Since the early 2015 release of Wayfarer, Western Jaguar has undergone a metamorphosis, from ambient solo project to live rock band. The Mission-based project led by vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Jeffrey Trainor has its roots in Jeff’s parents’ basement, gradually growing into a dynamic live act featuring AJ Buckley on drums, (Casinos front man) Kier Junos on guitar, and Ryan Domingo replacing Brent Webb on bass. You may have caught some of the new material this summer at Jam in Jubilee or one of their other recent shows before they burrowed away to finish work on a follow-up record, due in mid-2017 on Mighty Speck Records. I spoke with Jeff about how the project has evolved, what we can expect from Western Jaguar’s upcoming release, and what signing with Mighty Speck means for the band.
The project has gone through quite a few changes since you last put out an album. How has the project evolved since you put out your last record?
This is going to be the first record where it’s not me completely in control of the record. The last two, I wrote all the parts and had full creative control of everything, but this record is kind of like, okay, I wrote the song and let Kier and AJ and Brent, and Ryan now, run with it and add their own flair and own spin. It’s been a way more collaborative record in that sense. It’s not just my ideas reflected; I bring my idea and they kind of help shape it into what I think are stronger songs and more listenable songs. It’s definitely a new direction for the project, but I think it’s something that’s actually needed. It really re-awoke it. It almost feels like it’s a new band.
How do you think performing live with these guys has shaped your writing process for this record?
The band is definitely thinking more in that live context. You kind of have an ability to do more when you know those consistent guys are going to be there. Before, when it was just me and backing tracks, Rob Sweeney played with me a lot, but it wasn’t this consistent thing where I had the same person all the time. I just feel like everyone knows what they’re going to do and it just feels a lot more comfortable playing live. I know it’s a good show. When we were playing with backing tracks, I was like, “Are people even enjoying this or thinking this is cool?” and now I feel like we’re putting on a legitimate rock show, which feels really good.
When you started this project several years ago as a kind of bedroom recording thing, did you envision it taking this direction at some point?
It’s really funny you ask that because I literally started this thing in my bedroom, by myself, no experience recording, hadn’t really written songs before. And to think we’re signing with a record label… it doesn’t even make any sense. I didn’t have any expectations. A lot of it comes down to the people who have been with the project since the beginning. When I first released Glacia in 2013, I didn’t want to play shows. I kind of just put that record together for myself, but a lot of people said, “You need to play these songs,” so there were outside people pushing me forward. I have a lot of people to thank for getting me to this moment. It wouldn’t have happened if it was just me. Without all the people coming to shows and giving good feedback, it wouldn’t have happened. I think about those times I spent just sitting in my basement recording these songs that I didn’t expect anyone to ever hear to now. It’s crazy.
To come back to the new songs that you’re working on, can you share much about what people might be able to expect musically or thematically?
It’s definitely more of a rock record. There’s a lot more blazin’ guitar solos thanks to Kier. That’s the joy of having Kier in the band. I think there’s a lot more focus on writing good melodies and lyrics and vocals that will actually be memorable and I think that’s something that wasn’t apparent on the last records. It was more about the background and the ambience. That’s still there on this record, but we put a lot of effort into writing good songs that can stand on their own and I think that’s what people will hear when they listen to it, they’re going to be like, wow, that’s a good song. But also all this ambiance and guitar work and intricacies and stuff going on in the background. It’s like mixing that old sound and vamping it into something more polished.
What can you tell us about the new release?
We’re still trudging along with it. We started working on it at the end of August and we’ve sort of been working on it on our own. We were thinking about going to studios to do it but AJ [Buckley], our drummer, has a recording engineering degree so we’re going that route. That way, we have control and we can take as much time as we need. But that’s kind of become a downside because we’re just slowly getting through it. So it’s been a slow process, but I’m really happy with the stuff we do have and really excited to eventually release it.
Are you recording at AJ’s space or somewhere else?
Initially, in August, we were recording at Brent [Webb’s], who isn’t with the band currently because he’s in Toronto. We recorded six tracks there and we’re recording an additional one to top up the release. And then we have to do all the mixing. And we have to redo vocals and odds and ends. The major parts are there, it’s just kind of the polish that’s missing.
Do you have any kind of timeline on when it will come out or do you not really want to go there at this point?
I’ve been saying, if people ask me, it’ll be this time, and then that time comes and people are like so what? We haven’t even got to the next point yet. Roughly, my goal is by June. I think that will give us enough time to get it fully done.
Of course, you guys are getting a bit of help with that this time around from what I understand.
Yeah, we are.
What can you tell me about the record deal?
We’re really excited. We’re hopping on board with Mighty Speck Records out of Victoria and we kind of made a connection with James Kasper, who runs that label, through the Fraser Valley Music Awards. He saw us play a couple times while he was here doing that. They were looking for artists for their 2017 lineup and it kind of worked out. We both have the same ideas about where we want to go music wise, and it seems like a really natural connection. They’re going to help us with some promo and finding new audiences for our music that we haven’t had before, so we’re really excited to be working with them.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
One thing with Mighty Speck is everyone on the label has a community group they raise awareness for as a part of it. So we’re doing it for the Devon Clifford Music Foundation, an organization run out of Abbotsford that gives high school students a chance to play music; it’s like an after-school program. It was started by the Clifford family, whose son Devon used to play drums in You Say Party but passed away on stage at the end of a tour. They started this foundation in memorial of him. Kier and I both worked for the foundation and it’s awesome to see these kids come out of their shells and learn to play songs. They get to play a show in the end so it’s really cool. We’re happy to be partnered with them on this.
As for plans, we’re going to play a few more local shows up until the summer, and finish the album and in the summer we’re hoping to do a bit of touring. Mighty Speck does a bit of touring as a label so we’re hoping maybe we can hop on that, play some music festivals. There’s lots on the horizon, that’s for sure.