"Not many people know this, but before I got into comedy, I played in bands in Montreal from my late teens all the way up to my mid twenties."
People talk about music as a cultural currency...the idea that the artists we know represent a way for us to buy into larger cultural conversations about music and if we don't have said "currency" we're on the outs of what's happening. We prefer not to think of it as a cultural currency and instead as connective tissue.
"I'm in my thirties now, and I sort of got to a place in my life where I'm like, 'look, I do this; I write music every single day; I love doing it. It's my most favorite thing to do in the world. It's fine Jon. Just shut up, get it out of your head and do it.'"
Jon Lajoie rose to fame playing Taco on FXX's The League
as well as through his comedic music projects that are regularly shared on his YouTube page. But recently, Lajoie has surprised his fans the only way a comedian can. He's playing things straight.
"I've always responded to acoustic guitar, vocals, and harmonies...Bob Dylan, Neil Young, that kind of vibe has always really been appealing to me. I really thought that was a great way to...shift away from comedy. That really meant that I wanted to focus on myself a little bit, and examine myself, and be vulnerable in a way that I haven't necessarily been with comedy or acting in years."
Friday, Lajoie released his first album under the moniker of his new alternative folk project, Wolfie's Just Fine. The record, I Remembered but Then I Forgot
(which you can purchase on iTunes here
), is a startling mix of lush, Tallest Man on Earth-esque guitar folk, intricate vocal harmonies, and often painfully intimate remembrances of childhood, love, and the anxieties and angsts of youth. And that energy was immediately apparent in the album's lead single, "It's A Job," which was paired with a Spielberg-esque lead video.
"The whole time, we were trying to make the child's journey iconic in a sort of 80's Spielberg kind of way, and also I was really aware that this video...has a bit of a metal approach, with the fantastical elements, and obviously the huge barbarians, the imagination, and this sort of darkness to it...To juxtapose that with the sort of pretty folk music could be quite interesting.
So that was a challenge to myself and the whole narrative of it all was just, throughout all the fantastical elements with the barbarians biking through the streets and the destruction, it was like, as long as we're with that little boy the whole time and when he decides not to send the barbarians into the home to destroy it, that was the moment where it's like if the audience is still with us they'll realize it's just about a hurt little guy, who decides whatever he decides at the end. As long as we're with him emotionally until then, I'll be happy."
It's not easy to examine childhood with honesty. You only need to watch the average kid's film to realize that as adults we start to repress how horrifying childhood can be...the rejections, the fear of the unknown, the casual hurts we endure that form lifelong scars. But the best art understands that there isn't necessarily a halcyon days of our youth. Watch Stand By Me
or binge Freaks & Geeks
on Netflix, and tell us we're wrong, and Lajoie hones in on precisely this on the new record.
"There definitely is this sort of looking back at my life but especially within specific points of my childhood, and there is an emphasis especially within a few songs of the trauma that's related to intense emotional pain as a child. I know that I am, to say it bluntly, a fairly numb person twenty-three and a half hours a day. But there's that half hour where I actually feel what's going on inside. It's petrifying, it's terrifying, and all those things, like, as a child you haven't really built up those boundaries and you're just so vulnerable, and I just kind of connected with that side of myself and the memory of being that vulnerable.
I tried to write from that place, and a lot of the stories that came out were like the first horror movie that I watched and the experience of how traumatizing that was with the nightmares that came afterwards. And another song is about this girl that I liked, I think I was in second grade, and how I really liked her, but she never knew that I existed. I knew that she liked Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block because she had a poster of him in her locker, and I felt like if I bought the ripped jeans that Donnie Wahlberg wore that she would notice me and fall in love with me immediately. So I bought these jeans and then wore them to school waiting for her to see me, and the whole song is just kind of about me waiting for her to notice me and notice that I have the jeans on and to fall in love with me and everything, to be great. But she never really did, and that first experience of unrequited love and the pain that comes from that, I kind of felt that was interesting to write about. A lot of it is about those kind of intense moments from my childhood."
But back to that cultural connective tissue from earlier, Lajoie also understands that as kids, we imprint ourselves a lot on the culture we consume and how that affects the way we view the world, and Lajoie found ways to include that into his own songwriting.
"Another approach I took on maybe two or three songs was from the point of view of supporting characters in movies that really affected me as a child. I don't want to really elaborate because I don't want people to immediately know which songs I'm talking about, but i guess 'Pigeon Lady' is a little obvious. I would write from the perspective of the pigeon lady from Home Alone 2
. I imagined where she would be at now, and when I imaged that, I figured she was on her deathbed in Central Park, just writing a little message, or thinking about Kevin 25 years later or whatever. That was a way for me to write about friendship and time passing, and death and stuff, still with a little bit more of my voice...which I can't just straight up wax poetic. I need an angle a little bit sometimes, so that was a way for me to connect with that on an emotional level and write from her perspective. I did that with one or two other songs on the album as well. But it's still stuff that meant a lot to me in my childhood."
That off-kilter but intimate approach to songwriting defines the entirety of the excellent I Remembered but Then I Forgot
(which is quickly becoming one of our sleeper favorite albums of the year). And although Lajoie was aware in our conversation that people might come into this record expecting Taco or music along the lines of his comedic material like "Show Me Your Genitals," you should leave those expectations at the door. And if you have any love for Tallest Man on Earth, Jose Gonzalez, First Aid Kit, Dylan or Neil Young (all favorites of Lajoie's that we discussed during our chat), you can't miss Wolfie's Just Fine. Lajoie clearly has a well of theatrical folk talent, and we're going to be listening to this record on repeat for the rest of Spring.