A year after ACCLAIM first interviewed multi-instrumentalist Jonti a lot has changed. Signed to Stones Throw Records by Peanut Butter Wolf after hearing a demo of his debut album Twirligig, the Sydney-side-artist has toured with Gotye, learnt to play the ukulele, hung out in LA in a pink gorilla suit and has played his own vividly beautiful arrangements everywhere from the US to Russia. We corner him at Sugar Mountain Festival to speak about his year and his upcoming album that he is preparing for, just in case.
I first interviewed you after your Laneway show early last year, since then a lot has changed for you. How has your year been?
So after Laneway last year, which was amazing – I can’t wait to go back this year – I went to Los Angeles. I actually thought I was going to move there, but I spent a few months playing shows, recording, I did SXSW, then shortly after I did a few tours around the States. Then Gotye decided to put me on his world tour, and so for the last half of the year I was opening for him all around the world.
Was there any tour drama?
It was fifty shows – all in venues that were definitely the deep end for me. There wasn’t any drama, it was just me and my laptop, mostly. I mean it was me and Missy Higgins and Gotye who were playing these big sets and I was just playing my experimental beats on a table, kinda amateurishly. I mean – there were thousands of people – mothers and young daughters and stuff. It was really scary at first and took a few shows to get the hang of it, but I got a lot of encouragement from Gotye and the crew and it got better and better.
Did you lose track of where you were all the time?
(laughs) There was one show when we were in Manchester and I’d done the whole show and right at the end of the night, out slipped ‘thank you, London!’ – and it’s the one place where you don’t thank London. That was when I realised the exhaustion had kind of set in, right at the end of the tour.
Did it go down OK?
Oh, they were quick to respond. I kind of apologised, but it definitely taught me to keep on my toes. I still feel a little bit bad about that.
Has touring changed your approach to writing music?
Definitely. Before that, I had a lot of demos that I’d perform live. It was mostly just me playing at home. But just seeing how songs work live and having a perspective on playing them in front of an audience was an experience. I’m interested to see where my next songs will go.
I mean you and Missy Higgins and Gotye aren’t all that similar musically. Where you surprised by the response that you got at the shows?
Yeah, definitely. For some reason it worked, in a weird way. Even though we’re from totally different worlds. I was playing in Los Angeles for Missy Higgins just playing keys for her. It didn’t work on paper, but for some reason it was fine. I was very nervous though.
You’re touring Australia this time with Peanut Butter Wolf who signed you to Stones Throw Records, do you consider him a mentor?
Absolutely. It was only recently that we started writing songs together. I forget that he’s an amazing producer too. He’s had so much experience. And I’ve learnt a lot from his live performances, his key thing is to keep it simple, and that’s something I forget sometimes, I make it too technical.
Does he draw you out of more experimental sounds too – I saw an interview with you where he’d given you a vinyl of… er, porno sounds?
(laughs) Sometimes he pushes me to go way beyond. I mean he likes some music that is just… way beyond the normal. The last song I recorded with him was mostly playing my ukulele and he really put the shackles on me and got me to flesh it out as though it was a pop song.
Is it strange coming back to Australia after spending so much time overseas?
Definitely. It takes me a minute just to settle back in. After the world tour and then I went to Russia, and then I came back. But I’m just excited to be back and hang out with my brother – who manages me and runs Astral People – and my friends and all the local bands and stuff. It’s exciting to be back.
Last year you said that the beat scene in Australia was growing, with the amazing promotion by collectives like Astral People, how do you feel about it now?
It feels like it’s still new but it seems to have reached the main stream with artists like Flume, but the community still feels fresh and proud to be Australian. But it seems to have really taken off. I think it would be amazing if we didn’t have to worry about how it fits in with the US and UK scenes, I think that energy would catch on around the world and has really started to. With the Internet and Youtube – and things like Boiler Room – we’re all on the exact same platforms as any other producer around the world. I think its still embryonic but growing.
I’ve loved the quirky videos you’ve released, like Saturday Night and Nighshift in Blue, what were they inspired by?
At Stones Throw we were sitting around and thinking we should a film clip to promote them [the tracks released as singles]. It was definitely just one way to do it. I definitely think I need to work to make them more cohesive.
Were you walking around LA in that furry pink suit?
(laughs) The whole concept of the video was that suit. It was just me and Ross Harris who shot the video were just getting so many reactions from people just walking around. Everyone was just honking and dancing along. Then when I went back to the same spots later people were like, “it’s the pink gorilla man!”
I’ve read that you are going for a darker approach to your new album, can you tell us a little bit about it?
At the moment, I have the album drafted, so it’s all demos and sound pieces but it’s all there. I’m just going to start searching through it probably. I mean the last one wasn’t supposed to be a debut album or anything it just sort of happened. With this one, I’m approaching it as though, god forbid, if anything happens, but just in case I want it to be really personal, so I can say that’s it – it’s all there.