An Interview With Jonti
All the way from Los Angeles, California, the ever-polite Jonti gave a call to hairy Vulture, James Burgmann, to talk about sleeping in cars, moving from Australia to America, and his eagerly-anticipated record, Tokorats.
How is Los Angeles treating you? It’s a city that has historically either “made or boken” people.
It’s going pretty good. I find it really similar to Sydney [Laughs]. Summer is approaching, there’s really good people; I’m still getting accustomed to it, but it’s all still very inspiring.
So it hasn’t been too difficult?
Well it’s definitely been a struggle…you know, like sleeping in cars and getting accustomed to the driving. You know, all that stuff.
You were fortunate enough to receive an Australian Council Grant. Has this helped to advance your career?
Oh of course. I am incredibly, incredibly grateful for it. I wouldn’t have been able to come over here, financially. Also, it really helped since my label is over here. It’s all very hands on, working with everyone here in person.
How is the next album coming along?
It’s coming along pretty well. It is nearly done, I’d say about 80% done. There’s quite a bit of features that still need to be finished and there’s also the EP and whole bunch of collaborative stuff, so it’s all coming along piece by piece.
How will it compare to Twirligig?
This one’s actually more on the opposite side of the spectrum. Next week, I’m releasing an album on Stones Throw Records, a collection, or anthology, of my recordings called Sine & Moon, which is about purity – all those moments when you feel very calm and focussed. Whereas, this record, Tokorats, was done after that. I was in New York and going through a whole bunch of issues; this [Tokorats] helped me through that period, so it’s very fiery and rebellious, a lot of passion in it. [Chuckles]
Twirligig showcases some fairly complex, ornate arrangements and samples. How did you arrive at this process? Through gradual experimentation, or is it a more conscious effort?
It always started with an idea I would hear on another record. At that time I was really into the culture of looking for rare music and then appropriating it. I’d be looking on the internet and record digging. You’d find five seconds of music and just see what happens, let your mind go. I had no threshold at the time so I was just adding, adding and adding.
Some of the sounds and layers resemble the likes of Beck or Sufjan Stevens record, even the Beach Boys. Who are your major musical influences?
Totally! Those are the guys that I liked – Beck and Beastie Boys – the guys that made you feel like you could dream about the impossible. They achieved things that seemed impossible before their time. I’m not saying I’m trying to do that, but I really like how they “went for it” sonically!
Tracks such as ‘Firework Spraying Moon’ and ‘Batmilk’ both conjure strong images, as does most of the record. Is the visual side of music important to you?
That was always very important. I used to do art when I was in South Africa and I really enjoyed it. I loved seeing what you could do with a pen and a piece of paper, how you could create this whole world, which you could show to people and get a reaction. So when I started doing music when I came to Australia, it was the same kind of thing, trying to make a world in a two-minute block of music. I really loved it. I’ve always loved escapist music. You live enough of real life as it is! [Laughs]
So, when can we expect Tokorats to be released?
At the moment I’m still transitioning. A lot of it’s finished, but I still need to rework the whole middle section because at the moment it is really abrasive and hectic. I need to make them a bit nicer, so probably by March next year at the latest, but before that there’ll be an EP out.
There is a huge contrast between light and dark tones on Twirligig, for example ‘Nightshift in Blue’ compared to ‘Spooky Sport’. Is the next album going to expand on that diversity?
When I started it my main focus was to make something with more emotional content. It’s like a little movie album, it documents this whole theme and has a tone throughout. There is still a lot of hip-hop, punk, pop and even some folk stuff. But yeah, it’s a whole world.
Would you call it a concept album?
Um…yeah it is quite a concept album. I didn’t think that when I started it, but there was a lot of stuff going on at the time. I didn’t know what was going to happen; I was not in a good place. So, I would just record these songs and make this fake world of Tokorats.
So compared to Twirligig, which was a fun, feel-good album, this coming record is very much a personal project?
Finally, when can we expect to see you back in Australia?
It’s looking like after August or October; half the year here [Los Angeles] and half the year there [Sydney].
A fully-fledged national tour?
I am definitely touring around Australia everywhere I can, but I’ll be based in Sydney.