Q&A: Jacques Greene On Producing Pop Acts, Being Introduced To Dance Music, And Bridging Gaps Between Audiences


Electronic dance music’s recent youthquake has brought forth not only a lot of new production talent, but also a healthy number with distinctive styles. That’s certainly the case with the 22-year-old Montreal producer who goes under the moniker Jacques Greene—a normal-enough-sounding name, particularly given his hometown, but one that didn’t take long to become a name to watch.

Greene has released a handful of 12-inches since 2010. They largely refine a similar palette—skipping house rhythms and bass patterns that owe the post-dubstep diaspora, marked by long-furling neon-synth chords and soulful vocal snippets each sent through curling, patiently winding low-pass filters. Filters can be shamelessly hokey, as anyone whose ears have suffered through a night of bottle service is aware, but Greene uses them so subtly it becomes intrinsic to the fabric of his tracks as the shiny keyboards. “Another Girl,” released in January 2011, remains the shimmering peak of this style.

Greene’s music since then has found even more wrinkles. Most recent is the Concealer EP, released this past January. Its highlights are “Flatline,” featuring vocalist Ango, a more or less straight R&B tune that maintains Greene’s trademark sound, and “These Days,” which refines the formula of “Another Girl” to a giddy point. SOTC spoke with Greene over the phone from his Montreal apartment a few days before his appearance at Mister Saturday Night.

How do you classify your own music? Where would you file it?

I try to just keep it as dance music, is enough, if that makes sense. [laughs]

When you go to a record shop, what’s the first section you go to?

When I buy vinyl I buy techno, always. I don’t know what it is. I love how techno sounds on a 12-inch. But I definitely don’t make techno, and don’t really plan on making it. I just love having it.

Is it the visual aspect of the sleeves?

Not at all—it’s almost the opposite. What I like about techno vinyl is, a lot of it is almost sort of anti-aesthetic. They’re very much into the white label, just stamped with minimal information. I like that about techno. But as far as my stuff, I mean, I don’t know. It can fall all over the place.

Given that you really like the sort of anonymity aspect of it, have you ever considered using an alias?

Well, between you and me, Jacques Greene is not my real name, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. [laughs]

Where did the name come from? Is it like your porn name?

Kind of: I was born and raised in Montreal from an American dad and a French-Canadian mom, so I was raised in French and English. I picked a pseudonym, or a pen name, if you will. I didn’t want it to be a literary or pop culture reference, because that seemed silly. So I just went with a French-Canadian first name and an Anglophone last name to keep in tune with who I am.

Since you picked a French name, I’m curious if you feel any kinship with French house music? You use filters a lot, as they do.

I see a lot of similarities between my stuff and Alan Braxe and Fred Falke and Philippe Zdar [from] Cassius. They have fantastic use of melodies. When you listen to a Fred Falke record, he always has like these great bass lines that hit the root notes. They’re just brilliant melodies. I stopped caring—I’m not as big a fan of the more aggro, modern side of French house. But no, I think there is definitely a kinship between my stuff and French house—which I haven’t ever really thought of before. But it’s definitely there.

One thing Zdar has done is going on to produce rock bands, like the Rapture and Phoenix. Would you see yourself ever doing that?

Yeah—I would absolutely love, love, love to produce some pop music. That’s always been a dream of mine and definitely something I’d like to do. I don’t know if it would be something I would do on the side or as a main thing, but yeah, for sure.

“Flatline,” from the EP you released in January, is heading into that direction—a live singer and a new song.

Of course—definitely.

It’s obviously an extension of what you do with sampled vocals. I’m curious if you wrote that as a song, or was it a track that you made that Ango wrote to?

We wrote it together. He lives in Montreal as well and we’ve worked on a lot of music together. Barely any of it has come out, actually. But we work on a lot of stuff together so it’s very comfortable to do it. That’s definitely something I want to do more of.

Are you making steps toward that? Or are you busy with other stuff?

Yeah, I’m busy with a million things. But I’ve been writing a lot of pop instrumentals, all far from house tempo. But I’m a hardware guy in the studio, so I’m almost limited in my sound palates, which I think is a good thing. I think it’s easy for producers to get lost and become anonymous. You can’t even recognize them from one record to the next.

But my studio is what it is. [laughs] I only have one synthesizer that can play more than one note at a time, so whenever I do something that has polyphony in it, it has to be my Juno 60. So that brings [my signature into] it, [whether] you’re making a pop type track at 80 BPM or a straight up house record at [130]. There’s a lot of me in there, and I can’t escape that—which I think is a good thing. I’m trapped being myself in whatever I do.

When you began producing, did you begin with software and graduate to hardware?

No, I started with hardware. Only many years later did I ask a friend to teach me how to use software on something.

How old were you when you began?

I was 13 or 14. I got a summer job and saved up and bought an MPC1000. Then a few years later, I learned how to use [the software studio] FruityLoops [before I learned to] use Ableton [Live, also software-based]. But I started with a MPC. And then the moment I finished college I worked a bunch and saved up and started buying synthesizers.

