Listen and Learn: Japanther Continue the Life Lessons on New Album ‘Instant Money Magic’

Photo credit: Jesus Rivera
Photo credit: Jesus Rivera

As steeped as Brooklyn art-punk duo Japanther are in performance projects and non-musical endeavours (be they art installations, restaurants, or zines), they still make time to do typical band things like release records. Japanther’s Ian Vanek (drums, tapes, vocals) and Matt Reilly (bass, keyboard) return with their latest album, Instant Money Magic, out April 15 on Seayou Records. IMM is Japanther’s second album in less than a year. For most musicians, this rate would be considered “breakneck” and likely compromise the quality of their music. But for Vanek, if it takes you longer than a year, you’ve probably been flapping your virtual gums on the Internet too much. (What the fuck is the Internet, anyway?)

In an interview with Vancouver Weekly prior to the release of IMM, Vanek elaborated on the idea of “the short term” as an artist. He also spoke about Japanther’s residency in the woods of upstate New York, which influenced the album’s making; their working relationship with major studio producer Michael Blum, who counts Madonna amongst his credentials; playing and creating for personal versus public fulfillment; and the importance of teaching as a means of human survival. “Each one teach one,” Vanek said at one point in our interview. I’ve learned, and maybe you will too.

Vancouver Weekly: Instant Money Magic is your second album in less than a year. Does the band work better in short creative bursts rather than when it’s afforded the “luxury” of time? Do you ever impose restrictions of any kind upon yourselves, whether in terms of time, musical gear, or finances, in order to force yourselves to be creative?

Ian Vanek: If a year is a short term to you, you’re a lazy artist who spends too much time talking about shit on social media. Maybe that’s harsh… I think restrictions and limitations can be a powerful tool. Time restrictions (i.e. deadlines) are one of the most useful. This irrational fear of the clock [has] lead me to develop an extremely fast creative cycle. It takes me one day to make a painting, so one year is reasonable for 14 songs. We never set financial limitations. We live it up in the most lavish hotels in Italy and grimy St. Louis dives. We never limit gear of tools, but we are very particular about why and when things get used.

VW: Beets, Limes and Rice was inspired by the passing of a close friend, and Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart was influenced by issues related to the American prison system and housing rights. What inspired IMM?

IV: This album was inspired by New York State. We spent a great deal of time doing residencies in upstate New York and running around waterfalls and woods. We built an A-frame in the woods of the Wave Farm that broadcasts FM radio waves and acts as a recording booth for deep thoughts. Spending all that time in the woods influenced us. Attempting to be honest (“Do It (Don’t Try)”) and of course the illusive perfect love song (“Take Me In and Let Me Go”.)

VW: You’ve been working with LA producer Michael Blum for the past few years. Did he work on IMM too? Do you consider working with a producer just another form of collaboration and therefore in keeping with DIY?

IV: Yes, Mr. Blum produced this record as well. I see our relationship with Titan Studios as a business relationship with great benefits. I think DIY can be a noose to many artists – one that fits with great comfort and ease. Michael is great at his job, and the platinum Madonna record on the wall speaks to that. That era of huge studios is ending, and Titan was very good at adapting before the curve.

VW: Your last few albums, going back as far as 2010’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Ice Cream, have been your most straightforward yet. Has anything in particular spurred an impulse to write more streamlined songs, or has that shift come naturally?

IV: No, the straightforward nature might be about the scheduling. We don’t have the time to sit around making strange music anymore (Dump the Body in Rikki Lake). We have to catch planes and trains to shows in Moscow. This leaves little time for reflection. So we write songs onstage, and those tend to be the hits that sound “straightforward.”

VW: With your focus being on live performance and multimedia projects, which aren’t necessarily music-related, when does it strike you guys to say, “Okay, it’s time to go back into the studio”? How important is the album format to you?

IV: The album format and music aren’t going anywhere. The media it’s consumed on is in upheaval right now, but albums and song collections like mix-tapes will always exist. How we consume them is changing almost daily. We love working on restaurant projects and art installs, but mostly we just want to stay interested in our own lives. This is done by waking up and getting shit cracking.

VW: I have bit of a tough time making out the lyrics to “More Teachers Less Cops”, so maybe this question doesn’t apply. But just going by song titles, what changed between “More Teachers” and an earlier song like Skuffed Up My Huffy’s “Fuk Tha Prince A Pull Iz Dum”, which doesn’t exactly promote formal education?

IV: HAHA, this is directly in line in my crazy mind. The administration in education has been fucking things up forever. We need everyone to be a teacher. Each one teach one. Teachers in school have their hands tied by unions and the like. These [songs] are both a promotion of the idea that all humans need to pass on useful information, or our species will suffer.

VW: What’s your sample-finding process like? Do you always actively search for samples or at least keep your ears open for them? Can you watch movies or listen to records without thinking about what you can pull from them?

IV: Yes, a good sampler’s ears are always open, but I seldom think about it until it’s obvious to me. No expectations.

VW: Before you, Ian, I’d never heard a musician proudly proclaim that he listened to his own music casually or wore his own merch. The gist was that you have to believe in what you’re doing and be your own biggest fan. But you’ve also said that running new material by live crowds first is a good test of whether or not that material works. Where is the line between making something for everyone and making something that you, more than anyone else, can enjoy?

IV: The line is an individual one. To me, a consensus is very important for music. We bring crowds together with our sounds, and others push in different directions. We often have some weirder material on our albums, and that’s the stuff we do more for self.

VW: I missed Japanther by about a month when I moved to Vancouver nearly four years ago. You’ve played plenty of Seattle and Portland shows since but haven’t been back here. Can we expect to see you in Van again any time soon? SBC Restaurant boasts the largest indoor ramp in BC. Just sayin’.

IV: Haha, I hope so. Matt is the skater. He’s been on fire lately.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu