20 Questions With Jacques Greene: The Producer on His New Album, Early Rave Days & Love For Young Thug

Jacques Green
Mathieu Fortin

Jacques Green

You know the feeling when you've been partying all night with your best friends, and you don't ever want it to end, so you lay on a pull-out bed on the floor of the living room talking in desperate whispers until the sun comes up and forces you to silently breathe heavily, wishing for sleep?

Jacques Greene's new album, Dawn Chorus, is dedicated entirely to that feeling.

Released today (Oct. 18) through LuckyMe, the LP is a follow-up to his 2017 debut, Feel Infinite. The dozen tracks on Dawn Chorus capture the hazy, ambient feeling of joyful exhaustion. It's an elegant soundtrack to a real moment in many ravers' lives, and rather than create the music you might listen to then, he scores the scene as if it were a movie. He treated the writing and production as if he were a band, pushing himself to collaborate with others and trying his hand at some unusual hardware.

Billboard Dance caught up with the Canadian dreamer to learn more about his unique process and get the dirty details on all his best party memories.

1. What was the first album or piece of music that had a big impression on you?

My mom was fairly young and listened to a lot of Beck around the house. Odelay is simultaneously so in love with all the music that it's touching on – hip-hop, DIY rock – but ironic and irreverent in how it's mixing everything together. Not just in how I approach music, but in everything in life, it's not quite devil-may-care, but sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes just like "fuck these rules." That record ended up being very influential for my head space.

2. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what did they think of your job now?

They both worked in advertising, my dad being an art director and my mom being a production manager at various small agencies in Montreal. They're supportive and proud now. I didn't even go into a bachelor program, just started working and then quit that pretty quickly to become a DJ. I was already releasing music, so I wasn't just like, "Hey mom, I'm going to the club." I think there was still this, "Okay, are you sure?"

I think it was a couple of years in when I got asked to do an official remix for Radiohead. I don't think they understood really what a remix was, but they were just like, "Oh wow, he's working with them." So I think them being proud of me is based on a misunderstanding. [laughs]

3. What's distinctive about where you grew up, and how did this place shape you?

I grew up in Montreal with a French-Canadian mom and an English-speaking Quebec dad. It's where you live, so you take it for granted, but then in my early 20s, I moved to New York and was like, "Oh shit, I grew up in a very weird place." [I gained the] understanding over time that so many of the TV shows and music I listen to were Quebec culture.

I go home and only speak in French, and there's an attitude of us-versus-them, like, these are American invaders and we've got to preserve our culture, do things their own way. It's always imparted me with this very DIY, stand your ground, don't lose yourself in the mix [attitude]. Hold on to what makes you, you.

4. How old were you when you first went to a rave, and what was it like?

I was 16 or 17. The first large-scale thing I went to was Tiga. He's the godfather of techno in Montreal, still around today. The party promoters were called "I Love Neon," which is so perfectly of its time -- 2005, 2006. Justice has just arrived on the scene, and Tiga was playing Soulwax and 2manydjs. That was the larger, club stuff, and then I started throwing my own parties when I was 17 but in a 100-person space.

5. Tell me about the first song you ever made.

I was a teenager and got an MPC. I wanted to be a cross between Timbaland and Boards of Canada. I would play a lot of really obvious movie soundtrack records, like the Taxi Driver soundtrack, and try to chop up the strings. I was making really bad, eerie hip-hop. The first Jacques Greene song I ever made, I was DJing more house music and techno.

I feel nostalgic a lot for this time in your life when you're good enough to make something that sounds like music, but you're not really mature enough or deep in it to understand the rules. Things are wrong, but that's what makes them interesting. The first batch of songs was, “I like a Detroit techno synthesizers, and I kind of like the 909, so I'll just move all the kicks around." A friend of mine, Teki Latex from France, he had a first batch of my music and he's like, "Your tracks are so cool, but they're impossible to mix." Stuff just didn't work about them, but I really hold them dear to my heart.

6. What was the last flight you were on, and how did you pass the time?

New York to Montreal. I actually really look forward to flights. I feel like that's unpopular opinion, but I've never bought wifi on a flight. That's the one time in my life where I don't have to think about my email account or Twitter. It's this beautiful vacation from it. I'll either bring movies on a hard drive, but on shorter flights like that, I'm a big fan of bringing my print edition of The New Yorker and just making my way through an arduous,18-page article that will ruin the rest of my day.

7. What helps you feel at home no matter where you are?

I don't. I'm okay with the nomadic side of it. My friend Lunice, he'll carry pocket aroma diffusers and really control the scents in the areas he's in. I've been psychoanalyzing myself recently, and when I was a kid, my mom and I moved quite a lot within the city, so I'm really adaptable and okay in different situations. Which probably makes me decent in my job, because I can handle travel and being away from home. I just go with it.

8. What's the last song you listened to?

The real true answer is this Defected drum'n'bass track by J. Magik called "Love is Not a Game," featuring Kathy Brown. It's a wonderful piece of liquid drum 'n' bass.

9. In a Fader interview you said that you and your little brother are into sharing tracks with each other. Who is your favorite rapper with a face tattoo?

It's 100 percent Young Thug. We need him. My favorite track has got to be "Hercules." There's so many deep cuts that probably rise to the top, but on first effect, I saw him live once, and when he went in "Hercules," it was just a problem, it was crazy, so I'll stick to that.

