The latest in our 20 minute feature series marks the first local (yes, we’re claiming it) artist to have taken the spotlight. South African born, Sydney-based musician Jonti never rests on his laurels. Throughout his career as both a solo and collaborative artist, he’s always been somebody who we’ve watched with great interest. From the release of his debut album through the prolific Los Angeles’ Stones Throw Records to recently having announced that his ‘Since I left You’ project will make a welcome return at VIVD Live 2014. It almost goes without saying that we’ve been wanting to lock down an interview with him for some time.
I OH YOU: We were recently having a listen to some of your earlier material from when you were playing in Sydney indie outfit Sherlock’s Daughter all of those years ago. It painted a fascinating picture of how you came to your current sound. Can you shed some light on those years as a part of your development?
Jonti: Well, basically, I was making music in my bedroom that was working towards the first and second Jonti albums at the time. I had a friend named Graham who was a much older and wiser musician than I was at the time and he was essentially the only other musician I knew. He was writing and performing under the name Earl Grey and he was really taken with what I was doing at the time and asked me to go along and play in this band. It was a lot of fun, it was my first exposure to the city and the music scene at the time – it was really just like entering a new world at the time I guess. I learned so much about music from the producer of the band at the time, Jono Ma, who now has Jagwar Ma. He was kind of like the guru of electronic music and we spent our time watching Kraut documentaries and getting into all different types of music, even folk kinda stuff. It was an important time for me in a lot of ways.
I OH YOU: I’d love to get a grasp on how the different locations which you’ve lived in have informed your music. From South Africa to Sydney and then onto Los Angeles and then back to Sydney again – how much of an effect have all of these different scenes and lifestyles had an impact on your writing and recording styles?
Jonti: It’s had a huge effect. South Africa is my spiritual home, I grew up listening to things like Paul Simon. Graceland was a massive album for me! The music I make now, I’ve seen a lot of the earlier stuff I listened to really seeping through which is cool. With Los Angeles, that was a place I always admired from afar and that I always wanted to be a part of. Somehow I became a part of that through my involvement with Stones Throw alongside Brainfeeder and labels like that.. When I got there I learned a lot about music there too. I feel like you make music as a part of communicating with the places you’re in and the people you’re meeting. It’s very linked in a geographical sense.
I OH YOU: The Los Angeles period seems like perhaps the most crucial time in your career in terms of entering the Stones Throw Records fold in the lead-up to your first LP..
Jonti: Yeah, for sure. I’d been making these little albums in my room and then I made one and I was like ‘Oh it would be cool to get these mastered and put these on the internet’. I looked into finding out who mastered the Stones Throw stuff because I was obsessed with that sound and it was this guy named Kelly Hibbert, so I sent it to him and from there it was passed onto Peanut Butter Wolf who was just like ‘Yeah I wanna put this out!’ (laughs)[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MJNjRAkRfE&feature=kp[/youtube]
I OH YOU: It sounded like Peanut Butter Wolf was very quick to sing your praises and to voice his disbelief on the intricacies of your music
Jonti: I’m only now learning to be cool about it (laughs). I would never have thought in Johannesburg that I’d be a part of that. That slow change from being so detached. Seeing them go from record sleeves and in books and then into your life.
I OH YOU: Now that you’re back in Sydney it seems it’s been a really fruitful time for you in terms or working with other artists on an international and a local scale. Has collaboration always come easy to you?
Jonti: It’s just something that comes about organically. As I said, at the beginning, I didn’t really know many other musicians and so to meet other musicians in any form whether it be an MC or a vocalist – that was so exciting. Whether it was listening to the same records or talking about recording, that came into the forefront a lot more for me. Then I was just thrown into a world where I was surrounded by musicians where the appreciation of each other’s work was mutual. That’s what musicians do I guess, they make music together.
I OH YOU: Whether in the studio or in the live setting, collaboration has been a pretty constant thing for you. Last year saw a wonderful idea come to life in the form of the ‘Since I Left You’ project. Can you tell us about the process of making it a reality?
