Alienation, Displacement, And Grant Rock: A Conversation With Vancouver-Based Jo Passed

It was neither the first nor the last time Jo Passed had been to Chicago. I met up with the band a humid evening in June at Avondale venue Sleeping Village. Their first time in the city was less than a year ago on Halloween when they played a show at the popular DIY venue Pinky Swear. “I dressed as Nico from the Velvet Underground,” said guitarist Bella Bébé explaining her impromptu costume and commenting on how her bangs made the look easy to pull off. “We also saw the best Austin Powers impersonator I’ve ever seen,” added bassist Megan Magdalena- Bourne. “We recorded the set and when we listened back to it, we could hear a distinctive ‘YEAH, BABY’ every few songs,” said front man Jo Hirabayashi.

Jo Passed is an up-and-coming Indie Rock band (sarcastically self-proclaimed Garage Grant Rock, but I’ll explain that later), originating from Vancouver, B.C. Jo Passed is fronted by lead singer Jo Hirabayashi, born and raised in Vancouver. For Jo and the rest of the band (Mac Lawrie on drums, Bella on guitar, and Megan on bass), being on tour is something they’re more than used to. Though it’s only been a month on the road, this is their second tour already this year. But it helps that they all get along really well. “Every tour is different for sure, and you’ll be touring at different parts of your life when you’re going through different things. But we are a crew, and we really get along,” said Bella.

Jo Passed’s first full-length LP, Their Prime, came out May 25th. The twelve-song album confronts the contemporary condition of alienation and displacement that comes with changing urban spaces. “I was trying to investigate that through this album,” said Jo. “Vancouver is a noticeably changing city. What seems like all of the sudden, neighborhoods are beginning to have large condo duplexes built. “Many of these just aren’t accessible spaces. There’s no understanding that I’ll see this building and be like ‘oh I should go check it out and see if I can afford it.’ It looks like it doesn’t belong,” said Jo. “It’s different in tech cities, but in Vancouver it’s a lot of speculative housing. It’s basically just a way for companies to invest, which means there’s a lot of these high rises being built but they remain empty. It’s basically just a way for people to park money and a good way to make money. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. There’s gotta be a bubble at some point. It seems like there just needs to be a better system for housing in cities. I’m sure the same thing is true of other cities, but I feel like it’s just so hyperbolized in Vancouver.” It’s nearly impossible to find an affordable place to live anymore. “We know so many people who have been displaced,” said Megan. One side effect of this displacement is a diminishing of the music scene. According to Jo, music venues in Vancouver go through a three-year cycle. With rotating venues, it’s hard for bigger bands to tour there. “It’s affected a lot of bigger acts that come too, like our friends in Preoccupations had to play at a dive bar,” said Megan. “The sound was horrible. Promoters are super angry and frustrated.”

“With this album, I just tried to get so much more of the feeling and psychology existing in that, rather than just writing a political punk song that spells out exactly the way it is,” said Jo. “It produces such a weird feeling to be existing in this place where there’s all these pockets that are inaccessible and constantly have this feeling that you’re being pushed out slowly. It’s hard to create a cohesive music or art scene. But there’s a bunch of artists and musicians who are talking about the same thing. It’s funny, I feel like that is the scene. The Vancouver scene is people getting together to talk about issues of displacement and the feelings that come along with that. So, I’m happy there’s solidarity.”

Most of Vancouver’s music scene thrives through the city’s DIY scene, and that’s where Jo Passed grew into a multi-tour band signed to Sub Pop. “I think there’s way more of a divide in Vancouver between the commercial rock bands and the DIY scene. People seek out ‘grant-funding’ and there’s a lot of ‘grant rock’ bands. I feel like there’s a lot more crossover in the states between bands that would be doing DIY stuff then be signed to a label. But in Vancouver, there’s bands that will exclusively play downtown bar areas, then there’s bands that just play the more underground DIY venues. And we were doing that and then the Sub Pop signing totally sparked interest from all the bands that were doing more of the commercial thing, and everyone was like ‘where did you guys come from?’ to them it was like we came out of nowhere,” said Jo.

Later, it became clear why Sub Pop had signed Jo Passed. They played a great set at Sleeping Village, headlining with Café Racer and Dick Stusso (who was clearly very intoxicated, but nonetheless put on a great show). Jo Passed had chemistry on stage. They even seemingly inadvertently shook their hair to the beat in sequence. It doesn’t come across as much when you listen to the album, but their music live was very shoegaze-y and easily puts you in a trance.

You can check out Jo Passed LP Their Prime (and their other EPs) on Spotify, iTunes, and Bandcamp.

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