Liner Notes is a close up look at a great new album you may have missed. This week, Fraser Valley, B.C.-based producer Teen Daze talks about growing lush, verdant environments on his latest LP Morning World.
Place gives rise to perspective. It's such a simple, analytic statement that my reaction, as the cursor moves further from it, is "well, duh." And still, I think, we're mostly blind to the ways our environs inform our individual constitutions.
Jamison, the soft-spoken producer behind the Teen Daze enterprise, hails from the Fraser Valley in British Columbia — a river basin region downstream from the Fraser Canyon, located east of Vancouver, that's temperate, green, and flanked by forested mountains. If you're familiar with the handle, you might associate his output with the pack of chillwave artists that apprehended dance music 5 years ago. And, sure, that was a sufficiently West Coast aesthetic, but in the years since, Jamison has turned his attention more and more to the world outside his own particular window.
Like Brian Eno, he has become interested in the imaginary landscape as a generative concept, especially, the ability of sound to convey a sense of space. The landscape has become his reference. Morning World, his latest, is his Garden of Eden, he says, warm and bright and soft. In many ways, it's his most intimate release yet, glowing synthesizers tempered by acoustic guitar and his own dulcet voice — but intimate also because it's a picture of home. A portrait of his place in the world. We spoke with Jamison by phone about building Morning World, his sunny, glistening paradise.
Teen Daze's Morning World is available now through Paper Bag Records.
You've said that the Brian Eno concept of imaginary landscapes generated a lot of ideas for this album. Tell me about that? What kinds of places were you thinking of?
It was this interesting pairing between both the Eno concept and C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, I wrote an EP’s-worth of material that served as a soundtrack for one of the books. I’ve always just been fascinated by really great creators who are able to create these seemingly impossible landscapes and places. C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of these planets are so vivid and so real — it’s crazy to think that the human mind can just come up with things out of thin air.
There’s so much creation out of nothing, I think that’s the thing I was really struck by. I saw that as a parallel to how I’d treated music over the past five years. Since I’ve been doing Teen Daze, music has been my escape. It’s always been the thing that I’ve sunk myself into. I thought there was an interesting parallel between the idea of the created imaginary landscape and what I was doing, creating these worlds for myself to get into so I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the other things that were going on in my life.
How do you go about representing place with sound? What does a mountain sound like, for example?
I think, especially with this record, I really wanted to create something warm, almost like a Garden of Eden. The music that I was initially writing that sort of fed into everything had more of a psychedelic feeling to it, more of a ‘60s psych pop feel. I remember thinking about these concepts and wanting to create some colourful, warm, soft place. That’s what the record was to me.
That comes through in the lyrics, too. There’s a lot of garden imagery, a lot of water, a lot of colour description. It’s funny you say, “what does a mountain sound like?” because that’s something I explored on the record before this one, Glacier. I wanted to create a soundtrack for what it would feel like to be lost in this icy, mountainous, forested wilderness. A lot of times when I’m making things, it’s about visualizing, then creating a soundtrack to the visuals.
Do you think your home, growing up in Fraser Valley, and your connection to its landscapes, has something to do with this? You’re always placed in front of these dramatic-looking scenes.
That’s a huge part of it. I’ve realized it more and more as the project continues. Just in the way that I’d go about making a record: I’m recording at home, but I have to be near windows. There has to be some connection to the outside world. There was a brief period of time when my wife and I talked about moving somewhere to make the next record. We have friends in New York and obviously New York is a fun, busy, exciting place. I just thought: I don’t know if I can make a record there.
There’s something about being close to nature that’s really inspiring to me, and a lot of the artists that I look up to have that same connection. Someone like Brian Eno. Phil Elverum from Mount Eerie and The Microphones — he’s an hour away from where I live and I really admire the way that he’s able to do a similar thing. He uses the metaphor of landscape and nature in a really powerful way. And it’s the same landscapes that I’m looking at.
