TiD&B Interview: John B

Posted by on Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

John B’s forthcoming long-player, ‘Light Speed’ – his first in over five years – is set to drop on his own imprint Beta Recordings next Monday, 6th February.  Exploring a number of electronic music styles including electro and trance but within the realms of drum and bass tempo, the collection of thirteen tracks deservedly destined for the dancefloor can only be described as John B, all over.  Intelligent, vibrant and surprising in the best possible way, it’s an excellent musical representation of the internationally re-knowned artist he has created and nurtured since beginning his career fifteen years ago.

In the lead up to next week’s release, Gideon Thomas caught up with John to find out more about the new album, where he’s from, and where he’s going…

TiD&B: Your new album ‘Light Speed’ certainly contains a variety of flavours, was that on your agenda from the beginning of the album project?  

John B: I didn’t really have an exact concept at the beginning – the album has been more of a gradual thing that I’ve been working on for the last few years.  Quite a lot of the tracks were originally instrumentals then I’d test out at my DJ gigs, and slowly tweak & improve them, and then in the final stages of finishing the album I managed to get in touch with and work with all the vocalists that I thought would work well on them.

TiD&B: If you could compare your sound, and your new album to perhaps a work of art, what would it be?

John B: No idea…Maybe one of those crazy Renaissance scenes where there’s loads of stuff going on; someone dying from a dagger wound, a bunch of sexy Renaissance ladies with their boobies showing, some angels, and a lion or two.  Oh, and horses – they’re difficult to paint so that can reflect the technical complexity of the production!

TiD&B: From get-up-and-go and move-your-body tracks to intelligent, thought-provoking moments ‘Light Speed’ has it all. Tell us about your overall approach to making music…

John B: Most importantly I try to make stuff that is unique, and represents how I feel at the time. I haven’t (yet) got into that mind-set that it’s all got to be tailored to Radio 1, or YouTube channels or whatever – all these tracks just came out pretty organically as they were and how I felt they should sound.  I work with the intention that I don’t need to pander to any particular popular current mini-trend in D&B or whatever sub-genre – you can provide for that side of everything with remixes, and I’m getting loads done so I think it’s going to be exciting to see everyone’s interpretations of the different directions the songs could go in…

TiD&B: Is there one style of music, you have most fun making?

John B: Not really – although D&B is always my first love.  I’m just happy when I feel I’m making something that’s going to be well received and respected, and will stand out from everything else.

TiD&B: Taking things back a while, I remember spending many formative hours in the Record Basement in Reading, where you also used to visit, right?  Can you tell us a little about your reminiscences in the scene, and how you’ve made it this far?

John B: Oh yeah wow – that was a long time ago.  I’d go in there on ‘promo day’ or when I knew some TPs would be coming in – then bribe Toby or Marc with a pub lunch to find me any really new stuff from the warehouse.  Back then, getting hold of exclusives and tracks before they came out was such an important factor in how well you were doing as a DJ in D&B  – it was exciting, but also a lot of work to just get the odd few tracks that you could drop on the next DJ to make them jealous haha!  Nowadays no one really cares so much about that stuff, not in that same nerdy way – I’m glad it’s more about how much you can rock the crowd and how you make a set your own and brand it with your own sound and style rather than just about how much you were in the ‘in crowd’ and could blag such and such a TP or DAT.  I think most of all, I miss the fun and camaraderie and feeling of being involved in something exciting with cool interesting people you used to get hanging out in the Music House, waiting to cut dubplates and trading DATs and stuff – for a geeky, middle class-ish guy like me at the time, to be involved in that scene and feel totally welcome and respected, was awesome.

TiD&B: Where do you feel more comfortable; playing in front of 1000s of people or in the studio making music?  

John B: It’s difficult to compare the two really – they’re both great situations in different ways.  Playing live is almost always a great experience, seeing clubbers’ reactions to my performance and tracks I’ve made, talking to everyone and seeing the fruits of stuff like my podcast and work I’ve put in continuously behind the scenes.  The studio is rewarding too but in a different way – it feels amazing when you hit that ‘eureka’ moment in the music-writing process, where you realise you’re onto something really really good and you know you can smash it.

TiD&B: From your Tweets, we’ve noticed you like to experiment in the kitchen, you’ve also just started a new cooking blog!  If you could have a dinner party with any five people – living or dead – who would they be and what would you cook?

John B: Hah, I can’t believe I don’t already have a stock response to this question. Off the top of my head…  Jean Michel Jarre (I’d have to brush up on my GCSE French), Beethoven (he always looks mean in paintings so I’d have to cheer him up with the next guest), Tim Vine (my current favourite comedian, one liner specialist), Neil Strauss (author and famous pick up artist).  Oh and Mila Kunis, just because I really fancy her. 

TiD&B: ‘Light Speed’ features quite a few collabs with vocalists – when you write, do you usually imagine vocals accompanying your beats? How does the process work?

John B: In the past I didn’t really, just because I didn’t consider it to be easy enough to actually get the vocals done and didn’t know enough good vocalists that I knew I would be able to work with.  But now, I definitely do, and I vastly prefer making tracks with vocals.  Now that it’s not so unheard of for underground D&B or bass music to get on the radio and have commercial success I think you might as well give it a go, you never know when you’re going to catch a wave of support and I think not using vocals limits your chances of more mainstream recognition…You can always do instrumentals anyway, and remixes, so why not? With this album, most of the tracks I had were almost finished before getting vocalists involved but I decided to go for it and sent them to my favourite singers.  They recorded the vocals in their own studios and then beamed them over to me via the Internet so I could finish off the tracks.  It worked really well!

TiD&B: Who is next on the ‘to work with’ list?

John B: I’ve always wanted Morten Harket from A-Ha on one of my tracks, and also the vocalists from two of my favourite industrial bands, VNV Nation and Apoptygma Bezerk, which I’m already working on making happen.  There are some vocalists I’ve heard a fair bit in the trance scene which I’d like to borrow too.  

Oh and Pixie Lott – just because she’s super hot and I’d like to seduce her.

TiD&B: Where do you see electronic music in general, and drum & bass in particular going next?

John B: As long as it keeps improving and positive things happen, I don’t mind.  There’s always so much going on in so many different directions so as long as that’s happening, I’m happy.

TiD&B: The album talks about journeying and escape. Where do you go when you fly away?

John B: Usually somewhere sunny, where I have good friends…  I recently cashed in some air miles for a couple of trips to chill a bit, visiting Miami and Vegas – those are my sorts of places, where I still feel at home, can relax and still be active, but not be bored. 

TiD&B: If you could take drum & bass music to any historical period, what would it be and why?

John B: That wouldn’t be a good idea – haven’t you seen ‘Back To The Future’?  It would alter the time-space continuum & change the future!  I’d rather not bother J.S. Bach with complicated musical concepts like jump up & brostep…

Posted on: 02/02/12 Categories: Interviews TiD&B Features

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