Art Department’s Jonny White talks future plans
The first time I heard Without You by Art Department I really wasn’t that taken with it. This was when I was first getting into house and techno in a more serious way – a friend sent me footage of Kenny and Jonny playing the track at DEMF and it just didn’t do anything for me. Anyway, a little while later I heard Seth Troxler play it in a mix and everything fell into place, it finally made perfect sense.
Ever since, I’ve followed Art Department’s progress, downloading their (rare) recorded mixes, buying their music and trying to catch them play whenever possible. I recently spent some time with Jonny White, prior to a gig at fabric in London, and this is the resulting interview…
The first official Art Department single (Robot Heart) is coming out on your own label, No.19, with Damian Lazarus, can you tell me a bit about that?
Yeah that’s a really big deal for us. Basically the Robot Heart Camp at Burning Man have this mobile sound system which is the best open air sound system I’ve ever heard in my life. And it’s on this bus that moves to the Playa, it goes deep into the middle of the night and it moves a couple times during the course of the party. I played last year when Damian asked me to play with them on a Wednesday night there and I really hit it off with the guys. They’ve come to a bunch of our shows and heard a lot of our music – so we were speaking what we’re going to do this year at Burning Man and they asked me to write the Robot Heart theme song.
For me it’s a really special thing because it’s the best party on the planet as far as I’m concerned. So I started writing this thing and then Shaun Reeves was over in Barcelona with me and I worked with him on it a bit. To bring that vibe and the excitement of that party and the whole feeling of it to a record was a pretty daunting task. We did the record, then we needed a vocal on it and I was in LA a couple weeks ago and I asked Damian to record something. He just asked for 20 minutes alone with a pen and paper and wrote some shit without even hearing the record and then came and recorded it on the track in one shot and we have Robot Heart. I think it will be released in November which will be the fifth anniversary of the label so it came out perfectly.
So how’s the label going at the moment because you guys have been consistent with your releases and it seems like your quality control is very strict.
There’s a lot to be said for consistency but with my touring schedule I’ve had to step back a bit, unfortunately. I’m signing tonnes of great music still but I’m not forcing the schedule at all. I’ve got Nitin who I think you know? Whose kind of VP and Leon who’s managing the label and my other partner. Everybody’s holding it down but I’m still a really hands-on control freak when it comes to the label. We haven’t done as many releases this year as we have every other year. I think we’ve done seven, but we’re gonna kill it towards the end of the year, we’re having to double up a little bit. The label’s going really well, we’re all reinvesting and taking it in a bit of a different direction. It’s funny because now that dance music’s so big I think this is our time to shine but now I’m taking it a little bit left – like Tone of Arc’s entire album has no dance music on it and I’m signing a lot of stuff that’s left of centre. I mean I’ve always by the model of Warp Records. You know it’s going to be interesting and cool and it’s nice to sell records obviously but I don’t personally give a fuck, I don’t check what we’re selling. I leave that to Nitin and Leon. As long as there’s money coming in to do what we want and keep pushing things forward.
Whenever a new Warp record comes out I want to know what it is, I have no idea what it’s going to be but I know it’s going to be cool.
So we’ve got Tone Of Arc’s album on the way, we’ve got the Robot Heart EP; we’ve got Tone Of Arc’s big single, a cover of Q Lazzarus Goodbye Horses, which has been a big, hit so far. We just finished shooting a really amazing video in San Fran for it so that’s next month. Then we’ve got the Social Experiment, the next one in that series coming out which is mixed by us and it’s like 15 tracks of all exclusive stuff from our guys and some new guys that were bringing up and then next year’s gonna be an album year. We’ve got Louie Fresco’s album, and another new artist Clayton Steele.
So everything’s really been kicking off for you over the last few years. How’s the whole thing been for you since you blew up?
It’s been a whirlwind – I went from being in Toronto my entire life to being there three times a year. It’s crazy but wer’e obviously really settled in to it now, it’s been three years basically on tour. I can’t even believe it’s been like three years.
