'This record’s got less big, beefy electric guitars': Kiwi Jr. on the acoustic EQs and scrapped solos of their Cooler Returns
Earlier this week I caught up with Jeremy Gaudet and Brian Murphy of Toronto-based jangle-pop quartet Kiwi Jr. for Northern Transmissions, with our conversation centering around the making of their sophomore LP, Cooler Returns, which comes out next week (January 22) through Sub Pop/Kiwi Club.
Building off the pep-heavy pace of 2019’s Football Money, chiming 12-string melodies often sparkle around Jeremy’s charmingly drawling lyrical allusions to T. Rex (“Tyler”) and Toronto landmarks like the CN Tower and Honest Ed’s (“Undecided Voters”). That said, there’s a more pronounced, keys-based vibe to the album, too, whether that’s Brian running wild with a vintage organ on the end “Highlights of 100”, or guest pianist Jay McCarroll [Hayden, Jason Collett] bringing saloon-style fingering to “Dodger”.
I was lucky to sneak in a few gear-related q’s for Gut Feeling while I had Jeremy and Brian on the line. You can find out more about the record’s acoustic texturing, abandoned solos, and more below.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jeremy Gaudet: I used the same guitars for the most part; I used similar amps and pedals. The main difference was that we brought in piano and organ a bit more. A little more harmonica, slide guitar...just folksy stuff like that. And then we used way more acoustic guitars. Most of the guitars on the album are acoustic, whether they sound like it or not. A lot of them were acoustic guitars through a Fender Champ, turned up to 10 in a booth.
Were those your own acoustics, or the studio’s?
Brian Murphy: I have an old EKO 12-string acoustic that’s got a pickup in it. We would DI it to get that plunky, acoustic sound, and then send it through a small amp, like a Champ, and blow it up. Graham [Walsh], our engineer, would have two signals to work with and blend. That’s definitely the most-used guitar on the record. I remember Jeremy just picking that guitar up and blasting off all the stuff you here on “Nashville Wedding,” for example.
Jeremy and myself also really got into ‘Nashville Tuning’ the acoustics— a six string with the top half being flipped up an octave. Any chimey stuff you hear is that. It doesn’t really sound like an acoustic guitar; it almost sounds like a harpsichord, or something. Even though it sounds similar to Football Money, this record’s got less big, beefy electric guitars. They’re more subdued.
J: There were only a couple of times where I actually plugged in an electric, turned up really loud, and did some shredding. The one time was with...actually we didn’t even end up using that solo. Brian and I both tracked guitar solos on “Maid Marian’s Toast,” with the idea that we would pan one to the left and one to the right.
B: Like a T-Rex thing.
J: But by the end of it, we just liked Brian’s solo better. It was the smarter one to use, so I tracked harmonica over top of it [instead]. That was the only time I was really shredding on the record. On Football Money, I remember a full day of me being in a room with 20 guitar pedals, just constantly...
B: feeding back!
J: Yeah, with different amps. Just constantly doing that. The only other electric moment on this record that I can think of is the guitar solo on “Cooler Returns”. That was my normal guitar set up, which is a 12-string through a BOSS Super OverDrive into the amp. And there’s another guitarmony on “Undecided Voters”.
Was the idea to have two competing slide solos on “Maid Marian’s Toast”?
B: Jeremy’s solo was super blown out, it kind of reminded me of a Guided By Voices solo. There wasn’t any slide. With my solo, Jeremy had this melody he played on a demo—maybe on a keyboard— and I just took that melody and played it using a slide, with a decent amount of OverDrive.
J: On that solo in particular we were going for a David Lindley sound.
B: Definitely. Both Jeremy and I were listening to a lot of Jackson Browne...all of that ‘70s California stuff. There’s so much slide [on those records] and a lot of it was played by David Lindley: Small speaker, blown-out slide sound.
Cub Scout Bowling Pins “Heaven Beats Iowa” (Bandcamp):
After delivering a whopping 48 songs across three Guided By Voices LPs last year, Robert Pollard is venturing off into a brand new thing this month via the first 7” from a side venture called Cub Scout Bowling Pins.
“Heaven Beats Iowa” is a deceptively sophisticated piece of bubblegum pop. While the intro’s staccato punctuations and its overwhelmingly friendly Farfisa feel share an aesthetic with ‘60s groups like 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Ohio Express, there’s a lot more to chew on here. Zone in on its numerous chord changes; that minor key switch in the chorus; the unnatural presence of Pollard’s possibly pitched-down vocals, which sound as if he’s singing through the grate of a desk fan. Better than most AM Gold favourites, with a timeless fade-out.
Cub Scout Bowling Pins’ Heaven Beats Iowa EP is out January 22 through Rockathon.