Radio BurgerFuel

Interview: Jon Hopkins

Posted by Eleanor Newnham


UK born and bred, Jon Hopkins now has a Grammy nomination to his name for his trademark electronic sound. Lee Densem of Radio BurgerFuel talked to him about how his feelings for his music affect his writing process, and heading back downunder for Laneway Festival 19.

After a five year gap, Jon Hopkins released Singularity to the world in early 2018. He describes making music as "the thing he is drawn to do". Lucky for him, it has taken him on mulitple journeys around the world, both in his own right, and also as a DJ and member of Coldplay's tour party for their Viva La Vida tour a decade ago. 2019 sees him back in New Zealand to play one of his favourite festivals again, as St Jerome's Laneway Festival kicks into gear in the haze of a long holiday weekend in Auckland at the end of January.

"If you were to ask me to list all the things that I could possibly hope would happen, I really feel like a lot of them happened, if not all of them."

RADIO BURGERFUEL: I know they say that you should never read the comments, but I did that today and one describes you as ‘literally one of the best musicians around’. Do you ever read the comments on YouTube or anything else?

JON HOPKINS: No, definitely not. I actually disable comments on my music videos. It's not because I don't want to hear what people think, but because I think it's a distraction. Actually watching it, we've all done that thing where you go to a new music video and you look at it and then just some part of your brain goes, 'Oh just scroll down'. And you see all these people and then they're all arguing about something and then you forget what you were there for. I just think it’s best to keep it pure and don't allow them. It's just not my thing really to read them.

I can understand that. Although to be fair, somebody did describe you as ‘sonically superior’ so I guess we can take that as a win!

Yeah no, that's a comment I would read haha!

You had a massive 2018 - releasing Singularity, playing shows everywhere and it's just been announced that you have been nominated for another Grammy, which must feel awesome?

Yeah it's been a ridiculous year really. A year ago, I mastered the album and had no idea what anyone would think. It's an incredible feeling of gratitude and privilege because you spend all those months in the studio pouring your heart into something and if people love it and they come to shows, it's a beautiful thing and it’s a great luxury to be able to transmit those ideas and feelings to people in that way.

If you were to ask me to list all the things that I could possibly hope would happen, I really feel like a lot of them happened, if not all of them.

And the Grammys, you don't do this stuff for awards really. You don't make instrumental electronic music because you think you're gonna be acclaimed for it, but it's amazing and it really helps to get that kind of recognition because it means you can build the shows up further and play at more places and hopefully spread those ideas a bit further.

"In order to finish a track, I have to really fall in love with it. I'm not saying it's actually good, but it really makes me happy"

When you're sitting on the music before it's released, do you worry what people will think about it when they actually get to hear it?

It's very hard not to. We like to think as musicians, that you have to try and shut that down because it can be quite disruptive to the creative process, but towards the end it’s unavoidable and you will start to be concerned about that.

The single fact is, if no one had invented this new stuff then that would be it. there wouldn't be a tour, there wouldn't be shows, there wouldn't be anything. When we first put out Emerald Rush and the reaction was good, there's no denying there's a rush to that. There's a real buzz that comes from it.

In order to finish a track, I have to really fall in love with it. I'm not saying it's actually good, but it really makes me happy and it made me happy to make it so it's amazing for me if other people feel that.

At the end of the day that must be why you make music? Is it just a bonus that everyone else seems to enjoy the ride as well?

Well that is a good way of putting it. I feel like I have to do it - it's a drive and my way of making sense of the world and like you said, my experience of being alive and that's the stuff that comes out. I think if you can do that and be lucky enough to be able to live from it, that's incredible. Piece of fortune really.

"I just think you can't be slave to global trends. I think music is music."

When you are listening through Singularity, it's like you're being taken on this journey as you listen through the whole thing. Do you think the experience with that (album) art form will ever change for you, with Spotify and streaming? Has it changed the way you think about how you make music?

