Mathew Jonson: This wagon don’t need fixin’
If you talk to people that know their tech, there’s no denying that Mathew Jonson has been one of the most influential producers of the last few years. He has continually created pioneering, original sounds that have caused orgasms amongst chinstrokers before eventually filtering up from the underground into the toolboxes of more mainstream producers. He’s also one of the producers that is furthest from being able to be pigeonholed. From past production for Nelly Furtado to current remixes for drumnbass staples Metalheadz and Commix, this is a man with his finger in many pies, or perhaps more correctly, his fingers on many knobs.
Live, Jonson is a phenomenon. Anyone that saw his Australian tour in 2005 will not soon forget the sight of the Canadian – with a rather large whisky in hand – hunched over a giant mixing desk, the kind normally seen at the other end of the venue where the sound techs stand. The good news is that he’s going to be using similar toys on his 2009 visit. “I’ll have a 24-channel desk, effects, synths, drum machines, et cetera with me for the shows.”
If you’ve listened to his complex productions, you’ll understand this is a man that doesn’t cut corners. So when I ask what impact the rise of more compact digital technology had on his live performance, the response is shot straight back: “Not really much impact at all. Compact digital sounds exactly that – compact and digital.”
After the inevitable dramas carting his gear around, Jonson’s favourite phrase is now “tech rider”. He’s obviously got the contract locked down before he flies away for a gig. “I would never think of bringing a studio mixer with me on the plane. I have had some horror stories though for sure. Rack case lids coming off on the way down the baggage conveyor belt and smashing off all the knobs on effects units…one time I had a bunch of synths and sound effects in a rack that was made to lift up diagonally out of the box. Customs forced the lid closed without lowering the rack and when I opened up my box at home everything was busted into pieces. But it’s not necessary to have that happen. If artists put what they need on their tech rider almost anything is possible. I’m playing with vintage synths, and most of the time it’s not a problem to find them.”
Jonson has had his fair share of travel. You’d think one of the biggest moves he’s made would be relocating from his native British Columbia to that music mecca Berlin. However Jonson doesn’t have much time to enjoy the scene in the German capital. “I don’t go out so much in Berlin to clubs. I live here so when I get back from weekend shows I try and spend time at home or in the studio… [but] I’m starting to learn a lot more about the city and the culture and also picking up a bit of the language. I think learning German slowly is what is making the change happen most.”
As for the question whether Berlin has jumped the shark after years in the spotlight, Jonson replies, “When we do our parties in Berlin the clubs are jam packed so it seems like things are still going strong. It’s definitely a city that is fueled by the summertime though – it can be pretty dark and depressing in the winter at times.” Jonson laments the closure of clubs like Der Visionnaire in the colder months, but proudly points to old favourite Watergate as the best place to party right now. “We do parties at Watergate with Wagon Repair and Cynosure every few months that are off the chains!”
Wagon Repair is, of course, Jonson’s little baby, a label that has been responsible for some outstanding releases since its inception in 2004. Jonson’s biggest hits Marionette (2004) and Symphony For The Apocalypse (2008) are there, as well as a goldmine of largely Canadian origin. Jonson downplays this homegrown slant, saying, “I’m always happy to help out someone from home. But it’s more about finding musicians everywhere that have there own unique sound. Now that I’m in Europe you will start hearing more music from people here.”
Then there’s Cynosure, started by fellow Canuck turned Berliner Mike Shannon. Shannon’s album Memory Tree was one of this reporter’s favourites from last year, and there are other Canadians lighting up the international stage too; Konrad Black, The Mole, Deadbeat, even Jonson’s brother Nathan is in there under the Hrdvision moniker. But when asked what the hell is in the water over there, Jonson merely quips, “I think hippies have been taking baths in the water reservoirs. I try and drink bottles water when I’m out there.”
On further investigation, he says he hasn’t been clubbing in Canada in a while, and laments, “My friends tell me its pretty bleak in the clubs so they throw their own private parties.” No wonder everyone’s moving to Berlin.
So is there a downside to living there? You betcha. During the winter, there’s no outlet for Jonson’s love of the outdoors, so that means he’s bubbling at the prospect of the Australian summer. “I can’t wait to get into the sunshine!” He’ll have plenty of that at the Rainbow Serpent festival, and although the Victorian bush is a long way from Berghain, he reveals, “I love the outdoors. Camping, hiking, snowboarding, swimming or whatever. So these kind of open air events are always my favourite…being outside is the best. Also soundwise there is not much reverb so everything sounds 10 times better.”
And what to expect from his live set? Just that – live music. “The feelings behind [my] tracks are based on how I feel when I make them. I try and be really honest in the studio and translate how I feel as much as I can into the music I am writing. The tracks change when I play them live because then I am obviously in a different mood, so this keeps things interesting for me. I never have any drums programmed when I play, so the tracks can take on a different feel every time.”
After his summer holiday, it’s back to the studio. 2009 sees Jonson continuing to branch out. The man who remixed Nelly Furtado’s Maneater is remixing drumnbass for Commix. And so it continues: “Right now I’m trying to finish a remix for Metalheadz but its taking longer than I thought it would. Also I am doing a film score for the Timewarp festival this year that will be performed live in the theatre while the film plays. It’s a really big project that’s a hard learning curve for me so it’s really fun! Writing ambient and almost classical sounding music is quite a change from my output in the last years. It’s taking me back to my roots a bit I think. You will probably hear an album of the soundtrack when it is complete.”
Damn, I sure hope so.
Mathew Jonson tour dates…
23 Jan – Bar Soma, Brisbane
24 Jan – Lady Lux, Sydney
25 Jan – Rainbow Serpent Festival, Victoria
30 Jan – Brown Alley, Melbourne