Were you already paying a lot of attention to dance music before you began to invest in instruments?

Yeah—well, not dance-dance music, but when I was 13 the biggest thing in my life was Boards of Canada. In high school, this substitute teacher gave me a bunch of Warp CDs, like Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada. It changed my life. [laughs] I got a sampler because of that.

I guess my actual history teacher had a nervous breakdown halfway through the school year, so this young guy straight out of university became our teacher. I was already into music at the time, listening to more rock stuff. I guess he saw something in [me]. I have no idea. But the guy must have thought I was really into music to begin with, because he pulled me aside one Friday like, “Hey, you should take these home and listen over the weekend. Let me know what you think.” So I went for the weekend and listened to Tri Repatae and Drukqs and Music Has the Right to Children. Two months later I was in the living room learning how to DJ. Yeah, it was great. Good chance encounter, you know?

So it cottoned to you immediately that this was stuff you DJ with, not just music to listen to?

Yeah, automatically for sure—and it’s funny, because it wasn’t yet from a dance-music thing. I ended up doing a radio show with him for three years, and we were DJing downtempo and IDM and electronica. So I wasn’t even playing dance music—it was a lot of Ninja Tune and Warp stuff.

Was it stuff you found primarily on CD?

No. I was DJing a lot of vinyl at the time. I tried to buy records. When you’re a teenager, you only have a certain amount of money. I don’t come from the ghetto or anything, but I wasn’t super-paid.

Did you ever have to decide whether you were going to spend your money on vinyl versus on equipment?

That’s a constant, still to this day. [laughs] I’ve become smarter about it. I try to budget.

It was just Record Store Day. Did you go?

No. To me, it’s like if you need Valentines Day to remind you to love the person you’re with. If you need Record Store Day to remind yourself to buy a record, then don’t even bother. I went to the record store two days before Record Store Day, you know what I mean? It’s part of my life. I try to buy records regularly. But I appreciate that it exists. It’s cool that there are all those releases that come out.

You were talking about your studio—what is your studio? Is it a room in your place or is it an actual studio?

It was a room outside of my place for a while: I was renting studio space. Now I have an apartment with an extra room for it. It’s pretty good—right in front of my apartment. I’m standing in it right now. I’m at the ground floor of a nice street in a part of town I love: great natural light.

Where do you head out for a snack while you’re working?

I have my favorite café in the city actually right at the corner. It’s called Olympico. It’s this little Italian café. If you weren’t an old Italian man in the ’90s, you wouldn’t have gone there, but now they’re a little more lenient. [laughs] It’s my favorite place to eat.

Do you ever work there? Do you ever finalize mixes on your laptop or whatever?

No, it’s not that kind of café. It’s almost frowned upon to bring your laptop there, so I try not to be that guy. I’m trying to get better at making music on my laptop, but unfortunately I’m still not very good at doing that. I’m much more comfortable sitting in the studio. And it’s become more of a problem because I’m playing more shows and I find it extremely hard to adapt my processing and make stuff in a hotel room.

When you play live, is it strictly laptop, or are you bringing gear?

It’s strictly no laptop. When I DJ, I play CDs. I do a live show now, which is more sporadic. I’ve only done it four times, but I’m doing a live tour in Europe this summer. It’s essentially 90 percent of my studio. Ango plays with me as well, so it’s an extra set of hands. So we have an MPC, a sequencer, a modular synthesizer, analog poly-synth, [Roland] 808 and 909 [drum machines]. It’s a lot of problems waiting to happen. [laughs]

What are you expecting to play at Mister Saturday Night?

I’m very all over the map. I’ll always try to do a give and take with crowds and see how far I can go, but a really good gig to me is if, by the end of it, I can play rap music and it’s still going over well. Most of what I play is house, but then I’ll play something that has a bit of a pop influence, and then I might play a pop track between two dance records and see how that goes over, and then take it from there. Usually, I’ll try to build something where I start a bit more familiar for people, more four-four, and then get weirder [laughs] or more eclectic as I go along, because you hope that you gain peoples’ trust as you’re playing and hopefully [hit some] weird places as you go.

Obviously, pop audiences are starting to cotton to dance music in a more direct way. Your talking about playing the occasional pop track makes me wonder—does that work in reverse? Are dance audiences, in your experience, becoming more receptive to pop?

I think there is this bridging of gaps going on. It’s because of this whole Internet thing; it’s basically become this huge democratizer, and [depending] on what part of the Internet you go on, Boddika’s more of a pop star than Ciara. It’s just as weird for Justin Bieber to have a dubstep beat as it is for me to play a [pop] record. It’s all about context, and now that the entire concept of space and time has been deconstructed by the idea of the Internet, you just play what you want. I guess singers can sing whatever thing they want to. [It’s a] great, beautiful thing.

Speaking of Ciara, have you gotten any sort of response from her, or anybody else related to “Deuces,” about you sampling the track on “Another Girl”?

No, we’re all good for that. [laughs] So far.

Jacques Greene performs at Mister Saturday Night with Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter at House of Yes on Saturday.