Sound man

With his Im­mu­nity al­bum still wow­ing the crowds and an up­com­ing set at Body & Soul, com­poser and pro­ducer Jon Hop­kins tells Jim Car­roll why he ig­nores trends and loves found sounds

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC - Jon Hop­kins plays Body & Soul on Satur­day, June 21st. bodyand­soul.ie

There’s no rest for the wicked. It’s a year since Jon Hop­kins re­leased his ac­claimed Im­mu­nity al­bum, but the de­mand to hear the record live is still there in spades. Add in other calls on his time – from sound­tracks and col­lab­o­ra­tions to pro­duc­tion gigs – and it’s clear Hop­kins must have some pretty good time-man­age­ment skills.

“I’ve found that I have to jug­gle out of ne­ces­sity,” he says. “When I did the bulk of writ­ing for Im­mu­nity, that was all I did for six months. But at the be­gin­ning and the end, I was also do­ing film scores.

“Ideally I would like to keep things sep­a­rate but life doesn’t work like that. Projects come in and if you want to do them, you have to find a way of fit­ting them in. I’ve had to learn how to multi-task, much as I’d pre­fer to shut my­self off from the world for the pe­riod of writ­ing.”

While he al­ready has some of the shapes in his head for the new al­bum, the time to do any­thing with them at present is scarce. “I’m still tour­ing pretty con­stantly with the last al­bum and I get two to three days at home at a stretch. I need some more space and time to start writ­ing any­thing new. I think I am ready to do the new record as I have a lot of ideas brew­ing.

“On­stage, I quite of­ten end up with ver­sions of tracks which re­ally have evolved a long way from the orig­i­nal and they start to spark ideas about where the next log­i­cal step would be in writ­ing.”

What Hop­kins is not do­ing on the road is ac­cu­mu­lat­ing a li­brary of found sounds to ma­nip­u­late on fu­ture record­ings. If he’s to re­peat what he did with Aban­don Win­dow, fea­tur­ing the sound of fire­works from the open­ing cer­e­mony of the Lon­don Olympics, or Sun Har­mon­ics, in­cor­po­rat­ing the alarm from a truck re­vers­ing out­side his stu­dio, it won’t be with au­ral post­cards from tour­ing.

“I don’t take the recorder with me as a rule as it’s a more lo­cal thing”, he ex­plains. “The found sounds on Im­mu­nity were ei­ther recorded at home or around the stu­dio. That was one of the points of do­ing it for me, to rep­re­sent of mak­ing that al­bum in a way. My brain switches off from seek­ing new sounds when I’m trav­el­ling.”

When it comes to em­broi­der­ing his work, he favours the un­planned ap­proach in stu­dio. “I fully recog­nise now that in­stinct works best. I see that when com­par­ing ideas I had out­side of the stu­dio, which were more in­tel­lec­tual and based on some sort of con­cept or clever idea, with ones started with no plan. “The lat­ter were al­ways im­mea­sur­ably more in­ter­est­ing, while the pre-thought ideas turned out very dry and stag­nant. It’s been a trial and er­ror thing.”

Hop­kins’ pro­lific streak as artist and pro­ducer has been helped by his abil­ity to at­tract and work with col­lab­o­ra­tors. He’s worked with Brian Eno, Cold­play, Bat for Lashes, King Cre­osote, Wild Beasts and oth­ers, as well on a few sound­tracks such as Mon­sters and How I

Live Now. Can he iden­tify any com­mon thread be­tween these projects?

“I’ve no­ticed that the people I seem to be at­tracted to tend to be into a cer­tain con­cept of sad­ness within beauty, par­tic­u­larly the film di­rec­tors. Look at Gareth Evans and Mon­sters, for ex­am­ple, there’s im­mense beauty within some of those scenes.

“Re­gard­ing the vo­cal­ists I’ve worked with, it’s also been about a nat­u­ral con­nec­tion. With Natasha (Khan), I met her and we got on and liked each other’s mu­sic so it was a case of get­ting into stu­dio and let­ting in­stinct take over. It was the same with King Cre­osote. There’s some­thing in his vo­cals that brings out a cer­tain side of me. You don’t need to have con­ver­sa­tions, you need to just record and it all falls into place.”

The pro­duc­ers he ad­mires are the ones who can cre­ate beau­ti­ful sounds in an al­most ef­fort­less way. “One of my favourite pro­duc­ers is Nigel Go­drich. He has a way of leav­ing space in the mix, sep­a­rat­ing things out beau­ti­fully and us­ing re­verb sand ef­fects as their own in­stru­ment. I def­i­nitely ab­sorbed a lot of ideas about place­ment in sound from his work.” If you lis­ten to the ti­tle track on

Im­mu­nity, there are very clear shades of Harold Budd, who Hop­kins ac­knowl­edges as an in­flu­ence.

“Specif­i­cally, The Pearl, the al­bum he did with Brian Eno, has been very im­por­tant to me. Daniel Lanois worked on that as well. It’s an in­cred­i­ble ex­plo­ration of piano sounds with the pro­cess­ing of the sound as its own in­stru­ment. I lis­ten to it a lot – I have it on in the back­ground all the time – and I find it deeply pu­ri­fy­ing. There’s no doubt that Budd’s piano style is some­thing I’ve taken on as well.”

What Hop­kins hopes he omits from his work are cur­rent elec­tronic mu­sic sounds. “I’ve never paid much at­ten­tion to such trends. I’ve al­ways writ­ten the mu­sic I want to write and want to hear and that hap­pens to­tally in­de­pen­dent of ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on around me. Like ev­ery­one else, I ab­sorb mu­sic ev­ery day, but I do just get on with it when it comes to cre­at­ing mu­sic. The test for me is to cre­ate mu­sic which I find in­ter­est­ing.”

The big date on Hop­kins’s cal­en­dar this summeris anone-off per­for­mance with a full band at Lon­don’s Royal Fes­ti­val Hall. Be­fore that, though, there are a slew of fes­ti­val com­mit­ments, in­clud­ing next weekend’s visit to Co West­meath.

“Body & Soul is one of my favourite fes­ti­vals. I did it last year and I felt it had a re­ally nice at­mos­phere to it so I was glad to be asked back again. Ob­vi­ously, there are some fes­ti­vals which are less mag­i­cal.

“I try not to treat it as a job as it is a very lucky thing to be do­ing for a liv­ing. I don’t want to be one of those com­pla­cent people who swans in, does their set and swans out again. I do want to have a look around and see what’s go­ing on. Un­less it’s rain­ing, of course, which may mean a slightly briefer visit.”

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