Music, like life, ferments out of all kinds of strange and different situations. Listening to Junip's gently sweet, dreamily psychedelic music, with its jazzy percolating rhythms, you don't hear a trace of hardcore music. But like so many of their peers, the Swedish trio started off playing hardcore when they were in their teens.
Today, Junip keyboardist Tobias Winterkorn still admires and listens to bands like Sick of It All and Minor Threat, but after spending his formative years in the '90s fronting a hardcore band, he was ready to move on. "I was really tired of hardcore music and the whole hardcore scene," he says. "It was so much about attitude and political stuff."
By the end of the decade Winterkorn had hooked up with fellow hardcore refugees and new neighbors Elias Araya (a drummer) and José González (a singer and guitarist). They spent hours talking about Winterkorn's gigging with jazz bands, and how González was really into Latin music. "We were both eager to play something different from hardcore music," recalls Winterkorn.
So they formed Junip a dozen years ago, but they never bothered to give the band their full attention. González was pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry, Araya was studying art in Finland and Norway, and Winterkorn taught part time while building a home recording studio. Before Junip was able to make any music, González's solo career took off in Sweden, following the release of his debut album, Veneer, in 2003.
The three friends still worked at Junip in their spare time, releasing the Black Refuge EP in 2005. But nobody paid much attention to the band. Around the same time, González was becoming an indie-rock favorite across the globe. Veneer was released in the U.S., and he toured extensively here and overseas. He followed it up in 2007 with In Our Nature, which became an even bigger hit with indie-rock tastemakers and bloggers.
It wasn't until late 2009, a decade after forming, that Junip finally began working on their first album. They teased it with a free four-song EP in early 2010. In September they released Fields.
On first listen, Junip's music doesn't sound all that different from González's solo work, with a lulling quietude drawn from his pretty tenor and hypnotic nylon-stringed acoustic playing. "If we had played the songs that we play with another musician, it would probably be nothing alike," says Winterkorn.
Fields' understated and totally mesmerizing sound is a direct connection to González's solo albums, but don't discount Araya and Winterkorn's contributions. Araya's drums percolate with windy grooves driven in part by his jam band-like toms, while Winterkorn's MOOG swirls in the background, laying a bed of creamy prog-like sounds.
The album's drifting atmospheric textures envelop you in translucent muted watercolors, subtly drawing you in and slowly revealing and insinuating themselves. It's sorta like a weird dream with a soundtrack by Traffic, Fairport Convention, and the Doors.
Though they were initially overshadowed by González's solo career, Junip are now starting to carve out their own identity. "The first time we went to the U.S., people just came to look at what's going on with José," says Winterkorn. "The next time, more people came just to look at Junip, and a lot of them hadn't heard of José. It's been an interesting year."
Junip recently released an EP, In Every Direction, made up of remixes and some previously unreleased tracks, so they'd have some new songs to play on their current U.S. tour. And after taking 10 whole years to get an album out, they plan to get another one out soon. They'll return to the studio in the fall to record a new full-length for release in 2012. Plus, González is busy working on his third solo album.
Winterkorn is still trying to take this all in. He had no idea that a band that he helped form more than 10 years ago would be playing to packed houses around the world. "It feels like the world is getting smaller, and that's really great to feel that the world isn't that big and scary," he says, before pausing and laughing. "Though it is big and scary in other ways."