Print Edition: October 23, 2013
In a house somewhere in Mission, surrounded by a small sea of guitars, amplifiers, and various electrical equipment, a young man sits poised in front of a microphone, guitar in hand, looping pedals at the ready. This is 21-year-old Jeffrey Trainor, who performs as Western Jaguar.
What kind of music would you say you produce and create?
If I had to pinpoint [the genre], I would say it’s kind of indie rock. But, I would say it’s more than that, there’s an ambient element, there’s experimental elements, there’s even post-rock elements.
It’s a bit, not to say electronic, but …
Yeah, there’s the synthesized underbelly of it. I feel it has an acoustic air… I use a lot of delay, and a lot of reverb. I like to hear space in recordings.
And when did you start making music?
I guess I could say I started making music when I [attended] piano lessons, when I was like, eight, probably. But in terms of writing, it was five years ago. I was in a band, we were called Dry Rain. Awful name. But we had so much fun. That gave me the background on how to write songs, how to compose, how to play [and get] shows. Once that kind of disintegrated, I knew I wanted to keep writing, keep putting out music.
Do you have a technically strong musical background?
Just piano … I took 10 years of [piano lessons]. Because I had that background I was able to teach myself guitar and learn drums, but I can’t read music very well.
What would you say is the inspiration behind what you do, what makes you get up in the morning and decide to make music?
I think it is personal experience, in a sense. I’ll go through something, or feel something, and… I’ll really want to commemorate that in a way. So I’ll [experience] a feeling, or go through a rough situation, and if I come through it, I’ll [decide] I want to do something that represents coming through that, in a sense. That’s why you’ll notice there is a darker tone to Glacia, but I think those dark moments shape you more. So Glacia is more like a diary, in that sense.
Would you say that your music is pretty personal, then?
Yeah, definitely, but at the same time, especially when I’m writing, I’ll try to distance myself from personally attaching myself to the songs.
I know you record all of the vocals and instrumentals by yourself. When did you learn to do so?
Learning to record was a very long process. When I was playing with Dry Rain, my old band, we decided we wanted to record an EP, and we were just broke. We were seventeen, or eighteen, and we realized that we couldn’t afford it. I thought maybe I could do it. So I went out and bought a microphone and I was going to record the band. I still have those recordings, they’re awful. But that’s how you start, right?
We never released [those recordings], because they were just so bad.
They’re sitting in a closet somewhere?
They’re just buried in my hard drive. But making those recordings was kind of my launch point. After that I read books and watched videos, and kind of learned the technical aspects of recording. Slowly, over two or three years I got to the point where I decided I knew what I was doing well enough that I could actually present it.
You’re mostly self-taught, then?
Yeah. I never went to any classes, or tutorials of any kind.
What influences your music? It’s pretty diverse, some parts are quite ethereal, and some are very funky.
Yeah, it has a groove. That groove part, I don’t know if you’ve heard the band Foals? When I first listened to Foals, that changed my thoughts about music, they had a lot of groove, and a lot of almost tribal elements, in a sense. So that kind of [influenced me]. I knew I wanted to make something that had that kind of rhythm, but at the same time that kind of chilled out, almost layer of sound. The synthesizers and the brass and string, that came from bands like The National, and Bon Iver. I saw [Bon Iver] live, while I was recording the album, and I decided to [incorporate some of that sound]. Other bands like The xx have a really nice atmosphere to their sound, which I thought would be interesting to incorporate into my music.
Can you take me through your songwriting process?
Usually it starts with one little riff, or chord progression. Like, four or five bars, something like that. Then, I usually play it and record it, then I loop it. Then I’ll come up with melodies over top of that. Usually I’ll have four or five melodies. I’ll pick the ones I like, then I start building a song from there. After that I’ll record all the instrument parts accordingly, [and] once I have those on, I’ll add the beat track. I’ll add drums and then re-record everything, I’ll re-layer everything, make it come together. Then I’ll mix it.
Do you write music for a specific set of vocals?
Vocals are weird for me. Usually I’ll write a song, and once I have it recorded, I’ll just play it and listen to it. Then I’ll just sing whatever comes to my mind. I’ll write that down and shape … a lyrical structure out of that. I wish I could put more focus on lyrics … They are one of my weaker points, but I’m not afraid to acknowledge that I’m weak in that area.
Where did your name come from?
