There’s a deep inhale at the start of Jacques Greene’s new album, Feel Infinite, followed by an exhalation. That breathing pattern, which sits prominently in the mix, is looped over frothy R&B vocals and a rippling synth line on the album opener, “Fall.” Taken together, the sounds mimic the heart-racing, senses-muffling physiology that kicks in during moments of fear, courage, or pleasure — all emotions that the Montreal producer worked through whilst putting together his first full-length record in a near seven-year career.
Feel Infinite, out on March 10, is a concept record about the emotional range that clubbing inspires, and it’s propelled by techniques fans have come to closely associate with Greene's music: dancefloor-friendly percussion, enveloping melody, and compelling snatches of manipulated vox. But when I meet Greene to talk about the record at a cozy cafe in downtown Toronto’s west end — where he now lives — much of what we end up discussing is how life in the club can alter ideas and behaviors in the outside world, in ways that are both good and bad. Providing space for a spectrum of identities? Great. Creating a reinforced ecosystem of privilege? Not so great.
The lead single from Feel Infinite, a brief cut titled “You Can’t Deny” that merges funky two-step with euphoric vocal house, is nominated for Dance Recording of the Year at the 2017 Juno Awards. It’s not the type of recognition Greene is used to receiving but, as he admits, sometimes you have to come up from the club for air.
You first started released music in late 2010, but this is your first full-length. Was it always a goal to venture beyond the EP format?
I didn't even realize it’s been that long. In my brain I still feel like the young gun on the scene, but I finally got my shit together to write a full-length, even after putting out six EPs — one a year since I started. I guess while you're in it you're not cognizant of what's happening, or everything you've done — obviously everyday I'm not like, ‘Yo, I'm seven years deep!’
I mean, that traditional full-length format just doesn’t matter to some artists.
A few years ago, I tried to make an album and it didn't come together. I had like seven songs and felt like I was forcing it. I was also writing a different kind of music but it was, ‘Oh, this is album music now. I've gotta be mature.’ I wasn't being honest with myself, it was just like these long three-part songs. So after that I kind of gave up, like, Maybe I am a track guy and it doesn't matter. I've got a 16-year-old brother and our whole relationship is based on showing each other insane Soundcloud rap links. He’s into XXXTentacion and Suicide Boys, Wifisfuneral. You know, dudes with tattoos on their face who rap about molly and Xanax. But that's all that he cares about, these dudes who are only putting out tracks on Soundcloud. Things have changed.
Honestly, I think it's that the pace is such that to slow down and actually create the body of work is more difficult now. To pay my rent I have to have a constant stream of releases and tour around them. Being able to take a year and a half or two years off — I mean I was still playing shows but mostly I’d go to the studio every day for a couple months. That was really fucking expensive. I've been, like, broke for the last 10 months because I had to take that time. And I’m probably not going to make any money off this record; it's really just a thing I want to do. But I like it, it's very humbling. I don't think it's the worst thing in the world that musicians have to work and tour. Another side of that is while working on this record, I could also workshop songs, which is super cool. You could be halfway through working out a song and play it to a room of people, and it’s a beautiful bonus because you're getting an honest response.
I noticed that actually too, and I thought that was really cool! I mean, the world we interact with — we're on Twitter a lot, we released our music on Soundcloud, there's a very internet-based community around what we do. Ezra [Kingdom] and I were doing U.K.-centric music via Gmail and living our lives in this very virtual way. I've never lived in a city where my scene was the strongest thing. I've always been a bit of an outlier, and so an attachment to the physical space of the club becomes your one link to your world and your job. Especially because I have friends that don't make music or understand what I do — let alone my parents. There's a disconnect and it only becomes clear through some kid favoriting my shit and commenting, ‘Oh my god, this song's coming out. I heard it on this online radio show two years ago.’ Club experiences I've had in the last few years have been the only times I've been connected to a culture; the only time I've been connected to people who fully get me and what I'm doing.
Some people see the club as an escape, and not a place of connection.
I don’t really see the club as escapism because that’s where you see people being the most ‘them’ versions of themselves — they're not escaping who they are. For a kid who feels fabulous to dress up in some amazing way and act how he feels all the time is not escapism, it's actually affirming and true and honest. I find that very emotional. Your job, your taxes, the way you're dressed or present yourself at a dinner party, that's not real. I would say that once you're four drinks deep and listening to a song that you enjoy, and you’re with friends or trying to woo a girl or a guy — that's true.
