Current Release: Hum on Ipecac (July 31)
Recommendations: Arvo Pärt-Fratres For Violin and Piano
(especially the Gidon Kremer/Keith Jarrett one) / The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
Website/Contact: Keep up to date with Alain’s releases and touring schedule on his website www.alainjohannes.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing around 4 years of age, learning a few chords and picking out songs. Early influences were The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Paco De Lucia, the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar, Queen and tons of jazz Coltrane, Miles, Dolphy…
I have early memories of music creating this feeling in me of connection of excitement and I loved the space I entered in my mind, the chatter disappeared and the world wasn’t scary anymore, it became the opposite, a magical place. My first songs and riffs I was around 13 years old and were definitely very 70’s in feel.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Way more than the time I spent learning my instrument and then other instruments, I credit the endless hours listening and absorbing music from different cultures different genres. I was drawn to Indian classical music and the phrasing vocalists and instrumentalists had. I tried to mimic that on my guitar. Jazz and classical expanded my harmonic palette at the same time as rock music in all its variants excited me with the visceral energy and freedom to do anything.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
It’s all process. So, as the years pass we learn from each experience and keep learning and living. Also, the gear keeps changing. In the beginning, I had analog tape recorders and synths etc. Then digital started taking over making it more affordable but not always as good sonically, so we had to overcome that. I find each album I make or produce has its own challenges and set of unique attributes and circumstances, so I’m always inventing and trying to instinctively be attuned to that particular project. I have no bag of tricks in the end because even as I fill one up it won’t always work the next time.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was simply a 2”,16-track Stephens tape recorder, a few microphones and a small analog console set up in the bedroom. I’ve been collecting instruments since I was a kid so now my setup is the sum total of all those years of gathering instruments, microphones and outboard gear. It’s quite extensive and ranging from cheap to quite valuable. It all serves a purpose. In the end, my original Jazzmaster and my Cigfiddle are the two most important pieces. Everything else I could find again.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Well, hopefully the division is minimized and it’s an extension of one’s creativity. They are all tools that help manifest a creative impulse into a piece of music. In that regard, a human body is part of this continuum.
Whether I’m playing a bamboo flute, singing, banging a drum or using pedals on my guitar through a particular amp recorded through a particular mic in to a mic pre, into a DAW then applying plugins, it’s all part of it to me. I will say technology has made it more affordable and has allowed for a creative space at home or on the road which is fabulous. You can make an album anywhere anytime.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I love incorporating complex effects chains and sample engines as well as software synths in a way that I can perform them so that what I play has a multi-dimensional quality even though I’m simply playing guitar. I have a midi pickup as well as a guitar synth and stereo pedal chains and a tiny keyboard I can play simultaneously. I got to do that quite a bit for the Ghost Recon Breakpoint soundtrack.
I also enjoy making instrument templates of interesting combinations with my sample libraries to learn about textures and orchestration.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I prefer being in the room together creating as a unit in general. But if that’s not possible, it’s great to be able to collaborate at a distance. I often guest on songs adding stuff on my own. With Mark Lanegan, we work together after we’ve laid down the main beds and after his vocals we often send the track out to awesome musicians all over the world to add their magic. Again, it would be amazing to all get together at the same time and place but it’s often not possible with costs and schedules.