Since 2019, the Toronto band Kiwi Jr.—guitarist-vocalist Jeremy Gaudet, drummer Brohan Moore, bassist Mike Walker, and guitarist Brian Murphy, who all hail from Prince Edward Island, Canada—have crafted three albums full of punchy pop hooks and real rock riffs. As a lyricist, Gaudet kicks around familiar turns of phrase until they take on unexpected meanings: “We can forgive but we can’t forget. / No, not when no one shuts up about it,” he sings on “Salary Man.” Their debut, Football Money (Mint Records), was described by The Big Takeover as “precisely the type of record that materializes when a band actually prioritizes songwriting,” and their last two albums, Cooler Returns and Chopper, released by Sub Pop, have won even greater acclaim. They scratch a particular indie-rock itch—the funny-but-rocking kind—perfected by mid-’90s titans like Guided By Voices (GBV) and Pavement, both of whom Kiwi Jr. opened for this past year.
I spoke to Gaudet in summer 2023, between tours to promote Chopper. A few months later, I saw Kiwi Jr. open for GBV in Dayton, Ohio, where the band managed to capture attention, applause, and new fans, even as Robert Pollard’s devotees waited for their hero to take the stage.
—Ryan H. Walsh
I. Sweating Out Media
RYAN H. WALSH: You’re in Toronto?
JEREMY GAUDET: That’s right, yeah.
RHW: Where are you right now in the writing, touring, recording cycle of it all?
JG: Where we are, where I am, and where I’m supposed to be are three different things. We’re still kind of touring the last album, Chopper, just because the way we work is we tour on weekends. Most bands might play sixty shows to promote a record. We’re just stretching that out over multiple seasons.
RHW: How does songwriting work, band-wise? Are you bringing in a skeleton of a song—chords, a melody, lyrics—and then it expands from there? Or is another band member handing you some chords?
JG: It’s so different for every record. For the last album I just made ten demos myself with fully fleshed-out keyboard parts and all the lyrics already done and the chords and stuff. And then I brought it to the band and we took things apart and put them back together and things changed to an extent, but that record was largely constructed in the demo phase.
RHW: Do you have notebooks full of potential lyrics and titles that you use as raw material?
JG: More or less. In college, a long time ago, I would use a notebook, thinking it was very authorly of me, as if I was tapping into some kind of creative archetype. Now I just use my phone, and people are a lot less weirded out.
RHW: There’s that funny moment where you’re like, Would my writing be better if I bought this thirty-dollar Moleskine or typed it all out on an old typewriter? I think everyone has to confront that moment of pretentiousness and fight it. I have a never-ending Notes app with, like, a lyrics database, and I’ll pop in there and see if anything screams at me on a particular day. And you’re not weird doing that, like you said; you’re just like everybody else. You can be a stranger on a train who’s working on lyrics but it looks like you’re texting friends.
JG: I was once scolded at a party. Somebody said something I thought was just really funny and I was like, Oh, I’ve got to remember this dialogue I’m hearing, and I ran over to my schoolbag to get a notebook. Somebody followed me and was like, “Put it back in the bag. Don’t do it.”
RHW: Seems harsh. Let someone write something down! Who cares! You’re a great songwriter, but you also seem interested in all kinds of writing. It pops up again and again in your lyrics: novels, screenplays. The concept of a nearly drowned person, still soaking wet, asking someone to read their screenplay [in the song “The Sound of Music”] is super funny to me.
JG: I don’t know that I’m aware of that, really. I took creative writing at university and stuff and, well, I’m a librarian now.
RHW: Oh, well, that’s a great answer: “librarian.” You breathe it. You’re literally surrounded.
JG: Somebody was asking me once about all the movie references on the new album, and in my mind, I knew there were a few, but then somebody laid out a list of all these moments. They confronted me with it and I was unaware of it. When you see it all laid out in front of you—and it’s like, Explain this—it’s hard. [Both laugh.] The only thing I could think of was that, during two years in lockdown in Canada, I consumed a lot of media, and it just started to sweat out of me.
RHW: You could say that these years we didn’t really live a full life, but we lived the movies and TV shows we watched. Not to get all—
JG: I have a theory that when you run into people over a certain age, you end up talking about the weather, obviously, but if you run into people your own age or younger, you end up talking about TV shows within the first few lines back and forth.
RHW: Yeah, it was kind of sunny today. Have you seen… On that topic, in your opinion, has a movie or TV show ever done a good job at showing the process of writing? They love to make the main character a writer, but when it comes down to showing the process of writing, they have to avoid it, or often it’s super boring. Has it been done well? That’s my question.
JG: Do you know a movie I like… What the fuck is that guy’s name? Pierce Brosnan is in it. Oh yeah, The Ghost Writer. Did you see that? He plays the prime minister. And Ewan McGregor is hired to ghostwrite his memoir, and he slowly starts to realize that the previous ghostwriter was murdered for uncovering something. It’s a pretty good movie.
RHW: By the way, I wanted to go back to a previous point. I like when someone notices a grand theme or repetition in something I made that I didn’t notice. Did you enjoy that moment when your movie references were compiled, or did you find it kind of like Oh no, I’ve been caught here!
JG: I like it. If anything, just because people are paying enough attention.
RHW: Totally. A lot of your lyrics are very funny and I really love those laugh lines. But the thing is, they’re not funny songs. You wouldn’t play your songs on Dr. Demento or whatever. Do you know what Dr. Demento is?
JG: No, I just like the way it sounds.
RHW: It was this unhinged radio show where this old kook in a top hat would play novelty songs. Anyway, you do this really delicate tightrope walk, where there are funny lines but the songs still always have emotional weight. Do you strive to make sure both those things are in balance?
JG: I’m pretty deliberate with that stuff. I spend way more time on the lyrics than we as a band do, practicing the songs and getting them ready. I guess it’s just a way of me being kind of selfish and just putting things I would like to hear or see into songs.
RHW: Yes! If you’re not making stuff that you wish existed, then what are you even doing? Have you ever revised a song and thought, Whoops, this reads like a joke book.
JG: I would say the opposite is more often true, where I have a fear that something’s coming across far more sincere than I would like it to, or just kind of not in keeping with the spirit of who we are as a band. Do you remember when Blink-182 was dominating the world in 2002, or whenever that was?
RHW: What a special time.
JG: They put out “Adam’s Song,” this super slow song about suicide, and it was the follow-up to, I don’t know, when they were running around naked in their videos and stuff. I don’t know why I’m talking about Blink-182, but I just mean the equivalent of that. I’m cautious about that.
RHW: But it’s funny you say “more sincere,” because I find in all your songs, even if they’re funny, you’re not just rolling your eyes and sneering. They’re getting to a point of view that seems unique and legitimate to me.
JG: Yeah, that’s something I’m aware of too. We get channeled with these—I don’t want to say any names—but there’s some slacker rock bands that I really have nothing in common with. When I think of my songs and other groups’ songs, just from what we set out to do as a band, the way we want to sound, some of the comparison stuff is so artificial.
RHW: One of the first things I learned, growing up in the ’90s and then starting a band in the early ’00s, was that you can’t run a band if you’re a mess. The slacker thing was a total myth because either they’re working super hard behind the scenes or someone else around them has to do all the hard work. Someone is working their ass off. So it just immediately rang so phony to me that that was a viable form of a successful creative person, the slacker.
JG: I once read an interview with someone from Interpol. The interviewer was roasting the band for wearing coordinated suits or whatever they did on Letterman, and that Interpol guy asked the interviewer something like Do you think that more work went into us all buying the same suit, or a band like Pavement making sure nobody’s wearing the same shorts? Something like that. And I think it’s pretty true. Everything’s calculated to an extent.
II. “A Short, Pleasant Brain Virus”
RHW: When you got that out-of-the-blue email from Sub Pop with interest in your band, was there a second when you thought it was a prank?
JG: No, because it was just a nice personal email. There was no contract or anything.
RHW: I’m flying the contract to you right now! You have thirty minutes to sign!
JG: There’s a limo outside—I’ll explain everything!
RHW: We’ve gone over TV and movies. Do you like poetry? Do you read it? Do you have any poets you like?
JG: Yeah, for sure. I don’t read anything anymore, because I’m a total lazy, terrible person, but when I do, I’ll usually just pick up a book and read a couple of poems. I like Mark Leidner, Rachel B. Glaser, Natalie Shapero. I have old guys that everybody likes: James Tate, Jack Gilbert. You?
RHW: David Berman led me to John Ashbery, and I went through everything he published. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to gold panning. It’s like he starts every poem literally not knowing if it’s going anywhere special, and when it does, the surprise and wonder become like an electric presence in the room. I think it genuinely surprised him, too, when it happened. I always picture him casually hobbling away from his typewriter, going, Oh wow, that turned out pretty neat.
I always know it’s great poetry if I walk away from it and start thinking about the world around me with the same logic found in the poem. Like a short, pleasant brain virus. Some poems instantly lead me to more interesting thought patterns. That’s a pretty astounding result for a medium that is essentially considered useless by the majority of the population.
How about the age-old question: Do you care if your lyrics stand up on the page without music?
JG: I once saw GZA give a talk at my university [McGill in Montreal], and I wanted to ask him that, because he’s a super cerebral dude and a great writer. But I waited too long to get the courage to go up to the mic [during the Q&A], and within forty-five seconds, 150 white dudes got in line. Yeah, man, just want to know if you have any advice for young rappers trying to get started. So I wanted to ask GZA that, and I never did.
As for me, I don’t know. Obviously, I write my lyrics down, and go over them to make sure they can stand up on their own on the page. A lot of songwriters collect their lyrics and put them out. Jarvis Cocker did a book; I think Billy Corgan did too. We did that with our record Cooler Returns. We made a comic book. Just all the lyrics. And we got illustrators to do these great drawings for each song, but that was just, like, a pandemic project, when we couldn’t play and we had time and wanted to have something to put out.
RHW: I have a few of those collected lyrics books, but often I’ll go to them only because I’m listening to the song. I feel like it’s a bit of a myth that people are just sitting down completely divorced from the music that the lyrics came from and reading it like it’s a novel.
JG: No, I’m trying to imagine if I could ever read lyrics and just not hear that person’s voice singing them.
RHW: You said this in an interview about the cover art for Chopper, the latest album: “I wrote this big essay about it to convince the other guys in the band about it. Without getting too into it, it just sort of fit.” I really relate hard to that as a person who’s written essay-type things to convince his band to do something. [Laughs]
JG: I don’t know if you saw the press release or whatever for Chopper? It’s on our website. It’s a heavily edited version of the giant email I sent to convince everyone.
RHW: I read that and thought, Wait a second. This is the press release, but it’s strange and compelling. Who wrote this and what’s the purpose? I wondered if the press got mad that there was no useful factual information in there. Did you get any feedback?
JG: So we did one for each of our previous records, and they’re inspired by—you know how Bob Dylan had crazy stuff on the back of his LPs? Sort of in that vein. I collaborate with a friend of mine from grad school named Mark. He contributes a lot to those. We did three of those big weird press release things, and I don’t know if anyone read them.
RHW: I did.
JG: We usually send those out when we announce the album, and then the label also has their own more standard press release that just gets to the facts that most people want to see.
RHW: We all know how boring the “Who are your influences?” question is, but can you name a band or an artist that is super removed from what you do, or from the sound you have, from whom you learned something vital?
JG: I’m not sure this is that far removed from the suspected influences of a Canadian songwriter, but maybe in the indie-rock sphere it is: Gordon Lightfoot. I heard his music a lot growing up—my dad’s a huge fan and had all the records—but I didn’t connect with his music until a few years ago, around the time Kiwi Jr. was writing or preparing to write our second album, Cooler Returns. There’s such craftsmanship to how he wrote songs. He would handwrite the full notation, even the vocal melodies, so the song is down on paper for the official record. Serious songwriter stuff. You get the impression that one word or one note sung differently would ruin it for him.
I’ve tried to take the approach of making every word matter. Even if, sometimes, it would feel so good to start a bunch of lines in a verse with “And so—” Lightfoot was that kind of writer where there’s no wasted words. I will still mess around while performing songs live and change certain lines on a whim, but I’m quite certain it’s not a great idea, and I don’t think anybody likes it when you do that, unless you’re Dylan.
RHW: And were there unlikely influences that led specifically to the sound of Chopper?
