Round Two with Art Department’s Jonny White
Last October I met up with Jonny White, one half of Art Department alongside Kenny Glasgow. We discussed the way in which his life had changed since being thrust into the limelight with Kenny, the touring lifestyle and their plans for a new album. A year on, with one of the year’s biggest tracks released via his label (Eric Volta’s ‘Love Your Illusion’) and over 150 gigs around the world in the last 12 months, plus also seeing him in action at Burning Man – I thought we should catch up.
You guys have a crazy tour schedule, how do you manage to grab any time to record new music?
That’s the tricky part bro, and one of the major sacrifices you make to be on the road. A lot of guys can work on laptops on the road, or at least come up with ideas to take back to the studio, but I’m really not a fan of laptop producing on airplanes so I haven’t written much this year until just recently. We’ve been taking some time off in Toronto to write our second album. We rented a space underneath The Hoxton nightclub in Toronto and brought all the gear in for the month of October, the club didn’t even know we were there. I would be working on something while Peter Hook or Mathew Dear would be performing upstairs… a little extra inspiration.
Likewise how do you maintain the label or is Nitin really holding that down?
I would love to say Nitin is really holding it down but he’s on the road a ton too now as his DJ career is taking off so it’s a bit trying at times. I’m very dedicated to the label so I make the time needed to take care of business, and between myself, Nitin, and the rest of the team we’re still managing to keep on top of things, keep it interesting and special. No.19’s my baby, before Art Department… I’ve always had a genuine love for the business and the idea of breaking artists and bringing the best out of them. It gives me just as much, if not more, satisfaction finding and developing new talent than it does releasing my own stuff. I feel like I’m really helping these guys and providing a platform for them and that’s really the core of the industry. Without that, a breeding ground for the new talent, there’s no evolution…
What have you enjoyed most about touring this year? Seen anywhere new that’s really impressed you?
I’m impressed all the time, man… even at 150 shows a year for the past, s**t it’s about four years now. One place actually, and this might be the only place that I’ve been to this year that I hadn’t been to in previous years was Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver to perform with Thievery Corporation. That venue was absolutely unbelievable and playing there was one of those moments where you stop and think, ‘Wow I can’t f**king believe I’m playing this place’. A place where basically every single one of your favourite bands without exception have performed dating back to the early 1900s… those moments are really few and far between these days, so that was a really special one.
Any negatives about the touring this year in particular?
Yeah, the travel itself. I mean you go through phases with it when you basically live on the road. There are times it’s s**t, just like any other job. In this line of work it’s because you’re away from your friends, family, animals, girlfriends, studio or whatever it is that’s getting to you at the time… You’ve got to understand the time in the club, behind the decks, that time that makes it all worthwhile, is just a couple of hours between the airports, airplanes, hotels etc etc.. But I’m not gonna knock any of the gigs we play. We’re fortunate in that we rarely ever play a shitty event and if it were, there is still some promoter behind that who decided that you were worth flying across the planet and spending money on to have perform for them. It sucks when a show doesn’t work out for those guys so I’m not going to complain about a show being a bit slow..
Since you tour the world so much, you’re well placed to gauge what’s hot and what’s not. Can you tell me what’s really working in the clubs at the moment? Any particular trends you’ve identified?
Well I’m sure everyone can see that techno’s rolled back around in a really classy way in my opinion, it’s very musical and deep, and housey, too. I wouldn’t call it straight techno, or deep house, it’s somewhere in between, I think it’s a natural progression coming off the whole ultra slow-mo deep house “movement” that we just managed to get through. At the moment, guys like Dixon are having their time in the spotlight which is really nice to see, with a sound that he’s been true to for a very long time. I think a lot of what’s catching peoples’ attention right now is the more epic, emotional music, the stuff telling a story that’s a bit more mature. Although it walks a fine line between musical and emotional, and ‘proggy’ which is where it goes wrong for me personally. Of course I can only speak about what’s going on within what I consider to be “our world” – musically speaking. I’m sure dubstep and all that shit is still doing quite well.
