Quick catch up: John Roberts

26.05.11 Words by: Charlie Jones

American-in-Berlin John Roberts’s ‘Glass Eights’ was arguably one of 2010’s most enigmatic albums. A full-bodied, consistent whole of precisely textured, understated, deep house laced with pianos, strings, and more hypnotic, lulling atmosphere than Hamburg’s Dial had given us for some time.

Since ‘Glass Eights’, John Roberts has been keeping busy touring. In a rare break from the road, and before heading out to play over Europe again (including a date in London this Friday), he answered a few questions via email from a cabin outside of New York, about playing live, getting back in the studio, remixes, his new magazine The Travel Almanac, and getting sounds out of an inherited cello.

Where are you and what are you up to at the moment?

I’m sitting in a cabin in upstate New York at the moment. I’m trying to spend a little time away from the city before heading back to Europe to play some more shows.

How’s being on tour and playing live going?

I feel like I’ve been on sort of a permanent tour since the album came out, which is really great but can also be a bit taxing mentally once in awhile. I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to travel so much, but also relieved to have these few days off out here in the forest.

Playing live keeps getting better and better as more people who come to the shows seem to be familiar with tracks that I’m playing for the album. I’m still always amazed to meet people in other countries who have even heard the music that I’m making!

Any particularly memorable shows you’ve played or countries you’ve visited?

Visiting Japan for the first time a few months ago was definitely the most memorable experience for me thus far. I am completely grateful to have had the opportunity to play there, and to also see a bit of the country. In addition to Osaka and Tokyo, I was lucky enough to spend some time in the mountains of Matsumoto. The people were incredibly kind and the food really left a lasting impression on me. I guess everyone says the same thing when they get a chance to visit Japan, but it really is true… It’s a very special place.

Have you had a chance to get back in the studio? How has that been?

I have, a bit, but it’s very difficult with the amount of traveling that I’ve been doing lately. I honestly haven’t had much time for anything beyond the remixes that I’d promised to do. I did recently buy a few new instruments though… a small piano, a Kalimba, etc. So when I am in Berlin I try to force myself to write something new each morning when I wake up and record it to tape, just to get back in the habit of making things. When I have some free time I’m going to go through all of the tapes and see if there is anything worth using.

What have you got planned releases-wise for the next few months?

I’m starting to work on a track right now for a compilation to benefit Japan that is being put together by Kazu Makino from Blonde Redhead, and I’m planning to release a 7” in a few months. After the summer I’m going to begin working on my second album, which I’m really looking forward to.

Could you tell us a bit about what your new tracks are sounding like?

Lately I’ve been using less samples and more drum machines and instruments… But I think this is really just situational, because I’m not that into the used record stores in Berlin. I’m moving back to New York in the winter and I think I’ll get back into sampling a bit more once I’m there.

You remixed Agoria’s track Heart Beating earlier in the year (listen above). How do you approach remixing a track?

I usually just approach remixing a track in a similar way to making something of my own. I listen to the parts of the original song separately and see if there is anything that particularly resonates with me. I usually get fixated on one melodic portion or a vocal and then just put the rest aside. I don’t often use the drums form the original songs… I’m really sensitive to high frequencies so any sort of digital sounding percussion gets replaced first.

Any other remixes lined up?

I just finished a remix of George Fitzgerald’s ‘Silhouette’ for Aus Music. That EP should be out June 20th. I’m pretty excited about the outcome! I’ve really enjoyed doing remixes for UK labels lately because they seem more open to genre-less experimentation.

As well as music, you’ve been involved in setting up a magazine. Could you tell us a bit about that, and whether you’ve got any other non-music projects on the go?

Yes! I recently released a magazine called The Travel Almanac with Paul Kominek (Pawel, a fellow Dial artist) which approaches travel and temporary habitation from the perspective of artists, musicians, and other creative individuals. We realized that there weren’t really any travel magazines that appealed to us, so we decided to create our own. We are incredibly pleased with the success of the first issue, which was released in the beginning of April. It features interviews with David Lynch, Javier Peres, Andy McCluskey from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, James Murphy, etc. as well as reviews of some of our favorite hotels that we’ve come across recently.

I’ve also been working on a book of photographs in collaboration with designer Matthew Owen. Hopefully this will be finished before winter.

What have you been listening to a lot lately?

I’ve been trying to listen carefully to everything Arthur Russell has ever produced. My Grandfather passed away in March and left me his cello, so I’m trying to learn interesting ways to use that instrument…

John Roberts tour dates:
27 May – Red Gallery – London
03 June – Chicago Social Club – Amsterdam
11 June – Berghain/Panorama Bar – Berlin
18 June – Robert-Johnson – Frankfurt
29 June – Cabaret Sauvage (w/ Nicolas Jaar) – Paris
15 July – Melt Festival – Leipzig

John Roberts plays London’s Red Gallery alongside Optimo, Tim Sweeney, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Efdemin, Ben UFO and Tornado Wallace on 27th May 2011

Tickets here.

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