Besides running Canadian label Wagon Repair with fellow producers like Konrad Black, Mathew Jonson has been known for being unrestricted by the boundaries of genres, fusing elements from techno and house to jazz. Last year saw the release of his album Ghosts in the AI on his own label alongside the likes of Hrdvsion, Minilogue and Seth Troxler’s ingenious alias Sex Throthler, and just after his set at Fabric with Parisian DJ Chloe and Ewan Pearson, Flora Wong spoke to the man himself about his summer plans, possible collaborations with Cassy and what’s in store for the future…
You’ve been making music for quite a while now, how do you feel your sound has changed or progressed over time?
It’s a funny thing actually because I think the sound that I have is more dependent on the place on this earth that I am making it rather than a space in time. It took me quite a while to notice it but over the years when I listen back I can really hear the city and even the studio where the music was made. So much of the music I make is really a reflection of where I am. Victoria for instance gave birth to much of the older Itiswhatitis tracks. This city is a very relaxed place that is close to nature and has a very close feeling between the people that live there almost like a village. Marionette was made is a place called Deep Cove where there is lots of energy as our house was right on the ocean and at the base of a large coastal mountain range. Decompression was made after spending a week at the Burning Man festival and coming back to that same studio. Then you have tracks like Symphony for the Apocalypse which was done in the heart of the city in Vancouver. I think I pick up on the energy of the place where I am and reflect what feelings are there when I write.
What were the inspirations that went into your last album?
The album came from a lot of different ideas actually it was not a single conceptualization. It is more of a collection of tracks that were written in Berlin excluding “Marionette (the beginning)” that was done in Vancouver (it is actually the original idea not a re-make). Most of the slower tracks are part of a soundtrack that I did with Hrdvsion and the guys from Cobblestone Jazz for the classic silent film “Faust”. The more dance orientated were all made for that purpose with keeping to the idea of futurism and time travel. The last and title track “Agents of Time” is very much an inspiration of the balance of technology and nature. Much as it is in Japan.
In terms of your label, how do you pick your artists?
I don’t really pick actually I seem to be lucky to have so many good artists surrounding me that it feels like quite a natural progression as to what is released. There is always so much music ready it’s more just a matter of figuring out how it all gets released.
Is there something in common that runs through all your signings or a sound you’re looking for?
The music has to have soul. I think it is easy to write music you can dance to but it is really important for me that the music has a real emotional feeling inside of it. I am open to releasing any style of music as long as there is a good feeling inside of it. This is what makes music special for me.
“I think it is easy to write music you can dance to but it is really important for me that the music has a real emotional feeling inside of it”
What do you try to achieve with your DJ sets? Just getting people to dance, or is it more about a flow and a structure?
I’m not DJing so much these days but when I do it’s definitely about dancing. With my live sets I focus more on the energy that the music is creating. Its for the most part still dance music but I give a lot of space to the sounds and the flow of the music. So at times there are also things happening that are more artistic. If I’m playing solo a lot of the time I enter into a very trance like state when I play and almost feel as though it is not me that is playing the music but only my hands and body channelling it from somewhere else. When I play with Cobblestone Jazz it is different as with a band it is about the conversation between all the musicians and about developing something between everyone that has a feeling of its own. There is not a lot of structure when it comes to any of the things I do it is all very intuitive as to the direction that things take.
You’ve done a million mixes for the likes of Watergate and Live at Robert Johnson… is there any point you’re waiting to reach that would challenge you? Or do you feel like you’ve made it to the top?
I am and always will be far from the top. There will always be something new for me to learn that will challenge me. Right now what that is, is learning more about classical piano. As far as my career in music I think at some point I want to spend a lot more time in the studio writing music for movies. Learning more about piano and classical music is a step towards this.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
A pianist by the name of Jung Lin most of the time. And every day Rachmaninov Moments Musical Op 16. No. 4. I think its my favorite piece of music right now. Every time I hear it I feel like I’m on the verge of crying. Jimi Hendrix has the same effect on me I don’t know what it is. I have been listening to a lot of J Dilla anthology as well because my flat mate The Mole turned me on to him. Also Moodymann quite a bit and Miles Davis “Silent Nights” with my girlfriend.
Anyone you want to work with but haven’t yet?
Me and Cassy speak about doing it again every so often but she is really busy as well. Really I’m looking for vocalists at the moment. Summer is a tough time though with the festivals etc so maybe in the winter some collaborations will happen.
“I am and always will be far from the top. There will always be something new for me to learn that will challenge me. Right now what that is, is learning more about classical piano”
What are you up to this summer, any festivals you’re particularly excited about?
The Monegros festival in Spain will be really fun. Also the 10 year anniversary of Labyrinth in Japan is going to be epic I’m sure. Also looking forwards to the Neo Pop festival in Portugal as I have never been to it before and it looks really cool. Love Parade also is going to be crazy I have never played for that many people so really exited about that as well!
Still working on an album with Hrdvsion for the Midnight Operator project that we have. That is the main focus. Other than that I think I want to start another solo album too this time with some sort of focus. It was fun doing the “Agents of Time” album and it gave me lots of ideas on how to go about it in the future. Doing albums is something that is new to me so I think the next one will really open me up to new ideas. Other than that stuff its the busiest I have ever been with touring so I have a crazy year ahead of me.