With a career the stretches back over a dozen years, it’s hard to believe that Vancouver producer, bandleader and label head Mathew Jonson has only now gotten around to releasing his second solo album, Her Blurry Picture. Maybe that because he’s been kept busy working on collaborations as Cobblestone Jazz, Modern Deep Left Quartet and Midnight Operator. Or perhaps it because Jonson’s extensive singles catalog, including classics for Minus, Perlon and his own Wagon Repair labels, has rendered the album format unnecessary.That is, until recently when Crosstown Rebels requested a follow-up to Jonson’s 2010 solo album debut, Agents of Time. And he obliged them with a collection of tracks that fully explore his ability to craft pristine techno tunes that hold up to repeat plays at home or in the club.
Jonson talked to URB about his methods for creating music.
You noted on the album notes, that this release represents a change of direction for you. Was that in how you physically produced the album, or more of a change in perspective within you?
My perspective of life has changed dramatically as of recent. It started when I made the choice to go to India for a few months of each year to relax and take a break from the stresses of Western life. This time away opened my eyes to a side of myself that I in a way had lost touch with, probably since my early childhood. I was searching for a balance in my life and I found it by giving myself some time to be healthy. Music has always been like a mirror of my life and when this album was written it was full systems go!
You don’t release a lot of albums, did you enjoy the process of producing this album. What made you feel the time was right for this one?
The time felt right partly because the studio where I made all the work was being closed so it felt like a phase of my life was coming to an end and a new one beginning. The other side of this was that I had made a body of work that came together after “Touch the Sky” (the last track I made in this studio) was written. That track in addition to all the others made me feel like it was finally complete after a over a year of writing. Before that song I was considering using the tracks as singles as they didn’t tie together the way they do now.
You recently re-took control of the label itiswhatitis, and you founded Wagon Repair. What excites you and inspires you about owning labels? Do you think these labels help tie you back to Vancouver scene in anyway?
I like having a place for my friends and I to release music that is open creatively. Some of the records I am most proud of had the least sales. The Modern Deep Left Quartet record on Wagon Repair would be the best example. Of course IIWII ties me back to my roots and that’s why I re-launched it. Actually, “Typerope” will be repressed soon!
You are famed for your analong heavy studio. But you also note that you create music wherever you are, and one of the tracks on the album was made during a festival soundcheck. How do you feel that impacts the music that comes out? Can the listener discern the difference between studio tracks and those made elsewhere?
“Level 7″ was made at the Free Your Mind Festival sound check. This was outdoors on a pair of big Funktion One monitors. It was a pretty ideal setting actually, as outdoors it’s easy to create music as you are not dealing with the sound reflecting off walls like in the studio. My live set up is like a stripped down version of my studio so the difference is only that there are less synthesizers. On this particular track it’s just one synth, two drum machines and some effects run through a mixer. Some of my studio tracks use pretty much the same equipment so it would be hard to tell the difference sonically, I think. Energy-wise though, this track is pretty special because it was made as the sun was coming up on the water while the staff were setting up for the day events. There was an excitement in the air before the festival which inspired the music.
Collaboration is an important component of your work with Cobblestone Jazz and Modern Deep Left Quartet, and your work with your brother HRDVSION as Midnight Operator. What is it about collaborating that you find rewarding? Is it something you prefer than solo work?
I can’t say I prefer one over the other really. I can say though that my solo work is something that will always be there for me as without it I would feel lost. I feel extremely lucky to work with the people I’m surrounded with, be it the boys from MDLQ, Midnight Operator, Minilouge or Guy Gerber — they’re all talented and really wonderful people.
On another note I just finished probably the most intensive collaboration session I’ve ever been part of, which was at the Red Bull Music Academy. I was working with 20 participants from all around the world for two weeks in nine different studios. It was quite unique because everyone came from such diverse backgrounds musically and culturally. We had punk singers like Simonne Jones working with guys like Ben Damage from Berlin. People who may not be able to get together so easily in their own circles.
I walked away from it last week feeling like it was the most creative experience I had ever been part of. My job was to go between studios and work individually with each group of artists while helping sculpt their work or just sitting in and being part of the track as another musician. The huge amount of musical input charged me up so much I only needed an average of three hours sleep per night. I woke up every day with the feeling to rush back in.
Your directly reference jazz with Cobblestone, and that outfit is very improvisational when you perform. How important is spontaneity and the live human element to you when playing live on machines?
It’s all about having fun really and communicating and listening to each other. The listening element is the most important part about improvising. When you have the tools and the right combination of people on stage its constantly surprising in every moment — especially when working with the The Modern Deep Left Quartet. One of our friends compared us playing live to having a BBQ — as if everyone was showing up for dinner a variety of things to cook up on the same grill.
Canada seems to have been enjoying an electronic renaissance of sorts – major acts like Deadmau5 and underground stars like Art Department. Then there are the bass guys like Datsik and Excision from BC. Do things feel different there now to a decade ago when you were first coming through?
Canada feels the same to me when I go back. 10 years ago it was guys like Ben Neville, Konrad Black and The Mole who were all releasing their first records. Jonny White and Kenny Glasgow who joined forces to make Art Department were also around back then, just not together yet. I think they have been the biggest thing for Canada in a while. There are lots of new comers worth mentioning . One of my favorites from the bass scene is Daega Sound.
You have been a big drum n bass fan for a while. Are you excited about some of the new dnb music that is coming out? It seems like there is a new injection of musicality into drum n bass of late.
I collect the stuff from the mid-90s, so to be honest I don’t know much about what’s happening with that circle these days. I really lost touch when it all got too fast and hard in the early 2000s. I have only been to a few festivals in the last years where I was happy to find D&B included and it seemed like the genre was heading in the right direction again. Maybe I should have a second look…..