JG: Because our goal was to make a “nighttime”-sounding album, we made a playlist of all the songs we thought captured the vibe we were going for. Songs that hit 100 percent only when they’re played late at night and bring a certain vibe that’s mysterious, romantic, and sort of cinematic. The playlist was called “Michael Mann presents Kiwi Jr.,” and we had some things in our wheelhouse like This Night–era Destroyer, the Clientele, Richard Hawley, but it also had a lot of songs by the Weeknd. He’s from Toronto, and you can’t walk into a drugstore without hearing a Weeknd song. It’s either him or Drake. But I quite like the Weeknd, and a lot of the sounds we were going for on Chopper, while it was never said out loud, could be traced back to the new wave and ’80s synth. There’s an overlap between the Weeknd and ’80s Rod Stewart—a sweet spot I was trying to get to.
RHW: I wish I liked the Weeknd, because he is everywhere. He’s the first artist in history where both grocery stores and strip clubs agree: This music is 100 percent for us. Do you have any artists or genres you wish you liked, but that you can’t seem to connect with?
JG: I like some pop music but I wish I liked everything that’s popular, and could congratulate coworkers for scoring Taylor Swift tickets or whatever it is that everyone is talking about that week. Seems like fun to be a pop fan. I also see Grateful Dead fans having a lot of fun in the last, like, ten years. That band seems to still be spreading around and getting bigger. I like some of it, but I’m not able to make small talk about it with a fan.
III. “Capital-D Drama”
RHW: Let’s take the song “The Sound of Music,” from your latest album. On the surface level, it has a string of references and non sequiturs, but I come away from that song feeling like I just spent time in a specific story, or with a certain group of people. Do you have that feeling? What kind of feeling or mental image does that song give you?
JG: That song, to me, is as close to a narrative song as I’d write. That song is tied up in, for lack of a better word, capital-D Drama. There’s a lot of calling people out for performances or calling out a specific person in the song for being overly performative.
RHW: How do Julie Andrews and the film The Sound of Music fit into that?
JG: It’s like fan fiction. She and her husband were divorced within two years of The Sound of Music coming out, after being together since they were kids. I was writing a sort of narrative song about a breakup, and at some point, something clicked, and I realized it would be a lot juicier if I set the song in a world of actors—everybody being overdramatic. I think I had just read an article about Julie Andrews and Tony Walton and thought it would work to bring them into the song. You can cast whoever you want in a song. You don’t need permission. There’s the song “Highlights of 100” on Cooler Returns, with the line “Bells ring out the pouring rain / and Amy Adams rides the train,” and it’s the same sort of thing where I reasoned it was both more evocative and more effective to plop somebody into the song rather than try and create some character in the half a second I’m giving myself in the verse to talk about it. I’m just saying, OK, picture Amy Adams on a train while it’s raining and church bells are going off, and that’s the taking-off point.
IV. “Hey, I Said That!”
RHW: I really loved hearing that you and other band members are perfectly fine communicating that you all have day jobs and need to do the majority of your touring on weekends and on vacation time. It seems to me that for many years, there was great shame in artists admitting this kind of thing, which I believe had terrible effects. Does it ever surprise your fans to learn this? Do you find any advantages to being a successful band whose members also all have other work and jobs?
JG: In regards to working day jobs and telling fans that you know a lot about Microsoft Excel, I’m not sure if fans are ever weird about it, but other bands and some industry people can be. And telling your coworkers you need to take a week off because you’re going to New York City to sing in front of people is weird. I’ve walked a tightrope for years, hoping people don’t Google Image–search my name and see me with a guitar and wearing a type of shirt they haven’t seen me wear before. I think at this point everyone knows I play music and they just agree to not bring it up to me, because I’ve been so weird about it.
It’s like I’m a cheating husband. I have excuses about going to Philadelphia to “visit cousins” or taking a trip to Boston with “the guys.” I had a job at a law firm years ago and someone found out I played in a band. They sent out an email to all the employees about a gig we were playing and made it a company outing. Playing to twenty of your coworkers in the front row is why I never tell anyone anything anymore.
RHW: Nightmare. Earlier we talked about the Notes app on your smartphone facilitating an invisible, unpretentious way of working on lyrics in public. Have you ever included something a friend said in a song that they later identified? Like, Hey, I said that!
JG: I have whole songs based on anecdotes people have told me. The line in “Parasite II” about being in denial about gaining weight, and claiming somebody was shrinking all your shirts in the laundry—my friend Christian said that in a serious tone one night. I’m not sure I ever told him that it made it into a song. The second verse of “The Extra Sees the Film” is a friend’s story of coming across a car wreck in a snowstorm while on the way to playing a gig in a country band. They were looking for bodies in the snow but had to leave to make their set. He’s probably heard the song, but he hasn’t said anything yet.