Well, after the “Dry Rain” debacle, I needed a really good name. Because people are going to know me by this name, right? So when I was thinking of names, my friend Jaimi Wainright was my screener. She wasn’t afraid to tell me if a name sucked. I had names like Limousines, The New Pacific, but then I got to Western Jaguar. One day I was watching a TV show, and it involved jaguars. I thought that was a really cool name. I added the ‘Western’ part, and texted it to Jaimi: “I got it: Western Jaguar” … She sent back a wall of text, just “hahahaha.” She said it was the worst name she’d ever heard. For the next six months any time I’d bring her a name she would bring up Western Jaguar – she said it was hilarious. Eventually, friends started calling me Western Jaguar … Any time I’d come up with a name they’d say “no, you’re just Western Jaguar now. It’s just what you are.” Now people think it’s a really cool name. My dad likes it, that’s important.
So, your new album, Glacia. You just recently released it.
Yes, September 19.
Did you always have the goal of creating a record, or did you at one point realize that it was a legitimate option?
I had always wanted to have an album. Once I started making music I thought it would be really cool to have an album. But with [Glacia], I never had any intention of releasing it at the beginning. I was just making music. [The songs] are really personal songs for me. So I was [hesitant to] release it. At one point I thought about deleting the songs, I didn’t like them. They seemed like too much to me, I don’t know why. Eventually … I started to connect to [the songs] more. [I realized] that this is a reflection of what I can do and what I can write … this is really me, and I should release them. I kind of want people to know what I’m about. I’m not really the most [intimate] person in the world, so music was a good way of sharing that with people.
Thank God you didn’t delete them!
There were some close calls.[pullquote]“I knew I wanted to make something that had that kind of rhythm, but at the same time that kind of chilled out, almost layer of sound.”[/pullquote]
Do you think you might play live at some point?
Well, for recording it’s very individual. Initially I had no intention of playing this live. I decided that I would release it but I [was] never going to play this live. Now [that] people have responded a lot to it, I feel that I owe it to people. People have been so nice. I’m working on some ideas; there might be something in the works.
How, if at all, has the experience of making this album changed you?
Well, definitely. I have something to show for all the time I’ve put in. My parents would call up to my room: “What are you doing?” I’d be upstairs for like, eight hours a day. My parents didn’t even know I was putting out an album until I released it.
Well, again, it was a really personal thing for me. The album was almost cathartic in a sense, now that it’s out it’s like a release. I [feel] I don’t have to worry about these things anymore.
You’ve grown up in a really musically-oriented household; your brother plays in –
Casinos. That band. Don’t listen to them, they’re not very good. No, I’m joking.
Is there a musical sibling rivalry between you and your brother?
That’s a good question. [Laughs.] Yeah, I think there might be a little sibling rivalry. We grew up together, musically – we both played in Dry Rain. We both learned piano at the same time. We both learned guitar. He [Mitchell Trainor] just decided to learn bass, and I never did. We both bought a drum kit and learned how to play it, so I guess we both strive for the same things in music.
And do you both have the same kind of taste in music?
Yeah, we’re a little bit different at times. It’s good that we’re different though, we can [discover new music through each other].
Now that Glacia has been released, are you working on anything? What is your next goal?
Well, playing live. I have to figure it out, though. I don’t want to do it cheaply. I don’t want to butcher it … I’m also working on a new record. [It’s in a] very early stage, though. I’m putting together some new loops and samples. I’m hoping by next May or June I’ll have something done.
With a band set-up, members can bounce ideas off each other. How do you internalize that process?
I just have that discussion with myself. I’ll be walking around and I’ll have a chord progression in my head. I’ll try to find a quiet corner and whisper it into my phone. But I take that whole band mentality and bring it into myself. With a band it’s different, because you have four different voices, each with different musical tastes. With me, I just have my musical taste. But in a band, you have [more] opinions [which help create] a more varied song. It’s a little bit of a challenge to think outside the box of what I normally [write]. It can be a challenge [not to be repetitive].
When did you learn to sing, what is it like for you?
Well, I don’t think I ever really learned to sing. I did some backup vocals for Casinos. But … I felt like I never wanted to do any singing – I [thought they were going to be] instrumental all the way. [But] I felt as though they needed some sort of lyrical element. I didn’t want to bring someone in, because it would ruin that personal [aspect]. You know, [it would be as if] I wrote all these songs but here’s someone else singing, that has no connection to them. So I felt I had to suck it up and do it.
Is there anything you would like to say to your growing fan base?
Well, it would just be thank you. Thank you for supporting my project. I never expected so many people to embrace it, as they have. A lot of [artists] say thank you, but sincerely, I’m blown away by the support so far. And I’m looking forward to bringing new [music] to them in the future. They’ve really lit my fire to keep writing music.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.