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On the Road, for the Record: Jacques Greene

Philippe Aubin-Dionne, better known as Jacques Greene (a moniker mash-up comprised of the cross-streets of his old job,) is the Toronto-based electronic musician and composer who just dropped his most recent record Dawn Chorus. This project features several collaborators from film composer Brian Reitzell to rapper Cadence WeaponDressed in head-to-toe Yohji Yamamoto, Greene met us before his National Sawdust show in Brooklyn. Having composed runway music for the first unisex couture show in Paris, deejaying alongside Virgil Abloh, and always dressing to impress, the man is no stranger to the fashion world. Before his live-set, we chatted with Greene about “good nerves,” memorable fan moments, and why a bottle San Pellegrino can save you.

The tracks Jacques Greene has on rotation:

What’s the biggest misconception about being on tour?

The exhilaration of the live performance is like 75 minutes but the overwhelmingly vast majority is a lot of waiting around. Checking into flights, waiting to board, waiting for your bags, waiting around at a venue, going through soundcheck – you hit this weird headspace where it feels like things are going a hundred miles an hour but the times in between and the groundhog day nature of the road make every day feel like a year.

Who comes in the van with you? (aka who is on the road with you and what is their job?) 

Only a lighting person. On this album launch run, it has been Shaun Murphy, from Glasgow. A Scottish bon vivant who has done the light shows for TNGHT and Lanark Artefax in the past and has had his hand in many legendary Glaswegian parties and spaces. A very good and resourceful (and extremely fun) person to have around. In the past and probably for some shows next year will be Jason Voltaire aka M Bootyspoon. Jason is from Montreal, runs a lot of my light shows and is a legend in his own right. It’s imperative that anyone that comes on the road be a positive influence on morale. Both Jason and Shaun are wonderful human beings that know when to work and make a show look stellar but also when it’s important to laugh through a sleep-deprived hangover / 7 AM airport pickup after a show.

Because you’re a solo artist, do you ever get lonely? 

Because of the two aforementioned people that pass the baton being my confidant, I do OK. Even then though you end up in weird phases where you haven’t seen your girlfriend, close friends, or family more than a day at a time over 2 months and you feel less so lonely than like… alienated. It can be a weird headspace where you kind of feel like a tourist in your own personal life by the time you’re finally home cause it feels like you missed so much.

What do you remember from your first tour?

I remember distinctly feeling like I would probably never get to do it again so really never missing an opportunity, whether that may be taking every waking minute available to try and do stuff in a city or accepting any offer to hang out after shows and staying up all night.

It was outrageous fun but sooooo draining.

What are the biggest changes from then to now?

There’s maybe a tiny bit more order and maturity now – Not that I was ever an insane party monster but definitely don’t do much drinking unless like great friends are around. I have to say though part of me is still incredulous that I get to do this for a living so more often than not this kind of “what if it’s the last time I ever get the chance to be brought to this place!?” energy still courses thru my veins, in a good way. It’s important to try not to take the opportunities and experiences this work can bring for granted.

What are your green room must-haves?

Most boring but most important are sparkling water and like a bag of almonds or something. Either because something has come up and now your soundcheck is six hours long and you’re hungry, dehydrated and cranky so having those things on hand will save your life, or for bringing with you at the end of the show administering the critical hit of sustenance and some San Pellegrino at 8am when you have to head back to the airport or the train station.

What do you listen to on the road?

When I really hit the road and I’m traveling from one show to the next every day I tend to gravitate away from anything resembling club music or even most things with driving drums. It’s more about giving yourself little pockets of space and room to think while in airports, hotel rooms or whatever so things like ambient music take on a really useful role. I’ve got 15 tracks here that have been in pretty constant rotation.

Is there one spot you always like to go back to when you’re on the move? ( a restaurant, bar, park, shop, etc.) 

Yes, so many in so many cities. I oscillate between being good at this because it takes a while to get truly homesick and I can adapt to many different spaces and living out of a bag for a long time, but I absolutely adore a sense of familiarity and thrive on having my “spots.” In New York, for instance, that can mean needing to make the time to go get soba at Cocoron in the city or picking up my own rider at Discovery Wines on 2nd and B. Life is a balance of slowly finding out about new places but remaining a patron at establishments you ride for.

You play a live set, do you get nervous still?

For sure. Especially on this run because it’s all new material and these are quite literally album launches so the heat is on. I’d say a good nervous though. Like you’re going on a date with someone you really want to impress. I know I got the date so the first step is a lock, not I just need to not get spaghetti sauce on my shirt at the meal. Maybe kind of giddy is more apt… Although when it comes to the last 5 to 10 minutes before I go onstage I invariably tense up before shows. The wildest is after a live show – no matter how sleep-deprived or tired I might have been before, I always walk offstage a live-wire with way more energy than I know what to do with.

How involved are you with the sound / light design?

Quite a lot. Shaun Murphy handled the lighting design on this run. I’ve known him for a couple years, he’s from Glasgow and is affiliated with LuckyMe, the label that releases my stuff. We started talking months ago about the album, its sound, its themes, I was showing him the stuff I was working on with Hassan Rahim for the cover at the time as well. Without falling too deep into Tumblr/moodboard hell I definitely keep a lot of references at hand, so when it comes time to talk about light shows I’ve got a folder of screenshots I’ve taken while I was watching movies of the lighting of certain scenes or pictures I’ve taken at light installations or from fashion magazines and so on.

As far as the sound design I mean yeah that’s me.

Any memorable fan moments?

There’s been a couple times people handed me drawings they made of me and it felt quite odd and surreal. In Miami a few months ago a guy asked to meet me by the fence at the front of the crowd and shakes my hand then hands me a manila envelope… he had developed film photos he had taken of me at a show a year or two prior haha. All those kind of gestures that people make to show they care really quite deeply meaningful. Even just showing up in some merch is moving to me, sincerely cannot believe it every single time.

What’s your favorite track to play off of your new record? The most difficult?

Probably “Night Service.” Cadence Weapon and I both live in Toronto and started making some music together a couple years ago, for his last album. We kept making stuff after that, some of it more like rap music, some of it going into slightly more experimental zones. When we made this one we both felt like it was something special, something different. We released it as a joint single this spring and with all the kind of loose themes and vibes on my record I asked if it could also appear on there. He was gracious enough to agree and I think it holds this very important key to tying the record together as this ode to nightlife etc that is wistful, loving, not overtly nostalgic, euphoric.

I have a bit of fun with the sequencing of the track in the live show and change it up a bit from the album version which is a lot of fun.The most difficult is probably the lead single ‘Do it Without You’ mostly because it’s when the set really gets going so I’m juggling a couple things on the computer, making sure all my equipment is really doing what it needs to be doing while still taking in the room, the sound system, the people. It’s the point of no return.

What advice do you have for maintaining your life outside of music when you’re on these month(s) long runs?

Keep in contact with your partner, friends, family, local community if you can. Have good friends in other cities who aren’t just colleagues or peers. That part is easier said than done but it’s so nice to go catch up with someone who doesn’t work in music for like a drink or a meal when I’m in London or Paris or San Fransisco and just catch up and have normal people conversations. The headspace of touring can end up being pretty isolating and alienating. It’s healthy to keep a link to the ‘real world’.

What advice do you have for bands/musicians going on their first tour?

Wear earplugs and don’t just stay in your hotel room all day – go explore a bit, who knows if you’ll ever be back there.

Images courtesy of Noor Alali, photo collaging courtesy of Bethany Yeap.

Stay tuned to Milk for more on the road. 

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