After publishing Jackson Holmes a.k.a. Danglo‘s exclusive-for-the-Word mix earlier this month, we had a Skype chat with the up-and-coming bedroom producer who spoke to us from, well, his bedroom. We talked about his very first EP, “Adapt”, released on the Belgian label Dandelion Lotus Records, getting inspired from the comfort of the bath tub and collaborations with opera singers.Photography Joe Williams
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard you?
I’m not really sure. When people ask me I say it’s garagey, housey, dubsteppy… and there’s almost a bit of Trip Hop in it too. I don’t really want to give it a name. Normally it’s the magazines and blogs who invent these names. ‘Britpop’ and ‘Grunge’ and ‘Punk’ were invented by the media, actually.
How did you get into music? Did you start playing around on a computer or did you learn to play real instruments?
When I was eight I started playing guitar. When I was about 11 I spent a lot of time on the great playstation game “Music 2000”, I’ve still got a tape of the tunes I made on Music 2000 somewhere. I’ll start sampling them pretty soon. I also had a piano at home and taught myself to play it. I told my school that I was going to give up French, they said that was okay as long as I spent time in the music rooms, so I started thumping away on a drum kit four times a week. I was in a guitar band for a bit, one that was inspired by grungey things and bands like Radiohead, Muse or Queens of the Stone Age. It was when I heard the track “Idioteque” by Radiohead that I rediscovered my love for electronic music. Also, Patrick Wolf’s “Lycanthropy” threw the doors wide open for me. “Childcatcher” just blew my mind. That’s when I started using Garageband, at age 16, and then I naturally moved on to Logic Pro, Garageband’s older brother.
I think the music has to be there first, otherwise it’s too easy to just rely on the vocals.
What’s your song writing process like?
It really depends, but it usually starts with a rhythm. Sometimes I just start tapping something when I’m taking a bath! If not a rhythm, it’ll start with a nice sound. I’ll then get the sound moving with an autofilter. And then that’ll become a rhythm, and I’ll just keep adding, and then take it all away. It’s only at the end that I’ll think about vocals. I think the music has to be there first, otherwise it’s too easy to just rely on the vocals.
Do you ever use your own voice?
I usually use samples. I never sing the whole song myself. If I had a rock band I would do it myself of course, but this is different. I do occasionally sample my own voice in a background choir kind of way as in Did I Love/These Days. Also, I sometimes sing nonsense into the mic for a few minutes to come up with melodies. I’ll take any little ideas from the three minutes of warbling and replace it with a synth sound or I’ll get someone else to sing it better.
You feature different vocalists on your EP and one of them is an opera singer. How did this unlikely collaboration come about?
I was doing sound design for a film, for a lady from London College of Fashion. She had an opera singer neighbour that she wanted to use in the film. We were going to record her in a church to capture some natural reverb, but we could hear school kids playing next door. So we ended up going in the office upstairs. I think it worked out better that way, it meant I could control the reverb myself. I obviously had to sample it and stick it on Eagle Eye.
Are you planning on going on tour yourself any time soon?
Hopefully! For now I have a few of gigs in London/Bristol lined up. I’m supporting MJ Cole and Ifan Dafydd on 26th October at The Nest which will be great fun. I like playing live, I don’t know if I’m born for it, but I like people dancing to my music, the strobe lights…
When and where did you write the songs for the EP Adapt?
Adapt was recorded over a few months, half of it (Did I Love/Eagle Eye) was made in my uni dorm in Brighton. The other half (Smitten/Call to Reason) was made when I moved back to West London with my mom for a few months. Now I’m living in South East London. I wonder if, with hindsight, I will be able to hear a sound shift between all these places?
What mood were you in when writing the songs?
I can only really remember what mood I was in when writing Smitten. I had just discovered a new arpeggiator function in Logic. I was quite excited and so I arpeggiated everything I could get my hands on! I was in a real, “throw everything into the pot and anything goes” mood. It’s important to be in a good mood, otherwise the brain doesn’t quite work like it should. Actually, saying that, being hungover is great for making music too because all I want to do when I’m hungover is sit down. I can sit down but do something really productive with my day. Perfect. Also my brain won’t overthink things too much if I’m hungover.
I like the idea that vinyl is a physical object that people can become emotionally attached to, something that grows old and frays at the edges.
Would you call yourself a typical bedroom producer?
I remember reading that some bedroom producers forget to eat because they are busy perfecting kick drums for hours. This is true. I sometimes forget to eat, but then I’ll run downstairs and squeeze three meals into one, so it’s fine! Otherwise I’m not really sure what a typical bedroom producer is.
Your debut EP is being released by the young Belgian label Dandelion Lotus. How did you come together?
They found my music online and sent me an email explaining their philosophy. They came to meet me in London the next week. I love their enthusiasm, the passion for vinyl, for good artwork, the will to produce something that is going to last a while. I like the idea that vinyl is a physical object that people can become emotionally attached to, something that grows old and frays at the edges.
Although you’re just in the starting blocks of your music career: what’s been the highlight so far?
I’m very excited about my first official release, and that BBC’s Mary Ann Hobbs has been playing my stuff. The MJ Cole gig will hopefully be awesome. He’s a legend. Other than that, I won a battle of the bands when I was 15. All the other bands were in their mid 20s.
I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Aphex Twin. It kind of makes me want to give up making music.
You’ve already mentioned Radiohead’s Idioteque earlier, what would you say are your biggest influences?
Definitely Radiohead and Patrick Wolf. And Queens of the Stone Age, DJ Shadow…Fingathing! I saw Fingathing support DJ Shadow at Brixton Academy when I was 14 or so. I didn’t stop listening to Fingathings “Superhero Music” for about 3 years. Also lots of disco tunes from the 70s and 80s, too many crazy names to remember. Chic! “Everybody Dance” is probably the greatest dance floor record ever. When I was 10 or so I listened to a lot of Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy as they were in my sister’s record collection. I also loved Mr. Oizo’s “Flat Beat” which was featured on a “Top of the Pops ’99” compilation. That’s such a fantastic record, I still love playing it out now. It never seems to age, and everyone gets an image of a funny yellow guy bopping his head and everyone smiles.
And what do you listen to when you’re home alone?
Recently I’ve been listening to Brian Wilson’s “Smile” again. I saw Brian Wilson perform it at the Royal Albert Hall, and it was great, a life-changing event, one of the greatest gigs ever. I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Aphex Twin, too. It kind of makes me want to give up making music though, which isn’t a great feeling. I should stop listening to Aphex Twin, actually.
Sam John did the mastering of your songs, how did you choose him and what did he add to the mix?
Dandelion Lotus had told me that they wanted to master/press the record with Sam John. I had already noticed that whenever I turned a CD/Record over it always said “Mastered by Sam John”. I thought, “this guy must be good”. It turned out that he is good, and uses exclusively analogue gear, which is great as my music is all made on a laptop. He gives it the analogue shine that my music needs. Perfect.