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Junior Senior Interview
By Alexander Laurence

Junior Senior have put out one of the most exciting records of the year. They've got the look of a group of hipsters from Williamsburg or Silverlake, but they're from Denmark's western peninsula, known as Jutland. Junior Senior topped the UK charts with their smash debut single, "Move Your Feet." The song spent nine weeks in the top ten on the Official UK Singles Chart. The track is the first single from their debut album, "D-D-DON'T DON'T STOP THE BEAT," which just recently came out in America. Junior Senior have been on a ton of TV shows and have been playing sold out shows.

The band was formed in 1998 by Jesper Mortensen (Junior) and indie rock god, Jeppe Laursen (Senior). Blending pop, rock, Motown, new wave, and hiphop influences with dance beat, their sound is undeniably infectious and their live shows are a blast. I spoke to the band right after they had finished taping the Tom Green Show. They were refreshingly unpretentious and excited to talk about their music.

****

AL: So, this record came out on Crunchy Frog records a while ago?

Jesper: Yeah. That's our label. In Europe we are licensed to Universal, and in Atlantic we are licensed to Atlantic. We are still signed to Crunchy Frog. They have the right to put out the record but we still have creative freedom.

AL: How long have you been playing together?

Jesper: When was 18, I joined Jeppe's band, or Senior's band. It was semi-famous in Denmark. It was indie music, not unlike Blur, Pulp, Stereolab. That kind of British thing was going on. Before that we were into Sonic Youth. That was our background. My own music interest started with Nirvana.

AL: Nirvana was like ground zero for you.

Jesper: Exactly. That was when I discovered that there was something else out there that is more interesting for a teenager. You want to have your own thing. That was where it all started for me.

AL: When did you join his band?

Jesper: I joined in 1995. I was thrown out a year later, but we remained friends. We started this band, Junior Senior, in 1998. We played for a few years. Our first record came out in Denmark in March 2002. Denmark is such a small country. The record did okay there. We were on a few TV shows.

AL: When did you record this record?

Jesper: It was in January of 2002.

AL: When you write a song together, do you start out with beats or guitar parts?

Jesper: When I was in the other band, Jeppe wrote all the lyrics, and I didn't get to write anything, because I just joined. Now we don't have any particular way of writing. Usually it starts with a guitar, or a cool chord progression, or a little melody in your head. When you have a melody, you try to find some chords to play with it. You can always have fun with making beats. Then you have some interesting sounds. Once you have the basic songs you try to build it up. I have a bunch of unfinished songs and unused beats. It's all assembly and finding bits and pieces.

AL: Do you record stuff live as a band, or is this record done in the studio in parts?

Jesper: The thing with the drum machines and the cymbal sounds: I have prepared all that. We had all the songs. We went in the studio and layered it. I don't play the drums very well, so I had two different guys playing the drums on different tracks. We had a drum machine and played over it and found a balance. We recorded some drum parts and looped them. Some of it sounds like a drum machine. We have always been into beats. We recorded it very fast.

AL: How did you do the song "Coconuts?"

Jesper: I wanted to do something with bongos. There are all these great percussion sounds that you hear when you are a kid, like shakers, cowbells, and bongos. You think that they funny. When you clap your hands it's very human. People think that those percussion sounds are strange. I just think that they are cool. I love all that stuff. I thought that the idea of "Coconuts" was so cool. You can shake them. I am not sure why.

AL: Did you like Punk Rock?

Jesper: Yeah. I listen to music…. I wouldn't call it serious, but I like the way the Talking Heads used percussion. I thought that was very interesting. They were really into percussion and black music. But when they had the bongos, they didn't have a bunch of other instruments going on at the same time. I am attracted to the simple stuff. I got bored with the British indie mentality. I thought about how did these bands get to sound like this. So I went back and listened to many of the records that they were into.

AL: Britpop music is sort of static.

Jesper: Yeah. When we were in that other band we released a record in 1995. At the time I was into Elastica and all these bands that always looked so cool. So when we went onstage we were always acting so cool. But backstage we were always goofing around and being stupid and laughing all the time. We learned our lesson. All this pretending and wannabe shit is so stupid. You should just do what is natural for yourself. For us that means being outgoing and try to have fun with what you do. This time around, I think the music reflects the people who we are. Hit play, and let's go.

AL: Do people ask you about what you wear?

Jeppe: It's something we don't think about: whether we are into America culture or not. We used to be in a British inspired band.

Jesper: The way we look I think is really funny. When I played this TV show, people asked me "What are you going to wear?" I am wearing a t-shirt that I have had for five years. I have always worn it and I have always liked it. Of course we think about the way that we look. We have been into the same stuff for a while.

AL: I just asked because you look like a lot of hipsters in America who shop at second stores and wear old t-shirts and baseball caps.

Jesper: Yeah. We have always been second hand nerds. Since the time I was into Nirvana, I didn't want to wear the same thing that the sports dudes wore, so I went to a second hand shop and got my clothes.

Jeppe: Maybe in general a lot of the stuff from America seems like the real thing. For us it is. In Europe, a lot of the clothes are a bad copy. It's weird when you come to America and it's the real thing. It sounds so stupid.

Jesper: We have a real romantic impression of the whole American culture. It's all the stuff we saw on TV. Oh yeah, it's authentic. In Europe, it always says "Authentic American Jeans." We thought, we want the real stuff. Not this Danish imitation. That was the stuff that your mother gave you.

AL: Was it easy to get amps and guitars over there?

Jesper: Of course it's easier to get it over here because it originates from here. You have Fender and Gibson. You have all the good stuff. They came from the US for some reason. You have so much music. The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Beatles all listened to American music to get their own sound. America is just a big part of culture everywhere.

