The Canadian producer discusses his debut album and career longevity with Vincent Tsang, the art director of Montreal's coolest skate brand.
Despite a string of well-received EPs, singles, and remixes throughout his career on labels including LuckyMe, UNO, and his own imprint Vase, Canadian producer Jacques Greene wasn't sure that he'd ever put out a record. After an unsuccessful attempt at making a full-length a few years ago, the Montreal-bred artist—whose real name is Philip Aubin-Dionne—recently released his long-awaited debut album, Feel Infinite.
The collection of 11 warmly euphoric house and techno tracks, including "Afterglow" and "You Can't Deny" (which picked up a JUNO Award nomination for Dance Recording of the Year), builds on his ability to layer cut-up R&B vocal samples, sawtoothed synths, and dancefloor-aimed percussion. The record manages to sound simultaneously nostalgic and contemporary, a love letter to club culture and its encompassing emotions.
Another Montrealer who understands the importance of creating work that stands the test of time is Dime art director Vincent Tsang. After first meeting in high school, Greene made a cameo in the photographer and videographer's spartan black-and-white music video for Azealia Banks' 2011 breakout hit "212," which also featured the former's labelmate and Turbo Crunk cohort Lunice.
Gigs with Nike and Michel Gondry's video agency Partizan would follow for Tsang, and he'd be recruited by the scrappy Montreal skate crew's co-founders Antoine Asselin and Philippe Lavoie in 2013 to design everything from limited edition t-shirts to five-panel hats. His playful illustrations range from a dinosaur riding a banana to rainbow smiley faces, and have helped expand the brand's popularity well beyond Canadian borders.
While Greene now calls Toronto home, we spoke to the longtime friends and self-described "fashion nerds" over Skype about how the bilingual Quebec city inspired their creative processes, why the producer sees himself as the Benjamin Button of electronic music, and their mutual love of R&B singer-songwriter The-Dream.
THUMP: Before we get into your questions for each other, how did you guys first meet?
Vincent Tsang: I think we met in high school, he was playing in a band.
Jacques Greene: A hardcore screamo band.
VT: From there, he was doing musical projects and I was doing a lot of film and video stuff, and we ended up working together on a few projects.
JG: I'll start with this first one—do you ever stay up at night tossing and turning because you put me in the Azealia Banks video? [laughs]
VT: I think it was Paul [Labonte] who put you in the video and I was like "Yeah, sure, let's do it."
JG: I got recognized by some moms in airports from it, but I feel like you doing that video got you a bunch of other projects and clients.
That video came out like what, five years ago?
JG: Six years. A lifetime ago. The amount of things that has happened for us and her since...
VT: This was a question that I always wanted to ask you as an artist in your lane. I feel like a lot of successful electronic artists, they usually gravitate towards doing bigger and bigger shows, and they eventually do big festivals. As I grow older, I find myself going out less and less to these big events, and prefer being at home and listening to chill music. Do you see yourself performing for a long time, or do you prefer going back into the studio and just staying kind of behind-the-scenes?
JG: That's a really interesting question and one that I have kind of an existential crisis about all the time. I'm in my late 20s, I get excited by contemporary young culture, but at the same time, I don't want to be the 40-year-old DJ in the club. Obviously as a performer there's nothing more direct and emotionally satisfying than playing shit for someone who likes your stuff, but I don't think I can make big room. No shade to the old guys, there's some dudes who are about that life and are good at it.
VT: I think that resonates with what I do in a sense. It's like "Am I going to be 35 and still drawing cartoons for 16-year-old skaters?" I don't know if I want to do that.
JG: One of the things we have in common is that we work in worlds that are so youth-driven. By the time you're 25, you're one of the older dudes, and with that comes interesting perspectives. It's kind of weird to feel like an "old head" by the time you're 27.
Was there a particular moment for you both when you were like "I'm not as young as I thought I was" or was it a gradual realization?
JG: For me, it was playing in the United States and some of the crowds being younger. It's weird because Europe, even though it's like Montreal and you can start drinking and going out when you're 18, a lot of the electronic community will be like mid to late-20s and it's much more part of life. Whereas in North America, it's this pocket between 19 and 24 where you fucking rage, and then the moment you turn 25 you're like "Oh shit, it's time to have a job and look at mortgages."
In Europe, I have a bunch of friends older than me who are still part of this culture, and really into new music and seeing stuff live. Whereas in North America, many of my friends who are over 25, over 26, don't check for new music, don't go out to the clubs that play new music. Even in Montreal, my friends were like two or three years older, and I guess I had this "young boy on the come up" mentality that lasted a long time.
You're kind of like the old rookie in that you've been doing your thing for awhile, but this is still the debut album.
JG: Yeah, absolutely. I'm the Benjamin Button of this shit.
What about you Vincent, was there a moment in particular?
VT: I can't pinpoint exactly when, but there has been times in the past...
JG: Where a bunch of 16 year olds were wearing your shit?
VT: Yeah, I think that contributed to it.
JG: I think you're not giving yourself enough credit. As far as 16 year olds out there, skate kids have always been ahead of other teenagers. In video editing techniques, in DIY filmmaking, in music choices, in fashion choices, skate kids have always been just that much ahead. You're seeing it today with the entire fashion world being on the jock of skate threads.
VT: Yes, I completely agree with you on that one.
JG: One thing that I really wanted to touch on is that when I made this record, it's not explicitly "Montreal," but I think it couldn't exist without [Montreal venues] Tarot, Silver Door, Coda, Turbo Crunk parties, and my relationship with my life here. Even my screamo band in high school informs a lot of how melodramatic my music is now. I think there's this very autobiographical, "it could only happen in Montreal"-type feel to my record, and I was wondering if you felt the same way about Dime. Growing up knowing some skaters, I feel like there was always this jokey, flipping-the-bird attitude to the skate world.
