Ever wondered what the mechanics of your body would sound like if it had a soundtrack?
All the intricate, yet fluid, parts working together so naturally without skipping a beat. Pieces of the puzzle we didn’t even know existed coming to light through the intricacy of layered sounds. That’s what Jonti’s music reminds me of: the fascinating complexity of the human body functioning as one instrument, but composed of so many meticulous parts.
Blending his roots from South Africa and Sydney, and following with a move to Los Angeles after getting signed with Stones Throw Records, Jonti brings a geographically eccentric palate of sounds to the music world, and more people need to get a taste.
Peanut Butter Wolf, Hodgy Beats, Sean Lennon, Santigold, Mark Ronson, Gotye, Jagwar Ma, Jonwayne and many others seem to dig his work…and so do we. Check out our discussion with the underrated soul known as Jonti.
You’ve mentioned your love for Paul Simon’s Graceland, the Beach Boys, Stones Throw’s roster and more. How have those sounds influenced you?
I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of Madlib and the Beach Boys. I still listen to those artists every day.
The Graceland thing is interesting because that album was my earliest memory of music. I was one year old when it came out, but it remained to be everywhere in Johannesburg throughout the ‘90s. But I only really explored what it meant to me recently and have been listening to it quite a lot. I think it implanted the idea of music as a joyous synthesis on personalities and sounds. Like a party. Also, “Homeless” from the album had a big impact on me. Especially in terms of harmonies.
You’ve been able to work in multiple labs (studios). What is your ideal setup for creating music?
I like to work in a homely space. Surrounded by paintings, lots of percussion, a dog and turtle. At the moment I’m in a garage-turned-studio that is far from luxurious and has no dog or turtle, but I think it’s a bit easier for me to find the strange world inside myself there, as opposed to a proper studio.
Your work has been described as too eccentric for words but rather a lucid, wildly beautiful watercolor painting with layers and textures glued on. How would you describe it?
That’s a very kind description. It’s hard for me to describe, because I was just trying to express the complex emotions in my subconscious and go deep-sea diving inside my soul. I was trying to find out exactly what’s in there.
“It’s hard for me to describe, because I was just trying to express the complex emotions in my subconscious and go deep-sea diving inside my soul. I was trying to find out exactly what’s in there.”
Do you have any musical mentors?
I would say Wally De Backer (aka Gotye) has given me a lot of guidance. In addition to Jono Ma from Jaguar Ma. He’s taught me a lot.
It’s been a big year for you. You were picked up by Stone Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf, you’ve been going on worldwide tours with Gotye, and Flying Lotus once called you an “awkward-ass motherfucker.” How’s it all been treating you so far?
Well, I haven’t really released music since all of that stuff happened. I’ve made a lot, but I haven’t put it out. I wasn’t ready for a lot of those deep-end things, and as a result, I have had to go on an artistic voyage of self-discovery.
Which collabs have been your favorite so far?
I really enjoyed the collaboration with Teebs, and I’m hoping we can do more in the future. Same with Jonwayne and Hodgy Beats. Also, the time I got to go to New York and record with Mark Ronson and write songs with Sean Lennon and Santigold. Still kinda feels like that didn’t happen.
I’m excited about the collaborations that have been happening recently, though. I started a band with two upcoming artists, Bus Vipers and Mohi. And the experience really made me fall in love with making music again. Also, I’ve been doing a bit with another new artist, Sampa The Great. She is so frickin’ cool. A real beautiful soul.
How do you feel about collaborations?
Recently, I’ve been much more interested in collaboration. I think it stemmed out of the loneliness of being a solo artist. I just couldn’t do all this stuff on my own anymore. It didn’t feel good. But making music and meshing personalities and having musical conversations with other people just feels right at the moment.
“Making music and meshing personalities and having musical conversations with other people just feels right at the moment.”
Often people create based off of their emotions and situations at the time. Can you name a piece of work that really grasped the state the artist was in? For instance, the darker state you were in when you wrote Tokorats compared to Twirligig.
I think most of my work is trying to capture those emotions and situations. I remember recording “Pássaros” from Twirligig, and it was a sunny morning and I was just feeling so much peace in my soul. And it’s right there in the bottle.
And on this Tokorats album, I’ve had to deal with more turbulent emotions. There’s a song on it called “Staring Window,” and when I play it for people they just go a little startled and start to ask if I’m alright! But music helps me make sense of all the up-and-down emotions.
How do you come up with your track names and album titles? You’ve got some gnarly ones, like “Solar Smoking Dogs.”
“Solar Smoking Dogs” comes from Lucia Pamela, who had an amazing coloring book called Into Outer Space [with Lucia Pamela in the Year 2000], and in it were dogs smoking in space. Thus, “Solar Smoking Dogs.” I like to play around with words and see what colors and energy come out of them.
“I like to play around with words and see what colors and energy come out of them.”
Fondest memory of being a kid in South Africa? You mentioned often how much you’ve missed living there.
Sitting around a pot of mielie pap, chicken and gravy, for sure. Also, when everyone was dancing and going crazy in the streets when we won the ‘95 Rugby World Cup.
What can we look forward to from you in 2016?
Tokorats will be a 2016 release. Hopefully something a little extra, too. The music of the band I mentioned earlier. Hopefully the stuff I did for The Avalanches will make it out there too. I’m just going to get out into the world again and see what happens.