Our idea was simple in theory: agree on our favourite Mathew Jonson tracks, Mathew unveils the stories behind them, and then shares with us his own favourite. Easy! In practice, with a huge number of stunning compositions to choose from, with very different origins, it really was no easy feat. I have to admit I nearly went rogue mid-chat, desperate to be greedy and add a couple more in. I did manage to resist, and was very happy to discover that his own personal favourite turned out to be the very one I’d most wanted to include. Just a warning, by the end of this you’ll probably want to invest in the SH-101, move to Berlin, and try the salt water and cayenne pepper tea cleanse. Ok, maybe not so much the last one, as it’s as strange as it sounds.
“Followed By Angels” – (Itiswhatitis Recordings) 2004
I wrote this when I was living in Vancouver. I was living in this house in the forest, just after some of my European tours and just seeing the difference between the music scene in Europe and in Canada which is very drastic. I had a lot of energy about me and was really excited because my career was just starting to take off. I was in a weird mood that day, I was feeling a little down and I wanted to write something to cheer myself up. It’s strange, I end up writing melancholic songs when I’m super happy, or I write uplifting songs when I’m feeling sad or weird.
“Typerope / Magic Through Music” – (Itiswhatitis Recordings) 2003
This one was also written in Vancouver. I was actually doing the Master Cleanser, this fast where every morning you drink a litre of salt water, and the rest of the day you drink cayenne pepper, maple syrup and lemon tea. It’s super intense, you basically don’t eat any food for ten days, and after the third day all the toxins start coming out of your body. Suddenly you’ll have a crazy rash for five minutes, and then you feel great, then half an hour later... Your body is just going crazy! At the same time, because your body isn’t spending so much energy digesting food, the clarity you have inside your brain is incredible. It’s something very difficult to experience unless you’re cleansing or fasting. I wrote Typerope on the fourth or fifth day, and then Magic Through Music the day after. There were a few of us living in this villa, and we decided to do the cleanse together to make it easier, but it also makes everyone so moody. One guy kept coming downstairs and being like ‘turn this off you’re driving me crazy, if I have to listen to this I’m going to snap!’ And I had to keep just saying to him ‘hey man I’m sorry but this is a good piece of music, I’m not stopping!’ I knew I had to finish it because it was something really special. It ended up being the track that really got me my first attention in Europe, and then started allowing me to tour.
“Alpine Rocket” – (Perlon) 2003
After I released Typerope, these guys from Mental Groove in Geneva asked me to go over and collaborate with Luciano. They wanted us to write an album in a week then perform it at the festival – obviously impossible! Well, unless it’s one of those moments where everything just works. So I said I don’t know if that’s possible or not but I love Luciano’s music, let’s see what happens. That was the first time I came to Europe. It was also my honeymoon with my new wife at the time, so we both came over. She explored the city while I sat in the studio with Luciano and it was amazing. We had to see if we could play together as it can take some time for people to click, so we flicked on the gear and jammed for thirty minutes to see what happened. It was really natural which is super rare. Once we knew we could play live together so could improvise the show, we then figured out the tracks. We started three songs which we scrapped, then started Alpine Rocket. It started with a simple SH-101 line that I’d written, then Luciano added some percussion. I got to know Pro-Tools during that session too. We alternated adding twists and turns, and then we agreed it needed vocals so we called Cassy in. It was really fun and turned into this big circus of me trying to get them to stop joking so we could get a serious vocal from Cassy, which finally worked after lots of fooling around! Then Luciano added some pads to it and it developed into this three part song that works really well. We’ve all been friends ever since.
“|India In Me” – [Cobblestone Jazz] (Wagon Repair) 2006
Tyger, Danuel and I made this in Vancouver at this beautiful house right on the Pacific Ocean in the forest. Dan and I were just noodling around having fun. During this jam we made the vocoder part of this track – this long sprawling paddy vocal that sounds like whale noises! I wrote the bassline on the 101, too, and these parts sat for months before we did anything with them other than use them in our live shows. It wasn’t until I moved to a totally different place with a better studio that we came in and mixed them. We sent these whale sounds through these gates, basically like an envelope that opens and closes to make it more percussive than like a pad sound. We sent triggers from the 808 drum machine into a gate, which opened up all the parts from the pads, then Paddy added a bunch of percussion, drum loops and samples from some of his records.