You’ve said elsewhere that this album sounds most like you, that people who’ve know you for a long time might say something like that. What does that mean?
Before Teen Daze, I’d done music for ages. Most of it was guitar-based, whether that was folk music or a band I played in when I was, like, 17. I think a lot of friends who knew me before Teen Daze, they associate my creative stuff with more guitar-based, song-based work. They’d listen to the last few Teen Daze records and they wouldn’t identify them with me. They wouldn’t say, “that’s definitely Jamison.”
It’s not that those records weren’t honest to who I was, but I think this record really digs into something that’s a little bit deeper, and maybe goes a bit further into my past. Even the music that I’m referencing on the record is music that I was listening to a lot more 5 and 10 years ago.
There definitely seems to be a broader palette of sounds at play here: there are sections of folktronica (reminds me of Bibio or múm), there’s downtempo electronica like Boards of Canada. The song “Pink” reminds me of the math rock band Ring, Cicada. I probably wouldn’t be the first to tell you that “Valley of Gardens” kind of has an Elliott Smith thing happening. Is this album in some way a summation of your musical tastes over time? Is this you looking back a little bit?
Yeah, definitely. It feels like a hybrid of everything, too. Like you said, I certainly haven’t abandoned synthesizers or my love of ambient music or drones or pads. They’re all in there, you just might have to dig a bit deeper to hear them. The whole Teen Daze project has always been atmosphere first, and then, song and lyrics second. I think I looked back into the music I’ve enjoyed where it seemed like the song came first and the atmosphere was there to support the song. I tried to do more of that.
You’ve also said that this album indulges more in your love for classic ‘60s pop writing — psych pop, I’m imagining the baroque stuff, too — where do you see that surfacing on the album?
I think when I was first writing the demos, I was really into the second Caribou album, Up in Flames. It’s sort of funny, I see it almost as a lens into all that music. I love the way that he took that ‘60s psych pop sound, but totally reimagined it. It doesn’t sound like a Beach Boys album or anything from that era. But I love the way that he threw it into the world of electronic music.
A lot of the song structures and vocal melodies and harmonies came from that ‘60s era, but I tried to do my best to look at them through a contemporary lens. Of course, the strings play a big part in it. A song like “Along,” I listen to it and it’s like: “Oh man, this could have come straight from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s.”
Tell me about working in an all analogue studio and the sort of environments that allowed you to create. How did that change your sound?
It was actually really fun. My friend Simon Bridgefoot who played drums on the record and stuck around and essentially helped co-produce the whole thing, well, before we left the Fraser Valley, we were nervous about the idea of recording to tape. Both him and I have done so much work on computers. If you mess up a take at home, it’s as simple as pressing command-z. You’re not wasting other people’s time. You’re not wasting money. All of those pressures were weighing on us.
But from the first moment meeting John [Vanderslice] at the studio, we knew we’d be fine. He created such a friendly, warm, positive atmosphere. It was just like: have fun, play as well as you can, we’re going to capture it as it happens. There was a looseness to the whole thing. John has a really open philosophy about recording. You hear my fingers on the frets and strings. There are a lot of first takes. You hear the little idiosyncrasies. It felt so fluid. It was such an easy experience.
How was the experience of making this, a delicate, warm, introspective thing — you called it your Garden of Eden — different from when you’d make music intended to be played in a club?
That was a huge part of why I wanted to make the record this way. The club lifestyle just isn’t the type of life that I live. I didn’t feel like I was being honest by making a record intended for clubs. I still love dance music and I love DJing, but to be in a club every night for 6 weeks is so tiring. I feel too old for it. I have a lot of respect for guys like Dan Snaith and Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) who are able to live that lifestyle, being in clubs and making really interesting dance music.
Why had it become so exhausting?
You can hear it on the record: I live out of the city. Everything is just a bit slower for me in general. I just want life to be a little softer around the edges these days.