I love the club as social microcosm. You get snapshots of people's true colors and I love that for the good and the bad. So the whole record and writing process was about breaking down those barriers with myself and trying to make songs that came naturally. What's natural to me is oppressively melodic and intense, sometimes too much so. I'm always frustrated I can't be like this cool, restrained music guy. Minimalism is like... I respect it and wish I could do it so bad but I can't. Though I’m working on it.
"Club experiences I've had in the last few years have been the only times I’ve been connected to a culture; to people who fully get me and what I’m doing.”
You've definitely become known for a specific sound. Were you trying to distance yourself from it on Feel Infinite?
If I'm creating distance between myself and what I do, I should expect distance in how people interact with it. Leaning into sounds people knew me for was kind of a comfort zone and a way to streamline things in the studio instead of fighting to make this good. Even two years ago, I was seeing stuff about ‘Well Jacques Greene is good at one thing, the vocal chop over a dance beat thing.’ I get that, but I'm better at it than you! I definitely felt pressure, but it was from journalists mad they’re hearing the sound from someone who's getting better at finding other ways to do it.
A lot of filmmakers and fashion designers I like set their own rules. I love that if you didn't like Rick Owens seven and a half years ago, you don't like him now. But chances are if you like his silhouettes and use of fabrics, you'll love the way he's reinterpreting them now and working on the colors. From season to season the evolution is microscopic and slow. I've always admired the self-confidence of having a really great idea or technological know-how, and refining it.
So what’s your version of that — the R&B vocal chop?
R&B vocals are my gospel or disco — that’s what I heard in the halls of high school every day — and then I throw through a club music structure. But [conceptually] there's also this side of me that's tied to Montreal music: [at one point] the biggest things in my city were early Arcade Fire and Godpseed! You Black Emperor — very melodic, intense, melodramatic stuff. Not that I was the biggest Arcade Fire fan in the world but there was this thing happening in the city of wearing your heart on the sleeve, almost like no irony and full feeling. So I think the no-irony thing is big in my music, which is weird because I'm hyper-judgmental and super detached. But I like to think my music allows me to reach this loving and caring and empathetic part of myself.
[Dev Hynes comes on the cafe stereo]
I mean, Dev is a good example! The moment his music plays, in two seconds you're like, That’s him. He just doubles down on his sensibilities — even after he did those records with Sky Ferreira and Solange. Freetown Sound is still that but a slightly pushed version.
“If I’m creating distance between myself and what I do, I should expect distance in how people interact with it.”
You were living in N.Y.C. for a minute, and now you're in Toronto. Does where you’re at affect the way you make or think about music?
I was spending a lot of time between N.Y.C. and Montreal while writing the record. New York is the best place in the world, but to slow time down enough to write a record — it was near impossible to do that there. Rent is astronomical, space is hard to come by, and that creates a lifestyle where I was on the road 60 percent of the time. You can make tracks but you can't make songs when you're living that way, I think. So it more influenced the amount of time I could spend making music, and that affects the quality. The only times I've done good records is when I have dedicated blocks of time to really bang my head and make 16 bad ones and two or three good ones.
Why pivot to Toronto instead of just going back to Montreal?
I'll end up back there at some point but I still want to live out in the world. Toronto is weird because it has to loosen up, but I'm definitely fine with not living in America right now. Also, I don’t know, maybe I didn’t go to Montreal on some ego shit, like, ‘Man moved to the big city and look who's crawling back?’ [Laughs] I still feel painfully North American in the sense that I don't think I could do a London or a Berlin; my snarky side would flare up with the DJ expats.
The expat culture of Berlin is kind of frustrating. I hate to be that guy, but from my experience of running into Americans, British, Australian, Canadian people there, not a lot are adding to the community or opening businesses. It’s very self-serving. They’re all like, Yeah I sublet a place and DJ around Europe. It’s sick man, you should move here! Like, what? Germany is dealing with actual struggles of huge swaths of refugees and migrants who need to move. I find it very insensitive actually. I wish there was a more ongoing, open dialogue about the politics of all of that. Not that it's my place to start it — I mean I've never lived there.
You’re nominated for a Juno Award, which is kind of a wild feat in Canada for someone who makes the kind of music you do.
The nomination feels good in Canada where the media still doesn't talk a lot about dance music and electronic music. My parents are stoked, and I got a text from my grandma about it, which is cool. I'm bringing up my grandma, which lets you know what I think about the relevancy of award shows. But for the first time in my life I'm applying for and getting grants so the fact that I'm now ‘Juno nominated’ means that mainstream Canadian culture recognizes me as culturally relevant. It's cool for practical reasons like that.