashi, incredible avant-garde stuff in the early 2000s. Up until 09 he was really good, but I haven’t really seen anything recently that catches my eye. Rick Owens changed the game, but I’m having a hard time finding things in the last two or three seasons that are really exciting. Damir Doma’s is probably my favorite designer. He’s a Croatian-born German guy, operates out of Paris now, but it’s incredible stuff. It’s like, a mix of sand dune Tuareg tribe dude, mixed with Feudal Japan. It’s very flowing and minimal, and post-apocalyptic kind of thing. It’s good.
Top photograph courtesy of Andrew Gordon Macpherson.