Kiwi Jr.: “If everybody in the band likes it, we’re not thinking about the audience at all”

Lead singer Jeremy Gaudet on the Toronto band’s new sound and the frustrations of having their work misinterpreted

Watch the video for Kiwi Jr.’s ‘The Extra Sees The Film’ and you’ll see no fancy graphics or high-concept sets. The song’s lyrics are projected wonkily onto a white sheet huge in front of a table-tennis set, in what could equally be a community centre or someone’s basement. In front of the sheet, members of the group take it in turns to rally. None of them are any good at table tennis.

There’s a home-spun feel to it all, but the lyrics projected onto the sheet and the song playing in the background tell a different story. It’s not one of a group of Toronto guys figuring out their sound in someone’s basement.

About to embark on their European tour, Kiwi Jr. very much appear as a band on the rise, attracting a widening circle of fans with each release. Their two scheduled London shows – one at The Victoria, one at The 100 Club – can attest to this.

“It’s the longest string of dates that we’ve ever done,” says lead singer Jeremy Gaudet. “It’s only 10 shows but it’s in 10 days, so it’ll be really busy. But I think it’ll be fun.”

Whilst to the casual observer Kiwi Jr. are picking up speed on a straight trajectory towards indie rock celebrity, inside the studio the band are already overhauling their sound, always conscious of comparison and repetition and keen to avoid both. Those efforts have delivered Chopper, something darker and more despondent than their previous brighter offerings, packed with synths, cynicism and wonderful storytelling. With three albums out over the past four years, this is a group creating and evolving rapidly to avoid boring themselves – success being just a pleasant consequence. To all intents and purposes, they’ve risen.

We caught up with Gaudet ahead of the tour to talk Chopper, choppers, and why releasing an album in August isn’t the same thing as putting out a summer record.

Kiwi Jr. - "The Extra Sees The Film" (official lyric video)

I know you’ve described the album as a ‘nighttime album’. What led you in that direction?

A little bit of just wanting to switch things up from the last two albums, which I think were a little sunny and bright. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, you know, that’s two records that came in two years for us in that direction. And we sort of want to just explore what was on the other side of the coin a little bit. It was nothing major with the songwriting. It was it was more an exploration of tones and color that we would use in the studio. Leaning into things that are maybe a little more dull and distorted versus the clearer and brighter.

Visuals and film in particular have been quite important to your writing process in the past. Is that something that applied here as well?

There was some film inspiration with the lyrics and things like that, for sure. We were watching a lot of Michael Mann movies, like Collateral and Heat and these LA crime movies. And then just some darker stuff that I was thinking about, like The King Of New York and these different, dark kind of urban scenes. That’s just kind of the vibe we wanted for the record, you know – you’re not inspired by the crime aspect of it, just the visual.

We talked about a lot of different films while writing the songs and while making the record, but you know, that stuff sort of takes a backseat a little bit, once you’re in the studio. Once you have the songs down you’re really just focused on making sure that you’re making the most of your time in the studio. It’s a lot more administrative than creative sometimes, just because of the time constraints, financial constraints and stuff like that. But while we were writing the songs, yeah, there’s time to think about all that stuff.

Kiwi Jr. - Night Vision (official video)

I understand that early in the recording process your producer Dan (Boeckner) sustained a head injury, and that changed your approach to the way the record was recorded.

Yeah, day one was really boring. You know, just doing bed tracks trying to get the rhythm section down. That’s what you usually do in the studio, is build from the ground up. You know, get all your strong rhythm tracks down, and then you can start to apply the flourishes and overdubs. But on day two, Dan hurt his head really bad, and got a bit frustrated with us and said, “No, no, we’re just going to switch to some synths.”

And so we sort of skipped a few steps, and started messing around with keyboards before we even had the drum tracks on some songs. That sort of changed the style of the record.

Were you all on board with that sudden change, or was there any resistance?

No, it was fun! It was like when you get a cool substitute teacher telling you that you can have recess first thing in the morning. That’s the fun stuff. The worst part is spending three days trying to get the drum track down.

I’ve seen quite a few publications use the word ‘summery’ to describe the record. I wanted to ask you if you felt like that was fitting?

I don’t think there’s anything to do with the album that is like that, other than the release date. I feel like any album that comes out in August, people are just gonna call it ‘summery’. Other people might make a case for it, but I don’t know…

Kiwi Jr. - "Unspeakable Things" (official video)

Does it ever frustrate you to feel as if what you create gets misinterpreted?

Oh, yeah. But that happens. There’s nothing you can do about that.

Is it something you think about much when you’re making these tracks, how they’re going to be received and interpreted when they get out to the world? Or do you tend to focus on how they feel to you in the room?

If everybody in the band likes it, we’re not thinking about the audience at all. Occasionally somebody will say, people might think that we mean this by this lyric, or this part sounds a little bit too much like this other group, or something like that. But no, we’re pretty insular. Most of it is just making sure that everybody in the group likes the direction that something’s going in.

That cover art is so striking, that image of the helicopter moving through the night. Where did that come from?

We commissioned that from a great young German artist, Janne Marie Dauer. I was just a fan of all of her illustrations and paintings. She does a lot of different stuff. We knew we wanted a big helicopter on the front and and she was fantastic to work with and gave us like a million different options of helicopters and we arrived at this one. I just like it because it’s huge. It’s immediate. If you see that record on the shelf, you know exactly what it is real quick I think, if you know the band, and that’s kind of the impression we want to make.

When did you arrive at the helicopter as the symbol for the record?

That was very early. That was a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago, before we even started recording or anything. We wanted a symbol that would just kind of sum up the vibe we’re going for. And that was just a big helicopter at night. And then if you have that on the cover, you’ve just got to call it Chopper. One thing led to another real quick.

Why do you think the helicopter summed up that vibe so well?

I wrote this big essay about it to convince the other guys in the band about it. Without getting too into it, it just sort of fit. I don’t know what the initial spark was, it might have been from when we’re talking about those movies. We knew we should make this record feel like nighttime, but not like a cityscape, not like a cool car or anything like that. And the helicopter sort of just came up. Once we had that, like I said, one thing led to another, and everybody got on board real quick.

But I didn’t want it to be like military, you know – like, war helicopters and stuff like that are not cool at all, or news helicopters, but there’s still a niche market for exploratory helicopters, or medical… Once we started thinking about it there were so many questions about helicopters, and we didn’t know a lot. These things are pretty weird. We kind of take them for granted. Some of them don’t even have doors…

Chopper by Kiwi Jr. is available to buy and on all major streaming sites now.