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With a sound that he describes as ‘psychedelic-pop influenced hip-hop’, Jonti is the first Australian artist to be signed to the infamous Stones Throw Records, alongside the alumni of Madlib and J Dilla. His debut album Twirligig is an arrangement of vocals and samples—what he calls ‘beat-symphonies’—which create a collection with a distinctly playful, but complex atmosphere, drawing beauty out of the peculiar. An artist who is able to make any sound his own, the Sydney and LA-living Jonti looks set to put Australian-obscure pop onto the worldwide stage. He talks to ACCLAIM about his unexpected beginnings as an artist, playing Laneway Festival and his work-in-progress LP.

You began your musical career as a band member of the indie pop outfit, Sherlock’s Daughter. Could you tell us a little bit about how you became a solo artist?

Well, I was doing the solo stuff before that, but I never really had any intention of becoming an artist—or perform, or release anything. I just had stuff on myspace. Then one of the guys left the band and I took his place, for a little bit, so I sort of became part of the music industry. I played the tracks around and it took off from there.

Your first album, Twirligig, has just been released, could you tell us about it? I’ve read that it was in the making for three years…

Well, it was made about three years ago. It was a collection of all the music I’d been working on. I wanted to turn it into an album, so I got it mastered. The mastering guys passed it on to Stones Throw Records and Peanut Butter Wolf actually heard it and said, ‘I want to put this out’.

It has a very psychedelic sound to it, different and more melodic than a lot of the work on Stones Throw, what have been some influences for the album?

I think, as people can probably tell, it’s been influenced a lot by Madlib; he was definitely a big influence, along with a lot of the other artists on Stones Throw. On the flip side, I’ve always liked the Beach Boys (laughs) so it’s had the psychedelic-pop influence too. It’s grown into a sort of medium, where those two things meet, but I love hip-hop too, like MF Doom and J Dilla.

Peanut Butter Wolf said he signed you and couldn’t figure out how you’d made such intricate sounds. What is the process you use when making tracks? Do you have an idea of how it will sound before you experiment?

I always wanted to be a sample-based producer. I really admire those artists that have a tendency to use samples, but really make them sound like their own. So I start by listening to a lot of records, and developing the sounds that I like. Or actually failing to sample it well, so I have to learn to play it myself on different instruments, and appropriating it and then layering them together. That’s usually how a song starts, but it’s always different.

I’ve noticed all of the tracks are less than three minutes long. Are they intended as fragments of a whole piece, or do you feel that the tracks stand alone without the rest of the album?

It was definitely made as a whole album, there are a few choruses that are more traditional as songs, but at the time, I was really trying to communicate to the beat community. They were just these really short ideas, sort of like miniature-beat-symphonies; everything I’d been listening to was like that. So I was pretty conscious to keep the track short and unconventional, to have it as one listening experience. But I think that was just for that particular album, I think in the future they will have longer and more conventional structures.

You moved from Johannesburg to Australia, do you think that has shaped your musical sound at all?

I only really started to play music properly when I got to Australia, before that, I was more focused on art. I was definitely exposed to more musicians over here, and different types of music. It seemed more approachable over here.

You’ve been positive about the Australian scene and mentioned other Australian artists, like Seekae, in interviews before, do you think there is anything unique to the Australian beat-scene?

Yeah definitely, I think, although we get a lot of exposure to everything, we’re our own unique ‘little’ island; we get to put a twist on the UK and the US sound. I think our environment really factors in our music, too. The scene is still in its early days but I think there’s something different and interesting about it.

You recently played at Low End Theory, practically the home of live beat music. How did it compare to the smaller Sydney shows you’d done when starting up?

There was one venue in Sydney when I was starting up—that unfortunately closed—that had the potential to become something like that. It had a really great system, it was modern, and it became the home of those beat shows in Sydney. But really, I haven’t done that many shows in Australia apart from smaller bars and larger festivals, so I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent to Low End Theory just yet.

And how was playing at Low End Theory?

It was awesome; it’s ridiculous how big the beat scene is over there. The last few times I was there the lines to get in were just so long and you also never know who is playing. So even if you’re actually playing there, you don’t know whose going to show up. When I played, James Blake turned up and did a DJ set unannounced, the following week there was Four Tet playing. Thom Yorke was there, just hanging out, and Flying Lotus is a regular there. But it’s a really exciting place.

That’s crazy – I really want to go –

(laughs) Highly recommended.

You recently toured Australia as part of the Laneway Festival. How was that experience? It was a lot of gigs in a short amount of time!

It was so awesome. I really have to give props to the promoters that had faith in me to do that. The shows were just so much fun, and even though I was scared to go on before, so many people came out, I had so much fun. I met so many great bands and people at the festival. It was definitely a really special time.

It was, five cities in two weeks…

Yeah, by the end of it, I was actually really sick, and I thought I would have to cancel Adelaide and Perth, and then luckily, I just got better about an hour before the performance, so it was all good!

Like an adrenalin kick before you played?

Totally! I got to see a lot of the bands too, except for Adelaide. I’m a really big fan of the festival; I’ve gone whenever I can, even when I’m not playing. I saw a bunch of bands a few times, and got to explore the new venues. It was cool.

Have you relocated permanently to LA, or do you still live here?

It’s kind of 50/50 back and forth, at the moment I’m in Sydney, but I’m back in LA in March, then I’m not sure when I’ll be back. It’s usually whatever is most feasible.

Now that you’ve released a new mixtape and an album, what’s coming up next for you?

The album that I’m working on is sort of the next chapter ofTwirligig and the Sine & Moon mixtape. I’ve been working on it, kind of behind the scenes, for quite a while now. It kind of documents the whole story. And I’ve been working on a few collaborations.

With regards to collaborations, you’ve worked with Mark Ronson and a lot of big named producers…

I don’t want to speak to soon, in case it doesn’t happen, but there’s a collaboration with the Avalanches for their new album, which is really exciting ‘cos they’re my heroes! Other than that, there’s some stuff with Odd Future—we did some work together last year—and with new Stones Throw artist, Jonwayne, who’s fairly established in the LA scene as an MC and producer, and is pretty wicked.

Do you know when the new album is dropping?

It’s definitely still in the works. Since I’ve got a taste for what needs to be done to get an album out,

I definitely want to take my time with it, and do it really properly this time and make sure every element of it is something that’s inspired,

including artwork and video—all that stuff—hopefully it’ll be done soon enough.

The videos for Twirligig are really great, they have a really psychedelic vibe, do you get to put much input to those?

The one for Firework Spraying Moon? There’s this guy, Henry DeMaio, who does a lot of the Stones Throw videos, and when I first went to LA, he was one of the first people I met and he was like, ‘I want to do your video’. So he came up with these ideas of psychedelic colours and watercolours and mirrors, so we worked on it and came up with a concept that fit, which I thought was pretty cool. We’re just working on another one at the moment.

Do you have more local shows coming up?

Not at the moment, just a few DJ sets in Sydney. I have to take a bit of a break to get these recordings done! But I think I’ll just lay low for a bit.

Jonti’s latest mixtape, the highly acclaimed, Sine & Moon, is available for free download here. For his latest news, vinyl and download info, hit up his Stones Throw page, or check out his Tumblr.