A year on from your release of his critically recognized fourth LP Defenses , we caught up with producer Jon Hopkins backstage at the EB Festival Cologne to talk autogenic training, comedowns and Coldplay.
In 2013, Jon Hopkins finally enjoyed solo success that was quite a long time coming. His debut album, 1999’s Opalescent , caught the wave for slick chill out space ambience—and, strangely, the ears of Sex and the City’s music supervisors. However , his career stalled when his follow-up LP was roundly ignored by the music press. What followed was a decade spent honing a polymathic approach to music, notching up film scores (including the soundtrack to Brit film Monsters ), reputable collaborations (2010′s Mercury-nominated Diamond Mine with King Creosote) and production work for stadium behemoths Coldplay. When Immunity dropped in early summer last year, its mixture of minor key melancholy and coarse techno headcleaners made it the break-out electronic album of the year. The particular few non-converts found their level of resistance weakening when faced with Hopkins’ extreme live shows—exemplified by his shutting set at EB Festival Cologne. There, we sat down with all the celebrated producer backstage to stop and reflect on the year since the release of Immunity .
Jon, I’m really intrigued by your interest in self-hypnosis and autogenic training. Could you show me a bit about that?
I started doing it about thirteen years ago, when I was about twenty-one. Self-hypnosis is a technique that has a similar objective to meditation: calming yourself down to a point where you can be entirely at the moment. I noticed that music tends to arrive quite clearly when you’re in this mindset, it just kind of quietens the noise of everyday life. At that time it was really just a therapeutic point because I wasn’t dealing perfectly with life as a broke musician; a twenty-year-old not knowing what to do, trying to write an album but not understanding who was going to do it.
That’s an intense challenge for a twenty year old. By that point your own debut had come out right?
It came out once i was twenty-one but it was composed when I was nineteen and then I sort of fiddled around with it for a bit whilst I was still working as a session musician for a pop maker guy. That made me very, well, it wasn’t really my kind of thing. He was a beautiful guy and really good songwriter, however it was depressing work really.
Why was it depressing?
I’m not a keyboard player for Ersus Club 7, that’s why, and that was the kind of stuff he was pitching. I respect that kind of writing as a skill, but it required me to be a kind of “on cue” keyboard player. Like: “Can you decide to do this style today or that will style today? ” I can not really do that. I occasionally can bend things to make it work but there was a lot of conflict between us since I’m not really a natural session participant, I’m too much of a musical megalomaniac. I’m more built to be in cost of the productions I’m involved in.
It’s interesting you say that self-hypnosis and autogenetic instruction quieten down the brain because right now, more than ever, our attention are continuously under siege from competing distractions. Do you want to challenge this development?
I want to challenge it, that’s why my songs are reaching ever-longer lengths. I want to do the opposite of providing instant strikes. Not hit music, but an instant hit. I don’t want to be a “one pay attention thing”. I want to create music as a place to exist in for a period of time, or a story, rather than just an immediate sensation.
You mention avoiding the idea of the moment hit—a drug reference right there—and this is detectable in the structure of the record: going out, coming up, coming down. Plus certainly as much attention is provided to the coming down part…
More so actually. I find it to be the more emotionally resonant bit of the experience. I guess it’s inspired by some life events, some really long parties, kind of two day parties, where you push it to the absolute limit and you relationship with people in an extraordinary way. It’s almost a year of friendship in one night. I’ve had these crazy nights, I went through a stage of really pushing that. As well as the album wasn’t really started until after that. Because you can’t write if you are doing that but it is maybe something you need to go through once in your own life. And I found there is this actually melancholy and beautiful element when that feeling finally leaves you. Before you hit the empty couple of days after. There is the magical bit where you stand gently still feeling something.
What parties had been you going to?
I’m not really into clubbing and so i guess most of these were just in houses of really good friends. Everyone playing everyone all their favorite songs and all kinds of emotions going on—no sleep at all. These things sometimes obtain triviliazied in some way, people say they will aren’t real. But it is a very real experience and maybe people who haven’t experienced that don’t understand how profound it could be to go through.
Naturally , the memories of those experiences are as real as any other.
It’s totally real. Reality is only perception anyway, if you think like something, then that is what is going on. The important thing is to be with the right people, because that’s what makes it real. We all had nights where you had been with a bunch of random people who you understand later on you don’t like. To realise when you are back at some random house and go “Who are these people and why am I here? ”. That’s not so good.
When you look as well as cringe?
Of course. It’s not those ones so much that I am thinking about though. But these days I don’t really party like that whatsoever, but I have enough in my memory. Also, something I found out is the fact that through these experiences, and via meditation and various forms of yoga, is that they all have the same supreme goal: to be entirely present but also to be open to that feeling to be in a trance and letting stuff just wash over you and simply existing within a period. And that’s when music and sounds are in the best they can possibly sound. The particular track “Sun Harmonics” is composed specifically for the very end of one of those experiences, like midday—or whatever time you finish—really just because I wanted to know it myself. A lot of music you write because you want to hear it and no-one else has composed it.
