Kiwi Jr. play tracks from 'Cooler Returns'

Toronto's Kiwi Jr. join The Current for a virtual session (MPR)

Toronto's Kiwi Jr. drop in for a virtual session to play tracks from their new album, Cooler Returns. The band catches up with Mary Lucia about their recording process in the past year, getting signed to Sub Pop Records, and the trickiness of planning for future shows as live music slowly returns.

Interview Transcription

Edited for clarity and length.

MARY LUCIA: That was Kiwi Jr. live here in our virtual session. Let's say hello to the band. Hello friends.

KIWI JR.: Hey!

I have a fun fact that I can't prove Minneapolis is further north than Toronto.

BRIAN MURPHY: I think that is true actually. I think I remember hearing that from somebody in Minneapolis before.

Right? Fascinating. [laughs]

MIKE WALKER: Where did you hear the fact, Mary?

I don't know. Someone told me and I thought, "Can I fact check that?" But then I figured no. So here we are, the new record which is Cooler Returns. I really am curious because this is the second record for you guys on Sub Pop and I don't even know in this day and age, how does somebody get signed to a label anymore? When everything is like careers made on TikTok and stuff, how did you guys get signed proper?

JEREMY GAUDET: Yeah, well, we put out our first record in 2019 and we got some pretty good press with that one. Some people at Sub Pop heard it and liked it enough just to reach out to us. Yeah, it was pretty simple. It was unexpected but it was pretty cool for us.

So within this last year--I don't know why I want to make the assumption that Canada is far advanced in terms of vaccination, and it all being a lot smoother than it is in the US. But how has that been going?

BRIAN MURPHY: It's actually the the opposite of what you just described.

Really?!

BRIAN MURPHY: Yeah, we're way behind. The States has ramped it up and it's moving a lot quicker than Canada which makes it kind of tricky because there's probably certain parts of the States that are looking to open up live shows, again, whereas we're nowhere close to that in Toronto. It's kind of tricky right now, with different parts of the world being further along than other parts.

I can only imagine that makes the potential for--yeah, there are some shows being announced. But it's almost with a little bit of a--there's some hesitation in people wanting to go, "Yeah, get your tickets for Dinosaur Jr.!" Even though they were one of the first bands to announce a show proper. But I guess when you're thinking--would you think about starting in Canada, if you were gonna play some live shows, say the summer? Or would you think about booking something in the US?

JEREMY GAUDET: It's all just pretty tricky right now. There's just no way of knowing when it's going to be safe for us to do that here. Things are pretty wild. But logistically, it would probably be easier than crossing the border, just because we don't really know when that's going to open up for musicians. Yeah, we'll probably start with a Toronto show, I bet.

With the idea of having a record--a great record, I might add--comes the hopes of being able to perform these songs live in a way that's maybe other than a virtual thing like this, because--would you consider yourself a band that feeds off of an audience's energy live?

MIKE WALKER: I'd say definitely. Most groups would probably say the same. But I found even when we were doing our live sessions that we were recording on our own, we had to really ramp them up for ourselves because normally we can, yeah, you have the benefit of being able to rely on audience being there and being enthusiastic, and giving you a pat on the back when you finish a song instead of looking over at the sound person and saying, "So, was that okay?" [laughs]

I think I clocked Cooler Returns at 36 minutes, which I personally love. I remember seeing The Strokes when Is This It came out, and they really had 34 minutes of material on their first go round live. I've often wondered, does that sort of put you in a situation where you're forced to learn some weird covers? When you only have like a 34 minute set in the beginning?

JEREMY GAUDET: I don't think we we have played too many covers, only a few in the past. We'll do things where we'll have a song in a set and then after two gigs realize that no one likes it and we'll cut it. By cutting a lot of songs, that's how you get it down to 34, 35 minutes.

Do you think too that with the quarantine, I've talked to quite a few bands--because I've been at work every single day so I haven't really had any of that work from home experience. But the thing I kept finding during the quarantine with bands was somehow everyone decided to take up baking. Any of you now proficient at scone making? Because for whatever reason, it was like, besides the the terrible tragedy of loss and all of that--there was a lack of toilet paper and increase of scones in the last year.

MIKE WALKER: I think I remember hearing about a flour shortage but I can't say that it really affected my personal household.

Did things like a pandemic and this sort of forced isolation, whatever that means to you--as songwriters, how much have you guys worked individually and how much were you able to actually be together and even hang in one room, or were you?

JEREMY GAUDET: Well, last summer the numbers in Toronto were very, very low. So we were able to safely get together and rehearse and record this album. But now these days, it's really ramped up the case count. So we haven't seen each other for a while or had the chance to do much recently at all.

