Jane Remover Can’t Stop Transforming
“That was a demo that I made in an hour. I submitted it as an assignment for a creative writing class. That’s how old this song is, I was still in school.”
Jane Remover is describing “Cage Girl,” the opener of her new LP Census Designated, like a piece of ancient history, a vestigial organ of her stunning evolution. It’s a song she wrote in 2022. To be fair, while any teenager can undergo a seismic personality shift within the span of a year, it’s also a veritable lifespan in purely internet scenes like hyperpop, plugg, digicore or Jane’s own “Dariacore.” But with the release of the “Royal Blue Walls” / “Cage Girl” single last June, Jane Remover came out as a trans woman and announced her new artist name, effectively rendering everything that came before as the work of a completely different person. “I was in such a different space both mentally, physically, career-wise,” Jane explains, and at the time of her 2021 breakthrough teen week, she was 17 years old and too insecure to record vocals when her parents were home. Not much had changed on that front when her proper debut Frailty was released later that year; Jane’s mother dropped her off at her first in-person interview in a Honda Pilot.
A month before the release of Census Designated, Jane has settled into her own apartment in Chicago, and, much to her manager’s delight, used her first financial splurge on a pair of Audio Technica studio headphones. Jane describes herself as a rather frugal person, but she wouldn’t allow herself to replicate the rawness of the self-recorded, mixed, and mastered Frailty, an album which has sounded completely different depending on what headphones I’m using; Jane’s manager claims that it’s actually best suited for cassette.
Frailty dropped at a time when I was feeling pretty burnt out on new music. There were plenty of reasons to feel that way in late 2021, whether it was the garden variety demoralization that comes with watching music publications continue to shutter or the Omicron variant of COVID putting us back in lockdown after a brief glimpse of quasi “normal” live music. Or maybe it was just seeing revivals from a decade ago get revived again. Beyond that, TikTok had emerged as the most impactful tastemaker in existence, rendering more familiar forms of social media almost immediately obsolete. And a lot of stock was being put into those internet subcultures that gave rise to teen week, music that was made by literal teens that embraced ephemerality and chaos. Trying to keep up with this kind of music beyond the age of 40 didn’t just feel futile, it felt dishonest.
I had come across Jane Remover in brief attempts to engage with that scene, alongside brakence, midwxst, quadeca, glaive, ericdoa and the like. But I was in no way prepared for Frailty. The individual songs themselves are some of the most thrilling music I’ve encountered in the 21st century, rooted just enough in familiar formats – the saturated, EDM-adjacent ultrapop of Porter Robinson; SoundCloud rap’s glitchy, bitcrushed production; the cleansing catharsis of emo – but unquestionably the product of an artist born of scenes where Lil Peep is a true Kurt Cobain figure and Nirvana might as well be Robert Johnson or whatever.
But what really struck me was the album-ness of it all, how its 57 minutes held together as a solid body of work, proof of concept for digicore (or whatever) as an album format, something that could leave a more tangible legacy. “People will bill a 5-song EP that’s 12 minutes long as an album,” Jane explains of her prior peer group. “I think it’s just because there truly are no rules and when it comes to internet music, it’s not regulated at all. It’s just a bunch of people on the internet rather than sending music to managers and labels. It’s not a no man’s land, but…[trails off laughing].”
Distancing Jane Remover from the label of “internet music” might not be the main artistic ambition of Census Designated, but it’s an important one nonetheless. A 2021 Pitchfork profile described Jane Remover as “so online it hurts,” and the Apple Music blurb for Frailty reveals the first album her parents bought for her on iTunes – Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet. After seeing writers struggle to put a label on her music, Jane Remover conducts an act of benevolence this time around. “Census Designated is just straight up rock,” she notes. “That’s the umbrella word.”
If Census Designated truly is a rock record, it occupies the darker fringes. The greater presence of organic instrumentation (some of it by Doug Dulgarian of They Are Gutting A Body Of Water) will require Jane Remover to completely reimagine their live set up, but the first drums don’t come in until eight and a half minutes have passed. The guitars on “Cage Girl” are detuned to a death metal gurgle, whereas “Lips” and the title track are consumed in a rush of molten shoegaze. Almost nothing adheres to a typical verse-chorus structure and while Frailty had enough unrequited love and first-person adolescent angst to pass for fifth-wave emo, much of Census Designated resembles “Cage Girl” in its cinematic flair – all of it fictional, most of it quite illicit and lurid. Much has already been made about the assumed Ethel Cain influence on Jane Remover’s 2022 singles, but for the over-35 crowd, the ethereal melodies and narrative lyricism (much of which happens in cars) makes me think of Deftones’ “Passenger.”
