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
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.”