As Jacques Greene, Phillippe Aubin-Dionne has seen his fair share of sunrises across the past decade. “You know how when you’re leaving a festival, you hear the drums echo out behind you? You can tell people are having fun in the pit, but you’re 300 feet away; you’re trying to hail a taxi, but you might have to walk home? I wanted a whole record that sounded like that,” he tells me.
Though his new album Dawn Chorus ultimately didn’t end up adhering to those conceptual parameters, it does manage to stir up a deluge of afterparty existentialism. It’s Jacques Greene operating on an entirely new level — his fullest and glossiest work to date, from the rapturous opening track “Serenity” to the outward expanse of “Stars.”
Where most of his current discography has bounced between Montréal, Toronto, and New York, Dawn Chorus owes at least some of its magnitude to Los Angeles, a tectonic shift plays out atmospherically, as well as communally: largely recorded in Hudson Mohawke’s studio, the project spins in contributions from Julianna Barwick, Cadence Weapon, Ebhoni, Rochelle Jordan, Oliver Coates, and Brian Reitzell. As a result, Dawn Chorus feels like a full embrace of music as a shared experience, not just something to be toiled away in solitary.
Just days ahead of unleashing the LP’s second single, “Do It Without You,” Aubin-Dionne recounted how a shoegaze-inspired regiment, a transcontinental community, and field recordings of electromagnetic pulses netted his most accomplished project yet. Read the conversation below, and check out a number of his personal photos from the making of the album.
I’ll admit, I was surprised to see this album in my inbox, just because there was so much of a long buildup to Feel Infinite and you just released Fever Focus last year.
If you don’t share any music for a long time, you find that so much attention is gonna be on the next thing. I don’t post very often on Instagram. The next thing you know, two weeks have gone by, and all of a sudden it feels like you can’t be casual with it anymore. It’s such a silly example, but it's true. When you’re making new music, or if you haven’t done a live show in a while, it’s like, Oh my God, I haven’t played my music in a while. I wanted to keep the ball rolling. I wouldn’t say that I’m this insanely confident person, but it helped me to not overthink it to try to make stuff right away and keep it going.
Were you going into this expecting that an album was going to come out of it, or were you just chipping away in the studio?
There was a concentrated writing period toward the end where I knew it was gonna be an album, but some of the songs had been sitting around for three or four years and had never fit on any project before this. I needed the Fever Focus EP to kick out the jams and make something casual — they were sounds I wanted to have in my DJ sets, and I figured that instead of trying to find them, I should make the stuff that I hear in my head that I want to hear in the club. While I was making that, I felt like the next album had to be vibier, with more of a focus on mood and texture. I emailed the label telling them I wanted to make the second album and they had the same reaction as you — pleasantly surprised, but also, You know you don’t have to do this right away. Sometimes you gotta trust your gut and go for it.
How did L.A. spin into the sonic palette?
Years ago, when I'd go to L.A., I'd try to do sessions with songwriters and I really didn’t enjoy it. But I know so many musicians and producers who live out there, and there’s definitely an ease to how they go into the studio every day. When I lived in New York, it felt like we were all fighting to fit in a couple hours of studio times in a week. But when you pop into east L.A., it’s more of a loose but somewhat focused work ethic: as opposed to just sitting with your headphones on, you have access to spaces, and really good people like Nosaj Thing and Machinedrum. Hudson Mohawke isn’t on the record but I worked out of his studio. To have a peer to bounce things off of was a positive, creative energy.
It sounds like a really communal vibe.
Yeah, the social life when I was out there was like, you go get a burrito with How to Dress Well and talk about where you’re at on your respective records. I have no real desire to live there, but sometimes it’s nice to see how casual conversations end up leading to where your head’s at. Being able to have a conversation with your peers about the financial anxieties about being an independent musician in 2019 can reassure you that you’re not alone in this.
Ffor this album, you were aiming to “study studio mythologies and mindsets.”
I was listening to a lot of Massive Attack and Slowdive at the time — very moody ‘90s existentialist music. While I wasn’t really interested in making a straight up trip-hop or shoegaze album, there were elements of the sound design or writing approach to those projects that I thought I could tap into. Part of that was literally going on some guitar message board — finding pictures of Kevin Shields’ guitar pedal board that he uses when performing with My Bloody Valentine, and using that to build my own pedal board at home. During the mixing stage, Joel Ford and I worked closely together to use specific pieces of gear that we could assign roles to. We weren’t trying to rip anyone off, but rather integrate the tools that have been used by people in order to tip my hat to them.
What were the parameters that you set for yourself to shape the album?
One important thing was to not sample any straight R&B a cappella. I’ve it done before, and I wanted to flip the script this time around. Pretty much all of the vocals on the record are from artists I know and have worked with, so there’s more direct collaboration. I wanted to listen and open myself up this time. I’ve had conversations with Nosaj Thing about how we, and so many of our peers, grew up as bedroom producers. I was excited to do that as a kid because I didn’t have to be in a band. After years of doing that, it feels claustrophobic and lonely. Why not sit in a room with one of your friends and bounce ideas off each other? Instead of diluting my sound or approach to music, it actually made me enjoy the process, and I ended up with material that’s stronger and more in touch with who I am.
How do you constitute a Dawn Chorus?
It’s a morning bird song when the sun is rising, if you’ve ever woken up very early or stayed up very late. There’s a weird electromagnetic phenomenon that happens at the same time. I used recordings of both in the background of the album — in place of a vinyl crackle, there’s these bird chirps and electromagnetic pulses.
You got field recordings of electromagnetic pulses?
Those were definitely ripped from online. I don’t have the radio equipment to capture that. But the bird sounds, some of them were in my backyard and some were in Joel’s backyard in Cypress Park.
Let’s talk about the lead single, “Night Service," which features Cadence Weapon's Roland Pemberton.
Roland and I met years ago in Montreal. I did two beats for his album, and after that came out, we started working on new material. Every session, we’d do the same thing: he’d come to my studio for the day, we’d trade ideas on what kind of beat we should be making, and I’d get to work on that while he’d be writing his bars. When we made this track, I was revisiting the lush, melodic Derrick May side of Detroit techno from the early 90s. I wrote it with Cadence in the room, and it definitely felt like it could be a different approach to a producer-rapper collaboration.
I already had the theme for my record in mind, and he came in on the same wavelength, writing this song that ended up being a beautiful mission statement for not only what this record’s about, but what I believe club music can stand for at it’s best. He’s got all these little elements in it that make it really human, and I ride for all the insanely precise references: she was dressed like Chloe Sevigny, the DJ played the Rapture. You already know that party.
“Serenity,” which opens the album, sounds like nothing you’ve ever done before.
I love a big break. It’s less of a techno thing and more of a rock thing, tied to the loose connection to shoegaze that I talked about earlier. I wanted to make a synth line that sounded halfway between a Slowdive moment and a club siren. The dissonance definitely amps up the euphoria. I had so many demos for the album, and “Serenity” came when I was about 70% done. It felt like a turning point, like I was starting the final lap.
What are you going to be up to before the album comes out?
I’m frantically putting together a stage show: I’ve got a call later today to learn what lights I need to acquire, which ones we’re renting, and what’s it gonna look like. I’m real excited about that. It’s the fun part of being a musician. All the anxiety of writing the music is over, and now we get to talk about it and make it look good. I loved buying CDs and getting to read all the liner notes and photos they’d have in the booklet, and I love getting to build that world for people, which also comes into the live element. It’s very unique to being a musician — if you're a painter or a filmmaker, you finish the work and then it’s set in stone forever. But we get more agency over how our work lives on, and how it stays alive in a way.