Javelin: Jumping High for Hi Beams
“Someone once said to me that being cousins is like being brothers without the bull; we understand one another pretty innately”, muses Tom Van Buskirk, the Los Angeles based half of the experimental electro-pop band Javelin. His cousin and Brooklynite bandmate, George Langford, sips on a peanut butter smoothie. Seated in a booth at Kellogg’s diner in Brooklyn, the pair are eager to chat; it’s possible they may still be coming off the energy high from their previous night’s performance at New York City’s Natural History Museum.
It’s been two years since the duo’s last musical venture, a peculiar American Western themed release titled Canyon Candy, and they’ve made some significant changes to their sound in the meantime. Their latest album, Hi Beams, which dropped earlier this month, is far more structural than what listeners typically associate with the band. However, their songs are still nowhere near the traditional, where rhythms and harmonies follow a familiar pattern; the genres and influences differ. “We don’t limit ourselves”, explained Tom. “The one limit is that you have to be able to stand by it and say: this is me – even if it’s some weird part of you that you haven’t yet explored.”
We took a moment to chat with the musically inclined cousins about why they decided to turn to pop songs when making Hi Beams, and the importance of finding inspiration in the most mundane of daily rituals.
I went to your performance last night at the Natural History Museum – I think one of the strong points of your sound is the intricate percussion section. It’s especially interesting to watch live, when you’re on stage bouncing around in your socks drumming.
George: A lot of the sounds are coming from my APC sampler, that’s the main tool we use to make our music. When we first started performing we had these two samplers, Tom had one and I had one, and we were trying to figure out how to perform. A lot of people just perform using the sampler, more of a digital electronic performance, where it’s just two guys at a table, standing there. That’s cool, but we didn’t know if it was for us. We wanted more energy, and we certainly didn’t want to just DJ our tracks, but we knew we weren’t really like a band either. So we had to figure out our own way to do it, where there’s a lot of room for nuance, even though most of it is just triggering electronic sounds.
While we’re on the topic, can you describe your sound in three words?
George: Sunny. Rhythmic. Whimsy.
When you’re writing your songs, what is it in particular that you focus on the most?
Tom: With the tools that we use, rhythm is there from the very beginning. We try to give our instrumental tracks a character of their own. So it already has a feeling, it already has a mood, and then the lyrics generally come last.
Why did you decide to try to take a different approach this time with Hi Beams?
Tom: We started to think about who was coming to our shows and what they were looking for. Sometimes we can’t perform a song because we’re not the ones singing on the track. We were wondering what it would be like to be more intentional with songs that were written to be performed. Building a base to work from instead of just making all of these improvised tracks, which is what we used to do all the time. Not that we don’t like doing it anymore, but we sort of wanted to see what the other side was like.
What are some of your personal favourite albums or artists?
George: One artist that I keep coming back to and love, and I play so much, is Arthur Russell. Everything he ever did has been a major shaping force on what I make, so much so that I have to do battle with myself to not just sound like him.
Tom: J Dilla was a huge influence on us, as far as what you could do with sampling, since we used to do more sampling than we do now. His records just blew my mind. I loved the way he toyed with art and pop culture, and humour. We both love comedy almost as much as we love music.
What kinds of comedy do you like?
Tom: The great stand up comics, like Richard Pryor and Louis C.K. We grew up watching Monty Python and Mr. Show, but we also love Kids in the Hall.
Do you have inspiration outside of music that you look to? You mentioned comedy, but is there somewhere you go to get inspired, or is there something you do?
Tom: I tend to read poetry. It’s compact and compressed with these things that you can’t really grasp or understand, so it tends to get my mind moving in a creative direction. I love Robert Creeley. He was a professor of mine in college and he totally changed my life. And I love Peter Gizzi, he’s a contemporary guy.
George: I get inspired by a lot of domestic stuff, like walking the dog. I have a two year old, so there are a lot of aspects of my life that are decidedly not musical. When I take my mind off music for a long period of the day and just get consumed in some activity, that ends up yielding a lot more than just sitting in a room in front of all my gear – that idea of taking yourself out of that element and going about your real life.
What is something you hope your listeners take away from your music?
Tom: If they’re on their way to work, I want them to have a good day at work, give them some spirit.
What do you see as the future for Javelin? What are your hopes?
Tom: My hope lately is just to connect with the people who respond to us, with whoever is in the room, however big or small that room is. You’re there to play for them, and they are there to see you.
Have you been paying attention to any fresh talent recently?
George: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat is incredible. They are really stripped down, not at all like our music. And our friend Delicate Steve is pretty great.
Any favourite famous last words by any musician or artist?
Tom: “More light!” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s last words.
Fill in the blank: Music is…
Tom: Music is just frequencies. It’s just vibrations. But it’s those things ordered, and we put them in order.
Javelin’s Hi Beams dropped 5 March 2013.
Single Nnormal (free download)