In this exclusive album interview, we talked with Jeffrey Trainor of Western Jaguar about the process and context behind the band’s latest album, Memorial. Read on to find out more about your next favorite artist, and read what our curators think of Western Jaguar’s new album.
Comments from the Curators
Review by Josh S. Pineda, Founder & Curating-Editor
Back in 2013 when IndieBeat was first starting out, Western Jaguar’s debut LP Glacia was one of the first albums I ever reviewed. Back then it was Jeffrey Trainor’s solo project, a quieter atmospheric sound that explored very personal themes through a stream-of-consciousness writing style. Four years later, Western Jaguar is now a four-piece, composed of Kier-Christer Junos, Ryan Domingo, AJ Buckley (and former/album bassist Brent Webb), releasing the project’s third album with a new and defined direction in Memorial.
Memorial is a fitting name, as the 6 song record seems to look back at the evolution of the project, recounting the journey to get where they are and how this marks a new venture in their career. Here we hear a completely new songwriting approach, as the influences of each band member build off of Trainor’s sonic vision. The album is the reaffirmation of Western Jaguar, taking the best elements of past releases, improving the production with more robust and textured elements–including reverb effects and the addition of a foundational groove in subtle yet effective bass line–and showcasing a more mature songwriting that seems radio-worthy without sacrificing its exploratory quality.
With this release, Western Jaguar graduates into a new level of indie-rock, positioning themselves next to influences Local Natives and Foals, but also Death Cab for Cutie and Grizzly Bear. The vocals now take a driving seat, but with more melodic, stimulating guitar lines that serve as great counterpoint, interacting well without overpowering until it all untangles and unbinds ever so passionately in perfectly frenetic breakdowns–a new addition entirely to the Western Jaguar sound. The album as a whole shows off a more reigned in, composed method of construction, most prominently displayed lyrically, as we get more filtered, relatable storytelling that is also as deep, reflective and human as Trainor’s previous work.
Of Western Jaguar’s three albums, this is definitively the most rock-centric. The group moves away from “headphone-music” to something that seems more naturally translated onto the stage. The departure is presented through the reimagining of previous releases “Voyager,” “Violet Sweatshirt,” and “Blackfoot.” Though the songs were incredible in their own respects on Wayfarer, Western Jaguar’s sophomore release, they take on new form with a more dynamic and assured tone. There’s a sense of confidence in Memorial, as the musician leaves the bedroom for the venue, the organic trajectory of an experienced independent artist. It’s interesting that “Voyager” and “Blackfoot,” two more introspective and searching elements of Wayfarer, transform to dictate this new process as they incorporate a rawness you can only get from live instruments and from members playing off each other. There’s an added verisimilitude in the way this album seems performed and that’s what makes Memorial a great turning-point for the band.
I think it all comes together in the track “Lake Placid.” It’s a song that makes you wander in your pensive wonderment, just as Wayfarer made you do, but with a more refined nature. Dynamically shredding guitar developments weave about as we get the existential twinge of the lines “We bury our hearts, we strain our hearts, but why do we?” Overall there’s an “afterglow” in this song that captures the energy of this album perfectly: a calmness in confidence, a radiance in interplay, and just a pleasurable experience that “stops the grieving” and explores “the way I feel.”
We left Western Jaguar at a crossroads at the end of your documentary, Empty Houses, Empty Towns. Can you tell us the journey from that point into the production of this album?
Yeah, I would almost say Empty Houses, Empty Towns left off in a kind of uncertain place, but really it catapulted this new record into existence. That tour was really where we solidified the songs we wanted to put on this release. It became the springboard moment.
What inspired re-recording songs off of previous releases? Does the name Memorial have any significance to this decision?
Re-recording “Voyager”, “Blackfoot” and “Violet Sweatshirt” mainly came out of the fact we felt we really brought new life into those tracks in our live show. We felt they were different enough, or I guess the better thing to say would be, not represented well, on the prior releases in terms of how we played them live. For instance, people would say, “Oh, I really loved that last song you played in your set, is it on a CD of yours” and I would be like, “Yeah but..” and have to explain how different it is. We really wanted to capture Western Jaguar for what it is now, which is why we chose to do that and also why we chose the name “Memorial.” It really just fit with the idea of memorializing this moment in time in the life of this band.
How would you say the project has changed over the course of the three albums?
Substantially. Each record has increasingly involved more and more insight and assistance from people outside of just me. It has really allowed each record to be a single entity in itself and unique in its own way, which I think is a cool thing to have.
Does this mark a new chapter for the group?
I wouldn’t say it’s a new chapter, more just another step in the progression of Western Jaguar. It really is an ever-evolving thing. I never really know where it is going to go next.
Tell us about the album artwork. It’s a bit of a departure from your usual aesthetic. How do you feel your visuals have evolved with the project?
I’m really proud of the artwork on this thing! It was done by a local artist from Abbotsford, Andrew Booth. I highly suggest you check out his website, he has some great pieces. I actually met him at the local art gallery in town. His art was being launched and I was playing as part of that event and first was exposed to his art there. From then on I got in contact with him and asked him about doing something for the record and has was a 100% on board which was fantastic. I definitely think it is still in the ballpark of our usual aesthetic too. Kind of abstract, landscapy things. This is just more pastel and paint based then the photos in the past. I always put a lot of thought into visuals that go with the project and yeah, this just seemed to fit best. We’ve received lots of compliments on it which is great too.
Whereas Glacia was more of grievous album, and Wayfarer a more searching, Memorial seems more assuring and in the moment. What type of headspace were you in while recording this album?
I think you hit the nail on the head. It was really just a “lets capture what we have going on right now” type of session for recording this record. There wasn’t really any thought into the future of what would happen, we just wanted to, as our bassist Brent Webb said, “capture this moment in time” and that really was our focus. We ended recording a good chunk of it last summer at Brent’s farm in Mission and it was so hot every day, we were just dripping sweat day in, day out because we had to keep all the doors and windows closed so we didn’t get sound bleed from tractors and stuff. With that atmosphere though, I feel we were all very loose in the recording of the record. We were just having a lot of fun making it.
Is there a theme or a mood central to this record? What were some of your inspiration behind Memorial?
I wouldn’t say there is a solid theme or mood here; we were mainly focused on creating something that was dynamic and representative of what a Western Jaguar show is. We wanted to give you a record you could take home from our show and listen to in your car the next day and be like, “yes, that is exactly what I heard”.
How did Memorial differ from writing and recording Glacia and Wayfarer?
It was definitely the first time this project has written collaboratively. I still brought the songs forward in the way I normally did, but there was more of a collaborative effort to piece them together and formulate them into the best product possible. If you were to hear the initial demos I did for each of these songs, they are a lot of different from the finished product, but it was for the better. We really were able to shape them into a solid representation of our sound.
What did you learn from recording this album, and what parts of it do you want to explore in future songwriting and production?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I think I learned that involving people outside of just me is a good thing. It really opened up this record to avenues it could have never gone to if it was just me producing it solo like I had in the past. I think that is something we are going to expand on even more going forward which is exciting to think about.
What do you have coming up in this album cycle? What’s your next musical endeavor?
We have show’s throughout the summer throughout British Columbia which is really exciting and then from then on it is just a wait and see game. We are hoping to write and record some more tracks over the winter and hopefully release something new again next year. We’ve been playing the songs we’re playing now for about 2 years so we are ready to write and record some new things!
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