Leiko Ikemura, Sven ‘t Jolle, Mai-Thu Perret, Sophie von Hellermann & Sybren Vanoverberghe
Interview by Deva Rao
Highly distinctive and peerlessly original, SBTRKT reconciles musical experimentation and novel sounds with widely appealing accessibility, as evidenced by his self-titled debut full-length, which struck a chord with purists and the pop crowd alike upon release in 2011. This week saw venerable UK label Young Turks put out its follow up, Wonder Where We Land, which featured a star-studded range of collaborators (Ezra Koenig, A$AP Ferg, Jessie Ware and more) and extends his fine run of form. We sat down with the man behind the mask, Aaron Jerome, and in light of this month’s theme of cold comfort, we talked disappointment, desperation, Drake and most importantly, matriarchal wisdom.
I remember going to Australia,for the last tour we did and playing in Tasmania. Seeing 8,000 people there at a festival on New Years going nuts for songs, to me, shows the scope of how far it’s travelled… It’s so far away from where I started out in the London club scene kinda thing, and seeing it develop without necessarily selling it out, by doing something completely different. For me, that’s the exciting bit.
Would you say producing or performing is a form of escapism for you?
Yeah, maybe. I always described making music as something which is just creating some make-believe world – creating some universe of sound which other people go into and escape. And I definitely try to do that through the songs I make, to progress into something which becomes something immersive and leaves impact on you when you’ve left. Ideally, that’s what I want to try and create. The further you get down the line you have to keep challenging yourself to create that immersive experience for the listener.
Any generally applicable words of advice for when a friend’s dejected? What’re your go-to clichés?
I’m so bad at these… I don’t like people who’re down. I tend to just get really annoyed and just get on with it, I might say “ignore everyone and just carry on”. I’m not very good at motivation speeches .
So you just leave them hanging and let them figure it out themselves?
You’re a terrible friend. Mixing it up: where would you say music ranks in your hierarchy of needs?
Probably second to browsing the Internet, as with most people. Food’s probably third on my list. I eat a lot but I don’t eat that much. I think searching for new music takes up more of my time than actually listening to new music, weirdly. I definitely spend like ten hours of my day sitting in my studio, trying to write music rather than anything else, but I’m not sure I see that as everything I do. It’s kind of weird. I think watching films is definitely high on my list – it’s one of my big priorities as well.
When was the last time you were built up or excited about something only to be let down?
That’s happened a few times. I’m not going to mention names but certain things where you think certain collaboration things would happen. There were bigger opportunities that came up after my last album… and then, with bigger artists things can look very promising and then they just go completely the other way.
Are we talking about the Drake collaboration that fell through?
Maybe… what artists like that, especially rappers, always look for when they’re looking for music for themselves is something which is so sparse it has so much space in it. And I tend to write music that’s very full, there’s a lot of layers to it. Generally they want to strip all of that out to create something their voice is the focal point of. What I’ve experienced through trying to collaborate with other artists is generally I’m quite selfish in the way I produce. I try to fill something out to how I want it to sound, and generally they want that broken down into how they perceive themselves releasing it as their music. And I don’t tend to like to break things down that far. Some producers and artists will do things that dilute their sound to fit someone else’s framework, whereas I’m very protective over my own thing.
Is music a source of comfort for you or do you need to be in a good state mentally to enjoy it?
I don’t really listen to music, when I’m depressed I sort of just ignore everything. Generally I only ever listen to music when I’m in a good frame of mind. I tend to just sit in the dark when I’m not pleased about things. I feel like it’s a bit of a cliché to suddenly find the sad parts of music to play when you’re feeling down – it starts to feel like you’re in your own sitcom or something.
What are some of your go-to comfort songs or records?
I don’t really gravitate towards very lyrical music for that – I go for more instrumental, weird things. The Koreless EP is something I’ve been playing a lot for the last year or so. It’s funny, I kind of get really stuck on contemporary stuff, like The Knife album Shaking the Habitual, that was a big record for me last year. I think my one song for motivation wherever I go is obviously ‘Black Skinhead’ off Yeezus. That track I’ve played to death for the last year. It’s my go-to pre-stage track.
So music’s okay and all, but desserts are obviously superior – let’s talk about literal cold comfort. What’s your favourite ice cream flavour for when you’re down in the dumps?
I like mango sorbet, that kind of thing. That’s what I go for.
Does Aaron, the person, have a different preference to SBTRKT, the artist?
I never thought about that… I can’t imagine they do.
Finally, what’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given in a time of need?
I tend to blank these things out of my head, but I’ll tell you a funny story about when I was a kid: my mum told me that one of the best life lessons I’d ever have, to make sure I’d never fuck up, was to get a job at McDonald’s, and I worked there for two years based on that – forced by my mum. That was a time of not having anything. If you work there, you know that you can’t ever go back there again. Some sound advice from my mum, and I guess it kind of worked in a way. Here I am, not having to flip burgers!