By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
At first, Westword's music editor didn't want you to see this article. He felt the quality of Junior Senior, a Danish duo that recently hit in Europe and beyond with the boogie manifesto "Move Your Feet," couldn't justify the cost of the ink required to print a profile. Most of the group's songs struck him as slight and flimsy -- in a phrase, "stupid novelty bullshit."
There's something to his argument. After all, the team of Jesper Mortensen (Junior) and Jeppe Breum Laursen (Senior) unabashedly specializes in shtick. On their debut album, D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat, Junior, who's straight, and Senior, who's gay, goofily rib each other about their sexuality -- and plenty more -- over relentlessly high-spirited beats. Stupid? Sometimes. Novelty? In a way. Bullshit? Could be.
Then again, stupid novelty bullshit has played an extremely undervalued role in the annals of pop-music history. Over the years, the label has been slapped on work that turned out to be much more significant than many recognized at the time, including the early rock and roll of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and so on. And despite the supposed ephemeral nature of the music in the category, it often lasts longer than higher-toned stuff. Consider that Randy Newman, Warren Zevon and Loudon Wainwright III have reputations as great songwriters, but their only genuine hits were compositional jokes ("Short People," "Werewolves of London" and "Dead Skunk," respectively). Idiotic ditties, from "Monster Mash" and "Purple People Eater" to "Macarena" and "Cameltoe," are capable of burrowing into the collective cranium and not letting go, even when we desperately wish they would. In addition, those one-shots that fall as quickly as they rise can still brighten the musical panorama, if only for a moment. Such is the power of stupid novelty bullshit.
There's no telling whether this argument swayed the editor or if he simply suffered an attack of temporary insanity. Ultimately, though, the assignment was approved, providing an opportunity to ask designated interviewee Mortensen some weighty questions. To wit: Is Junior Senior's music stupid novelty bullshit? If not, why not? And if so, is there anything wrong with that?
Clearly, these were not queries that Mortensen, speaking from a hotel room in Chicago, was accustomed to hearing. "I'll have to brain on that one for a while," he said -- an example of his serviceable but occasionally idiosyncratic English. Then, rather than answering directly, he began to tell Junior Senior's story, confident that the motivation behind the decisions he and Laursen made over the years would effectively refute the stupid-novelty-bullshit accusation. His basic argument was that the band isn't simply a lark, but, in a strange way, an act of rebellion.
"We tried not to think, ŒA record has to sound this way to be indie, and it has to sound this way to be chart music, and you have to do one or the other,'" Mortensen declared. "We just tried to do it our way."
His homeland didn't provide him with many role models. Mortensen and Laursen grew up an hour away from each other in Jutland, a mostly rural section of western Denmark that's left few lasting marks on the global soundscape. According to Mortensen, the same is true of the country as a whole. "Sweden has always been kind of the big-brother country of Scandinavia with most things, and especially music," he said. "They've always had a really, really big indie scene and really big pop bands that have made it around the world. Everyone knows ABBA." On the other hand, "the Danish music scene isn't that good, actually. It's very small, and a lot of the music is kind of a pale version of bands from England or America. We've tried to break the Danish spell -- to not sound too Danish and to not sound like a bad version of a good foreign band."
While in high school, Laursen made his initial attempt to form a worthy combo, dubbing it Ludo X; Mortensen, who's a year younger than his partner (hence his "Junior" designation), joined the act after catching it in concert. He soon discovered that he and Laursen shared similar sensibilities. "We came from an indie-type background and listened to a lot of indie music," he recalled. "And that was liberating. We felt that it was definitely different from the kind of chart music that we were exposed to, which was really, really cool in the beginning. As a teenager, you're looking for your own identity and stuff, so that was perfect, you know?"
After five years or so in this environment, however, Mortensen began to realize that indie music has more in common with overtly commercial music than its aficionados might care to admit.
"It became a different kind of conformity," he said. "It was stereotypical, because if you wanted to be indie, there was a certain way to be indie. You had to do everything right. You had to have the right heroes, so to speak, and you had to have a certain attitude. Compared to what was popular and selling, you had to do the opposite to be true and to be real. And after a while it began to be one big trap. I saw that this was just another set of rules, which kind of annoyed me."