“Learning To Fly” – (M_nus) 2011
This started because I wanted a whole new live set. My dream was that this would debut on Detroit Music Festival’s main stage, with this big light production, really take it up a notch. I was inspired to do some big concert show as I felt that’s what I was supposed to do at the time. I actually decided totally against it afterwards and realised that lighting and all that bullshit is just a distraction and it should just be about the music! I wrote it in Berlin in one day, using lots of modular synthesizers. Because I decided against doing the big fancy show, I didn’t continue writing for this specific live set, but the idea gave me a great spark to create this track. Richie [Hawtin] had been asking me for years after “Decompression” was released for another track, and I always had the intention of giving him something, I just didn’t know what the right follow up should be, so I gave him this. He tested it out as his final track at this big festival in Tokyo and the place went crazy, so we looked at the mix. I’d had issues with the bass frequencies in my studio at the time; the room just wasn’t the right shape and didn’t have the right acoustic treatment, so I’d been constantly guessing. The track needed some work in the low end to give it the same punch so it would sound good alongside other records. I put a high pass filter on the track, added new toms, new bass and new kick drums over the top as an experiment and it made it even better. Then I added some open hi-hats to give it more energy and it transformed into something new with a lot more energy.
“Level 7” – (Crosstown Rebels) 2013
This came from when I just happened to be recording my sound check at the Free Your Mind Festival. They had really nice monitoring so it sounded great on stage. I often record my sound checks – they all sound so different because I’m just improvising. I went in to sound check at 9am, the sun was coming up and it was beautiful. It’s just one synthesizer with some effects on it and some random drum programming. I got really into it and ended up recording a segment forty minutes long of this loop, just tweaking the EQs, cutting drums in and out and trying different patterns on the Machinedrum 808. To make the track, I took this big long jam, threw it into Sound Forge, the wave editor I use, and edited it into what’s on the album. Dixon just did an amazing remix; I can’t decide which I love better!
“Automaton” – (Crosstown Rebels) 2013
Automatons were early robots that were made to emulate humans; they weren’t electric, just powered by springs. Usually I don’t use samples but I used some orchestra band shot samples for this one. Then it’s got this break beat underneath it, and I just started chopping up the break beat, in the same way I would have back when I was writing drum and bass. I just started chopping, cutting and reversing all these breaks, then just bought this MS-20 off Farben and was desperate to use it, so I used that to create this snake charming-sounding bassline. I remember doing all this work on it and a bunch of mixes, and then I showed my girlfriend the track. She was like, “Okay, I love it, but I feel like I’m kind of stuck in this place where the track is and it doesn’t give me the chance to fly away with it.” She wanted to just dance and lose herself. So I thought let’s change it all into this fast two beat revolution thing, almost make it into techno in the end, and it totally worked. So thank god she came into the studio!
And Mathew Chose...
“When Love Feels Like Crying” – (Wagon Repair) 2009
What’s funny is if I made a top five of my own tracks, I wouldn’t pick those ones! But that’s the beauty of music, we all have our tastes. I let go of the music that I write. I don’t try and hold onto it, so if people enjoy it that’s great. This is a definite favourite though. I made it at my house in Berlin and because when I first moved here I didn’t have a studio space, I had all my equipment set up in my bedroom on all the boxes I’d used for moving! We wrote a lot of good music here with Modern Deep Left Quartet and with my brother from Midnight Operator. In a studio there’re these big expectations to write good music, but if you’re just messing around in your bedroom with some gear on a bunch of boxes, there’s a certain freedom about it. With this track, I was experimenting with writing synthesizer lines but using the MPC1000 to trigger it, and a percussion drum wave. It sounded like plucking on a harp or an acoustic guitar. Most of the time I’ll quantise the music that I’m writing so that everything’s in time but I loved that this was totally out of time; it gave a spacey dubbiness to the song. Suddenly this melody came into my head and this is the big long melody that goes on and on forever in this track which just turned this track into something totally different. It suddenly became super emotional and beautiful and it had this effect on me that was totally overwhelming, so the title kind of fits into that. It’s one of the most emotional tracks I feel like I’ve ever written, in a way. I jammed for hours, then I just took the last fifteen minutes of the jam and did a quick edit.
Be sure to catch Mathew at Another Party's 4th Birthday this Saturday alongside Steve Lawler, James Manero and Jimmy Lainas. Click here for more info.