RHW: Reminds me of my favorite line from Bowie’s “Five Years”: “Don’t think you knew you were in the song.” Haunting. Any others?
JG: From “Cooler Returns,” there’s the line “I don’t want to task you out, but can you break this five for the jukebox, Jodi?” Mike [the bassist] said this to Jodi [a bartender] at a pub in our neighborhood, and we all laughed at the ridiculous turn of phrase and knew it was gonna be in a song. I have never heard somebody say, “I don’t want to task you out, but…” before or since.
The song “Only Here for a Haircut” is a true story. My friend’s girlfriend would give me haircuts every once in a while, and one day I went over and asked her for a haircut and my friend wasn’t there and she was being kinda weird. Tomb Raider was on the TV, and I pieced together during the haircut that they had just broken up that morning, so she was just cutting her ex-boyfriend’s friend’s hair for some reason. They recognized the song immediately when they heard it.
V. Boston Love
RHW: Kiwi Jr. played Boston in February of 2023, which was the first time I saw the band live. Near the end, you remarked on how weird the audience was, and that you all needed to get out of there as soon as possible. I could tell you were joking, but there was something sincere about it as well. As a native Bostonian, I’d love to go over the details there.
JG: We got to the area with a few hours to kill before the venue opened, so we went to a sports bar and got wings and beer. They had televisions above the urinals and a big old-style boxing bell they’d ring every once in a while. After a couple of hours, the Bruins game had ended and we needed to leave. We split up and wandered around, bumping into each other every two minutes.
RHW: Like a Three Stooges bit.
JG: I didn’t know if we had any fans in Boston. They knew our music, but it seemed like they didn’t want us to know they were fans. They’d go from singing along to heckling to trying to bring us drinks to trying to grab the mic from me. It was like playing to a crowd of in-character extras from Pirates of the Caribbean. We’re very familiar with an Irish/Scottish beer-drunk crowd, but this show had a different weirdness to it. Somebody brought their own tambourine to play. Another guy kept trying to tell me jokes in between songs. It was also all men, and I think most of them felt like they were waiting to be discovered.
RHW: OK, I can clear some of this up. Singing along and also heckling means we loved it but were afraid that if we showed you too much appreciation you’d never come back. You got Boston-loved. This all sounds fairly normal to me. But you’re also interviewing a fish about water here. One of my very first times onstage at a bar with a band, we were ceaselessly heckled the entire set by a one-armed-man.
Regarding the tambourine man, I was near that guy in the audience. He was hammered and picked up the opening band’s tambourine. Valid complaint. He also kept yelling “Start Choppin’” at you between songs, which I just now realized he did because the guitarist in the opening band was wearing a Dinosaur Jr. shirt and he thought requesting a Dino Jr. song from another “Jr.” band was funny. It was eventually funny to me in the sense of how dumbly dedicated to that bit he was all night. It started before you plugged in and went till the end. But that crowd loved the show. You were great. It could have been worse, right?
JG: We just got back from a European tour. During sound check in Amsterdam, my amp was making a strange noise, like a big electrical crackle. We spent a long time trying out various cables and testing pedals. Eventually, we thought it might be my shoes? When I played in sock feet it was fine, but when I put my sneakers on, the big crackle came back instantly. It had something to do with the rubber on the bottoms maybe shielding some type of static. Also playing North American gear through EU power is always freaky. So we finally figure this out, but I need to wear something on my feet because I have some guitar pedals with buttons on them that you can’t really click with a bare foot. We go on in twenty minutes, so I’m running around Amsterdam going into sneaker stores, but everything is like four hundred euros. We were in the Sneaker District. It was all designer shit. I’m going in and out of stores, asking for their cheapest pair, but I can’t find anything under a hundred and fifty euros. With five minutes to go, I grab a pair of slides at a drugstore. But I get the wrong size and they won’t stay on my feet. So I wrap them in tape just in time to make our stage call. I go on and pick up my guitar and the amp instantly crackles, like the shoes made no difference at all. After the show I can’t get the tape off. I’m trying to cut it off with my keys. The band Protomartyr walked by our dressing room laughing at me, like, What the hell are you doing? I bought some nice sneakers a day later in Utrecht and they also made the noise. So it’s not the sneakers; it’s me.