Name: Jonny Wildey fka Alphabets Heaven
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Current release: Jonny Wildey's Nitely is our via WotNot Music. The album features collaborators like Danalogue (The Comet Is Coming, Soccer96), Emma Gatrill (This Is The Kit, Laura Marling), Marcus Hamblett (James Holden, Timber Timbre) and Deft (Yip Wong).
[Read our Danalogue interview]
Ishmael Reed - Mumbo Jumbo
This should be considered a classic of the 20th century. Please read it, then get your friends to read it.
Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities
I have never read another book like this.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jonny Wildey and would like to stay up to date on his new releases and possible live dates, visit him on Instagram, Soundcloud, and twitter.
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?
Probably my earliest influence was this casio keyboard we got when I was about 5. I’d play the demos and rhythms and kind of weirdly dance around on my own. Which is still a big part of what I really enjoy about it. Weird dancing.
But the first time I really wanted to make music was probably the first time I heard Jimi Hendrix. It just felt so expressive and free.
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?
To be honest, I think most people’s “voice” tends to be the stuff that they’re doing unintentionally, and can’t really avoid. So it’s best to not really worry about it.
For me, development has really been trying show more of myself to people. Not just in music, in everything.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
In every way. Good and bad. But I also think it works both ways. I think a lot of the parts of myself that I’m happiest really came from, or at least started at, the creative act.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think at the beginning my biggest challenge was wanting to make everything. I’d hear a drum & bass track and spend 3 months trying to make an even better drum & bass track than the one I just heard. And then 3 months later I’d hear Midnight Request Line for the first time and the cycle would start again.
Nowadays I kind of know what I want to make, broadly, but the thing I want to make is pretty hard. So it’s more about adapting the ways I used to make music to this new thing I want to do.
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?
Frankly for me it’s often been whether they look or sound cool, ideally both. I think instruments kind of alter you, you end up adapting yourself to what the instrument wants over time.
The first piece of studio equipment I fell in love with was the Korg PXR4 recorder. it was only 4 tracks, but you could bounce the 4 tracks down to 2 and do even more overdubs. It was incredible.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The piece of equipment that’s probably had the most profound impact on what I do is the Korg PadKontrol. I originally bought it because I wanted an MPC-esque sampler and it was the second cheapest option available, but over time I realised I could adapt a lot of tabla techniques to it. I’ve probably used it on 80% of the music I’ve made since. (Check the Alphabets Heaven Boiler Room performance)
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 definitely talk a lot! I’m big proponent of sending people tracks on whatsapp, not too sure how much they appreciate it.
I’m actively trying to collaborate more with people on one-off projects nowadays, when I’ve done it it’s always been really fun, and is typically something neither of us would typically come up with together.
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?
I guess my life is semi-structured? When I’m doing something I kind of want to focus on it 100%, so my day is sort of orientated around that idea.
I’m a bit of a night owl so I tend to wake up late. My morning is nothing special. Yoga, shower, peanut butter on toast, coffee and work. I have a pretty normal day job, that I keep fairly separate from the rest of my life.
I have a shared studio space that I go to in the evening. There I’m working on music until maybe 1 or 2am. For some reason writing and recording music in the night has always made more sense to me. Then I’ll cycle home and listen to some Louis Armstrong or something.
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?
Recently "Nitely" the track, from Nitely LP. It was so different from the other stuff I’d been making at the time, I was so happy with my own vocals, and it just felt like me.
I think the origin was that I thought it would be fun to try and make some drum sounds out of my sofa and it kind of just went from there. I felt like I was really getting across the substance of how night feels to me.
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?
For me there’s not much of a pattern to creativity. Sometimes I’ll have barely slept in days, feel terrible, and I’ll somehow end up writing something I love. Being around great people always helps though, as does great books, great films and low lighting.
My one motto is “Have fun”.
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?
Music, for me, has always been healing. On a personal level, spiritual level and at a social level. I see music’s biggest potential is, and always has been, unity.
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?
I think it’s incredibly complex.
But broadly I think a lot of it is about fair attribution, ownership and cultural investment rather than specific rules on creative decisions.
I also believe people are very good at reading the intent of music and art, and whether it’s coming from a place of respect and celebration or not.
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?
I think from a creative perspective visual arts have the strongest connection to music. Half of the vocabulary of music, which is actually a really important aspect of it, is just convoluted visual words. Why is music with a lot of treble “bright”? What does treble have to do with light?
However I’ve always been obsessed with music’s ability to create physical acoustic spaces, the sense of being present in a building, of someone being close by, of physical intimacy. Some of my favourite albums feel like a specific room, in a space that never really existed, to me.
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?
Honestly I struggle with this a lot. I’ve never really worked out how to synthesise my music with other things I care about in life. So I’d say it’s a work in progress.
I really admire people like Alabaster Deplume who do an incredible job of expressing so much of themselves in everything they do.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?