Jonti talks debut album, working with Mark Ronson
Ask Stones Throw artist Jonti about his blend of harmony-laden, psychedelic hip-hop and he'll tell you that he never knew how weird it was until he got to L.A. His mosaic of cartoon zaniness, tropical arrangements and boom bap make him a bit of an odd duck.
But inside the kaleidescopic palette of Beach Boys, Brazilian percussion and Madlib influences on Jonti's label debut, "Twirligig" (released Oct. 18), there's the ordinary goal of curing loneliness. After Jonti emigrated from South Africa to Australia as a teen, music was his de-facto companion in a new country. His track list of imaginative song titles such as "Firework Spraying Moon" opens a window into his personality.
A lot has changed since 2008. In the three years he spent recording his album, Jonti, now 23, went from playing in Australian rock bands (Sherlock's Daughter and Danimals), to working with Mark Ronson on a song for a product ad campaign, to being signed to his favorite indie label, to collaborating with Hodgy Beats of Odd Future.
Pop & Hiss recently got on the phone with Jonti, now a permanent West Coaster, to talk about the new (old) album, his Aussie rock past and his artistic influences.
What’s it been like watching the album that you recorded just for yourself three years ago end up getting you signed on a label like Stones Throw Records in 2011?
I really didn’t expect it. I mean, all you have to do is listen to the album to realize what Stones Throw means to me. I’m such a big fan. What happened was I sent it to Elysian Masters mastering studio because I wanted them to finish the album, and they did it and they liked it. Then they passed it onto Peanut Butter Wolf and I got an email and a phone call days later. I still get jittery thinking about that. Now, I’m about to get on a flight from New York, back from CMJ, to meet Wolf at the airport in L.A.
Prior to being a solo artist, you were in a couple bands, most notably an Australian rock group called Sherlock’s Daughter. Do you find any linkage between that band and your electronic solo sound?
I was a hip-hop beat maker before I joined that band. Once I joined them, I learned so much about dynamics and songwriting. I actually started “Twirligig” right as I joined that band and everything I’ve learned since then is sort of the result. All the beats I was making were trying to capture that live band kind of sound.
Describe how you went from missing your flight home from New York with the band last year to suddenly working on an album project with Mark Ronson.
That was at the end of 2010. I was in New York with Sherlock’s Daughter doing CMJ. We were here for three months and thinking about relocating here. I just remember we missed our flight back home and it was just the worst feeling. But then I was told that I also had an interview to do that day and I was supposed to meet someone in a cafe close by. It turns out my brother, who also manages me, had entered my music into this contest where a bunch of bands and artists were competing to work on a project with Mark Ronson. But I didn’t really know that. My brother told me he entered me in some music contest but was really vague on the details.
So when I got to the cafe, Mark came in with this camera crew and told me I’d won. So then I basically stayed in New York until the end of the year, recording at Electric Lady Land with Santigold, Sean Lennon, the Dap Kings and a bunch of awesome musicians, writing and recording songs for a project called TED the Lab. I was nervous a lot of the time we were making the music for the project, especially working with guys like Sean Lennon.
You’ve mentioned being a fan of animator and filmmaker Norman McLaren. How does the sound and aesthetic of his animated artwork influence you?
I was working on the album at the time I really got into him and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was just obsessed with his work. I figured if I was gonna model my career after anyone, it would be him. His work was always really fun and accessible, but it was just so innovative technically. He one-upped himself on every film. All the sounds he used were amazing. He used drawn-on-film animation where you actually draw on the film itself and put it through this machine and it plays back pitch and notes and sounds.
Given that your new album is comprised of your old material, how does the stuff you’re coming up with lately reflect where you want to go as an artist right now?
It’s funny because I’ve definitely changed a little bit. I actually created an album after it called “Tokorats.” Again, I made it at a time when I though nothing was ever gonna happen with it. And at the time, it was really cathartic music that got me through a certain period in my life. But I’m also working on another solo album now. I’ve been trying to make an album a year, I’m not sure why really. Just feeding my compulsion to record.
Jonti -- "Moon Spraying Fireworks"
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: Jonti Credit: Courtesy Stones Throw Records