By Emily Gawlak
It’s hard enough to make people laugh, but once you’ve got them started, it might prove even harder to make them stop. So goes the challenge for comedian and actor Jon LaJoie, beloved for his hit parody songs on YouTube and his star making, albeit off-beat performance as the perpetually stoned, quasi-entrepreneur Taco on FX’s The League.
This April, LaJoie will embark on a new chapter of his celebrity as the frontman for indie-folk outfit Wolfie’s Just Fine, and when he took the time to chat with Elmore about his upcoming debut—I Remembered But Then I Forgot, out April 8th– it became clear that the thornier aspects of this 180 turn into sincerity aren’t lost on him. “The example I was giving in the past when I’d say, “I really want to do this thing, but I just can’t,”” LaJoie explained, laughing, over the phone, “is that if one of the guys in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia put out a record, even if it was good, would I care? I don’t know.”
What struck me the most in my brief phone conversation with the Canadian born entertainer is that despite the goofy bravado of his public persona, he genuinely cares what people think. And when it comes to the Internet, wearing your heart on your sleeve can be a risky business. “I’m scared shitless of showing that side of me. Because with the comedy persona- I’ve toured a bunch and you stand up on stage with that mic, and you’re like, no one is gonna hurt me. You have zero access to my heart. [Wolfie’s Just Fine] is like, “when I was a kid I was sad.” [laughs] It’s that sort of connection. And fuck, if you don’t like this, or if you make fun of me from this vulnerable place, I’m like, I’m gonna lose my mind. Or I’m gonna erect these walls around myself- thicker walls than I already have.”
But for LaJoie, it was finally time to put aside those reservations. “My favorite thing to do in the world is to write songs and melodies over chords,” he told me, “so I was like, I’m doing this. I love doing this. If I’m actually honest with myself, and I say, what’s the thing I want to do with myself the most in the world? It was always that. So I said, all right, I’m in my thirties, I’m married, I don’t need to mess around anymore and be worried about it.” It was also a necessary departure from his comedy, at least for the moment. “[My] comedy in the most basic sense- at least the way that I’ve been doing it- is a lot of pointing at the ugly in the world at a distance. Like, hey, this is messed up, or, look at that thing, we all agree that that’s crazy. Which is extremely necessary, but I just kept thinking… what is me actually trying to make something beautiful in the world? What is that?”
That is I Remembered But Then I Forgot, an impressive, full-length indie-folk record. To create the album, LaJoie harnessed the power of a talented crew to offset his own skills. In short, he knew his limits. “I was like, hey, I need help with this, I don’t have a band. I play guitar, I sing, and I play a little bit of piano, I harmonize with myself, but I don’t know how to do this.” So he reached out to a fellow LA transplant by way of Canada, Joe Corcoran. “We had worked on some of my more elaborate comedy songs, one called “Please Use This Song” and one called “Christmas Text,”” LaJoie recalled, “he’s this really talented, multi-instrumentalist guy, who’s amazingly talented and under-appreciated.” But LaJoie also had some sense of the direction he wanted to go. “I knew that I leaned towards organic production, not going crazy, and I knew that these songs needed a sort of raw, lush sound. Production-wise I’m quite specific, and I knew that there was this one mixer, Phil Ek, who I love– he’s done work with Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, the Shins, and I was like, I want someone who mixes like him. So Joe was like, let’s just reach out to him.”
With Ek on board, it was time to cut a record. “Joe and I recorded in a studio in Echo Park here in LA called Station House, which is wonderful, it’s run by this guy Mark Rains. There’s a lot of vintage, old equipment and just a great vibe in there.” And though getting a crack team together and finding a studio was a breeze, the actual process of finishing the album took some logistics; “we recorded everything [at Station House], sent it to Phil Ek to mix in Seattle, and Joe was in Japan and I was in Hawaii [laughs] and we were listening to the mixes that Phil sent to us – we just wanted to make it really hard on him.” But in the end, they made it work. “I’m a very controlling, creative human, so the trust I had in both Phil and Joe, it really did pay off. They’re just so talented.”
Now that the creative labor is done, LaJoie knows that most of what’s left to do is wait. Well, and Facebook. But having a preexisting audience of devoted fans can be a double edged sword, and LaJoie wants the project to take on a life of its own, gathering fans who aren’t just waiting around for a punchline. “I just want to give it some breather time,” he admits. “People are telling me I should book shows now, and I’m like, yeah, we should, but I need this to be its own thing and to get its own fan base, not just people who’ve known my stuff and like this thing as well. I want it to grow a little bit before we go into those rooms, because inevitably there are going to be Taco fans and Jon LaJoie fans, which is absolutely amazing and lovely, I just don’t want to be going into shows disappointing people. If they’re screaming out the other stuff, I’ll play it.”
This is a sentiment that LaJoie echoes in the album, almost word for word in the haunting lyrics of Pigeon Lady; “I hope you’re not disappointed in me.”
Thankfully, LaJoie is surviving the social media shark tank. “I posted a message on Facebook the night before putting [lead single, “It’s A Job”] up, and the responses from that post were so heartwarming and supportive, like I couldn’t find one comment that was like “what are you talking about? Why are you doing this stupid shit?” … the fact that, I want to say, 95% of the comments were positive, and genuinely emotionally supportive… I was telling my buddy the other day, it’s kind of renewed my faith in the internet… It’s actually just people, not terrible, emotional terrorists. Knock on wood.” And besides, “I know, having come from the background that I come from in the internet comedy world, if there’s a fan base for something that anyone is doing, it’ll find its way there, even if it takes years. Everyone has access to everything. So I have faith that if there are people who are going to respond to this, it’ll happen.”
I suspect LaJoie won’t have to wait all that long, because he has crafted a strong and endearing debut. Cavernous, ethereal harmonies throughout ring of Ek’s past indie successes, Fleet Foxes in particular, while lyrically, the record displays the same kind of observational sharpness that shot LaJoie to fame on the Internet. The songs are largely intimate and confessional, from the mundane but profound moments of Todd and Janelle, “I don’t know why but I’ve been thinking of my brother. I should give him a call tomorrow night. And I will tell him about the pressure that I’m under, and maybe he will have some good advice,” to his more poetic recollections of adolescent struggles, such the Dylan-esque rumination on “A New Beginning:” “back then you were so much older than me, but now you’re a child.”
I Remembered But Then I Forgot marries the hip factor of Bon Iver with the accessibility of Ray LaMontagne, and though the album is certain to gain it’s fair share of listeners who only know of taco as a Mexican dish, current fans of LaJoie may derive an even deeper sense of pleasure. Because ultimately, you can’t extract Jon LaJoie from Wolfie’s Just Fine, and that’s a large part of what makes this album special. You hear that well practiced wink deep down; LaJoie is giving us the ultimate glimpse into the man behind the music.
On Marie-Eve he sings about buying a pair of jeans to impress a schoolboy crush, “waiting for you to notice how I’m not wearing sweatpants like them, cause they’re boys, they’re not men.” And then, Marie, he promises, “I don’t sing, but I’ll learn how.”
Check out the video for “It’s A Job” below and preorder your copy of I Remembered But Then I Forgot, out via Normal Guy Records on April 8th, here.