I first came across Jay Arner’s music through last summer’s excellent Bad Friend / Black Horse 7 inch record. The cover featured Arner off to the side of a symmetrical group shot featuring a look-alike wearing a collared shirt and two Gibson-SG-wielding female guitarists. For his new record, Jay Arner is front and centre, but he’s still staring off into space. It’s part of an emotional whiteout brought about by bad parties, underemployment, and existential burnout.
When not playing in bands, Jay Arner has recorded an impressive array of albums at Burnaby’s Hive Studios, and on his own with mobile gear. For this record, Arner played and recorded all of the instruments that appear on the album.
Released on Vancouver’s own Mint Records, Arner’s debut full-length follows the thread of label-mates The New Pornographers’ Hive-recorded early work, and the bedroom pop produced by decades of Brian Wilson acolytes.
The addition of synthesizers give the work a bit of an 80s New Order touch, but the album still feels like a kaleidoscopic journey through pop history uninterrupted by any one element. I met with Arner at his South Granville apartment to discuss the record.
The Peak: I really liked the cover for this record. What can you tell me about it?
Jay Arner: [laughs] Well we’ve got a very consistent band aesthetic right now [between the 7” and the full length]. We’ll probably ruin it sooner or later. I went to my label, Mint, last week when they finally got the records in, and it was a little terrifying.
The Peak: It seems like that kind of “big face” thing is something you saw more on records from the 70s when there wasn’t a whole lot of press or anything, so you didn’t even know what they looked like.
J: James Taylor.
The Peak: Yeah, exactly.
J: Well I kind of thought: what else are you going to put on the cover of a record called Jay Arner? I just went with that one idea and kept it very consistent thematically. If I’m the only person on the record, I’m gonna also be on the physical record.
The Peak: Who took the photos?
J: My friend Michelle. She’s a food photographer normally. I think I was acting a little bit like food, and maybe that’s why it worked.
The Peak: So here we are on South Granville, which you wrote a song about.
J: Yup. I was kind of homeless and housesitting at a couple of different places. This is actually one of the places I was housesitting at, and Dave [Prowse, of Japandroids]’s place was the other. I lived at Dave’s for a while when he was on tour. So that song is kind of a few different things compressed. I did “get off the bus at the wrong stop,” but that was near Dave’s place. But here I did, yes, look for laundry change. True story.
The Peak: You mentioned at your Music Waste show that some “crazy internet people,” Fred and Sharon, were going to make your next video for “Out to Lunch”.
J: Yeah, they’re like a retired or semi-retired couple and they make videos. I think they’re from Kelowna. Shena at Mint Records [Arner’s publicist] knows them, because she’s from around there and they run a bakery or something. They just make these insane videos with computer animation. They’re just really unintentionally grotesque.
I don’t know what technology they’re using, but it looks like computer animation from 1989, and the people in them are really distorted in almost grotesque ways. It’s kind of like outsider art or something but it’s really cool. Shena’s dream has been to get one of her bands to work with Fred and Sharon, and we were the first people to say yes. They’re pretty amazing.
The Peak: Does the music you’re creating at all aspire to be pop?
J: I like making stuff sound really fucked up. I’ve always felt like the better a song is, the more it can stand up to just sounding like a mess. My early inspirations were all the lo-fi bands. They had awesome songs, and it doesn’t even occur to you that it sounds like shit!
I really liked the idea of catchy pop songs that were really abrasive, and the idea of making people listen to stuff that’s really abrasive and having them not even notice it because you have a strong song. I guess I try and make stuff sound not as pop, but the songs are inherently pop songs.
The Peak: What other kind of music inspires you?
J: I listen to a lot of David Bowie. He’s probably my all-time favourite artist, especially his late 70s stuff. I’m actually reading a biography of him right now. It’s crazy. Going from Ziggy Stardust to Station to Station and Low happened within 5 years. I guess he had a massive drug problem too.
Prog rock is becoming a bit of an inspiration as well. King Crimson, and stuff like that. Just like really pompous prog rock. All the mellotron stuff: so good, man.
The Peak: Would all the prog rock ever inspire you to transform into a synth wizard?
J: My girlfriend and I have been getting into this guy named Kebu. He’s like this nerd from Europe, and he does the prog-rock keyboard thing. He makes ridiculous music. It’s very entertaining, though. The music is very average, but it’s just hilarious because of the amount of work he puts into it.
It’s also just nice to listen to all the keyboards. He’s so into it, but his audience is empty chairs. He’s got quite the synth collection. It’s like the culmination to all the Youtube synthesizer videos. I wanted to try and infiltrate that culture.
I had this acid house persona all planned out, but I don’t have a TB-303 [gurgly Roland bass synthesizer] so I can’t really do it. I was going to be called Udonna which is a combination of udon noodles and Madonna. But when Kebu exists though, why try? He’s got me beat.