How Dan Boeckner’s Head Injury Shaped Kiwi Jr.’s New Album

“It was a bad cut. He probably should have had stitches.”

Photo: Ben Rayner

Posted on August 10, 2022

The first day Kiwi Jr. spent in the studio recording his new album, Chopper, went about as planned. But on the second day…

“Dan [Boeckner] had an accident and showed up with a huge gash on his forehead, which was bleeding,” Kiwi Jr. singer Jeremy Gaudet recalled of his experience working with the Wolf Parade musician.

In a separate window to our Zoom call, guitarist Brian Murphy chimes in, “He’s definitely going to have a permanent scar. It was a bad cut. He probably should have had stitches, but he kept going and going.”

Reached by e-mail, Boeckner explains that he was staying in an Airbnb between Toronto’s CBC building and the CN Tower, attributing the injury to “a ritual [to] commune with these twin currents of unbearable psychic energy. Then, in a more plausible explanation, he adds, “Did I also bail out a pair of chafe-free sweatpants that I had carelessly left on the floor, causing my head to crack a doorknob?” Yes too. But I shed real blood on this album, and I would do it again.”

Boeckner was producer of Chopper, and Gaudet and Murphy explain that his injury prompted them to change their recording methods. Instead of working on bed tracks, they went out to rent synths – something mostly absent from previous Kiwi Jr. albums – and immediately started experimenting.

“Dan’s head injury was a catalyst in how we approached the record,” Gaudet says simply.

Chopper (released this Friday, August 12 via Kiwi Club and sub-pop) is the culmination of a few extremely productive years for the Toronto combo of Gaudet, Murphy, bassist Mike Walker and drummer Brohan Moore. They debuted in 2019 soccer moneya jubilant flurry of fast-paced indie pop that sounded a lot like slacker rock, except with densely literary lyrics and non-linear song structures that were anything but “slack”. Cooler Returnswhich followed in 2021, offered more or less the same thing, but with a slightly longer runtime.

Rather than repeating the happy, sunny sound of those first two albums, the band envisioned Chopper like a late-night album — something to listen to on headphones while taking the tram home at 2 a.m.

So what makes an album sound like the night? “Sometimes it’s simple like that: there is a narration and it happens at night, in the lyrics”, explains Gaudet. “Other times, it’s the record cover, and just the vibe of what you’re looking at when you’re holding the record that puts you in that nighttime headspace.” The band came up with the idea for the album cover – a painting of a helicopter in the night sky – before they had written or recorded the music.

Boeckner says he “immediately understood what they meant” when the band described the concept as “Kiwi after dark”. However, not everyone understood this.

“While we were mixing it, an assistant engineer came into the room and he heard a song, and he didn’t know anything about the album, and he was like, ‘Wow, that really rocks. This is the total party-on-summer beach vibe,” Gaudet recalled with a wry smile. “I just looked at him, and we were like, ‘Get that guy out of the room right now.’ “

Chopper is something of a departure for Kiwi Jr., which adds carnival touches to the sighing shimmer of opener “Unspeakable Things”, sinks into a cavern of reverberation on “Night Vision”, and sprawls in the middle buzzing electronics on six minutes closer to “The Masked Singer.” But in many ways it’s also classic kiwi: “The Extra Sees the Film” uses painstaking detail to tell a universal story of disappointment, while the boppy “Clerical Sleep” fades away with non-sequence immediately. quoteable: “I’m only painting with green / Yeah, I’m mixing blue and yellow.”

It’s a new take on a familiar sound which, for a band now with three records in their career, signifies an impressive ability to combine quality and quantity. With this rapid string of albums, Kiwi Jr. rose above the pack to become one of the hottest indie rock bands around.

“I think we’re a pretty selfish band. And we don’t think about the big picture and what our listeners are going to think,” admits Gaudet. “We’re just trying to make sure the four of us like the song, and if it passes that test, then we’re happy. Let’s have a beer and work on the next one.”

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