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Jon Hopkins - From The Inside Out

Author: Nina Bertok
Monday, May 25, 2009

While you might not instantly recognise the name Jon Hopkins, chances are you’re familiar with at least one of his tracks; Light Through The Veins being used to open and close Coldplay’s 2008 album, Viva La Vida, produced by Brian Eno. With Hopkins and Eno coming together again in June for Sydney’s Luminous festival, 3D’s Nina Bertok spoke with Hopkins.

It’s taken him almost four years to put the finishing touches to his third masterpiece Insides, but considering the company Jon Hopkins has been keeping of late, we’ll let it slide…

Brian Eno sent me a text message in 2007 when he was producing Coldplay’s Viva La Vida album and he asked if I wanted to come in and do a day’s work for them,” Hopkins recalls, “And yeah, that was quite overwhelming. Actually, it was awesome. We all got along really well and I think the production on the album really evolved into something great. So that took up most of 2007, but I’m not complaining.”

In fact, Hopkins and Coldplay hit it off so well that Chris Martin suggested they should extend their time in the studio with a full-blown US and UK tour in 2008. And Hopkins agreed.

“I opened up for a lot of their shows across America as well as the UK and Japan. Their audiences were so cool and really open to hearing something new altogether. I also thought it was really nice that at the shows the band would make it very clear that I had worked on the Viva album and that therefore my set was pretty much a part of their show in that sense. They were very welcoming guys.”

But as much as touring with one of the biggest bands in the world was fun and exciting for Hopkins, pretty soon he realised he had his own album to attend to – and so back to the studio he went to finish off his grand project Insides. And while both the album and its title are completely open to interpretation, for Hopkins personally, the record is a sonic expression of internal thoughts.

“It’s hard to explain it without sounding like an idiot,” he laughs. “First of all, I like to give things a name, which allows other people to apply their own meaning to it as well. In that sense, the title and the album could have quite a few different meanings. For me, however, basically it’s about my own personal world. My emotional insides. It’s an expression of what it’s like to be me. I guess it also has this other element of the human body being a sort of a vessel that carries all these emotions and thoughts.”

Hopkins is the first to admit this all sounds pretty deep and heavy, but he claims the bottom line of Insides was to explore the contrast between life in the city and the country.

“I think if you really listen you can hear the expansiveness about the record,” he says. “There are the more brutal elements versus the quieter elements and maybe in a lot of ways that’s a reflection of city life versus being in the country. For a while I had no idea which I preferred because I’m used to living right in the middle of London in a very urban area. A lot of people have suggested that it’s about claustrophobia or that the sound itself sounds claustrophobic but I don’t agree. There were supposed to be moments of intensity but not claustrophobia.”

Intensity probably best describes Insides too – way beyond mere electronica, the album is just as much about the piano ballad as it is about the bouncy funk, making it one of the most unique pieces of music that 2009 has so far had to offer. And we are very grateful indeed.

“I wrote the whole thing but I can’t play anything apart from the piano so I had about two or three other musos come into the studio,” Hopkins says. “I’m used to working by myself but it’s not as fun working on your own. You go mental much quicker when you’re alone… But then again that’s sometimes necessary for the creative process, isn’t it- At the moment I would probably classify myself primarily as a composer but I’m trying to make a bit of a return to the piano lately. I actually did a concert the other week for the first time in years and it felt really good to be back on the piano so I want to get back into it. I think it has fit really well with this album in particular.”

While as a teenager he quickly developed a love of grunge, hardcore and acid house, at the same time Hopkins was regularly taking professional piano tutorials at the Royal College of Music in London. Of his eventual progression into the world of electronic beats, Hopkins claims it was a most natural one.

“When I finally got to music college, they had this little studio where you could go and play around with different things. By then, my parents had bought me this four-track tape machine, which was this enormous brown thing that had, like, four buttons on it! But it let you layer up different tracks on top of one another and I already had a home keyboard so I started experimenting and that really excited me.”

These days a Jon Hopkins show not only includes a grand piano on stage but also a hypnotic visual set-up that combines 1970s imagery with Hopkins’ modern sounds – with some interesting results.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he explains. “It’s these animations from a San Francisco animator called Vince Collins who did them all in a style of the 1970s and 1980s, so it looks totally hippy. Each frame is painted and it just looks really terrific. When you look at the images, they really hypnotise you because they’re very classic-looking animations. They’re very much anything but modern and high-tech and so to play them in the background alongside such modern-sounding music, I think it quite interestingly fits together. I just knew I didn’t want these sharp, high-definition graphics so I’m really happy with the contrast between what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing. The whole live set-up is just me and a VJ controlling the visual side, so Australia will be getting a two-man show. I’m really looking forward to it actually because I like travelling a lot. I try not to be home for any longer than a week.”

WHO: Jon Hopkins
WHAT: Insides through Domino / EMI / Plays the Sydney Opera House
WHEN: Out now / Saturday 6 June / Sunday 7 / Monday 8