Name: Jonathan Bree
Nationality: New Zealand
Occupation: Singer, Songwriter
Current Release: Sleepwalking on Lil' Chief Records
Recommendations: One album I recommend is the Wave Pictures 'Catching Light - the songs of André Herman Düne'
It's been on my stereo and headphones for over 10 years now. A staple of my musical diet.
I guess I read comics more than I make time for books. Recently re-read Charles Burns last trilogy, 'X'ed out' 'the hive' and 'sugar skull'. Its gloomy, relatable yet surreal.
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?
Around the age of 17 after I bought a two track reel to reel. I had scraps of songs up until then but having some equipment to finally capture an idea and layer up additional melodic lines was what really sparked the creative process. Around that time I was discovering the bootlegs of the Beach Boys's Smile and was enthralled with that. The two track was extremely limiting as it would only take a few bounces before the first take that went down started sounding like mud. There was a charm to it though. The following year I bought a 4 track
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?
That’s true. Looking back on my own back catalogue I can see the phases where I was more inspired by certain artists and was emulating certain production sounds. After you settle on what palette really inspires you and begin mining it in greater detail that’s when I suppose you might stumble into a signature sound … create a creative feedback loop
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Compositional would be I can’t really read or write music and I’m absolutely rubbish on the piano. However not knowing ‘the rules’ means that you aren’t closed up to exploring and learning what works in your own head.
Production challenges were always money related. I began my home recording adventures in the late 90’s, it would be a good 10 years before digital recording would turn anyone with a laptop into a recording artist.
Now the biggest challenge for both those things is time, the onslaught of admin. The day I finished the last album was the day I started focusing on the business side of things to help promote it.
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?
The one constant has been the studio has always been my bedroom, or someone else’s … or the tour van. Never really a studio is my point I suppose. I’ve switched from analogue tape to DAW software. Square as it sounds the most important gear is honestly my midi controller. Working with soundbanks to quickly create compositions is such a powerful tool and one that doesn’t limit the creative process. I watched people addicted to gaming and for me writing and producing in this way has the same effect. I’ll start writing a song at 12pm and 5am the next day I’m 90% finished, forgot to eat, shower, blood shot eyes, but with a fully realised demo. It’s kinda special. In terms of gear I’m generally not fussy, but there were a couple of soundbanks that I found myself using a lot on the last album, particularly
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?
For me technology (particularly the DAW) is incredibly useful because it allows a level of control that is much harder to get otherwise. However, people are great because they can often be active contributors to the creativity, whereas technology is always a passive facilitator.
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?
Working with soundbanks is key to my process. All strings, percussion and orchestral parts are written and recorded in this way initially and upgraded to the real deal later on where necessary.
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’m pretty insular, I like to beaver away at something before I feel confident enough to play it to anybody. Once I do though I feel I have a number of friends whose opinions I value that are unofficial editors.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
No fixed schedule, I’m an ancient bum teenager. I sometimes do commissioned work for film and tv and those briefs sometimes start something that might later be redeveloped into something for my own personal output. I also help produce Princess Chelsea and her music project fuels mine and vice versa.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
‘Say you love me too’ was one of those recordings that came together within the space of a few days. I started with the beat just sitting down at a v kit triggering an Abbey Road 60s drummer. It sounds like I'm trying some variation of the 'tomorrow never knows' drum pattern. From there I moved over to the bass and jammed around until I settled on that riff which is really the main feature of that song. I think I wrote the middle eight part on piano and once I added a little bit of organ in the chorus it was instrumentally finished.
I had worked which Clara Viñals once before on a track and thought she'd have a perfect voice for the intimate delivery. She was based in Barcelona and I in Auckland so we had to exchange stems to record her vocals.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Multitasking is a bit of a killer. I do write and record on the road when we are touring but it can be challenging. Once I’m home though I’ve never really had writers block. You might make some average songs but everything is something. You pick up a bass, there’s a riff, put your fingers on a piano there’s a chord, away you go.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I enjoy the studio creative process obviously but working within the limitations of say a 5 piece band live can also provide fun reinterpretations of the recorded work. On occasion arguably better versions. Unfortunately you often don’t revisit the studio for a re-recording process
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I think there’s definitely a strong relationship between the two. There are definitely certain sounds that I will tend to use that make sense for the kinds of things I’m writing. Also, a particular string sound or a certain guitar tone has a lot of impact on the kinds of parts that get written for it.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
One interesting thing I’ve noticed is the relationship between the music and the visual aspects, which is obviously something I’m very into. The interesting thing is that the connections that get drawn between them, even if there are somewhat independent intentions behind the visuals and the songs.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I endeavour to be honest. Not to be confused with ‘earnest’, lyrical honesty whether in the first second or third person is key. Refining yourself to fit in with a popular palette is a major turn off and one I think artists should avoid.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I would almost say there are aspects of some electronic music that has transcended the traditional basic concept of music. Beyond that, I don’t know. If I could imagine it, it would probably already exist right?