[Photo by Lars]
By Andrew Parks
While a decade may seem like a long wait for a debut album, Mathew Jonson hasn’t exactly been taking it easy the past 10 years. Aside from delivering a steady stream of heady 12-inch singles for such major dance music labels as M_nus (“Decompression”), Kompakt (“Dirt Road and a Boat From Soundwave”), Perlon (“Alpine Rocket”) and his own Wagon Repair imprint (“Marionette,” “Return of the Zombie Bikers”), Jonson has also cut an armful of EPs and two albums with Cobblestone Jazz–a Berlin/British Columbia-based collective that’s found an unforeseen middle ground between Moodyman and Miles Davis. The group (recently expanded to include longtime friend/recurring collaborator Colin de la Plante, a.k.a. the Mole) dropped their Modern Deep Left Quartet LP in late March, clearing Jonson’s palette for his first proper full-length, Agents of Time. Much more than a simple four-on-the-floor opus, it touches upon everything from black-lit electro beats (“Pirates in the 9th,” “Night Vision”) to tense traces of ambient techno (“When Love Feels Like Crying”).
All of which pop up in our exclusive Needle Exchange mix, a live set that was captured at Ibiza’s popular Space party. Ironically enough, Jonson was making a return engagement there when he fired back answers for the following E-mail interview.
Given this record’s status as your â€˜long-awaited solo album’, did you labor over every last detail (the sequencing, what would make the cut, etc.) or did you try not to overthink everything?
I just put it out. I try not to think about things like that too much, as it does nothing but stress you out. Although I did feel a lot of stress after it was mastered and getting pressed…wondering how people would take it, especially since so many tracks are different than what people who only hear me in the clubs would expect.
What are some things you’ve learned from performing with Cobblestone Jazz that you’ve applied to live Mathew Jonson sets and your solo material?
It’s hard to list all of the things I’ve learned from those guys. They are all really talented in their own ways. For instance, Colin (the Mole) often tells me not to take so long mixing everything together–to just do big changes from one idea to the next. Danuel [Tate] teaches me a lot about key changes and progression. And Patty (Tyger Dhula) gives me lots of ideas about percussion programing, as does the Mole. We are all really open with each other about ideas. There isn’t any kind of competition between us. What’s important is the music sounding the best.
You were a drummer at a very young age, and received some classical/jazz training in high school, right? Did you feel limited by the teachings of those two genres, leading you inevitably to exploring things like electronic music?
I was doing electronic music most of the time as well, so it all mixed together. If anything, having that training opened me up to possibilities rather than limiting them. You have to understand the method before you understand how to break it.
Your father is also a musician. What did he think of the development of your electronic compositions and the ways you’ve learned to apply jazz methods to it?
He was always very supportive of any direction I [took]. He is the one who really introduced me to synthesizers, so this is really all his doing. Telling your kids that they cant touch an expensive synthesizer unless they are around creates a lot of ideas for a young child, I think. I started drumming when I was 7, and then was 9 or 10 when I started with electronic music. I was really lucky to have so much music around me all the time in my family. All my cousins and other relatives are also in music. It’s really nice.
You got you start DJing drum & bass music. Many former jungle/d&b DJs I know have gotten really into dubstep and a lot of the â€˜heavy bass music’ that comes out of the UK. You seem to have skirted that trend, though. Do you not find yourself digging the slower tempos and general vibe of that scene?
It’s funny–I really like dancing to dubstep, but for some reason have never had any interest to make it. I love bass, though! So it becomes the main focus in a lot of music I make, no matter what style.
Outside of dubstep, do you find yourself listening to more or less dance music these days?
Most of the music I listen to at home is not techno. I spend so much time outside listening to it, so when I’m at home I need to balance this out. Most of the music I listen to at home is jazz, hip hop or classical.
What were some not-so-obvious musical influences on your new record? There seems to be a dark, Throbbing Gristle-like underbelly to some of it–that, and some Krautrock.
Some of the music was written for the Faust soundtrack that I did in collaboration with the Cobblestone guys and Hrdvsion. It’s a very dark movie, so of course the tracks reflect this.
One of the things I’ve always loved about your music is how ‘alive’ it is; from your singles to this record and your other projects, everything avoids the cold, sterile trappings of techno. Is that very important to you–the fact that you maintain a very human feel to your music despite it being rooted in instrumentals?
It has to feel alive to me or there isn’t much of a point. Making music that creates an environment is so much fun. It’s like traveling without moving.
Could you ever see doing an ambient solo album? What about one that’s driven mostly by the piano since you’re highly-trained at that, too?
Funny you ask. Since I have released this album, I have been mostly writing music for the piano–really simple music, and as I practice it, I am adding more parts. It’s a bit more complicated, but at the same time I am [improving] my skill level as well.
Since we’re living in such an MP3/single-driven world, what are five songs that best represent this record and why?
I would rather not talk about MP3s. I think they sound like crap.
Is one of your new songs, “Sunday Disco Romance,” essentially a tribute to Michael Jackson? And if so, what’s your favorite record of his?
No, it’s not at all, but I know it sounds like him in a way. I spent so much of my youth listening to him, I’m sure that all my music has something from him in there. Thriller is by far my favorite. Quincy Jones is the man!
Any other big plans for Wagon Repair this year? And will you be taking a break from new Mathew Jonson singles to work on Cobblestone Jazz and Midnight Operator?
I really want to do a Midnight Operator album next. For me personally, I will just stick to writing piano for a while, as it’s really important to me right now to develop this. Wagon Repair has an album coming almost every month! Jules Chaz in September, Danuel Tate in October, Bea Tricks in November, Mike Shannon in January, Deadbeat in February! The list goes on!