On Thursday, March 14th, KCSB’s Program Director got a chance to speak with John Jagos, a solo artist from Ohio better known as Brothertiger. After his show at Lamberts on 2nd Street in downtown Austin, Texas, the recent college graduate and bedroom pop musician spoke about his aesthetic, recent and upcoming tours, specific tracks, and a new release on the horizon. Check out the interview below.
Navid Ebrahimzadeh (KCSB): Would you like to introduce yourself?
John Jagos: Hey I’m John, I’m from Brothertiger, and I’m here from Brooklyn. Yeah. (laughs)
KCSB: Can you start off by sharing your musical background?
Jagos: I started making music when I was a kid, and after I took piano lessons I started playing piano and eventually I got into recording software, and from then on it’s kind of been like a gradual learning curve for me, and eventually it’s led me to Austin, Texas.
KCSB: Speaking of Austin, when did you get into town and how have you been enjoying it?
Jagos: I got into town about two and a half hours ago. (laughs) I got in at 7:30. So far I’ve really only been outside of this place, and I walked down to the Convention Center to get my wristband and all of that. But so far it seems like a really fuckin’ cool scene. I’ve never been here for SXSW, I was here for June for a tour, but it was really quiet then. It’s really different now, but yeah, so far so good! The two hours I’ve been here.
KCSB: So I guess I’ll dive into some specific questions about your music. The kind of music you make can be considered pop music, you know, it’s got verse-chorus-verse and all that. But at the same time, it’s obviously not just straight-up pop. How does a Brothertiger track get formed? What’s your creative process like?
Jagos: Making a song for me, I feel like the way I do it is so uncoordinated on so many levels. (laughs) I make demos all the time, mock-up beats and maybe just a loop of something, and then I’ll make another loop, and then I can decide which one’s a good chorus and which one’s a good verse. It’s always been like that for me. The way I describe it is that it’s really simple, I guess. If it sounds cool, I guess I’ll use it. In terms of the layers, it’s usually all relatively the same, you know, drums, bass. I try to incorporate a good amount of synths but not too many. There’s maybe a good five or six layers and that’s it. A lot of these guys have like twenty or twenty-five layers.
KCSB: In the kind of music you make, as well as similar artists I listen to, there’s a kind of tension. You’re clearly expressing strong sentiments like yearning and nostalgia, but because of reverb and other elements, there’s a kind of tension between the music and the vocals, which are usually indistinguishable. Can you talk about maintaining both a strong emotional expression as well as a lo-fi aesthetic?
Jagos: You can put a lot of emotion into using reverb. It’s an emotional effect. It can exemplify isolation and loneliness and so many other things. With my vocals, you hit the nail right on the head: I try to emphasize the emotion that I’m singing about, be it about a person or an event in my life or someone else’s life. I think, for me, I like to balance the two in a way. But not too much, because you don’t want too much reverb and all that jazz.
KCSB: This is a question I’ve been asking all the artists here, since it’s something I think about a lot and struggle with. What do you think about genrefication and the classification of music? Especially in electronic music and blog culture, there are very specific genres that people kind of make up these days — someone comes up with some term and it quickly becomes a quasi-legitimate genre.
Jagos: Like chillwave? Is that what you’re referring to?
KCSB: That is more or less what I’m referring to.
Jagos: I find the whole chillwave thing very interesting, how it blossomed, and how it’s dead now, basically. I mean it’s not really dead, but the genre itself was something that people tagged on to you, not something you tagged onto yourself. It was like a bad omen. I never really minded people putting me in there. When someone defines chillwave to me, I don’t really connect my music to it, I think there’s a lot more to it than that. All in all, I think it’s interesting. It’s just part of music, you know? It’s part of the scene now. With the whole blog scene, people want to formulate new genres. It’s all about creating, and that’s just part of it.
KCSB: I think with the internet today, people can be really selective with what they want to listen to. It used to be like, “I like rock, I like electronic.” Now it’s, “I like chillwave.”
Jagos: “I like darkwave.”
KCSB: I think those kind of labels are inevitable because they allow people to zero in. I actually found your music through looking at blogs dedicated to that aesthetic.
Jagos: And a lot of people did. That’s the part I didn’t mind.
KCSB: Speaking of chillwave, I want to talk to you about your recent tours with Teen Daze and Beat Connection. You toured with Teen Daze in Europe last spring and Beat Connection in North America in the summer. How were those tours set up and what were those experiences like?
Jagos: Teen Daze and I were both part of this European booking agency who thought it would be a good idea if we toured together. Jamison and I toured together in Brooklyn about two summers ago. Man, it’s been that long. So we already knew each other, we talked on the internet, emailed back and forth, and did a couple remixes. It was kind of expected to happen. It was really great that it did, best time of my life. Then the Beat Connection thing happened through their booking agent asking me if I wanted to be a part of their tour because they liked my stuff and wanted me to be a part of it. So I jumped on that, and it was quite the experience. We actually rolled through here one night.
KCSB: Specific question: the song “A House of Many Ghosts.” That song comes across as really upbeat but also super chill and relaxing in a way, but then there’s some harsh sampling in there: a woman screaming, a phone ringing.
Jagos: That was one of the first songs I ever made as Brothertiger. It was an attempt at a themed song. The name says it all for me really. I have this old vinyl that has a bunch of samples from Disney.
KCSB: Snow White, right?
Jagos: That was part of it, but there’s another part of haunted house sounds from the 60s. Doors creaking, a ghoul noise, a woman screaming through a telephone. I took a bunch of them and put it on a computer, and was messing around with that Snow White song, I don’t know what song it is. I brought it into Ableton and was chopping her voice up. Then the samples came together and I thought of making a ghost story-esque song.
KCSB: While we’re discussing specific songs, is there one you’re particularly proud of?
Jagos: Out of all the ones I’ve done, I think “Feel” took off pretty well. It’s the one I always play at the end.
KCSB: Yeah, you played that at the end tonight!
Jagos: It’s a good finale song. It’s a really personal song, I wrote it about my whole experience of being in New York years ago, and I like playing it.
KCSB: I think that’s my favorite song of yours as well. While we’re on favorites, past performance or venue you’ve enjoyed?
Jagos: Stockholm was a really fun show. There were a lot of people there, and everyone was dancing. It was a really good time. In the U.S., I played a show in Atlanta with Beat Connection. There weren’t that many people there, but a lot of them were supporters of me. A lot of people came up to me after and talked to me, which I didn’t expect, which was cool. All the shows I played in Athens when I was in school in Ohio, that was where I got my start. House party shows were always really fun for me.
KCSB: I read that online once, someone posted something about wanting Brothertiger to come to California, and someone else responded, “Well you should come to Athens, because he plays here every weekend.”
Jagos: ‘Cause I went to school there! (laughs)
KCSB: Last question for you. What’re your plans for the future and what can your listeners look forward to? Is there a new release on the horizon?
Jagos: Yeah, I finished an album about a month ago. I just got it back from mastering; it sounds awesome. I can’t speculate on a release yet. We’re trying to push for this spring or summer. So that’s happening, and I’m really excited about it. It’s all new material, kind of a different step. Way more future-heavy, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. So there’s that, and I’ve got a lot of shows in New York, and Denver, and random places, and I think we’re trying to go back to Europe this year and play as many shows as possible. Working on getting a band together, as well, so it won’t be just me up there anymore!