Interview: Javelin

words by Simon A. Thalmann | photos by Cayte Nobles | Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

We caught up with Brooklyn-based electronic pop duo Javelin fresh off a UK tour — their first time playing in another country — and shortly before their departure for the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, where they played a whirlwind of 16 shows in four days.

The duo consists of cousins Tom Van Buskirk, 28, and George Langford, 30, who since their inception circa 2005 have released a number of signature tracks on both tape and on vinyl, including two limited edition Thrill Jockey 12-inches in 2009 and 2010, the first of which sold out its 500 copies within a week of its release.

Their debut LP, No Mas, with 15 tracks topping out at just under 45 minutes, is due out from Luaka Bop on April 20. By phone from New York, the guys said they spent tons of time together as kids, even playing music and making tapes together.

Tom says, “When we were teenagers we both started recording separately, and neither of us knew that the other one was doing it. And then later on in our teenage years we each realized we both owned four-tracks and were using them, and we had the same sampler and we were using that, and we both started using computers for music. So it was kind of like simultaneous growth. After college is when we really linked up and started working together.”

Were you guys playing the same kind of music separately that you’re playing now?

George: No. I was a guitar player; I’ve been playing guitar for like 20 years. I was really into blues and jazz and funk and bossa nova. I was just really a guitar player. And then I got more into drums and percussion, and then overdubbing stuff and multi-tracking, and that’s when I got into more “sample” kind of music.

What about you, Tom — were you doing the same kind of thing?
Tom: Allow me to indulge in a little self-mockery. I was really into turntablists and DJ Shadow and Cornelius and Beck and stuff. I really was fascinated with sampling. But we both grew up on our family’s tapes, which were basically like the Beatles, and I grew up on classical music and stuff. George’s sister had this great tape collection that involved a lot of early ’90s hot jams, and we eventually arrived at that place for a little while, of really appreciating jams from all eras — oldies, ’80s, ’90s. And that’s kind of when Javelin started. We started appreciating all that stuff at the same time and trying to make [music] in that same spirit.

You’ve described your 2009 self-release, Jamz n Jemz, as being about 50 percent sampled and 50 percent original. Is your upcoming release No Mas similarly distributed?
George: [Regarding] the songs on this new album, it ended up working out so there’s probably only a handful of samples on the entire record. It’s mostly original stuff coming from our own fingertips.
Tom: I’d say the breakdown on No Mas is probably around 70/30 played versus sampled.

How does that percentage compare to your previous releases?
George: It’s a technique that we’ve been doing all along. On the Jamz n Jemz CD, I think maybe we were a little bit more cavalier with putting out stuff into the world that had more samples on it because it was sort of like an internet thing and it was free, and we weren’t making any money on it, and so maybe we couldn’t get in trouble. So there was a little bit of that thinking, but overall it’s a technique that we’ve always done.

What kind of instruments were used on No Mas?
George: Lot’s of keyboard work and live percussion stuff, and then guitars and bass, drums. We went into a studio actually for a few tracks and recorded a nice drum set and got a good sound.
Tom: But then we basically self-sampled with an old drum kit that we’d recorded years ago on the tape. We did a lot of our own recording with this. We basically mixed it ourselves and then the only thing that was done was it was mastered. One track got mixed, but other than that it’s basically like these tracks are like our children that we totally put out into the world ourselves.

How does this process compare to that used on your previous releases?

Tom: We’ve always done it that way. It’s always been us.
George: Going into the studio with [producer] Scott Harding — which was a great experience — going into it I was a little nervous, just about the thought of someone tinkering with the levels and stuff. Because we’re pretty much control freaks about that kind of thing, and so the idea of someone else coming in and changing it, I was like, what? But it ended up sounding great. So maybe we’ll do that in the future, I don’t know.

No Mas is set for release in April. Is the album an evolutionary thing — i.e., this is just where you are musically now — or did you consciously move to set it apart in some way?
Tom: We had a lot of music to choose from, and it sort of became a question of how do you want to group it, and what do you want to represent you right now as to what you want to hear and what you want your album to sound like right now. So we were in a good position of being able to choose how to proceed as far as releasing music. We’ve been making music so long that we sort of were able to make choices about how to group songs together so that they’d fit together and were cohesive. I think with No Mas we were mainly just aiming to just occupy a sonic space that was sort of warm and inviting. An album is almost like an imagined space, it’s like where does this take place, where does this sound bring you? And so we basically just tried to make a cohesive album with those things in mind.
George: Despite the fact that all the songs are completely all over the place.
Tom: Right. They were all recorded in different places, in totally different styles, and somehow I think it works.

Is there a thematic arc that makes No Mas cohesive, thematically or sonically? Is there something underlying that you feel ties it all together?
George: I think maybe just like warmth, warmth and maybe good humor. And not humor in the sense like something’s really funny, but just like sensibility, just like good attitude. It’s not overly positive music, but there’s not a whole lot of dreary stuff going on there.

You guys leave soon for SXSW. Are you able to write on the road?

Tom: We really would like to start doing that this time, actually. We actually have the ability now to work in the car, like through the car speakers and using the car battery for power. So we’re really psyched, we actually have a lot of work to do. We’ve done work in hotel rooms before, though. We finished the first 12-inch for Thrill Jockey, Javelin, in a hotel room in Tennessee, basically.
George: I’ve always had a fantasy of being in a car traveling throughout the country and sort of making a record on the road using instruments that you find in pawn shops and records that you find in Salvation Armies and stuff, of making like a small record that’s sort of the story of your little trip.
Tom: And maybe getting the musicians you’re touring with to play on it.

Sounds great. Anything else that we should be aware of?
Tom: (laughter) There are lots of things you should be aware of…

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