Name: Jonny L aka John Lisners
Current release: Jonny L’s 1993 classic drum n bass anthem ‘Hurt You So’ is re-released on Kniteforce, the label run by Luna-C. [Read our Luna-C interview]. It features remixes from Phuture Assassins, Ed Solo & Dope Ammo.
Recommendations: Painting: The starry night - Van Gogh; Tune: With a Little Help From My Friends - The Beatles
If you enjoyed this interview with Jonny L and would like to find out more about his work, his discogs page is currently the only place to check up on his releases.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing / producing around 18. First influences were The Beatles, Classical, Electro, Synth Pop, Dance music.
Primarily it was about the music or song that drew me in, then later it was equally about the sound.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Yes the learning process was about listening to records I loved, trying to understand how they did it, then starting with something simple of my own, repetition, letting something naturally evolve over time.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
When I was a teenager, my music had to fit into who I thought I was. By my 40s I realised my previous identity was unimportant.
It’s more about the freedom to try anything without a care. Back to square one. This could take a while.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Musically and technically there were ideas in my mind that were difficult to translate into reality, after some reflection, I worked out more how to achieve it. But that doesn’t mean better, just a different approach.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My two goals are song and dance.
As I found out at the start, song takes me longer, so I started my career weighted on dance with a bit of song. I built my first studio in 1988. Mostly Roland synths / drums, Akai sampler, Soundcraft desk, mic, FX, Atari computer, 8 track tape. With this gear I could get that classic house / acid / rave / dance sound from 88 to 93.
Through the mid 90s, as I entered the jungle / DnB era, my studio kept growing with better desks, outboard, computers, more synths.
Through the 2000s, again, I kept investing in quality gear, with more attention to the vocal side of recording.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Every bit of electronic gear I’ve owned has been inspirational, especially the evolution of computers, having a complete recording studio in the palm of your hand ...
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?
Collaborations pre 2000 were usually in person - jamming / talking, if we get on, great. Now file sharing ideas back and forth is also great.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
Morning? Fixed Schedule? :)
It’s been a lifestyle, during a recording, which can take anywhere between a day and a few months. I put everything else aside, basically only think and work on that particular tune until it’s finished.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
"Piper" on XL recordings. I watched Apollo 13 the week before. The film took me up to space like I was there with the astronauts, so I did the same while making this tune, locked in the studio, locked into a space vibe for a week or so. Made a similar condition / environment to achieve a specific sound.
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?
I’ve always been a night person. The magic happens after midnight, not always, but most often. Daylight can be a distraction, depending on the type of music I’m making. After a few hours of work there comes a zone in point, everything flows effortlessly, productive.
I've heard stories of other ways to enter this state.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Yes, I don’t know how it works, but music can heal, relax, feel good, inspire, shape, create an identity, educate.
I’ve learnt to be careful with lyrics, they can easily be misinterpreted, misunderstood. I may say something I think is silly / dark humour / friendly advice / but the listener can hear it in a completely different light, take offence, think it’s about them when it’s not! I’ve had to ditch a few good tunes over the years.
It’s grey area. If the intentions are positive, freedom of speech, it’s entertainment.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
If it sounds good, it’s good. Different cultures have things in common, we’re all human beings, we’re all living together on the same planet. For me, art in all its forms is also here to expand consciousness, push boundaries, make mistakes, learn from mistakes.
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?
Many of our senses must be linked to hearing. I remember feeling so many different emotions from a broken heart to high love to aggression to I have to dance to this when certain tunes were played on radio or in the clubs.
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?
My art evolves as I evolve, my views on it are constantly changing.
Sometimes I want to question something political like: Why after all these years of war is there still war when the outcome is always the same? But then I think my art is better kept simple without too much political thought, something just to feel good, escape reality for a few minutes.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music can be a bridge between this world and the world above. It can be spiritual, it can be superficial. It’s a feeling.