It’s a classic “darker, more difficult sophomore LP,” and, true to form, something that Jane Remover is seeing as prologue to her next phase. “I have this terrible habit of making a song and then by the time it comes out, I’m sick of it,” she explains. “I need to make something else, I need to make something better.”
There were a few days where the Census Designated link was taken down because it apparently leaked in Japan. I was shocked to hear that album leaks were still happening in 2023, am I missing a trend here?
JANE REMOVER: I feel like there’s been such a recent uptick in music being leaked; there was that one leaked Ariana Grande song playing on the radio. There’s two epidemics going on: one is leaking, another is illegally uploading shit to Spotify. I’m not too worried about my stuff getting leaked. It has happened. Census Designated got leaked; Frailty didn’t, but I sent a link to my friends and they sent it to other people before the album came out. My debut EP leaked the day before it came out. I’m used to it at this point.
With these trends in mind and people more interested in getting new music at any cost, have you felt more obligated to connect with fans over the past two years?
JANE: I feel the opposite. I stopped using social media non-professionally three or four months ago because I hated posting online and then just having strangers interacting with it. Especially on Twitter, you can’t control replies and if you hide it, it’ll show that you hid the reply. On Instagram, you can delete it. I’d rather not go through the hassle of trying to manage my comments and shit, so I just don’t really post.
A lot of the early press on Jane Remover tried to figure out what was going on with one scene or another and connect the project to larger shifts in youth culture, was there ever a point where you thought, “What are these people talking about?”
JANE: I usually read everything… or at least, I used to. It was a very bad habit, but I would name search just because I need to see everything. That definitely died down because it was turning a little crazy. When I was first coming up two years ago and I was still new to everything, I didn’t think much of it. OK, the fact that I’m even being classified in the first place is a milestone in itself. But it started to feel othering in a way. Like, why not use words that are already in the dictionary? You don’t have to make up new words to describe my music. Especially with the two big ones that get thrown around a lot like hyperpop and digicore, those are the main culprits. Those are just curated playlists, I don’t know if people even consider them genres or scenes. But it starts to feel like you’re getting boxed into those words, especially when you’re trying to do something new that doesn’t pertain to the sound that these scenes make. How am I gonna widen my audience if I’m still being classified with these terms that I used to describe underground EDM, you know? I like to use the most simple words to describe my music so I can reach as many people as possible.
Touring with brakence seemed like a big opportunity to expand your reach. Had you done any live performances before that?
JANE: Prior to touring with brakence, I had three total live performances, and they were all within three weeks of each other. My very first live show was at Connecticut College. They paid me to come out to Connecticut, and I’m like… sure! The lineup was so crazy: Iyaz, he was on before me, he played “Replay” three times. I’m always gonna have some kind of stage fright, that’s a given. But my first three performances, I barely moved, I was glued to the floor. So I really tried my best to not do that the next time around, playing in front of a crowd that’s closer to my demographic. It worked. I was jumping around on stage. But I don’t yet have any experience being a headliner, and being the opener is kind of like being the side chick in a way. It’s fun nonetheless. I forget what’s going on, play my little songs, and hop off the stage.
Regardless of genre, a lot of up-and-coming artists start out as solo projects and need to completely reimagine their process to play live music. What did you learn about being a touring musician from that time?
JANE: Hearing my music being played in a venue was a first. Now I knew what it sounded like on the stage monitors, so that gave me insight on how to make and mix my future music. By the time the tour started, four or five songs on the album were basically finished and it showed me, “OK, this is what’s gonna come out the most on these stage monitors.” Obviously it’s different when it’s my live setup. It’s me, a DJ, some noise knobs, a guitar, and a mic. This album’s not meant to be played in the same way. We need actual instruments and drums this time. Engaging with the crowd was another thing. The brakence crowd was filled with people my age or a little bit younger and…you could tell most of the people were there not to see me, you could see it on their face. Nonetheless, it did feel a little bit reassuring, that people my age are coming to these shows and they like it. They’re here for the music.
