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April 9, 2018 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Anthonie Tonnon Interview

J: Tell me a little bit about how the last couple of years have gone between the two records?

A: Even before Successor I’ve been kinda working towards this way of working where I am kind of touring and recording and writing as a sort of integrated process. I mean, they’re all kind of separate jobs but they feed each other in an interesting way, and they can also hinder each other if you don’t do them in the right way too [laughs]. I was experimenting with things like crowd participation and also trying to develop a better sense of sonic aesthetics by picking up things like guitar pedals and that kinda stuff. That kept informing the record too – Successor took a really long time because I’d keep coming back from tours and go, “oh actually I can play this song better now!”

J: Yeah I mean, it seems like a fluid process, and I noticed that obviously on the new EP you’ve revised a track from Successor (“Railway Lines”), that’s in line with that, right? Sometimes these compositions take different forms over time dependent on instrumentation and live experimentation, right?

A: Totally. I mean, I try not to place a value on a song when its finished and say “I’ve finished the song, I’ve put it on record and now I will value it”. When you do that, a couple of things happen. One of them being that you’re never happy – it takes a long time to finish a song and get it up to being ready to release. You’re constantly making music but if you only value finished songs, you’ve spent all your time feeling miserable. Also, just treating songs a little bit more like gardening or something – you put something in a pot and it starts to grow, and then in winter you’ll get lemons from a lemon tree but you won’t get lemons in summer. A song like “Railway Lines”… even when a song is released, I still change it and still use it because if you’re gonna release a song then you know that the songwriting has worked and it’s tight so you can use that song to experiment with how you’re playing it and a different way of arranging it, because you know that the songwriting’s not a problem so you can experiment with other variables on it.

J: I got that impression, the revised arrangement has this cool skeletal vibe to it – the tracked drums and that aye. It’s super interesting to compare the two recordings, I suppose the technology necessitates the extent to which you can explore different parts of the arrangement.

A: It’s also a matter of saying that I only put in as much live as I can be in control of in the moment. Like, I could put in more, but then it would get into the sort of territory where I was just pushing the buttons and the song was playing.  And there maybe are times where I’m pushing a button, but I try to express that physically, or try to make that the best pushing of a button that I can [laughs]. The important thing is that it feels organic, and it’s done in a way where everything could fall apart – like, you need as much concentration as you would if you were playing a complicated instrument (like a piano) to make all this stuff work. To keep it manageable, and to keep to a template that I could believably play as one human, the arrangements to tend to take on a skeletal structure. I guess with the band shows, we have a chance to expand those a little bit, because you’ve got three musicians we can start doing some of the other things… It’s an interesting challenge.

J: Yeah man, I suppose that was my next question. With a view to these live shows, what can an audience member expect? Is there a mix of how you would perform the arrangements solo, with a bit of fleshing out from the band, or more one than the other?

A:  I mean, it’s not gonna be band-y. There might be some band-y moments, but I’m trying to throw out the whole structure and then rebuild it in a different way, which is essentially what I had to do with my solo shows. I’ve worked out how to play this music, piece-by-piece over a few years, and taking the band to that has been challenging but it’s been kind of exciting as well. It’s very different to a normal band show – there’s a lot of times where the band is dealing with electronic things they’ve gotta fiddle with, and there are some times where they’re doing normal drummer or bass player things, but there’s some times where they’ve got their hands free and we’ve gotta start worrying about choreographing the band – if you’ve got free hands, what else can you use them for? Maybe if you don’t have to do anything you shouldn’t pretend to do something, or you shouldn’t play a bass line that’s unnecessary. Maybe instead you should be turning on the smoke machine or fiddling with the laser or something like that [laughs]. So I’m just trying to think that you’ve got three or four band members, you’ve just got staff – you’ve got humans that can do anything. It no longer has to be playing every bit of the music, it’s controlling the music and delving into other things, like movement or lighting or anything kind of theatrical.

J: I do like that approach. I think there’s often a bit of a trap that maybe electronic musicians fall into, where they become to static or glued to their equipment and forget that a vital facet of visceral live performance is that visual expectation. Can you afford to stand still? Like, I suppose you should be presenting yourself in a manner which befits the music you’re playing right?

A: Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting debate. I think that music is in such a state of flux at the moment, it’s happening so fast, it’s hard to say. I guess slightly older generation musicians say they don’t wanna see a band that presses play on something and karaokes to their music. I’m trying to find somewhere in the middle where I’m not trying to tell a lie about what we are and aren’t doing, but I’m also trying to use the opportunities that electronic music gives to make the shows much bigger than what the old band show was like anyway. But then the other school of thought is that a lot of young people who like electronic music don’t kinda care? They don’t need to necessarily see their favourite artist pressing a whole lot of buttons or being stressed out on stage to believe it’s real. For me, I kind of need to feel like a musician as an instrumentalist. Everybody on stage is an instrumentalist and they’re playing music with musicianship, whatever the technology is.

J: It’s such a millennial thing, right? With all this new technology, how do we make that seem authentic or credible as instrumentalists.

A: Right! It was an existential thing for me because its like, I think you’ve gotta be playing it. But I wonder if the young musicians wonder if we’re just wasting time by trying to play it… [laughs].

J: Totally, it’s a super interesting debate in that respect.

A: I mean at the same time, I saw a big [message] chain from some musicians I know… and somebody pointed out that they hate it when they see electronic acts “bandify” their songs. You have someone who releases this great record which is all made on Ableton, and then they get a four-piece band and play it like they’re Rolling Stones songs [laughs]. So you can ruin songs like that too, you know.

J: [laughs] It seems like a tightrope act, where you’re trying to make as many people happy as you can – satisfy the masses right.

A: I guess whatever you do, its theatre. It’s a performing art, and that’s a thing that I’m interested in. I think that what you can do is so much more varied and diverse than what it used to be, where, to some degree, everybody had to be holding down a beat on their particular instrument, but they didn’t have so much room to do anything else. Now, I feel like it’s wide open, and I think performance is the key to actually making this stuff exciting.

J: One last thing from me then, what does the rest of 2018 look like for you? More touring? More music?

A: Yeah, we’ve got much more music to release that we’re fine tuning at the moment. It’s been really good to release the Two Free Hands EP, and see how people respond to it. If you don’t release something, people don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve got lots of regional shows to do, which is always good. The great test of this stuff is whether you can get a response from somebody in the regions [laughs], and I’m currently developing some other crazy shows at the moment — there’s some talks of doing a show in a planetarium.

Anthonie Tonnon plays Meow on April 13, tickets through Under the Radar. You can also stream his new EP, Two Free Hands, through Bandcamp.  

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