It must have flown by.
Yeah flown by, the years are going so quick it scary. Yeah and it’s been amazing but adjusting to this lifestyle… it changes everything completely. But everything about it has been amazing, doing what I want to do and I’ve also met a shit load of new best friends. You never think that in your thirties that you would meet all your best friends. Like the average person has like their five best friends for life that they hang out with all the time, or when they’re not with their girl.
Does it ever get you down, do you ever think, ‘Man, I wish I was just settled in one place’?
Yeah I mean you go through stages but then you step back from it and realise you’re lucky as fuck to be doing what you’re doing. I mean I play music for people for a living – it’s like I found the loophole for life. But yeah, you go through phases of maybe wanting to have a normal relationship, we’ve all lost girlfriends. I personally lost a girlfriend very early on, about a year into it because the long distance thing is just crazy. But then it’s not bad either because it changes the dynamic of the relationships you can have. Same as my friends that I see on the road, you get to miss people and then when you see people it’s that much more amazing and typically you’re not just coming home from work and going for wings with your buddies or watching things with your girl. You’re meeting up in an amazing place and taking a few days on a beach, everything’s cool over all so I don’t get too down about it. I feel like I would be an asshole if I got to down about it.
What does London mean to you? You lived here for a little while and you’ve played here quite a lot…
Yeah I love London and London’s a hub for Europe. But I mean gigs in different places seem crazier at times. We have a huge market in Italy so when we play there it’s madness, maybe sometimes more than a London show except London’s kind of the spot it always has been. Having lived here for a bit I’ve made a connection with the city and Kenny’s still here and that’s a big deal to him. It’s where all the music is, just not where the sunshine is and the good food – that’s why I moved to Barcelona.
So in terms of your working relationship, Kenny’s here and you’re in Barcelona – How do you work on your productions?
A lot of sending thoughts and ideas back and forth. We haven’t really written a tonne of music this year we’ve done a few remixes and were working on a few things there’s the Robot Heart EP and there’s a couple of other things that we’ve done that will end up on the Social Experiment compilation so either the end of the year or early next year and then we’re working on a new Art Department album.
Yeah that’s what I was going to ask you about because I’ve heard whispers…
We’re writing a new album for Crosstown so we’re taking time off in January/February to get a big chunk of it done and, by that time, we will be in the studio together in Toronto or Barcelona or both. Wer’e also at the same time writing solo albums that we’re going to drop end of next year on No.19. The concept is kind of like Outcast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below… we’re going to do a double CD at the end of the year and it’s different music – Kenny’s dance music orientated and my shit’s more industrial, eighties, more rock poppy, a departure, that’s what I do when I’m on my own. So that and Social Experiment adds up to three albums next year.
So we have to have the time to be in the studio together. Another thing we’re also working on, we just confirmed last night we’re performing with Martina Topley Bird. She performs with Tricky and people like that and I started working with her recently – we just met in Switzerland and vibed out and I started sending her some music because she’s really interested in getting involved with our world. We vibed really well and she showed up to Switzerland a week later when I was playing at City Fox and we were all partying and hanging out and she got on the mic and freestyled over the course of a really long set and it sounded really cool. We’ve done that four times now and we’re working on some music together, she’s going to be a big part of the next album and hopefully touring with us next year as well.
So do you think that that might develop in to sort of a live thing?
Yeah that’s exactly what it is but I don’t know how much time we will have to work on our end of the live aspect of it as far as live PA and control and playing keys but she has this really amazing way of freestyling over dance music and it’s really working. Hopefully we will put that into most of our festivals for next summer and work on music in the meantime and see what happens.
For an extended version of this interview visit marcusbarnes.com
Robot Heart is out on October 29. For more information on Art Department, make sure you visit their Facebook page HERE.Tagged in: Art Department, Canada, Jonny White, Kenny Glasgow, No.19, Toronto
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