Question Time with Mathew Jonson
Mathew Jonson has been a hero of mine for quite some time now. Like many of my musical discoveries, I came across his music via a mixtape made for me by a friend. His timeless piece, Marionette, was on that mixtape and to this day it remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of electronic music.
Of course though, Mathew isn’t a one-trick pony and he has produced many more seminal techno tracks, all with very own unique stamp on them – Decompression and When Love Feels Like Crying among my personal favourites. With his new album Her Blurry Pictures due for release on Crosstown Rebels very soon, I had a chance to ask Mathew some questions.
How would you say your current output, and the material on your album in particular, differs from the stuff you were making around the period when you released Marionette?
It was a different time and a different place. When I wrote Marionette I was on the Pacific Ocean in a small house that looked out onto the sea through the woods. Being situated between the coastal mountains and the ocean it felt as though there was a natural spring of energy flowing out of the land. It was a great place to be creative. Up until the end of 2012 I was working in an artist complex in Berlin. The music I created there feels more about people and city life. My new studio is inside of an old airport that feels very clear and creative. It will be interesting to see what kind of frequencies comes through me in 2013. The world is changing fast these days.
You’ve developed a very identifiable style, how long did it take you to achieve this sound?
Switching from digital to mainly analogue synthesis in the Nineties was the most substantial change. The equipment I had before that was very limited in regards to shaping sounds. After a few years of practice and a lot of experimenting I found a way of working that felt natural to me. I was lucky to be surrounded by like minded friends a long the way so we all learned off each other.
How would you describe it to the uninitiated?
I would say just come and listen and see what happens. My music is not really for everyone. You might describe it as similar to going scuba diving in a tropical ocean – first you need to choose if you want to swim with the sharks.
What equipment do you use to compose your music?
It’s always changing. Some tracks are really basic and done using drum machines and triggers to sequence analogue gear. Other times I play all the parts live into a midi sequencer or just record the audio from certain instruments like the Yamaha CS-60 or Fender Rhodes.
How long did it take to get Her Blurry Pictures together?
I wrote most of the tracks in the latter part of 2011 onwards till December 2012. Then I picked a few more abstract pieces from the vaults to give the album a bit of variation.
Where was it recorded?
The new music was recorded in Berlin at the Armona Höffe Studio. One was made at soundcheck before Free Your Mind Festival in Holland and the older tracks were made in Vancouver.
Did you run into any difficulties when making the album; time constraints, writer’s block, software/hardware issues.. etc?
I didn’t give myself a deadline to finish it so not really. Software and hardware problems are a daily thing you just have to accept when using technology. My studio works well most of the time though.
What did you enjoy most about producing the album?
Just writing the music. When I’m in that headspace and things start rolling it’s the best natural high that exists.
What’s the meaning behind the title?
It’s a play on the idea of life being a blur and out of focus.
And what’s the underlying theme?
My current idea behind writing music is that it should bring people more into the present and reflect on the real world instead of allowing them to play with the idea of escapism. This world needs focus to create a positive change.
Which track on the album really epitomises what Mathew Jonson is all about in the year 2013?
Touch The Sky.
Did you surprise yourself or learn anything new while producing the album?
Music is a real mirror on myself as a person. I can use it for gauging where I am in my life and as a medicine to fix things. Every track comes as a surprise as the melodies flow into my head. Some more than others of course so I try not to hold on so tight to what I’m doing and just flow with what feels good.
With such seminal tracks as Marionette and Decompression in your back catalogue, how do you avoid feeling the pressure to ‘outdo’ or at least equal such masterful compositions?
Music and art is not linear. It is abstract so there is no point in comparing any one piece of music to another. Music and art are also infinite so there are always new surprises around the corner if you allow yourself to let go and create what you feel. If your music is an expression of your life and it is honest then the idea to out do past work is irrelevant.
Will you be creating a live show based on Her Blurry Pictures?
The show is constantly evolving every night I’m on tour and that encompasses all of the music in my catalogue. I don’t plan what I’m going to play I just decide as I go along. It feels better that way.
Can you tell me a little bit about how the relationship with Crosstown Rebels came about?
Damian has been a friend of mine for years and his label is on fire so it seemed to me a great outlet for my music.
I know you’ve had releases on the label in the past, but I wondered how you ended up signing an album deal with them and how you first met Damian?
I met Damian when he asked me to do a remix for him of Hiem. We have been friends ever since and lately started working more together. They’re really easy to work with and very professional. I respect that.
Do you listen to much contemporary techno?
Sure I mean I’m completely submersed in it every weekend of my life.
What are your thoughts on the music you’ve heard?
The best DJ set I have heard in ages was Kevin Saunderson last week in Stockholm. That guy has so much energy it’s insane. Deadbeat’s Boiler Room live session a few months back really got me going. Also Tiger & Woods live was top notch as well.
Who were you musical idols when you first starting out?
Michael Jackson and Herbie Hancock were my heroes when I was young. Then I got into stuff like 2LiveCrew, Black Sheep, A Tribe Called Quest, Dre, NWA. I spent a lot of time copying what they were doing in my early work as a way of learning. None of this is released though it was in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
Why were these people so much more important to you than others?
In my mind they were better than everything else I heard but I also really liked the dance side of it also. I was obsessed with breakdancing as a kid.
What do you like to do when you’re not making music?
I like to read. Haruki Murakami and James Clavel have served me well the last few years. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend. We like hiking, snowboarding and skiing, swimming and going to the beach. I also really enjoy cooking vegetarian food.
Do you make ‘non-dance’ music too?
Yes I write music for piano but it’s just a way of self study at the moment. Things are developing quickly with this now that I am back up to the level I was when I studied in my youth.
Aside from your own album tracks, what have you been listening to lately?
A lot of Jazz at home. Keith Jarrett. Thelonious Monk.
What is it that motivates you continue making and playing music?
For me it’s like meditation and a way of keeping my brain and body in balance so I actually rely on it to stay sane. Aside from that it really just a lot of fun. Music is so infinite in possibilities it never gets old.
You’ve never been too prolific with your releases, which is great because it helps maintain a certain mystique about you… but I was wondering if you’re just very considered about what you release and maybe have a huge amount of unreleased music.. is this the case?
Yeah I have boxes of music that will never come out. I record everything I do so a lot of it just gets forgotten about. Most of the time I spend in the studio is not about finishing a track. I go there just to play music and enjoy myself.
So what’s your criteria in terms of deciding a track should be released or not?
It has to be really f**king good!
What’s happened to Wagon Repair?
We are fixing it. The last year has been all about the Cobblestone Jazz series. Our next one will be a new series for MDLQ. We are pretty laid back these days. We do it just for fun.
Looking forward beyond the album, what else have you got going on?
Midnight Operator, Cobblestone Jazz, MDLQ, and projects with other artists Minilogue, Guy Gerber, Deadbeat, and the Mole and Hreno.
Do you have a fixed idea of what you’ll be doing in the coming months?
My schedule is booked until my India holidays ending in March 2014 and it’s tiring just looking at it so I’m trying to build energy inside of myself.
Where do your ambitions lie, musically, at present?
Studying piano and organ is number one. That will open new doors for the future. I’m at a point where I need to focus on educating myself further in order to grow.
How do your current ambitions compare with your ambitions say a decade ago??
My ambitions are the same. I am only further along the road. I can’t see it ever changing really. Educating myself through music and enjoying the people the places along the way.
For more information on Mathew Jonson, visit his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MathewJonson808
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