Five Questions With… Kiwi Jr.
The Toronto-based indie rock band releases its second album, Cooler Returns, on famed label Sub Pop tomorrow. Here members Jeremy Gaudet and Brian Murphy discuss the new record, its favourite songs, the Sub Pop connection, and all the comparisons to ‘90s bands.
By Jason Schneider
When Kiwi Jr. released its debut album Football Money in 2019, its songs reflected the period of adjustment the band was faced with upon moving from their original home base of Charlottetown, PEI to Toronto. With its follow up, Cooler Returns, set for release Jan. 22 on the revered Seattle label Sub Pop, Kiwi Jr. is now having to adjust to being thrust onto the international indie rock stage.
The fact that Sub Pop took an intense interest in the quartet comprised of singer/guitarist Jeremy Gaudet, bassist Mike Walker, drummer Brohan Moore and guitarist Brian Murphy (who also plays bass in Alvvays) isn’t really surprising given Kiwi Jr.’s knack at writing the kind of crisp, jangly guitar pop that proliferated during the 1990s. What brings their sound up to date though, are the songs’ witty and sometimes surreal lyrics, delivered by Gaudet with a nonchalance reminiscent of Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and The Vaselines’ Eugene Kelly.
The overall effect is certainly a breath of fresh air at a time when so many young singer/songwriters seem to be toiling away in the isolation of home studios. Cooler Returns is instead a timely reminder of the sheer joy that comes with being in a band, as well as embracing the wonder of your immediate surroundings. In short, a perfect antidote for pandemic anxiety. We caught up with Jeremy Gaudet and Brian Murphy to find out more.
How does Cooler Returns stand apart from your debut Football Money?
Gaudet: Football Money—as I think is the case with a lot of debut albums—was the result of assembling the songs we had written up until that point into an album and just hoping it was cohesive enough to work as a proper record. When we started writing those songs we hadn’t even played live shows as a band yet, so the idea of them fitting onto an album was not on our minds. But once all those songs were recorded and released on Football Money, we got to have a moment with a blank slate and started thinking about a direction for the second album. So we knew we wanted to introduce some new instruments, more piano, organ, harmonica, sort of folksy things like that. And I knew I wanted to be more precise with the lyrics of the songs, so I spent a lot of time revising before going into the studio.
I have this big binder at home that we called the LP2 Bible and for about a year, anytime one of us had an idea, no matter how vague or unrealized, it went into the Bible. Everything from artwork, to instrumentation, to lyrics went in there. In the months leading up to the rehearsal and recording sessions I spent most of my free time combing through a huge number of notes and assembling it into a binder. We’d be in the middle of rehearsing a song like Maid Marion’s Toast, and we knew the bridge needed some sort of spark, so we’d flip through the Bible and see a note that says, “slide guitar like the Wallflowers,” and bang, there you go, that’s the solo. A lot of the songs on Cooler Returns we haven’t played live before, so it’s backwards from Football Money where we were trying to capture a live sound in the studio. Now we are looking to learn how to play these “studio songs” live.
What songs on the new record are your favourites and why?
Gaudet: I sort of judge our songs by how happy I am with the lyrics, and I generally like the latest stuff the best. Two of the newest songs are Dodger and Maid Marian’s Toast, so I’ll say these ones. Maid Marian’s Toast I started with the title first and then wrote backward, which was fun. It came together quickly. Dodger took longer. I had the idea of putting these two characters—the L.A. Dodger and Brooklyn Dodger—in a sort of memory box cage-match, and contrasting the two different philosophies and just seeing what happened when it was out on the page. Dodger is so hard for me to play on guitar though, I don’t know that I’ll still agree that it’s a favourite of mine come rehearsals.
How has signing with Sub Pop changed the band?
I don’t think signing with Sub Pop has changed the type of music we want to make or how we want it to sound. It did give us a bit of a nudge in terms of getting into the rehearsal studio and putting in long hours of arranging and getting the songs up to shape. Even though Sub Pop has a huge reach and will help get our music to listeners all over the world, we’re still Kiwi from the block.
How does it sit with you to often get compared to ‘90s indie rock artists?
Gaudet: Well, when we get compared to good ‘90s indie rock bands it’s not a problem. It will be concerning when we start getting Bush comparisons. I understand that everybody needs a reference to go off. Nobody’s gonna listen to your band unless they have an idea of what to expect. I think the touchstones change all the time too. I’ll write a song like Waiting In Line trying to sound like the Velvet Underground, and somebody compares it to Whitney or Parquet Courts—and those bands are great—but I think perhaps we’re all just trying to sound like the Velvet Underground. Sometimes we’ll get compared to bands that I’ve never listened much to before too, which is funny. A lot of people think we’re as big music fans as they are. Everyone’s got their own things that they nerd out about, but I honestly couldn’t name you more than three Sebadoh songs.
What's your mindset looking ahead to the prospect of playing live this year?
Murphy: It’s pretty hard to look down the road and set goals when you don’t know what tomorrow will bring in terms of lockdowns and closures. We were hoping to get into a venue or a studio and do some “live on the Internet” recording but that will have to wait another month at least. The idea of an actual live concert seems so foreign to me, so it’s hard to think or talk about it, but hopefully we can figure out a way to play shows by the fall. We’ve gotten emails from our UK agent about heading over there again to play some shows. We played a handful of shows there before lockdown in January, and they went really well; so we’ll probably look at getting back over to the UK and maybe this time go into Europe.