Today, in a first ever with hopefully more on the way from ComputerMusicguide, we’re chatting with White Town’s Jyoti Mishra. I recently blogged Jyoti’s music video for his song Cut Out My Heart, it’s definitely worth the watch & listen and in case you missed the post, it can be found here at this link.
Somewhere between a few phantom Facebook notifications and a short burst of messages, we managed to knock out an interview! For a full transcript, please send 1,000$ and SASE to
C/O Botany 500
Ok fine, or you can just read the following:
Ok in your last message you said:
“I’m just a gear nut who combined a lot of perseverance with an equal amount of luck.”
Let’s build on that. Tell me what lead to your first “big break”, what it was and how you felt you got there, keeping that statement in mind.
Well, I’d had some success very early on (in a signed band when I was 16, subsequent interest from EMI Publishing when I was 18) but I had no big success until I was 30, when ‘Your Woman’ hit. I formed White Town in ’89, very much ripping off bands I loved then like The Wedding Present, Pixies, Sonic Youth. It was a fuzzy noisepop band, no synths. I went back to synths, my first love, when everyone else left! Shows what I must be like to work with, eh?
I was already lucky enough to have labels like Parasol put my records out. One of the singles, which had ‘Your Woman’ on it, started being played by BBC Radio One DJ Mark Radcliffe. It blew up – people loved it and requested it. Literally in the time between Oct ’96 – Nov, it crossed to peak daytime radio. Cue bidding war and me signing to EMI in December.
I wrote about it at the time:
People think I hate ‘Your Woman’ when I love it. That one song has clothed and fed me (excluding writing, photog and new musical work) for the last fourteen years! Also, I still like it as a song. I don’t think it’s the best song I’ve written but it holds up, it’s honest and what I wanted to do with it came out pretty well. And, of course, that one blip of huge interest does convert into sales for my other stuff and I’m not shy about milking that.
And then keeping in that train of though, one of the things I’ve noticed about you it that you seem to keep a positive and public personality that’s accessible while still being able to maintain a sense of individuality. It’s something that seems to be working for you and quite a contrast to the slick imagery that seems to come from most bands on the internet.
I’m a geek. A real geek. I grew up on SF and comics, breadboard one-pot violins and electrolytically plating coins with copper via a copper sulphate solution and my train transformer. I was the fat kid, the Indian immigrant, the bullied kid. Music was an escape and a safe house. So, the reasons I do what I do aren’t why most people do music. Most are pursuing the cool or the money. I’m not. (I think that’s actually why I got some money in the end, because I wasn’t desperately chasing it doing flavour-of-the-week shit like so many musicians do. Look at all the people now thinking if they churn out some bruvstep, they’ll cash in.)
I’m an artist because I want to engage, to connect. I don’t have any answers (which is why I’m not a priest), I only have questions and stories. I do what I do because that idea, of connecting, of establishing a dialogue, is behind everything I do. So, when I’m recording a song, everything is subordinate to that attempt at connection. And it’s the same in terms of accessibility.
So, I don’t do ‘slick imagery.’ Even if I was thin, young and attractive enough to do it, I wouldn’t as it reeks of bullshit. It’s a cul de sac, it seems like it’s cool and going somewhere but it’s pointless. The point of making music is to get past all that, to get to something real and almost Platonically pure. Art != artifice.
Was this your approach from the beginning? If not, what were the other approaches that you have tried? How do you make it all work for you?
Well, it’s not for me to judge if it’s working in critical terms, is it? All I know is how each song feels, what was the concept of the song and how closely does the finished recording match what was in my head. No other human can know that just as I can’t know how any other human feels about my music.
I’m aware this sounds very wanky. Hell, maybe I’m lying – maybe if I’d been a male model type, I’d have had no trouble taking the money and singing other people’s songs? Who knows? But the facticity of my life was otherwise and I’ve done the most I can within those boundaries. There’s a lot to be said for limits. I think one of the problems for modern musicians is negotiating what appears to be an infinite palette of sounds. Some freeze, unable to ever pick a colour, commit to a take, decisively finish a song and release it. Maybe it’s a tech-mediated anal retentiveness? :-P
How do you market yourself online? Which services do you use? Any pros and cons or success and failure stories?
I use CD Baby for CD sales and also to get my stuff on iTunes and the other downloady thingies. When I release an album, I promote it through the old media (via a press promoter) and I generally find that generates more sales than it costs.
There are sooo many sites out there, I think it’s important not to spread oneself too thinly. After all, I run my own label because I want to release my own music – it shouldn’t hoover up so much time that I don’t have time left to make the music!
I’m glad MySpace is fucking dead as I loathe Murdoch so much. Facebook is evil but at least they didn’t agitate for the invasion of Iraq like Murdoch did. The FB band page is useful for news and info, since everyone’s on FB now.
But, to tell the truth, I’m a little bored of current online shit! I want the next thing to come along, FB, Last.fm, Soundcloud, Bandcamp etc. all feel a bit… 2007? I wish I was clever enough to invent the next thing, then I could make millions and spend it all on synths. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
I really like your “Cut Out My Heart” video. It’s simple, sincere and quite effective. How was it conceived and produced?
Well, the song is about where I am romantically currently. So I wanted the video to connect with some of the themes of the song: love, loss, fear, doubt, loneliness, desperation, separation.