In 2021, you had stated that your friends were some of the biggest musical inspirations for Frailty. I imagine that more people will hear Ethel Cain this time around.
JANE: I remember finding her on YouTube a year-and-some-change ago. It might’ve been turn-of-the-year 2022, after Frailty came out. I found her through this 13-minute drone song she posted and then the big song “Crush.” I can buy a T-shirt that says, “I was there when Preacher’s Daughter came out.” It was really funny, when I posted the demo of “Cage Girl” on SoundCloud in April of last year, she DM’d me and was like, “My sister and I have been listening to this song all summer.” And I checked, she listened to “Cage Girl” 150 times on SoundCloud. This is before the high quality version came out. We were mutuals for a while, but now she only follows people she works with.
You had mentioned that a lot of Census Designated filters its themes and subject matters through fictional love stories. Are there times when you’re writing earlier drafts and find yourself thinking, “I can’t be this direct”?
JANE: A lot of the songs went through a lot of revisions. On the latter half of the album, it starts to get very nightmarish. A lot of these songs are about nightmares and stuff I am terribly afraid of happening, rather than real life events and problems. I just have a habit of dancing around subjects, but I’m really self-aware when it comes to writing. If I want to be intentionally vague, I feel like I can do that a lot easier than telling a lie. The last three songs on the album have their intentions and themes, but they’re told through the lens of relationships. “Video” is about striving and running towards the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s told through this story of a guy and a girl, the girl’s watching the guy play with himself online, and she tries to track him down and look for this guy in real life. But when they meet, he ends up taking advantage of her. I just realized the “taking advantage of her” part is kinda similar to Preacher’s Daughter. I’m not beating those allegations!
The vocals sound a lot more prominent and confident on Census Designated. Did you take any lessons in the meantime?
JANE: No! I do have an early demo of “Lips” that is nearly two years old, but I’ve probably re-recorded that song like 100 times because “these vocals suck and I need to do them again.” It was to the point where we were in the mixing stage of this album, and in the middle of getting “Lips” mixed, “Wait, these vocals suck, let me do them again.” I just kept telling myself, “You have to do better now that you’re able to sing your heart out, do it.” And I tried.
At what point did you discover that you can indeed sing your heart out, rather than running it through a bunch of filters?
JANE: It came to me the week Frailty came out. By the time the music was finished and sent to distributors and stuff, I was like… what am I doing with my vocals? When I saw all the critiquing about the recording and monotone and the quality is kinda ehhh, I’m like, “You’re so right!” But I tried to clean that up in all aspects.
With Census Designated being a much more collaborative project than Frailty, was there any part where it was particularly difficult to relinquish control?
JANE: I do find that I’m not a great collaborator because I get defensive about my music. It became an issue in the mixing process too, I had to be there in person when it was getting mixed because “this has to be as perfect as it can be before we put it out.” These songs went through many rounds of mixing and a lot of hours spent in the studio with Doug recording it over and over. After the 500th listen, at the end of the day, I leave it to second and third opinions to see, have I done enough? Am I good to stop now?
With most of the songs being five minutes or more, did you find it difficult to choose singles?
JANE: I really enjoy that process, picking which song to do for a single or organizing a track list. I find it really fun. But you’re right about the hyperpop, digicore scenes quote-unquote, how it’s really single- and EP-oriented. I think that stems from the [Spotify] playlist itself being a collection of songs made from all these different artists. Not to say that these people are making music for the sake of the playlist or to be playlisted. But the way the online sphere is, people are more listening to songs [rather than albums], and it also might just be how quickly releases happen when it comes to internet scenes. People expect you to release music more frequently with smaller bodies of work, most bodies of work are collections of songs rather than EPs and then the lines between EPs and albums are blurred.
Is “the album” still a meaningful format for you?
JANE: At least to me, albums have always been really important – a full body of work is always better because it can tell a story better than an EP, and there’s more music, which is always a good thing. But even with my debut EP when I was trying to tell a story, I found it harder to keep it cohesive when it’s a shorter body of work. An EP is just a collection of songs to me, while an album is a body of work. If I were to release an addendum to Census Designated, it’d be more of a collection of songs rather than picking up where the album left off. The album has a start and finish that can’t be tampered with.
Census Designated is out 10/20 digitally and 12/22 physically via deadAir.