AL: Is there a socialist government in Denmark where it affects the bands? Like when you are a kid you have a choice to go to school or form a band, or do art, and the government pays for it?

Jeppe: It's all based on the more you earn, the more tax you pay, but everyone pays a lot of tax. There are no poor people in Denmark.

Jesper: You pay at least 50% tax, and if you make a lot it's 70%. That is a lot compared to America.

AL: People here think it's a crime if you pay more than 25% tax. All these rich people find ways of not paying any taxes.

Jesper: That's hip. They are the clever guys who hire other clever guys so they don't pay taxes. They make money and they find ways.

AL: You still live in Denmark?

Jesper: We just moved to London two weeks ago. We grew up in the country and lived in Copenhagen for six years or more.

AL: Where are some of the hipster neighborhoods in Copenhagen?

Jeppe: It's very small.

Jesper: Copenhagen is a big city, but everything is in the middle. That is where we lived. Outside the city is a total suburbia. You are going to get stabbed or killed if you don't look like Eminem. There is all these white kids who think they are really tough. It's scary.

AL: Do you get hiphop fans coming to your shows?

Jesper: Not really. Our crowd is more alternative. People who are open minded like us. "Move Your Feet" has been on the radio, but it's strange, because it's been on all sorts of different radio stations. They play the song or alternative radio and Radio Disney. People who come to our shows are like us. They like all types of music.

AL: Do you think that people in America just like one thing: I like Death Metal and that's all I'll ever listen to.

Jesper: Yeah. Our audience is the one who think that they don't fit into a particular box. They are cool people like us. It's stupid to think that I can only listen to rock.

Jeppe: If you know our album you have to be pretty open minded. You have to just take it for what it is. Don't worry about whether it is this or that. You can go both ways with it. You can hear "Move Your Feet" and think that is too mainstream. In their heads they can turn it into Europop if they want to. It's funny to read reviews. They are always deciding where to put us.

AL: There are all these fanzines in the UK about how cool Interpol is.

Jeppe: It's pretty easy for Interpol to be cool and be credible. It's not anything bad about their music or anything. They way they are it's very easy to fit into a cool category. It's not very dangerous being Interpol.

Jesper: There's a place when you put yourself out there, in front of an audience, where it's dangerous and it's a shaky ground. When you are a rock and roll band, there are a bunch of rules to follow. If you follow these rules, then you are a fucking cool band. Like The Velvet Underground and The Ramones: they are so fucking cool, you are not going to go wrong with following those bands. I love them. But I think it is a bit interesting when you jump out of that. Where you are at that place where it is scary, like I am trying to tell a joke, and I don't know where it's going or if it is even funny. When you are in front of five hundred people like that, that is when it is dangerous. It's more fun and more challenging.

AL: Have you played a lot of shows in America?

Jesper: Over a dozen now. The first time we played in New York was last year. You could see people thinking "Is this cool?" Or "What the hell is this?" We won them over. There were people there who never heard of us who said "I like this."

AL: What is your setlist like?

Jesper: We play one cover song. But we have been playing the same set for a year now. It's sort of sad. But we have been going to new cities all the time. They haven't heard the songs yet. We are going to do some new songs soon. We haven't started writing the second record yet.

AL: Do you read a lot?

Jesper: Mostly rock biographies. I can't get that quiet time. I don't play video games anymore either. I carry a laptop with me. I play music and listen to music.

Jeppe: If we have any free time now, we go hang with our friends and relax.

AL: Did you go to school or University?

Jeppe: We were talking about the social security system in Denmark before. You get paid money if you go to school. We did that. We got money but never bothered showing up to classes.

Jesper: I spent a lot of that time looking for old records. I never find anything in America that I want to buy. I am looking for rare records and nobody seems to have them.

AL: When you got signed did you go buy some gear or some rare records?

Jesper: I went out and bought some new guitars. That was a great day. I never thought there would be that much money in my bank account.

AL: What movies do you like?

Jeppe: We have been watching all the John Waters movies. It's pretty obvious that we would like that stuff. Coal Miner's Daughter is great.

Jesper: I like films about music. I just saw one about Carole King and another about Ike and Tina Turner. Laurence Fishburne looked so cool when he had the Beatles haircut. Ike Turner is so mean. You almost take his side because he looks so damn cool. I like Woody Allen films.

AL: Jeppe, how does it feel to be the tallest guy in rock?

Jeppe: When I go to a show in London everyone comes to my shoulders. But in Denmark, there are a lot of tall people. If I grew up in America maybe I would have played basketball. I try to have a good time onstage. I try to interact with the audience, through the music, not through MC tricks.

Jesper: We just try to be ourselves. It sounds so boring. But we don't want to do anything we are not comfortable with. People might come to a show and see one small guy and one big guy and think it's a crazy comedy act. But we are just a band that is playing their music.

AL: Who did the video for "Move Your Feet?"

Jeppe: It's four guys from London called Shinola. We had to do the video very fast. We got a lot of treatments from directors that were really bad. We sent them a long description of who we were and what we like. They just ripped us off. They thought they would get to do the video if they just rehashed what we told them about ourselves. We contacted Shinola on our own. The stuff they had done was really different. They had just done a video by Radiohead.

Jesper: We told them that we wanted some graphic stuff. We said that we wanted the video to be something people hadn't really seen before. They sent us back a clip and we thought that was really cool. There have been other videos with computer games stuff. But what we liked about this one was it didn't have any specific computer games references. It had the color and movement. The squirrel eating everything was great. It was like its own movie.

AL: Have you done another video?

Jeppe: We have done another video for "Boy Meets Girl." We are really pleased with it. It is by the same guy who did the Hives "Main Offender" video. It is like graphics and video together.

*****

Website: www.juniorsenior.com

 

 

AL


--Alexander Laurence

 

 




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