Published Oct 16, 2019What's the first thing you notice about an album? The artwork? The tracklist? Those seemingly ubiquitous ambient intros? With Jacques Greene's latest record, Dawn Chorus, it's the drums. They burst out of the opening track, "Serenity," like a big beat sucker-punch. They're huge, unrestrained, and most importantly, not what you'd expect from a Jacques Greene (aka Philippe Aubin-Dionne) track.
"A big part of this record was trying to push myself out of my comfort zone," Greene tells Exclaim! "And some of that was asking myself: 'What have I done that I can push further, or what have I not really done at all?' Having tough drums that don't really feel like punchy club drums, that are more like rock, in a way, was totally new for me."
While a new take on drum production doesn't make a record, the attitude behind it most certainly does. Leaving your comfort zone can be no small task, especially for a self-confessed "intense control-freak" such as Greene. For someone like him, the ultimate un-comfort zone is to relinquish some creative control, and that's exactly what he did.
"I come from the ethos of being a bedroom producer. Ever since I stopped playing in a band, and started making music by myself on a computer, the fun of it was not having to deal with a drummer, not worrying about a bassist — just being able to program everything myself. After years and years of being solo, and having so many peers and friends who make music and have other assets, I wanted to open up some of the writing on this one. So, I played the role of a film director, at times. Say, I want this harmonic string section on this part, instead of trying to approximate what a cello could be, I thought 'Let's try get in touch with Oliver Coates, instead.'"
Coates does appear on the album, along with a slew of other collaborators: Machinedrum, Clams Casino, Cadence Weapon, Ebhoni, Julianna Barwick and film composer Brian Reitzell, to name a few, all contribute something different to Dawn Chorus. So much so, the record feels like the working of a supergroup; it feels like a band.
"I wanted to get to the more collaborative nature of how music used to be, before we all started hiding behind computers," says Greene. "As much as that stressed me out at first, what ended up happening is a record that I am the proudest of. Bringing in friends, and people whose music I gravitate toward, gave it extra dimensions that I'm so happy about. They feel like an extension and a strengthening of it, because we don't go through life all alone — we have friends and people we work with and people we know, and they're a part of us."
So, Jacques Greene has jettisoned some artistic authority and stylistic inhibitions, but what about his signature POV — how he makes music about the club, but not for the club? Well, that's slowly slinking out the back door too.
"I'm a club kid that can't make a straightforward techno song, so I've always made tracks like an out-of-body experience — a bird's eye view of goin' out," says Greene. "But friends of mine are growing older, the world changes, at this point I'm coming up on ten years of this project next year, so it's now more like music about leaving the club.
"Dawn Chorus is the technical name for bird song, early in the morning," he continues. "To me, that is the sound of leaving the after party. If you've stayed out too late, the soundtrack of going home is the literal dawn chorus, so it's a nod to that. You've got a head full of stars, you've definitely had a great night, tomorrow, or rather today, is going to suck, you accidentally say 'good night' to the taxi driver when he drops you home at 7:30 a.m. That's the essence of the record."
Dawn Chorus shows a clear maturing of sound, and it has a different sway to it, but fear not, it's still very much a Jacques Greene record. Saccharine vocal snippets still ricochet around the room, that trademark R&B sheen remains over some of the tracks, and the waves of euphoria haven't gone anywhere. If anything, they've grown in size.
"My favourite music, is the stuff that can manipulate people's emotions. That's the best part of music: The big euphoria you'll get from rock or things like Chemical Brothers and the trance and rave records from the '90s. All that stuff is so immediate and not scared of going big. I think it's easier to be ironic than earnest. In music or in art, it's simpler to have this slight distance than really putting yourself out there. Being understated can create beautiful things, but there's something to be said for swinging for the fences."
Dawn Chorus is out October 18 on Arts & Crafts.