MIKE WALKER: A development, sort of in the latter stages, just before we went into record was really nice respite from having to stay inside, because we were able to, as Jeremy mentioned, because it was safe for us to do so. So that was just really nice. I feel like that enthusiasm really fed into the tracks as well.

Yeah. I'm sure you had to do it where it was limp, not that you would have had an entourage in the studio, maybe you would have. But it's just the sort of limited down to the most essential people that have to be in the studio, who was it that was with you?

JEREMY GAUDET: That's totally correct. In the studio it was just us four and our engineer. That was Graham Walsh, who we worked with on the last record as well. It was a bit of a different vibe in the studio at the start. He's behind glass, he's not really coming out and hanging out in the in the room with us. He's kind of stuck in the booth with a mask on just peering over the window every once in a while giving thumbs up and thumbs down. But we got used to it pretty quick. By the second or third day, things were rolling, I think pretty well.

Are you the kind of band that has things sort of demoed to death before you get into the studio? Are you able to write once you get in there?

JEREMY GAUDET: We definitely did with this album record just a lot of our live rehearsals. We would just put an iPhone in the middle of the room and that would be the extent of it. No, we don't really create these pretty elaborate demos like I know some bands do. And yeah, we do definitely allow for some creativity and spontaneity in the studio, where somebody might have an idea for a keyboard line or something like that. But for the most part, everything is pretty tracked out. We kind of know what we want before we get in there, I think.

Do you guys live close to each other?

BRIAN MURPHY: Yeah, we all live in the West-End of Toronto. Yeah, we're not like super close. But we're all within a short bike ride distance.

Have you ever just run into one of you at Walgreens, or whatever you have in Canada?

BRIAN MURPHY: Jeremy you saw Mike walking down the street with his bass once right?

JEREMY GAUDET: Yeah, I thought he was going to join another band. I was like, what's going on?

MIKE WALKER: I don't think I had a case either did I?

JEREMY GAUDET: No, just a loose bass.

BRIAN MURPHY: Bass in the wild.

Something that comes across with your music, your songs, and especially with this record, which I find funny that people want so desperately to make you explain. To me, it just seems like you're friends and you're kind of making each other laugh, and you guys think the same things are funny and I think that's about all I need. I feel like people want more. They want you to tell them more about this particular line of the song is so clever and why and who and what--it's just like, I don't know, if you get people who like each other and have the same sense of humor together, this is what happens.

MIKE WALKER: I think maybe that demand is a positive thing as well, right? If people are asking those questions, and they want to know, I mean, first and foremost, they're interested but then also there must be something intriguing about what's being said and it's nice when there's not necessarily ambiguity but when there's something interesting and layers that have yet to be uncovered. I think that makes for a pretty pretty good listening experience. If every lyric is so straightforward, can be finished with a record pretty quickly. I probably shouldn't speak on that behalf, Jeremy writes all the lyrics, but personally.

Well, these are just so strange--these interviews to me because again, I mean, I would normally be saying "All right, so we look forward to seeing you here in town whenever," but the new record which we here at The Current have absolutely been loving, Cooler Returns. You guys are going to do the title track from that and I want to thank you all for your time and I can't believe--nobody's had like a dog or cat walk past the camera or child come screaming into the room. This is all the things that I've already experienced but you guys all have these very controlled environments and scenes.

JEREMY GAUDET: I actually, right and on the other side of this door, have my upstairs neighbors moving out and there's like mattresses being hauled down the stairs and stuff so I thought maybe you could hear but good to know that you can't.

Nice.

MIKE WALKER: I'm also sitting next to an unpacked room with boxes everywhere. So if I shift my camera a certain way it exposes the truth.

Are you moving or are you moving in?

MIKE WALKER: I recently just moved, yep.

Oh, wow. Okay, and is anything on fire in your world?

MIKE WALKER: Not yet. Leaky pipe, but other than that we're we're pretty safe we think.

Do you find that when you just moved, who helped you move? Because that's who a real friend is.

MIKE WALKER: That was a complicated situation just because of all the restrictions in place. But I'll just say no one on this call.

[laughs] Thanks! Well, thank you again so much for your time and again the record is called Cooler Returns and we hope to see you guys--I guess we'll just say on the other side of this, and you guys are gonna do Cooler Returns now for us live here it's The Current It's a virtual session with Kiwi Jr.

[music: "Cooler Returns" by Kiwi Jr.]

Songs Played

00:01 "Waiting in Line"
16:47 "Cooler Returns"
Both tracks appear on Kiwi Jr.'s 2021 record, Cooler Returns, out on Sub Pop Records.

External Link

Kiwi Jr. - official website

Credits

Host - Mary Lucia
Producer - Derrick Stevens
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza
Technical Director - Peter Ecklund


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