10. What's the craziest thing you've seen happen in the crowd during one of your shows?

There was one time, maybe three years ago. My friends in New York threw a party called Rinsed. They used to be really insane. They've toned it down and don't do it quite as much anymore. We had this warehouse in Bushwick. I was maybe 30 minutes into my set, and the power goes off. That classic moment of big track, right at the drop kind of thing, and everyone's looking at each other trying to figure out if we overloaded the system.

My friend runs to this gap between the stage and the wall, and he had to help out these two girls that are jammed. One is completely naked, the other is only in [her] bra. They had started making out and found this slot behind the scenes and started, y'know, having a good time. In the process, they unplugged the entire system but also jammed themselves and had to be helped out. The only way out was to come on the stage. They got a standing ovation, we plugged the system back again, they covered themselves and ran off stage. It was wonderful. You can't make that shit up.

11. In honor of your single “Night Service,” what's the last party you went to that felt like church?

One that really has that place in my heart is a weekly in Boston called Make It New that I played a few months ago. Unfortunately, it's ending after 15 years. Every Thursday without fail, fucking 50 times a year for 15 years, these guys brought a guest, and people do show up like church. People show up at the beginning and give you incredible energy, right until the end and. I think I played their party five or six times over the years, and every time it's just like, "Oh yeah, this is what a good night and this community is about."

12. It's been said that you write songs about the club instead of for the club. What does that mean?

I'm not really interested, from a technical standpoint, in producing club music. I want to use all the tools but have it feel more like songs than tracks. A few years ago, I made this track called "Feel What” inspired by one of the first times my friend Terrence visited me in Montreal. The ecstacy was a little too strong, and there's one moment in the night we had to go find a bench in the back room and just sit there for five minutes. He's not throwing up; he doesn't have to go, but he's just got to sit and collect himself, take it all in. The euphoria was too much.

I didn't want to make a song that would create that in someone else. I wanted to make a song that felt how that moment felt. Trying to get the impressionistic energy and emotion in those moments, as opposed to something that could trigger those moments.

13. Where did you work on Dawn Chorus?

A lot of it at home in Toronto. Some of it was made in Montreal. A lot of it was made in my good friend Hudson Mohawk's studio in LA. I don't really work on music on the plane, but I love working on music while traveling; setting up in Airbnbs, borrow a friend's studio or even just work out of an apartment. One of the tracks was made in New York with Clams Casino. I did a bit of work as well in London.

14. How did you and HudMo become friends?

We've known each other since I was about 18, 19, back in the old MySpace days, when the going was good and we thought the Internet was actually a nice place. I used to make music that was a little closer to HudMo. Lunice and I went to school together. We would throw our parties together.

My friends and I were actually the first people to ever book Hudson Mohawk and Rustie in North America. We were all young as shit. He was an introvert bedroom producer. I was some arrogant Canadian, and we just kept in touch and always traded music. We're on the same label now. It's a real-world friendship, because we don't really play in the same circles anymore, but we'll go for Thai food.

15. What keeps you living and creating in Toronto, as opposed to L.A. or New York?

It's not my favorite place ever in the world, but it's nice to be in Canada as a Canadian. Not in a way that's like, “Ha ha, you Americans don't have health care.” It's more coming from a place of immense gratitude. I think after living in America for a couple of years and having so many American friends, it's not taking that for granted and not taking those sides of Canadian society that are so incredible for granted. Toronto is an unbelievable, multicultural city. Within a five-minute walk from my house, I can get insane Caribbean food, walk over to Koreatown, get Tibetan food. It's a really nice, comfortable mixed bag of the entire world. I really like that energy.

16. What's one way you pushed yourself creatively on this album?

I was trying to open myself up to more collaboration. Coming from the school of bedroom producers, it feels very natural to be alone all day, but between the amount of friends I have and people I know that are just so talented at different things, it felt like an interesting challenge to get myself out of my comfort zone, meet up and do a thing.

17. You said you used a "terrible compressor that Alan Braxe and Fred Falke love." What's so terrible about it?

I've got two of them. They're the worst thing in the world. It's called the Alesis 3630. It cost $40, and it turns everything into a brick. It has this digital character. There's no way to be subtle with it, but you could run chords and a kick drum into it and you're like "woah, that's almost a Daft Punk track." You can get a $10,000 synthesizer, but the really interesting stuff is when a rap producer reinvents that same snare sample everyone has used, that free snare or free plugin. The tools of the people, the most accessible things, the pieces of shit that end up having their character. It's a really fun thing.

18. What songs by other producers or bands do you think fit into this early-morning-after-a-party mood that you tried to distill on this LP.

DJ Koze has been really excellent at that. His classic remix for Who Made Who, song called "Keep Me In My Plane." "Put On" by Galcher Lustwerk. “Luxury Problems” by Andy Stott. That's real, "It's way too late. I should go. I've been sitting on my friend's couch with Uber secretly open on my phone for 45 minutes, I should be calling it, but I'm not.”

19. In the grand landscape of dance music, what role do you play?

I'm the Ann Demeulemeester, sort of goth, emotional side of fashion. I'm in there doing my thing. Maybe not the best-selling, not always the flavor of the month, but solid, heart on his sleeve and just there.

20. What does success for Dawn Chorus look like to you?

More people bonding with their friends until 8:00 in the morning.

Jacques Greene's Dawn Chorus is out everywhere Friday, Oct. 18. Listen to his latest single “Let Go” below.