Proost: How did the idea for this project come about?
Jon: I was listening to music online and found myself listening to this stuff which i'd not heard too much of before. i found myself captivated and moved by it. i realised i wanted other people to hear it whilst realising that was unlikely. so i resolved to make some tracks firmly based on the originals, giving the original material a more up to date frame in which to sit. so it was the source material that drove me... That and a clear vision of how i wanted to do it.
P: What do you like about these old gospel tunes?
J: i love the rawness of the original performances and the immediacy of the recordings. I also love the attitude which comes through... You have to imagine these guys living in a United States decades before Martin Luther King was rallying and the Civil Rights Movement was really causing a stir. It was dangerous to be black and standing out and making a statement... This is punk with a cause and it galvanises the people, gives hope and lifts them out of their plight and into a godspace. I had a lot of goosebump moments working with these songs and a 24/7 smile on my face. I like their simplicity, their catchiness and how they make me feel.
P: How do you go about arranging a track from an old scratchy tune?
J: The first part of making a track is the tricky, long winded part. because I wanted to bring a beat and a bass line to the tracks and add other bits and bobs I had to look at every bar of the original recording and alter it's pace. the bpm of each recording would vary significantly through the song, so it was important to find the bpm that suited the song best and make sure every bar fitted that tempo, whilst making sure the original recording stayed sounding natural. the other big decision was whether to keep the whole song intact, or to only use the bits that sounded great or were repairable. this varied from track to track, but where possible I tried to pretty much stick to the original layout of the song. this was not always possible as some bits of audio were damaged beyond repair and took away from the track rather than adding to it. all the original tracks were riddled with noise, scratches and ageing, but some were significantly worse than others. I didn't want to lose all the noise as it brought a degree of antiquity and atmospheric nostalgia, but sometimes the amount of noise was ridiculous. a mixture of careful eq'ing and micro editing sorted out the worst, but sometimes it suited best to become a little more of an axeman and chop a verse out. I like to think that by the end I'd made good choices and that the original artists themselves would enjoy the way i've presented their work. i hope so. i have great respect for the original pieces and hopefully that shows, but not at the expense of doing something worth listening to. listen and see whether you agree with me or not.
P: Why is it that gospel seems to carry an appeal across so many cultures do you think?
J: it's the human story i think. whatever background you have there is something in us that either can or wants to relate to the plight of others. these songs either speak directly to us, or reveal something about the artist. it's the unabashed way in which these songs are expressed that makes them captivating well beyond the confines of their original intended audience. i think so-called spiritual music is always popular, because we all long to be empathised with, understood, lifted up etc... and gospel music does this in a direct and more unabashed way than many other more sophisticated genres of music. also it's hard not to fall in love with the characters behind the songs even though you don't know them from Adam. Raw honesty and emotion is a very powerful thing and humans are drawn to it. These songs also recognise a messy world, they are birthed out of hardship and this is somehow conveyed in the sound of the vocals. these people have not had it easy. it's powerful stuff and it's main themes are often timeless.
P: This World's In A Hell Of A Fix seems a pretty apt title for our world today! Did you do three albums because you had a lot of tunes or have you grouped them in particular ways?
J: My original intention was to do a single mini album, but when i'd completed 'The Devil Don't Stand A Chance' i realised i was not done and that i was enthusiastic for more, so i pressed on... and i'm glad i did. Apart from a couple of tracks every song is laid out in the order that i did them. It seemed that the songs were naturally working well together in the order I came to doing them in. As the first album felt complete with its 9 songs I resolved to do the others the same way, and for me it works well. I like that I can have a half hour listen to a selection of tracks or a 90 minute mega listen to the whole lot... It feels neat. There is a wide variety of mood and feel over all of the songs and i just don't get bored listening to them, as I didn't get bored making them. You're right re. the title of album number 2. `Listening to the title track it is astonishing to hear the preacher saying the absolute same things that we see in the world today. In the States at that time there was a depression and many of the same specific things that faced them then face us now. it's spooky really, how little we've learned from our past mistakes. it is also a reminder that we who are alive now are so connected to the people in our past. the human condition is the human condition both now and then.
P: Will we see you out on the streets of Bath with a harmonica and banjo any time soon?
J: Not unless I lose my home, which I'm hoping won't happen.
P: What else are you working on creatively at the moment?
J: I'm doing a lot of music and animation in my work, but what I'm most excited about is the work I'm doing with an old colleague... more about that another time... cool stuff though.