Javelin aims for the dollar bin
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Much has been made of the way up-and-coming electronic act Javelin repurposes pop's past, but as the duo of cousins George Langford and Tom Van Buskirk gain further notoriety, two distinctions ought to be made:
- The past that their sunny, handmade jams supposedly repurpose—where breezy flute loops grind up against pitch-shifted rap paeans to house cats, all pumped through neon-colored boomboxes—never really existed.
- For all the cutting and pasting Langford and Van Buskirk did in preparing their debut full-length, No Más, for Luaka Bop, by their count, there are fewer than 10 samples from pre-existing recordings on the record.
So rather than talking about how the group is remaking the past in its own image, better to focus on Javelin's plans for the future—like finally meeting the guy who founded their record label, David Byrne. Prior to opening for Yeasayer at La Zona Rosa on April 10 and 11, Langford and Van Buskirk spoke to The A.V. Club about their tentative plans for meeting the former Talking Head, as well as the time they impressed members of hip-hop royalty and loving otherwise-unloved vinyl LPs.
The A.V. Club: What informs your decision to either sample a recording or to just create the sound yourself?
George Langford: My first inclination is to usually just make the sound myself—if I haven't already come across a record and something caught my ear, and I already have that in my memory, like, "Oh, there's that sound on that record. I should get that."
Tom Van Buskirk: It also should be said that when you're composing a song, you don't have an extremely good idea of what you're going to make before you make it. Sometimes you have an idea for a sound or an atmosphere or a rhythm. There's always something to get you going. Whatever you have at your disposal, that's what you're going to use. So if you get going on something and there's a thumb piano there, you might think to throw it in, and if it sounds good, you keep it. And that's kind of how samples can work, too. Sometimes you start with a sample, and it becomes this starter culture for a track.
AVC: Tom, do you apply that "work with what you've got" philosophy to your live, occasionally freestyled vocals?
TVB: [Laughs.] Absolutely. The vocals are a product of performance. If they're not being improvised on the spot, they were at one time. When we first started out, we hadn't planned to have vocals in our performances or our tracks. In order to engage audiences better, we started using the microphone and songs were created from there. It's built up organically. We're excited to use the same method in the future, but knowing we're capable of making songs with vocals on them now.
AVC: George, is it hard not to crack up at the lines Tom comes up with?
GL: I don't fight it. Most of the show I'm cracking up. [Laughs.] Situationally, it can differ. Like this one time, we were playing this party in [Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder] Damon Dash's building. And he's standing there, and Mos Def was somewhere in the audience, and there was just a bunch of real famous dudes.
TVB: Hip-hop dudes!
GL: This is not our world, but it's people that we've grown up knowing about. And we do this one track, and it's a dancehall rhythm-ish, percussion freak-out track. I'm on my knees hitting a cowbell, Tom's on the ground singing "Frère Jacques" over this Shabba Ranks-sounding track, and I'm looking over at Damon Dash, and he's losing his shit. I just lost it. How is this going over well? First of all, is this going over well? Is this a good idea? And how are we here? Life has got us in a very strange place at the moment. And now Tom is singing like Mariah Carey. What the hell is going on?
AVC: Did you hear from Dash or Def after the show?
TVB: Yeah, [Dash's people] videotaped the whole thing, and they wound up taking the footage back to their office upstairs and rewatching the entire performance with a crowded room.
GL: Like, right after we finished playing, they watched our whole set again.
AVC: Speaking of meeting with musical bigwigs: Since signing to Luaka Bop, have you had any contact with the label's founder, David Byrne?
TVB: A lot of people ask us this. We haven't actually met David. From what we understand, his "hands-off" relationship with the label isn't as strong as it once was. He's definitely off in the world doing his own thing. That's understandable; I don't know if I would want to be in the nitty gritty of running a label. What we've been saying is we would love to do some activity with him in the future.
GL: Like go on a bike ride.
TVB: Or play some golf or baccarat or something—just some leisurely activity so we can say, "Oh yeah, we do that on weekends."
AVC: Your music shares a thrift-store aesthetic and fascination with cultural ephemera also reflected by things like Everything Is Terrible and the Found Footage Festival. Do you see what you do as of a piece with what they do?
TVB: I would say, more than Everything Is Terrible, something like Wonder Showzen—something that can take media that you might have seen from your childhood, or that's reminiscent of a certain genre that everything can recognize, then you remake it in your own way. At the same time, we don't like to make just period pieces. It's not like we're trying to make Queen Elizabeth movies with each track. A lot of it is imagined past and weird fusions of stuff that never coincided, but this is what it would sound like if they met up and had a party.
AVC: You issued a pair of 12-inch EPs in sleeves taken from vintage, "dollar bin" LPs, and you've also been known to sample from thrift-store finds. What is it about these discarded albums that attracts you?
TVB: It was a teenage love. As a teenager, I didn't believe I had the money to spend on "serious" records, but I was interested in the medium, through the music that I liked. I had this routine in the summers where I would go up to New Hampshire with my folks, and there was nothing else to do in this sleepy town but go to the thirft shops and the flea markets. I was naturally drawn to these big crates of records, because a lot of the people I liked were sampling guys. I wound up collecting them for samples, and it's funny: I'd buy a flute-and-percussion record thinking, like, "Oh, I'm going to get some really killer flute sounds," and then I'd take it home and it would just be some studio musicians from the '60s playing "La Cucaracha." And I was like, "Aw man, this sucks"—but I never got rid of them. And then, years later, I would go through the same records that I thought sucked so bad and would find these great gems because my taste had changed.
GL: It's also a point of pride, because there's that whole culture of crate-diggers, and you're always looking for something really obscure and super-hip that all these other collectors don't know about, trying to beat everybody to the next thing. There's something great about going for the cheapest, most widely available records that anyone can find and still making something cool from that. And it costs you almost nothing.
TVB: You see the same records over and over—because they made so many of them, and then everybody got rid of them. I guess some people might still own Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass albums, but that's definitely one of the most ubiquitous ones. And you find some of the weirdest stuff, too. Like really short-run, local stuff that never left New York state. It's still got the address on it where it was made, and it was some guy's pet project, because his carpeting business was going really well, so he decided to make a record.
AVC: How would you feel if, a few years down the line, you were going through one of those bins and found a Javelin 12-inch?
TVB: That's definitely going to happen some day.
GL: Our website URL is "dollarbinsofthefuture.com." I would be so thrilled to find a Javelin record in a dollar bin at a Salvation Army. That would be so awesome. [Laughs.] Full circle.