Fresh Mint flavour

Vancouver pop dude Jay Arner goes solo on new LP

Eclectic Vancouver songsmith Jay Arner hasn’t been away from Alberta long — he was here for last month’s Flood Island where he played a house show with The Ketamines and Zen Mystery Fogg and an impromptu get-together at Tubby Dog — but from the sounds of it he’s glad to be back. “When we were driving in Alberta I looked at the clouds for a long time” he says. “I thought they were more three-dimensional-looking than B.C.”

Um what?

“I’m dumb” he laughs.

Loboto maybe. But dumb? Hardly. Rather if you’ll believe his myriad supporters Arner may in fact be a budding lo-fi savant. His textured pop songs veer between gaudy synth pop (“Midnight on South Granville”) crooning surf (“Surf Don’t Sink”) and fuzzed-up janglers (“Nightclubs”) all delivered with couldn’t-care-less aplomb. Stitched together with no-frills drum machines tape echo and fistfuls of approachable melodies Arner’s tracks stick on first listen — “Don’t Remind Me”’s chorus for instance has been lodged in our brains for weeks — but reveal themselves as sophisticated pop constructions as they settle.

“I usually keep melodies in my head for a while and if I forget anything fuck it! It probably wasn’t good enough” he says. “After a while I might write it down but I can’t read or write music so it’s a primitive scrawl version. When I record I usually just pour out the tracks.”

Those tracks while seemingly easygoing genre-hop effortlessly — and that perhaps is thanks to Arner’s scatterbrained musical palette. “I like music being made now as much as that of any other recent era so there wasn’t really any particular thing I wanted to mimic” he says. “That said I really love late ’70s art rock — Bowie Robert Fripp krautrock and so on. So hopefully some of that pomp-justified-by-good-songs feel is present.

“But aside from that the sound of the record is really just me in my practice space putting microphones in front of instruments.”

To his credit it’s a strategy that works. For his debut album on which he played every instrument Arner landed on legendary Vancouver label Mint Records who’ve cut defining records from Gob Cub and more recently Edmo expat Renny Wilson and Vancouver risers Tough Age. (Arner for his part lists the New Pornographers’ debut LP and P:Ano’s Brigadoon as his label faves.)

When we ask him about landing on Mint’s iconic roster he’s typically deferential — according to him he landed his deal “just by being in the music scene here and trying to write good songs.” It’s an understatement to say the least. Arner’s a well-respected producer with a sterling reputation for his remixes (including one by Hermetic whose songwriter Eric Axen also appears in Calgary this week with his other band Sightlines). His multi-instrumental abilities have landed him stints in International Falls and Poison Dart. Perhaps most recognizably he’s one half of ludicrously fun B.C. dance-pop duo Fine Mist.

“The Fine Mist record [ Public Domain ] was a 50-50 collaboration. I mostly just did the music though Megan [McDonald singer] and I both arranged it” he says. “And in the most recent version of the live band I was going for a sort of live PA techno feel with an MPC and two synthesizers. We started playing some big shows and I felt very exposed without a guitar or drums or whatever just trying to dance around with a glass of wine.”

Entertaining enough no? “Well I was worried people would think I was dumb but eventually started giving less of a shit because it’s just really fun” he says. “I’ve tried to carry that lesson over into this band. Who cares right?”