Jo Passed was a band that almost never happened. The project that sprung from the mind of thoughtful Vancouver-based musician Jo Hirabayashi came about after he moved away from his home in Vancouver to the cultured, and much cheaper, climate of Montreal. “I didn’t plan on coming back,” Hirabayashi explains. “I thought I was going to stay out east and create a life for myself. Looking back on it now I should’ve just flew out with a guitar and a backpack and chilled for a few months.” Instead Jo purged everything of his life in Vancouver and when he realized he needed to come back it was like starting all over again. “I was given a cool opportunity to come home and use this studio space where I could really work on music, and that was a huge incentive to coming back to Vancouver.” When Hirabayashi returned he immediately started crafting the songs that became the debut Jo Passed record, Their Prime, and noticed that there was a bit of an overarching theme that was emerging within them, a very localized theme. “Vancouver has a lot of problems. Lack of space, it’s expensive, and that all gets tied into its cultural identity. As someone born and raised here you realize how isolated it is and especially realize that as someone living here trying to be a musician. We are in our own little pocket of the country.” 

As any Vancouverite is familiar, this city isn’t the most receptive to the arts. With the lack of music venues and the fact that the next large Canadian city to play in is at least 12 hours away through the mountains, it makes it difficult for anyone who wants to share their work. “I wanted to find something that lyrically finds solidarity in the themes of being pushed out of a city that, at most times, feels like it doesn’t wants you there,” Hirabayashi explains. “As an artist you want to be validated and you see how that doesn’t really happen here and how people can get fed up and leave.” That all being said the last thing that Their Prime is, is cynical. “I found this zine awhile back. I have no idea who made it. There’s a journal entry in it and the person who wrote it says Vancouver is the best city to live in as a touring band as it makes you want to leave," he laughs. “We do that on tour all the time. Comparing the city we are in to Vancouver. Seeing the positives of it compared to Vancouver and how we could live there but without fail we always come back, there’s something that makes you want to, and because of that I wanted to make sure there was some hope and even optimism in these songs.”

When legendary Pacific Northwest record label Sub Pop approached Jo about releasing his album it placed an interesting context on the endeavour. “It was really trippy,” he muses. “I feel like Sub Pop was the first record label I ever knew of. I remember just seeing their logo on the back of some albums that I had growing up. While we were talking it really re-awoke all these feelings that I had when I was younger.” After his formative teenage band years, Jo went to music school and focused on playing other types of genres. “I went to jazz college and was playing a lot of types of music that while were cool and a big part of my development, was very different from the distorted guitar rock that I had played growing up. It was hard going back to it because I put these limits on myself. I felt that it was less artistic and I didn't want to let myself do anything that wasn’t serious.” 

Luckily, Hirabayashi let that go because his album, which drops on May 25th through Sub Pop and Royal Mountain Records, is a real treat. Not just blasts of noise and pounding drums, Their Prime has a very intriguing weight to it. Thematically you can sense this thread of isolation, a social alienation the runs through it all and that gives it a very interesting juxtaposition between the grittier aspects of the music and Hirabayashi’s distinct and dreamy singing style. “I wanted it to have a collage-y type feel to it. I recorded it at a bunch of different places. Sometimes sitting in my room tracking guitars on headphones and then taking those tracks back to the studio and re amping them. I wanted it to have this type of feeling you would have when you dream, that dream-like realization you have when you are in your house but you know it’s actually not your house.” It was really important to Jo to make sure that the record remained interesting and had some substance. “You only get one chance to make your debut album,” Hirabayashi explains. “I could’ve easily made a record about just Jo eating donuts and chilling,” he laughs, “but coming back home I wanted to try to lay into coming to terms with this Vancouver identity. I was hoping to amplify the whole idea of being a Vancouver musician and an artist and speaking about the issues that affect us here, our limited space and people being displaced.” 

Jo Passed was a band that almost never happened, but as Hirabayashi puts it, it was lucky that it did. “Jo Passed has been the first thing I’ve done where I know that if I funnel all my energy into being a songwriter, it was better for my health. It wasn’t a career choice. It was survival.” Through this commitment to his work, to making something that is not only personal but that is personal to the people that live and strive to do interesting work in Vancouver and cities all over, Their Prime stands up as not only the work of a singular talent but one that should resonate with every listener lucky to discover it. 

Leave a comment

ION Magazine 170-422 Richards Street Vancouver BC Canada V6B 2Z4
© Copyright ION Publishing Group 2013