interview: Jo Passed
Near the end of Match we premiered the incredible new video for "Millennial Trash Blues" from Jo Passed. Their new album is out 5/25 on Sub Pop Records, and ahead of that Jo Hirabayashi of the band was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the release.
The Grey Estates: Let's start with the track “Left”. That sets a really unsettling tone for the rest of the record. What is that track about and how did you see it fitting in with the rest of the record?
Jo Hirabayashi: Sometimes I'm hesitant to get too into explaining word for word of my song meaning, and there's certain a lot of duality in the content of this record as far as lyrically and by that I mean, phrases and words taken to mean two different things at the same time. "We gave you everything, what's left?" is a prime example... it's ironic to put a track about the commodification of art as an opener but I guess that's what I did. I mean Sub Pop did sign a band whose debut LP was called "Full Communism." So I think there's some woke-ness going on at the label.
The line "tradition paintings on condo walls" speak to that sort of commodification... "If it can sell, then the tune is good." We have the literally meaning of what is leftover, and then the more definitive, what is the Left? I dunno, it's definitely the heaviest political track, but then the outro ending turns personal. Without spelling everything out for people, because I really hope that people can make their own discoveries or look for things, make up their own minds, I feel like it makes sense as an opener to the record because it summarizes the whole major personal vs political theme that embodies most of the record. I threw in some overly candid personal lines at the end of song for my own relation of just the frustration of struggling under patriarchal industrial capitalism. My penmanship was terrible for a long time and it made school hard, so there's a line about that but also I feel like the same speedy hauling go go go push that I experienced in highschool that has pervaded my whole life.Hmm, I could go but I'll stop, my brain likes to go off about things, but in short, everything is in Left.
If someone had described music as the "Fucked Up Beatles" what are your hopes for the next best description?
Sub<Pop.. Heartadelic? haha. I don't know.
A lot of the track explores these really negative, but very real feelings. How was that to tap into what you were going through and does it feel like this album helped you sort through some of those hardships in a way?
I'm still working through these things. I guess I have faith in the whole idea of catharsis but to be maybe mistakenly overly honest, this process is somewhat embarrassing. I'm sure some other people may relate, my hope is that some people relate, that's the best you can hope for when going for more of a critical or negative take on something, solidarity...
You wrote Repair the day Trump was elected. What was going through your head at that moment and how were you able to put your feelings about that period to song?
It's soo literal and simple. Those words, "I hope you can repair" just fit with those chords and melody so it was definitely one of those "natural" songwriting reflex moments. To be totally honest, I probably had an outward inward duality, writing this record is a bit of a challenge for me so I feel like a lot of that song was directed both inward and outward. That small and expansive kind of dichotomy seems to be a recurring theme for me. probably reflects my moods too.
What was the writing and recording process like for the record? I know you were inspired by so many different things, so how did you decide what worked well together and how long ago did you start writing/recording?
I felt like the process was relatively short but very very dense. I think it lent itself well to keeping some form tonal and content consistency to the record despite incorporating various musical influences. I could say probably that the whole writing to tracking and mixing was under a year. There were a lot of fragments of parts and songs going into the process that were around longer but those didn't really take shape until it was done. Undemo was conceived more or less a few years actually but then heavily elaborated on and new sections added...I'm generally listening to a lot of different music so inspiration usually comes from a variety of things. I've relieved when people say that there is some tonal consistency to the record, I was trying to have everything fit together nicely even though compositionally things change a lot.
You mentioned how fear informed a lot of the record. Have you worked through most of those fears and was the record your way of putting those fears to word?
I think the big plunge off the diving board is when this record is actually released and listened to. The fear is starting to subside as I'm getting used to the idea of people actually hearing it. A lot of this project itself has been challenging certain fears, I don't know they have subsided or if I'm just starting to not care as much anymore...
How did you balance employment with making music? And was it ever hard or did you feel like your creative energy was drained?
I've taught music lessons as employment for all of my 20s and ya totally, the main game is facilitating feeling awesome about music as much as possible. I love teaching but had to step back from it because I didn't want my musical brain or musical time eaten up too much by trying to just inspire other people for 6-8 hours a day. There's a sort of emotional labor in that. That being said, I've started teaching again and I have been really enjoying it. Having some nice opportunity with my own music "career" has allowed me to feel excited to help other people learn music again.
What inspired this record (as far as sounds, snacks, weather, people, places etc.)? Like what the things people might be surprised to know that you turned to?
Here come the warm jets (brian eno) was like a nice go to when I was mixing for feeling alright about the whole process. This is going to sound so Canadian and silly but I had a lot of Tim Hortons bagel and coffees while I was in the actually recording and mixing process. Y'all have Tim Hortons in Detroit now. That's crazy.
What was one of your favorite tracks to record or write and why?
Facetook I wrote and recorded the same day by myself and that was really fun. A lot of the songs were very very very slow baked and gradual developments, but keeping to the kind of collagey approach I wanted, I also wanted to change up writing processes a bit. It's always so satisfying to have someone happen, that's good, quickly.
And finally my favorite question. What would the dream Jo Passed merch item be?
I'm working on getting sleep masks and socks. Both VERY Dreamy.
Hmmm, I'd like to sell CONDOS. Haha jk, what a good joke... ugh.
There was a period I thought it'd be funny to sell a tofu vegan human foot at a merch table, like tofurky styles. but ya, I'm weird, that's probably a terrible idea.