Jonti: Yeah, that came from the appreciation of collaboration for sure. The Avalanches themselves, they had a song from my album which they liked and said ‘hey maybe you can help with this song’ and it ended up being a few in the end. I guess I just wanted to show my appreciation. My brother and I had this idea that we should recreate the album live as a tribute. It’s definitely my favourite thing that I’ve done so far. It’s pure joy for me because of everyone that’s involved. We all came out of a pretty crazy time and found unity in this one thing. We’ve just signed up to do one more show at the Sydney Opera House which I’m excited about to say the least.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaq6bU6AiUo[/youtube]
I OH YOU: We were definitely hoping that we hadn’t seen the last of these shows. Do you foresee a chance to take it out on the road at all?
Jonti: We have to play it by ear. There are so many people involved and so it requires things to line up, for a start (laughs). Even for the Opera House show – I’m stressing about getting everyone in the same room to rehearse. There’s a lot that goes into it and of course touring with ten people it expensive.
I OH YOU: Did the success of this project have a direct impact on you changing your own live configuration for the Jonti show?
Jonti: Definitely. I always much preferred playing with musicians but sometimes that’s not always feasible. It’s good to finally break out of this and to put something together! I’m still ironing out the creases of it all at the moment. One aspect to my music has always been figuring out how to communicate that into the live setting and so after the Avalanches project I was left thinking ‘Hey, you really can do this’ and translate it in a certain way which provides something new and fresh and exciting. Hopefully that comes to fruition pretty soon.
I OH YOU: Aside from the live show and having just featured on the new Teebs single, what’s in the works for you now in terms of recording and releasing?
Jonti: I’ve been working on this album for a little while. I had one finished but I put it aside, I just didn’t think it was good enough quality. It was very close to being released about a year, a year and a half ago. I decided to those as demos and change things up a little bit for this project I’m working on now..
LISTEN: Teebs Ft. Jonti – Holiday
I OH YOU: Looking back at the whole record, you just weren’t happy?
Jonti: Yeah, I definitely just didn’t feel super comfortable releasing it at the time. It was a documentation of a really crazy period which was, at times, really mental and abrasive. It was very experimental because I was listening to a lot of punk and noise stuff at the time. I just felt like it wasn’t really the most honest version of myself that I should be projecting.
I OH YOU: Are you moving more towards being a total perfectionist with your work?
Jonti: Yeah definitely (laughs). If I didn’t release something that was totally honest, I feel like that would be a death wish. Much to the frustration of my brother Lee. He’s been very patient with making sure I’m getting in with the right material which I’m super appreciative of.
I OH YOU: Moving back toward the Sydney side of things for a moment. I saw you tweet the other day: ‘Sydney music is simultaneously going through a successful period and a divisive dark period’. Can you elaborate on that?
Jonti: It was just something that spurred out of a big argument online which involved heaps of people. It seemed that there are a lot of artists which are breaking through and that’s really dividing the current scene that I’m in. A lot of people were indirectly and directly attacking people that are close to me. I don’t like conflict. I want everyone just to be at peace, but it’s uncomfortable. I still feel like we have a lot of growing up to do in Sydney despite the success that we’re having.
I OH YOU: I guess with any growth there’s always going to be hiccups along the way.. It’s always been very clear that the scene is an important thing for you, and as a part of that, you’ve nurtured a lot of upcoming artists. Do you think that Sydney is slowly creating something that the rest of the world will look into, just as you did with say Los Angeles and the Low End Theory movement?
Jonti: Well that’s what I was hoping (laughs). I feel like it’s easy to be shadowed by the mirage of what success is. I’m still hoping that there’s an avenue for pure expression from every type of person here in Sydney and it will eventually just become this thing where they add to the culture rather than breaking it down. Like you said, any growth brings complication and controversy.
I OH YOU: Thank you so much for taking the time, we can’t wait to see you at VIVID Live!
Jonti: My pleasure!
Since I Left You – A celebration of the Avalanches is happening at VIVID Live on May 24th. Tickets and Info HERE.