The first thing I knew is that I wanted it at night. I knew my 5d Mk2 could handle that. Then I knew I didn’t want to be in it: that would be too intense and too visually literal. Also, I hate performance vids, tbh.
Then I conceived of the idea of a three-way relationship where the third person isn’t actually seen. But the two women are singing his words. Also, they walk through exactly the same places and sing his words without ever meeting. It’s two points of a triangle which should hint at the missing third (hence the character names at the end of the vid). I roped in two of my mates, headed off to the woods with my 5D and an LED light and that was it. Then I shot the indoor eye and mouth shots. All shaky, handheld stuff.
I edited in iMovie cos I can’t be arsed with FC. There were little things I did: the lip sync is deliberately off at the start of the video. There’s a shot of Nat where she’s actually licking her lips instead of ‘singing.’ Things like that only I will probably get. Yes, I’m an ex-film student. :-P
I’m pleased with the vid because it is the song. Also, on a meta level, it’s two of my closest friends at a certain time in our lives and friendships.
Since you mentioned being a gear nut and that’s what we’re all about here, can you describe the evolution of your setup?
Oh god – since when? 1982?? That would be a novel, not an interview!
Ummm… first electronic keyboard: Casio VL-1, first ‘real’ synth: Mogue Rogue, first drum machine: TR-808, first polysynth: JX-3P. First multitrack: Fostex X15 then onto Tascam 688 which is what ‘Your Woman’ was recorded on. I switched to DA digital tape multitracks when I got EMI money and then, a few years later, moved to Macs and Logic. Been using Logic since 2000 for everything but I’m out of love with it since Apple took it over and made it shit for MIDI timing. Hence, I sequence rhythmically important elements externally on MPC or, more commonly, Elektron gear.
I’ve got a shitload of outboard so I’ve got 3 x MOTU 24 i/os, that gives me a lot of patching and flexibility.
Is there a particular work flow or certain combination of gear that works for you?
Most of my songs are written on acoustic guitar. Then, once written, I’ll decide if the song is bettter framed as an “electronic” song or a “guitar” song. (I’m using all the quotation marks because *all* music is electronic now, of course. I find it ironic that ‘Computer World’ has less electronic manipulation, it’s a more organic, played record than any modern rock record, since they’re all Beat Detectived and Autotuned to buggery.)
The main thing is to not lose the song. That can happen so easily. I’ve done it many times in the last 29 years of recording myself. Everything has to serve the song. That can be depressing when I’ve been working on a particular arrangement for a couple of months and realise I’ve gone wrong and have to junk it and start from scratch. But you have to bite the bullet and do it or you end up with songs that are travesties of what they should have been.
I put a guide vocal down very early. Mostly, that guide will be what I release. It’s nearly always out of tune or a bit shonky but, hey, that’s what I sing like. My fave time is mixing when all the elements are there and I’m orchestrating everything. I’m ruthless – often slashing out parts I spent fucking hours getting right. But you have to put different hats on, you have to stand back and listen to your song like you’ve never heard it before so you don’t get lost in the mechanics.
What are some of your stand out pieces of gear and what makes them special to you?
I love Elektron. I got the Monomachine SFX-6 and it’s a beautiful instrument so I bought a Machinedrum after. I also love the sound of my Virus TI Polar. So, I’m not an analogue snob, I’ll use whatever serves the song. Don’t mind using a guitar pedal or a plugin, I’m not a tech fetishist, I find all that very silly. For example, the reverb on ‘Cut Out My Heart’ is the spring in Logic’s pedalboard. Lovely sproinginess, sounds ace on electro snares.
In terms of synths, my PC3 is wonderful for inspiration, the pianos and orchestral sounds are awesome. The Voyager is a jumpy, excitable puppy of a synth. It just wants to please me, I rub its belly and all kinds of crazy-ass noises come out it. And when you put guitar through it, oh man… those stereo filters are creamy wonder.
But I guess my fave bits of gear are my Takamine acoustic guitar and my voice. I’m basically a goth folkie who dabbles in indiepop and synthpop. The whiny, existentialist songs come first and everything else after.
I just read through your SOS modular article! Great job! How did you get into writing that? That seems like a dream opportunity for most people!
I wanted to get a modular but I was scared. So I thought, ‘hey, if I’m scared after playing synths for 30+ years, what are newbies feeling?’ That’s how I pitched it, very much as a terrified beginner’s guide.
I’m pleased with it, had a lot of good feedback from people who saidthey were now going to build their own modular.
Are you currently using any modular gear? If so, how do you incorporate it into your music?
Yep, my Doepfer modular is in a lot of my stuff. I’ll use it for processing but also for normal synth work. It’s brilliant at percussion, I use it in the same way Daniel Miller used his 2600: synthesising kicks, snares, hats. And then I do multiple passes into Logic, using it like a big, ’80s reel-to-reel.
Like all synths, the Doepfer has its own sound. I probably use it less for basses than my Moogs but I have used it for leads a lot. Again, I feel the Voyager has the edge as it’s just sooo much fun. I’ll do stupider things on it, I tend to be a bit more cerebral with the Doepfer. This is probably because I’m still relatively knew to modular patching, it hasn’t yet become an unconscious workflow.
Anything upcoming or on the horizon you’d like to promote?
Ummm… now this year of Uni has done, I’ll be finishing off and releasing my new album before September! So, look out for that. No
idea when or what’s it called yet.
Thanks for your time!
No worries, mate!