Welcome back to our interview series, Incorrect Music, curated by guitarist, singer, and composer Lora-Faye Åshuvud (of the band Arthur Moon). In this series, we present intimate conversations with artists who are striving to push the boundaries of their process and craft. Join our weekly email newsletter to get more insights like this into how professional artists are making music, and how you can apply those lessons to your own music.
A self-dubbed “creative playpen,” Brooklyn’s Childish Japes is a band that wears their freedom to explore a plethora of musical styles and approaches on their sleeve. Normally a trio, they’ve recently settled into a quartet format for their recent album, enlisting the “actually dope male rock” vocals of Dave Vives.
This new album, Salamander, was also written and mostly produced remotely, with all of the band members living and working in different cities. The music was, therefore, “devoid of context” in its conception, leading them even further down the cross-genre rabbit hole.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what the heck their band name means, so are we. Apparently it’s an inside joke with drummer JP Bouvet’s grandmother.
Incorrect and adorable, and endlessly exciting, Childish Japes’ brand new album, Salamander, is out now via their Bandcamp page.
– Jeremy Young
Interview by Evan Zwisler
Childish Japes is equal parts collective, band, and art project. To say that this group is overflowing with creativity is a veritable understatement. Your blend of downtempo hip-hop, Radiohead-style grooves, and Glasper-esque arrangements creates something really unique. Is the wide variety of genres intentional, and “planned” in some way?
Childish Japes is meant to serve as a “creative playpen” for us to explore our ideas and have fun making music. As individuals, we have played and love playing lots of different types of music. So when we write or jam, we try not to limit the ideas that come out by saying, “Oh, that’s too hip-hop,” or, “That’s too jazz/too weird/too pop.” We start with ideas that come naturally to us, and then we try to form them into good songs.
I know that you play with different people fronting the band. Is this done more out of necessity, or how did it begin?
We originally auditioned singers with the intent of finding “the frontperson.” Looking back, not finding that “the person” was the best thing that could have happened. We were anxious to start releasing music. We had so many cool half-written songs and tons of great musical ideas, and we didn’t want to be stuck in the mud waiting to find the right person. So we plowed ahead.
Somewhere during this process was the lightbulb moment of realizing how much creative freedom we were going to have if vocalists and instrumentalists outside the core trio were interchangeable. A world of opportunity opened up before us, and we are still constantly daydreaming about people we want to work with on future albums.
How does your live show change with different front people?
As opposed to just putting our songs in a clever order for the show, we try to think of the show as one artistic piece. Our shows that feature several different people take on the characteristics of a well-rehearsed variety show. At our first few shows, we had spoken word, a sax player, a soul singer, a rapper, some trio improv, and another singer, all coming on and off the stage, sharing songs, strung together by an overarching plan for the show that was relatively seamless. And then, of course, we do shows with only one singer, or one saxophone player. And that takes on a life of its own as well.
“Somewhere during this process was the lightbulb moment of realizing how much creative freedom we were going to have if vocalists and instrumentalists outside the core trio were interchangeable. A world of opportunity opened up before us.”
How has the live show changed over time, in general?
Within the one year that we’ve been a band, it has been less the case that the show changes over time (since there hasn’t been much time), and more that the show changes drastically based on what our goal is, where we are playing, and who we are featuring. Our shows in rock venues and our shows in coffee shops differ quite intentionally.
One thing that has been consistent in almost all our shows has been set times for live improv — sometimes just one “song,” and sometimes half the set.
For this release, you’ve got Dave Vives’ vocals on the whole album. What does he bring to the table that made you want him for your full album, given that you like to interchange singers?
Dave is the man. That’s the main reason. We have known he is the man for a long time because we have all known each other for years, since our time at Berklee College of Music. Asher Kurtz (guitar) was in a great band with Dave for years called Mals Totem, and Dave was sort of the only “actually dope male rock singer” around Boston during our college years.
Musically, Dave cares deeply about intent. The lyrics need to mean something real. This album is special to us for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that the lyrics are real stories, real struggles, and real memories. The music only serves to more accurately depict the story.
Your music seems to cover tons of genres. The first three songs on your album are “California,” an experimental track; “Something Else,” a solid rock song; and “Please Explain,” a bossa-nova-influenced song. How do you decide which style to write in, and does this make laying out the tracks on your albums difficult?
It’s not really a “decision,” per se. We just write and see what happens. Since the instrumentalists remain the same (us), and we have fairly distinctive styles, it makes for a tolerably coherent product (so we think).
With this record, much of the initial writing ideas were offered long distance. I was in China, Asher was in Turkey, Dave lives in LA, and Jed was in NYC. We were writing via Dropbox, which I think helped us create unique ideas.
When you’re in the room jamming, which is how we created much of the first album, you tend toward certain types of grooves and ideas. In this case, since we were coming up with ideas totally devoid of context, and then offering them to our bandmates to see which direction they would take them, we ended up with ideas that we wouldn’t have thought of in a “jam” scenario. We had time to think on our own and consider different options, and choose the coolest.
“We’re not trying to ‘be’ anything. We’re just being.”
Childish Japes has been described as “an overflowing bucket of art supplies.” Can you explain this a little?
In a sense, you can think of Childish Japes as a collective. Whether it’s musicians, painters, or poets, when we work with someone, we want them to feel like they can be daring, try something weird, let their true colors fly. We’re not trying to “be” anything. We’re just being. We just try to create an atmosphere where we can create new and meaningful things, like encountering a bucket full of art supplies and a reason to create.
How does your art style influence your music and vice versa?
Sometimes the inspiration moves from art to music, and sometimes in the opposite direction. In the first album, many lyrics and storylines were inspired by the paintings of Jacob Allers-Hatlie. There is a painting to correspond with each song on the album. On Salamander, we worked with a comic artist named Isaac Goodhart. The art for each single was sort of a “page” out of the story of the album. We originally wanted to make a full booklet, with a page for each song. We hope to do this eventually when the funds can justify it. The album cover is comprised of 16 comic-book-style panels. Each of these depict a piece of the story of the album.
At Soundfly, we love to use the term “incorrect music” to describe the things an artist does that go against people’s assumptions, or even their own instincts, but which yield exciting and unique results. What about your music might you consider to be “incorrect”?
It’s probably bad form to start an interview response with “lol,” but I was tempted. We started a band with no frontperson, called it a name that only my grandma understood, feature enough different people to make touring “complicated,” and create albums that veer violently from genre to genre and have very little to do with anything we’ve done in the past (I know this because we’ve already written most of the third and fourth albums).
If you could open for any musician, who would it be and why?
Are we allowed to say Radiohead? I’ll also say Snarky Puppy. We really like them and what they stand for, and we think their fans would really like Childish Japes.
“Sometimes the inspiration moves from art to music, and sometimes in the opposite direction.”
What’s next for this project?
Now that Salamander is out, we can open the floodgates of rad video content we’ve been amassing for the past six months — music videos, live performances, blogs, etc. And in the meantime, we’ll be writing and recording record number three.
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