How Dan Boeckner's Head Injury Shaped Kiwi Jr.'s New Album
"It was a bad gash. He probably should have gotten stitches."
Published Aug 10, 2022The first day Kiwi Jr. spent in the studio recording their new album, Chopper, went pretty much as expected. But on the second day…
"Dan [Boeckner] had an accident and showed up with a huge gash in his forehead, bleeding," remembers Kiwi Jr. vocalist Jeremy Gaudet of his experience working with the Wolf Parade musician.
From a separate window of our Zoom call, guitarist Brian Murphy chimes in, "He is definitely going to have a permanent scar. It was a bad gash. He probably should have gotten stitches, but he kept going and powering through."
Reached by email, Boeckner explains that he was staying in a Airbnb between Toronto's CBC building and the CN Tower, blaming the injury on "a ritual [to] commune with these twin streams of unbearable psychic energy." Then, in a more plausible explanation, he adds, "Did I also bail on a pair of frictionless track pants I had carelessly left on the floor, causing me to split my head open on a door handle? Also yes. But I shed real blood for this album, and I'd do it again."
Boeckner served as producer of Chopper, and Gaudet and Murphy explain that his injury inspired them to switch up 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 began experimenting.
"Dan's head injury was a catalyst to the way that we approached the record," Gaudet says simply.
Chopper (out this Friday, August 12, via Kiwi Club and Sub Pop) is the culmination of an extremely productive few years for the East Coast-raised, Toronto-based combo of Gaudet, Murphy, bassist Mike Walker and drummer Brohan Moore. They made their debut with 2019's Football Money, a jubilant burst of rapid-fire 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 Returns, which followed in 2021, offered more of the same, but with a slightly longer runtime.
Rather than repeat the sunny, cheerful sound of those first two albums, the band envisioned Chopper as a nighttime album — something to listen to on headphones while taking the streetcar home at 2 a.m.
So what makes an album sound like the nighttime? "Sometimes it's simple as: there's a narrative and it takes place 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 hold the record up that puts you in that nighttime headspace." The band had the idea for the album cover — a painting of a helicopter against the night sky — before they had written or recorded any of the music.
Boeckner says that he "immediately knew what they meant" when the band described the concept as "Kiwi after dark." Not everyone got it, though.
"While we were mixing it, some assistant engineer came in the room and he heard one song, and he didn't know anything about the record, and he was like, 'Wow, this really slams. This is total party-on-the-beach summer vibes,'" Gaudet remembers with a wry smile. "I just looked at him, and we're like, 'Get this guy out of the room right now.'"
Chopper is something of a departure for Kiwi Jr., who add carnival keys to the sighing shimmer of opener "Unspeakable Things," spelunk into a cavern of reverb on "Night Vision," and sprawl out amidst buzzing electronics on six-minute closer "The Masked Singer." But in many ways, it's also classic Kiwi: "The Extra Sees the Film" uses minute details to tell a universal story of disappointment, while the boppy "Clerical Sleep" fades in with an instantly quotable non-sequitur: "I'm only painting with green / Yeah, I'm mixing blue and yellow together."
It's a fresh spin on a familiar sound that, for a band now three records into their career, signifies an impressive ability to combine quality and quantity. With this speedy run of LPs, Kiwi Jr. have risen above the pack to become one of the best indie rock bands around.
"I think that we're a pretty selfish band. and we're not thinking about the bigger picture and what our listeners are going to think," admits Gaudet. "We're just trying to make sure that all four of us like the song, and if it passes that test, then we're happy. Let's drink a beer and work on the next one."