Yes, they’re from Vancouver with the band name JPNSGRLS (pronounced ‘Japanese girls’) and because of the riff heavy, explosive, lyrically and sonically thoughtful indie rock that edges with punk energy, we can forgive the absence of vowels. This time.
In July Charlie Kerr (vox), Colton Lauro (guitar), Chris McClelland (bass) and Graham Serl (drums) released their sophomore record: an engaging album on, both, a primal and emotional level. There’s no catchy hook left behind and, on the lyrical side of things, front man Kerr opted to take one for the team and dig just a little deeper. The result: Divorce.
Catching up with Kerr shortly after JPNSGRLS opened for Foals in their hometown (a perk of being one of the more badass rock bands on the scene), we talk Divorce, that video and random stuff. We like random.
High Voltage: For folks who may not be familiar with you or your music, how would you explain or describe this thing called JPNSGRLS?
Charlie Kerr: A chaotic, fun, theatrical and catchy mess of sounds and words. Influenced by the New York garage-rock movement of the early 2000s, as well as The Beatles and my love for Frank Ocean.
HV: Fun, chaotic, theatrical…spot on and still we wait for Mr. Ocean to come through. The road from album one to album two: Other than teaming up with Dave Shiffman (Rage Against The Machine, Biffy Clyro), Tom Dobrzanski (The Zolas, Said the Whale) and Steve Bays (Hot Hot Heat, Fur Trade), was your approach to creating and recording Divorce different than creating and recording Circulation?
Charlie: Musically, we always just try to do what is organic to the band and what is true to us, at each moment. I try not to be handcuffed to genre, so sometimes that means enlisting my friends in a female pop group to throw down on some Dirty Projectors-esque back-up vocals (“Comprehensive List of Things I Love”) on the same album that has simple two and a half minute rock songs like “Trojan Horse.” Lyrically, I decided to start singing more blatantly from my own point of view, and sense of humour and life experience, which was terrifying but also liberating. ‘Cause now I get to get on stage each night and basically sing about how much of a piece of shit I am, but the audience is right there with me, it’s pretty cool. And then production-wise, Tom, Dave and Steve are just wizards at improving upon what we give them initially, they really pushed us and I am very proud of the results.
HV: While Divorce sounds finer tuned, I don’t think that it sacrifices any indie grit for polish, especially considering that the songwriting was a bit more personal. Was there any one song on the album that was a bit of a bitch to finish or get exactly the way you wanted it?
Charlie: “Gap Year” was the trickiest, pretty much across the board. We had to write the bridge to the end, more or less on the spot so we spent eight hours straight writing and recording one minute of material with Steve Bays. Also, it’s just such a bitter and angry song that I was concerned people wouldn’t understand that it’s about coming to terms with being outgrown by another person and not just a song making fun of someone for wanting to travel the world and find themselves. Also, I was scared that the lyrics in the bridge were too cheese-ball. But I think it all turned out for the best.
HV: You can definitely hear the bitter but I think that bridge offsets it with its vulnerable honesty, so no complaints here. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the band, so also unsure of how you’ll take this but the first time I heard “A Girl From A Different Dimension” from Divorce, it gave me a very immediate We Are Scientists-feel. Which – at its core – means you can dance to it, which isn’t always a characteristic of indie rock so this is actually a good comparison, right?
Charlie: I mean, danceable garage rock is pretty much what we aim for. And I’m not terribly familiar with that band but I like them. If I remember right, I think I was going for a ‘White Stripes’ during the verses, The Mars Volta during the choruses kinda vibe.
HV: Some of the record was recorded here in Los Angeles: How long did you spend in LA and did you get into any trouble while you were here?
Charlie: We were only in LA for about a week. We stayed in Koreatown and recorded around Echo Park. We were doing 12-hour days working on “Trojan Horse,” “A Girl From a Different Dimension,” “Bully For You” and “19-Pound Baby.” Did we get into trouble? I mean kinda, yeah, there was some trouble. It was at least a PG-13 trip. I’ll put it that way.
HV: Four Canadians in Koreatown: That sounds like a movie waiting to happen. You created a pretty unique video for “Bully For You” which you described as, “A Gatorade commercial that turns into Swan Lake” and that’s pretty damned on point. The song, itself, being something of a rail against misogyny, how did the video come to be treated as it did?
Charlie: Kevin (the director) and I had had a couple conversations and we were just on the same page the whole time. We wanted to do something that challenged traditional masculinity and embraced grace over violence. He and I both have brothers and grew up watching a lot of sports. So the concept and its execution was pretty organic and easy.
HV: Something that’s incredibly important to up and coming bands is a solid sense of a music community: going to see other friends play, playing or collaborating with other artists, etc. Here in certain sections of Los Angeles, that community is a very tangible thing. What’s been your experience in Vancouver?
Charlie: Well, we have been in the music community in Vancouver since we were all little kids so I have seen it through multiple transformations. But the current local music community in Vancouver is a friendly and supportive one and everyone who is really doing it is working extremely hard.
HV: Of course we need to know who some of your favorite local bands are…
Charlie: Skye Wallace, Savvie, Little India, Youngblood, Gay Nineties, Oceanographers, Mounties, Fur Trade, Smash Boom Pow, Little Destroyer, Black Knight Satellite, Kalibo.
HV: I’m curious about your very first concert experience: Who was it and when? To keep things fair, mine was New Edition while I was in high school in New York.
Charlie: My first concert was Soul Decision opening up for Prozzak. I must’ve been eight years old. I didn’t have any like, “This is what I want to do with my life” kinda moment but I remember really enjoying myself.
HV: Filing under Tour Goals: Who are some bucket list bands or artists that you’d sell body organs to tour with?
Charlie: St. Vincent, Frank Ocean, Julian Casablancas, Father John Misty, The Hives, Queens of The Stone Age, Chance The Rapper. A couple days ago, we played a one-off with Foals and it felt like a really great, appropriate fit. So if they’re reading this, let’s tour y’all.
HV: You guys and Foals are absolutely a solid fit and I’d definitely get behind that tour. Now we all know how important craft services are while on the road: Is anyone really particular about what’s backstage or in the dressing room?
Charlie: Chips, salsa, beer, tea, water. I don’t really care, ‘cause I am usually too nervous to eat.
HV: What do you gentlemen use to maintain that glorious rock and roll hair?
Charlie: Pacific northwestern voodoo. Same as Pearl Jam.
HV: That would explain Stone Gossard’s locks. In your years on tour as JPNSGRLS, what has been the wildest thing to happen at a show?
Charlie: I have bled a ton from my head and had to end the show with a hospital visit in three different cities.
HV: Nothing says “punk rock” like blood on the stage. So what does the rest of the year have in store for you and what do you do with yourselves when you’re not on the road?
Charlie: The rest of the year will be comprised of touring, making more videos and content and writing the follow-up to Divorce. When I am not on the road I am writing plays and writing songs for other folks and acting in TV, films and plays when they’ll have me.
HV: Very cool…impressive, actually. Since we at High Voltage are fans of South Park, what are some things we can genuinely blame Canada for?
Charlie: Kids in the Hall and SNL. But I love both those shows. A lot of great musical acts. A lot of not-so-great musical acts… How’s this for a diplomatic and pretentious answer: I prefer to judge people on a person-to-person basis, regardless of where they are from in the world.
HV: That was perfect. And sidebar: A month or so ago I had poutine for the first time in my life and it was AMAZING so instead of “blaming” you for that, I’m going to thank you.
Charlie: Who doesn’t like fries, cheese and gravy?