I saw you guys at Robot Heart at Burning Man this year – I know playing there means a lot to you. Can you explain a little bit about why Burning Man and Robot Heart are so special?
I can tell you why it’s special to me sure. I’m relatively still new to BM – this year was only my third trip there. When I first attended three years ago it was a real eye opening, life changing experience for me and Robot Heart; the concept, the mentality and the crew behind it was something I really appreciated, coming from a world where that level of production and money invested into sound and branding was never really done with no regard for financial gain. Of course it’s the energy, the mindset of the the people attending, the location etc etc as well. But for me it was an amazing show in an amazing place and it was part of an amazing week. I love to play music, so playing a show in the midst of an experience that really is unlike anything else I had experienced in my life at that time… well, it really moves you. I’ve been very fortunate to become quite close with the RH crew in recent years and was honoured to write the “Robot Heart” record for the camp last year, so I feel like I’m a real part of the project at this point.
Can you also give me some insight into your Burning Man experience this year… how did it compare to previous years? Any special moments you’d care to share?
Hmm.. it was different for sure. There were two major factors that made this Burning Man completely different than previous years for me. A lot of people are talking about how it was really commercial and all that s**t but i think that in a city of 60,000 people filled with art and music and amazingness, it can be whatever you make of it, so that doesn’t really play into my experience. I had recently split up with my girlfriend before the trip – who I had actually met at BM the previous year – and that was mainly due to the road and my lifestyle, meaning that it didn’t end because we didn’t love each other. So we were excited to be back there together and ended up spending most of the trip together which made it amazing, but very different from past years. A lot less adventuring and meeting new people but that was absolutely fine with me. The other factor was, I made the mistake of committing to a show every single day this year as opposed to the one or two I’ve planned to do in other years. I mean I usually end up playing a ton anyways but ‘if I happen to be there and the vibe is right’ kind of thing. So rather than being completely free to get lost in the city for hours and days, which is how you fall into the magic of the it all, I was on a schedule which was absolutely a mistake.
Tell me about your new track ‘Sun Comes Up’…?
So we’ve just released “Sun Comes Up” which we actually debuted ages ago at BPM Festival this past January. It’s really the last thing that we’ve done in that ultra recognizable Art Department sound from the previous album… if that makes any sense. I guess I’m saying that now because we’ve just completed our second LP that we’ve been working on all year and the sound is quite different from that style of music, so it’s nice for us to release this record at the end of the year, kind of like an end of an era for us. Mind Against turned in a dope remix that we’ve been rinsing on tour to round out the EP.
How did you connect with Mind Against?
We’ve met them a few times over the past two years. I remember meeting these two shy Italian guys in the transport from the airport on route to Sankeys in Manchester last February. We were with Nitin and Deniz Kurtel, drunk I guess from the night before, standard, and they didn’t say a word the entire trip. Anyways after we had both finished our sets and they had caught up to us, I really vibed out with them over some whiskey and our shared love for Eighties indie/alternative stuff.
They seem to be doing pretty well at the moment, what do you think it is that has helped them stand out from other producers?
Yeah they’re making waves, they’re two of my favourite producers at the moment so I was really pleased to get this remix from them. They’re making music that’s really hard not to like if you ask me. It’s very, very relevant in regards to the sound that I described earlier as “hot at the moment” and they’re doing it with class. It’s straight forward, smart, musical and dancefloor. They’ve got all the ingredients.
Can you shed some light on what we can expect on your next album?
It’s going to be different as I mentioned… The last album was for the most part a collection of house songs. This, I guess I would consider to be a bit more of an artist album, in the sense that there is a bit more expression here in terms of what other types of music we can write in still keeping the the mood and unique sound of an AD record. It’s strange because we went into this with a ton of pressure on us to top the first album and to come with something that wasn’t going to disappoint our fans and prove to everyone that we’re still at the top of our game. We’re aware that our success is built off the back of a record that was received really well and was considered to be something completely new and influencial at the time so quite a lot will be expected from our second album.
