by Michael Thomas
With the release of Javelin, Jordan Klassen sounds more confident than ever while pushing his formerly folk-based sound to new heights. But that doesn’t mean he’s done experimenting.
Born in Abbotsford, BC, he spent about seven years in Calgary before settling in Vancouver. His first effort as a musician was in the Abbotsford-based band Sub Rosa.
“We were a band that tried very unsuccessfully to be the Shins,” he says over the phone from Vancouver. “I think now some of my stuff sounds more like the Shins than back then.” But while the band was in more of the pop-rock vein, it wasn’t just an anomaly in his musical career. “I think everything you write influences the next thing you write.”
Starting with the 2012 EP Kindness and building on his 2010 St. Brigid EP, Klassen tapped into his uniquely beautiful take on folk, which he calls “fairy-folk.” It’s hard to miss the spirituality that informs his songwriting, but Repentance, despite its “happy sounds, is one informed by doubt and confusion. He comes to terms with his own depression and grapples with his own idea of faith. Even now, his belief in God is not something he accepts unconditionally.
“I think we live in an interesting time to talk about this kind of stuff,” he says. “I think I would probably be seen as religious but it’s not really the way that I think about it. I think that a lot of my friends who are serious about faith don’t necessarily see it as religious. It’s the way they see the world. They have all kinds of questions — and I have all kinds of questions — and doubts about anything they believe.”
Most importantly, while his faith can directly inspire songs (Repentance’s “Strengthen Me With Raisins” comes from a Bible tale), it’s more like a way of looking at things.
“I do think [faith is] like a lens. I certainly don’t have any kind of agenda, faith-wise. My musical project is not evangelical in any way. I think everyone has a faith, kind of, that they bring to the table.”
Where Repentance was informed by doubt, Javelin is a re-examination of that period thanks to the passage of time and coming to terms with what ailed him.
“When you’re dealing with mental illness, I think you learn to cope with it, that’s the first part of the process,” he says. “Javelin was written more at a perspective of actually moving on from coping and actually starting to make reconciliatory steps towards actually changing, and getting better and healing. In that sense, I could look back and see myself in that darkness with a more objective perspective.”
His creative process also expanded as he chose to record his latest album just outside of El Paso, Texas at the Sonic Ranch studio. Besides using equipment Klassen called “out of this world,” a lot of it was also new to him.
“There’s an innovation to coming to something for the first time,” Klassen says. “If I’m over at a friend’s house and playing their guitar, and it’s a different guitar than I’m used to, there’s something fresh about that experience. Having gear that I wasn’t used to, and having gear that worked really well right away was really inspiring. I think it really informed the process.”
And Javelin is certainly all the better for it. It embraces bigger electronic sounds while still remaining true to his thoughtful songwriting and structures. For example, the nostalgic-sounding “We Got Married” starts with a flurry of piano before bringing in twinkling synths in a song about re-examining his faith in God.
“I think it was about the story of maybe my faith crisis in my 20s. The idea that, maybe there was a time when it all made a lot of sense to me and it all brought with it a real sense of wholeness,” he says. “And then—I think this is really normal for people who grew up in religion—I came to a point where there was a lot of fear, and a lot of things didn’t make sense.” He describes the “marriage” in the song as one to God, but during this “crisis” he saw God as something monstrous, choosing to run away from it. “A theme of the song is that marriage is not a passing experience, it’s transcendent. And even though I was struck by a lot of doubt and fear, I couldn’t just walk away from it.”
Other songs like “Light in the Evening” show he’s coming to peace with some aspects of his life.
“I think I wrote to myself in a sense,” Klassen says. “Certain choices that I had made, certain kinds of self-absorbed paths that I had taken, asking myself, ‘Looking back, was it everything you wanted it to be? Did you find what you wanted? Don’t be condescending, you’re not fooling anybody,’ more or less. I think it is hopeful. It’s kind of ironic that I’m talking to myself and I have perspective and I seem to be at peace with a lot of these things.”
Though he’s not sure what his next record will sound like, he’s likely going to be moving away from the synth-ier sounds. Javelin was a tribute to 90s synth acts but he doesn’t want to let that sound define him.
“I also think it’s becoming a thing that’s very common now,” he says. “It’s like ‘Oh, a band is reinventing themselves, there’s a Juno on it now.’ That’s kind of what everyone is doing.” He potentially wants to explore more uptempo music the next time around.
And there’s no doubt Klassen is also getting ideas from Vancouver’s passionate music scene. He cites acts like We Are the City, The Tourist Company, Christopher Smith and Hannah Epperson as inspirations. “I think the farther west you go, there’s less of an association with a certain style of music. There’s just real diversity in the scene,” he says.
Wherever Klassen gets his ideas from, his music will always be changing: “I think everyone is looking for their voice and no one actually gets there, but with everything else you get closer.”
Klassen is taking a short rest after a solo of Europe, and will soon be heading across Canada and the U.S. See his tour dates below.
03.26 – Regina @ The Exchange
03.27 – Winnipeg @ The Park Theatre
03.29 – Cedar Rapids @ Legion Arts
03.30 – Chicago @ Beat Kitchen
03.31 – Hamilton @ The Casbah *
04.02 – Toronto @ Adelaide Hall *
04.03 – Wakefield @ Black Sheep Inn *
04.04 – Montréal @ Le Divan Orange *
04.06 – Brooklyn @ Our Wicked Lady
04.12 – Saskatoon @ Amigos Cantina *
04.13 – Edmonton @ The Almanac *
04.14 – Calgary @ The Gateway *
04.27 – Vancouver @ Imperial Vancouver *
*with Megan Bonnell