VT: Yes. 100%. I don't think it would be possible elsewhere, because of the community that we built here over the years. It wouldn't be possible without all the skaters in Montreal who contribute every day with ideas and jokes and clips and everything that they contribute. It's not just the three of us coming up with these stupid-ass ideas that we have. It's often us chilling and smoking weed and drinking beer and talking shit, and then some stupid idea becomes something.
JG: You can feel that in the shirts and in the Instagram and in the videos that you're doing, it's unmistakably Montreal skate culture. I think we have this sloppy, nihilistic vibe in Quebec and Montreal, especially on the Francophone side, because it's this "us against the world" kind of punk attitude, whether it's skateboarding or going clubbing.
Do you find yourself going out less now that you live in Toronto?
JG: Not to clubs. There's a lot of bars on Dundas [Street] who will play like Migos and stuff, to be honest, at this point that's what I like going out to. The other day I was at a really sick techno party, but those are harder to find here, so I'll end up at some weird party with art kids playing rap music badly. I haven't found as much as that strong nightlife maybe in the same sense. I think any Thursday, Friday or Saturday in Montreal if you want, there's going to be some weird party with four local DJs and half the neighborhood is in the room.
Vincent, do you want to go with one of your questions now.
VT: I know you're a big fan of The-Dream. Who would you say is the one artist that you'd like to work with?
JG: A lot of times friends of mine have been like "You listen to so much rap, don't you want to be in that game?" Honestly as a fan of, for instance Future, I don't want to hear Future produced by Jacques Greene. I want to just let Ciara be Ciara, and I can chop it up and do my thing. I think someone like Abra is super exciting and her music is still contemporary. Going back to the R&B artists that I really love, collaborating with like Timbaland makes no sense to me, because that's adding your fucking pencil marks on like a drawing in a museum. You know what I mean? They're not moves I'm going out my way to make.
You've got Tom Krell [How to Dress Well] on the album, but I know you guys have been friends for years and that feels very natural.
JG: I want to be more respectful of that kind of stuff. I'd like The-Dream and Tricky Stewart to remix that song with How to Dress Well. Actually one thing that would be crazy, would be to produce a thing and then The-Dream writes a topline, and we sell it to a pop star. That's the way to go because his toplines are crazy.
VT: Do you prefer [The-Dream's] Love You to Death or The Crown EP?
JG: I think I'm a Love You to Death guy.
VT: Because of "Lemonade Lean" or "Ferris Wheel"?
JG: "Ferris Wheel," that's the one with the jungle drums, right? It's got the crazy breakdowns, that one is fucking psychotic. The-Dream is the best. I also love that he's forever like an underground icon, he's always going to coast off this crazy money he makes off pop songs, and then releasing EPs or records that are out of his mind and crazy, weird nerd R&B.
VT: It's like that Rick & Morty episode where they're like "You don't love The-Dream man?" Love that episode.
JG: On the day-to-day, do you feel super ambitious about Dime or is like "oh I'm just running a little t-shirt shop"?
VT: I think it's a Montreal thing to not want to go big. I don't know, I guess it's just been going the way it is, the goal is to keep doing the same thing.
JG: You don't have like a five-year plan for the company?
VT: Maybe we do, maybe we don't [laughs]. The goal is longevity so that's all that matters.
JG: Same. In a world where no one buys music, I'm trying to have longevity. We'll see how that goes.
Phil, when you decided to put out an album rather than an EP, was there any moment where you were like "I don't know if I want to do this as whole thing"?
JG: Absolutely, three years ago I tried to make an album and I realized that I couldn't. I was seven tracks and I was like "This is taking way too long, this is not satisfying, I'm banging my head against a wall," and put out my favourite three tracks as an EP instead. Not to force the analogy, but I think it's really valid here, I think it was kind of like me always doing graphic t-shirts. The album, whether or not it's fully necessary or fully smart, that's my cut and sew line.
Singles and tracks and bootlegs, all that stuff, can end up feeling like when you do a t-shirt with a bootleg of a logo. It's quick, it's very satisfying, but at some point, the album is something you do not only for yourself as a creative and wanting to have bodies of work that you can stand behind in ten years, but I think it kind of steps you outside of that stream a little bit.
Is there anything else you guys want to say?
JG: You guys just did a drop.
VT: Yeah, we have a bunch of stuff coming up, I don't want to reveal it though.
JG: I respect and love you and am very proud of what you're doing for the city Vince.
VT: Thank you. Same to you buddy, same to you.
Jacques Greene Tour Dates:
March 21 - Vega - Copenhagen, Denmark
March 23 - The CCA - Glasgow, UK
March 24 - Soup Kitchen - Manchester, UK
March 25 - Brixton Electric - London, UK
March 27 - Patterns - Brighton, UK
March 31 - Gretchen - Berlin, Germany
April 1 - Slakthuset - Enskede Gård, Sweden
April 4 - Resident - Los Angeles, CA
April 5 - Swedish American Hall - San Francisco, CA
April 7 - Barboza - Seattle, WA
April 8 - The Liquor Store - Portland, OR
April 9 - Fortune Sound Club Vancouver, BC
April 12 - Flash - Washington, DC
April 13 - Good Room - New York, NY
April 14 - Newspeak - Montreal, QC
April 15 - The Velvet Underground - Toronto, ON
June 16 - Sonar Festival - Barcelona, Spain
Jacques Greene's Feel Infinite is out now on LuckyMe/Arts & Crafts.
Max Mertens is on Twitter.