After the release of your second album you kind of went behind the scenes for a few years. Now that Immunity has been so successful, does it feel unusual suddenly having attention directed back onto you?
Basically if the second album experienced done well, I would have been doing all that ten years ago. And in fact, as a slightly arrogant young man, I kind of assumed it was going to do big things because I was actually proud of it and, you know, spent a year on it. I thought “Am I ready for this? This is going to become so exciting! ” and then actually nothing happened at all. And it experienced tunes on it that were so solid and it had no attention, simply no reviews or anything. That was quite a massive learning experience and kind of difficult experience to go through. But experienced that not happened I would not have learned how to work with vocalists and learned how to do film scores is to do all the collaborations that I did. And I was never going to leave solo music alone forever, I just remaining it alone for a few years. I started writing again slowly by 2006, piecing things together again through 2008 there was another album ready. Again that one made some inroads and then finally this one, the last a single, capitalized on everything that had occurred.
Why do you consider that second album didn’t land?
Listening to it now, it’s just because it’s really pristine and polite. I believed it was quite edgy then but I just wasn’t listening to much things. I wasn’t aware of how much additional people were pushing things sonically. I believe melodically it has a lot of strength and am would almost like to rework some of those tracks some day although I will probably never get round to doing that. But there is a few paths in there which can potentially be actually big dancefloor tracks but it’s just sonically so pristine and perfect sounding, and not in a very good way, I just don’t think it experienced any edge.
Do you listen back to your first recording at all?
Very rarely. There are a few tracks on there that I will always like but anything that has drums in I can’t actually listen to. It’s just cringeworthy. You understand, those beats were done in 1999 and if I was to still think they were good now then I wouldn’t have changed style at all. It’s important to write off your past. But melodically some of it I love. A few of the atmospheres are really nice.
You went on tour with Coldplay. When I spoke to May well Mount from Metronomy, who furthermore supported Coldplay, he said that there was no one in the audience for them. Do you find it tough?
I had a huge amount of respect intended for Coldplay for having a complete unknown, because was even before Insides came out. The music from Insides was a lot edgier in terms of tempo and weirder than the Immunity stuff. The particular animations I had with it were totally warped. But it was the only method I could do something that excited me and I didn’t want to re-hash the second album, I wanted to do something actually weird. It was almost like a film, the multimedia experience… But yeah I didn’t often enjoy the shows since playing to twenty thousand people, you might engage about a hundred of them. Which is still a good amount of people—if you do 30 shows like that then you still got three thousand new fans. However the ratio was not great. If they a new band like Elbow support them instead, people would have flocked to them. But I admire them to be daring like that. I think Chris believed I had more of a live user profile than I actually had. It was really my first tour though.
Oh no . Did not they know that?
No, I didn’t mention it. They asked if I wanted to open and I just said yes, since you can’t really say no are you able to?! He saw a little video, I had been doing like maybe one or two displays a year, and he thought it was great. He probably thought “Ok, he is able to do this”. He thought I had been much bigger than I was.
So actually playing should have been really nerve wracking.
Beyond that, actually, almost funny. The first show was Brixton Academy, which was a wedding rehearsal show in front of an audience. Four thousand is considered small for them. Which was alright, but the next one was Madison Square Gardens, which was 20 thousand people. I was actually having a laugh while I was playing because I believed, “What the hell is going on here? ” It was hilarious. People believed it meant that I was creating a great time. I was having a great time! I drank a lot of vodka before the display. Occasionally, when we played in the much less obvious places like Salt River City or Kansas, where I had been expecting to get the worst response, I actually got the best reponse. People that by no means had seen or heard this kind of thing, the younger crowd were actually excited by it. And it was more places like New York or Montreal or Chicago where they didn’t really register. It was weird, you couldn’t really guess where it will go.
You worked with Brian Eno on producing Coldplay. Do you know what record of yours Eno heard where he made a decision he wanted to hook up with you?
There was not one. There was a mutual collaborator, Leo Abrahams, who is a really previous friend of mine and exactly who I had jammed with for years. He met Brian and they made a great deal music by improvisation together. Plus Brian asked if there was anyone else he wanted to invite to join the jam sessions, because he wanted to create Another Day On Earth at the time, and Leo invited me. He actually didn’t listen to my solo music for years, he or she wasn’t really interested. But he is just not that kind of listener, Really dont think he explores that many cds by random young artists. But he liked Defenses a lot, he responded really well to that.
What did he say?
Well, his method of telling me that he liked it was that he wrote me an email informing me he had gotten into conversation with a psychologist at a hospital who’d had a lot of success playing it to psychologically ill people. He was trying to explain how it had a lot of therapeutic effects.
How did you are feeling about that?
That’s amazing and returns to the idea regarding creating music for people to can be found in. What did he state exactly?
I can’t remember exactly how he or she phrased it, I should dig out the e-mail really. What’s been weird about this is that I had responses from a actually wide cross-section of people. I obtain really nice messages through my internet site or whereever from people who discovered it helpful through some difficult time. Which is always an honor, people saying that. ~