It hasn't and I think it's important that it doesn't. What if everyone got into listening to one minute thirty pieces of music? It doesn't mean you have to adapt everything you love and believe in. In fact, it's more likely to go the other way - there are tracks on this record that are thirteen minutes long. I just think you can't be slave to global trends. I think music is music.

Classical music has lasted for hundreds of years (I'm not putting this on that level don't you worry) but there are pieces that last fifteen minutes and ones that are forty-five minutes. I think long-form music is not something that's just going to disappear just because technology makes it easier to skip through things.

There's reactions whenever there's a strong movement in one direction and there's reactions in the other direction. That's happened with the resurgence of vinyl and a lot of people making albums AS albums. And even if you can separate them out at the end as a single (which I'm very keen to happen obviously), I don't insist in a puritanical way of only listening to all 61 minutes at once or nothing. I just want to make sure that it does add up to the whole. I like to think of tracks as scenes within a film and you can watch them in isolation and they can do something for you that the whole thing is really...there's a magic to that and I don't think is going anywhere.

That experience must transfer over to the live shows, with the chance to change things up a little bit to give people that whole journey?

Live performances were something that came a little later to me, I think I had released two albums before I did a live show with this kind of music. I was 28 when I started touring properly and ten years later, I'm still really enjoying it. I realised that even though it wasn't the thing I first gravitated towards, I think it's an amazing way of sharing these emotions that you make into the music. I did it with many people and the idea of a communal experience of listening on an amazing sound system. It's irreplaceable and there's a reason why people still come together to enjoy these things. I think it's something in our nature that draws us to do that.

You said earlier that you get a buzz from expressing yourself through music and from people listening, is it a similar buzz performing live?

I love looking out and you'll see people with their eyes closed just swaying left and right, or you might see people snogging. You see someone on someone else's shoulders and you see people just jumping around in a circle. And these things are all happening as you're performing and it's an amazing thing really.

"But you should never forget that it's just the best job in the world and being at a festival like Laneway, it really is."

You've said previously that you don't really create music while you're out on the road because you've got your studio set up that you normally use. Have you had any downtime since you've released Singularity to relax and be creative?

It's mostly been about the touring. It's true, the stuff that I use is all old and hardware-based and that just draws me to being in my existing studio. I get it, say you get a week or two off here and there but for me, it's quite hard to get into writing with such a brief period. As I said, it takes me a while to come up with things that I'm happy with.

The last tour finished in Madrid a couple weeks ago and since then, I've had a little bit of time and I have started sketching something out which I'm quite excited about. As always, I don't like to rush the process. It would be very convenient if I could just write things on a laptop and maybe I should learn really! But the sounds that excite me just happen to come from particular pieces of equipment and it's always been like that.

That's alright, people are probably happy to wait another five years for the next album!

I mean, in terms of the full album, there will be some wait, yes. But I do have this idea of making tracks which fall outside of that traditional album cycle - just one-offs, and maybe collaborations. I like the idea of not everything being such a big deal. It'd be great to just release a single and not have it tied to this huge concept, so I'm working on that.

That sounds so exciting. Now, of course, you are heading back to New Zealand for Laneway on Monday 28 January. It kicks off in Auckland and then all around Australia. Was it four years since you were last at Laneway?

Yeah, it's probably the most fun I've had touring, to be honest. Just totally beautiful places and there's such positivity and enthusiasm in the crowd and you really get to play exactly how you wanted to and meet loads of other musicians. It's kind of a dream. There are many times in this job where things are really difficult, you've had two hours sleep, you've got to go to the airport at 6 AM and set up and do the same show 500 times in a row. You sometimes catch yourself feeling like, 'oh this is difficult'. But you should never forget that it's just the best job in the world and being at a festival like Laneway, it really is. Everything runs really smoothly and everything's fun and the crowd's always full of enthusiasm and the sun shines. It's a pretty amazing experience and it doesn't have so much of the drawling hardship of touring in other countries.

Thank you so much for having a chat with us, and we're hoping we might get to hear some more of these tracks off Singularity live when you're down here.

Yeah, absolutely. It's great to talk.