These are things I’ve never had to think about before while writing music. We’ve always had an “I do what I do and I don’t give a f**k what anyone thinks” mentality, but you can’t help but be influenced by your awareness of your position, the media and the fans when you get to this level… It’s a complete mind-f**k. But as it all started coming together, all of that seemed to go out the window. We felt the music we were writing was really good by our standards and once you have that confidence in the studio, it’s back to “I don’t give a f**k, this is good music”. Yeah there are some collabs. We’ve written some stuff with Rob Garza of Thievery Corperation, we’ve got Aquarius Heaven on the record and Starving Yet Full. Some really interesting contributions that help make the record really dynamic.
When do you think it might be released?
It should be out next April.
We already know the story of Love Your Illusion from Eric Volta, but can give me your views on what makes it so special and why it’s been doing so much damage on dancefloors around the world?
Where to begin with that one… okay, for starters, Eric is a super-talent. Period. He’s one of those guys that has really got his own thing going on and he’s a mad scientist in the studio. I’m really excited to be working with him and to help him build his career, it’s inspiring for me. As far as why that song in particular works so well. I mean, I remember when Jonny Cruz played it for me in my hotel room in Playa Del Carmen last January and heard the riff drop for the first time… granted I had been on a bit of a bender, but we all know what that does to you the first time you hear it. The sound he chose for that couldn’t really have been more perfect. It’s aggressive, with a lot of mid range and just cuts through you and stands out no matter what record you just played. The arrangement is another key factor. These are the factors that go into any song, when you nail all of these things, the sound design, the drums, the arrangement, you’re a professional and you can take a brilliant riff like this and turn it into something monstrous.
Kenny and yourself are a seriously busy duo, when do you think you might want to start reeling it in a little and touring a bit less?
Um, now (laughs)… like I said earlier, there’s a lot of sacrifice and overall, it’s all worth it. There are a lot of things that you put off and you think, “I’ll make time for that later” or “I’ll explore that later, I’ve worked too hard for this and nothing is going to derail me”…You figure you’ll put these things off for a while and you know what, it’s been a while now. It’s time to sit back a bit. But like I said we’ve been doing about 150 shows a year, and if you think about it that means you’re spending another 150 getting to and from the shows. So I just mean, maybe chill out with the weekday shows a bit, take a weekend off here and there, extend our stay in the cities we enjoy being in instead of jumping on a plane to get to another show. The truth is we love what we do and we’re still party animals. We like the road. Last year we booked off a bunch of weekends and ended up filling all but two of them. It’s a funny thing, this job, it really becomes you… the pace, the constant instant gratification you get from performing so much, all of that shit becomes you. You take a weekend off and you start to feel strange, rusty, bored. I took a few weeks off in February this year and after 10 days I was calling my agent to get me a gig right away, I needed to get back on the road… even though all I talk about is having time off while I’m on tour. What can I tell you.. I think the trick is to take some real time off, maybe a few months to actually settle in to settling down. I’m just trying to be careful not to miss my life while I’m living this one.
I know you and Nitin are guys with a keen ear for new talent, who should we be listening out for in 2014? Any hot tips?
There’s a lot more in store from Eric Volta. We came with what we though was his “biggest” record but by no means was it the best one, wait ’til you hear what else he’s writing. Louie Fresco’s time has come, he’s our main star for 2014 with his debut album dropping around April and a mental lead single you’ll all hear in January. We’ll be doing several compilations in 2014, continuing on with the Social Experiment series, plus the first official BPM festival mix CD mixed by Art Department. Aside from that we’re continuing to work very closely with our brothers My Favorite Robot and building the rest of the stable, Clayton Steele, Jakkin Rabbit, Cameo Culture, John Lee, Jade…. keep listening..
Sun Comes Up by Art Department is out now, more information here.Art Department, Burning Man, Jonny White, No.19
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