// Exclusive SCM interview with Deep House producer James Johnston //
James Johnston's a name on many house DJ's lips and fans alike and someone we at Sound Canvas towers have had a close eye on for a few years now.James's ever increasing popularity has been truly remarkable from his humble beginnings in his small studio located in a cupboard of his house in Glasgow to his latest release " I Know It's Not Time" on his co-owned label NO MATTER WHAT being in the top 10 of the most charted tracks by other DJ's on Resident Advisor for May 2011. James first posted his track ‘She’s Gone’, which featured a sample from Bill Withers ‘Aint No Sunshine’, on Soundcloud just under two years ago, this was soon receiving such positive feedback that he was quickly signed by Kolour Recordings and released his first EP titled "Honesty. James's Next Ep "Missed the party" was signed by the musically diverse Dutch label 4lux and he has since gone on to supply tracks for vinyl only releases on Berlin label Dikso, Leicester’s City Fly Records as well as remixes for Fromage, Duff Disco and Rachel Jury. James 's new "No Matter What Recordings" is a new sonic melting pot of ideas founded with Eastern Berlin's Alex Agore (4lux, Kolour, Royal Oak). "This collaborative journey of intellectual freedom will explore the infinite combinations of form and function, dark and light, kick and hat, bass and melody. Forever searching, despite what stands in the way, without regard for the consequences, persevering for that perfect beat...NO MATTER WHAT.” James kindly agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to speak to us, so over a cup of tea and a slice of shortbread we start to deliberate..
OK, so lets kick off with a tune. . . what was your inspiration for deciding to remix Bill Withers’ Aint No Sunshine?
To be honest, I don’t think of my track ‘She’s Gone’ as a remix or edit, to me it’s just a deep house track with a Bill Withers sample in it. I wouldn’t dare remix Bill…lol
Anyway, it all began in my Mum’s house. I was flicking through her Itunes and ‘Aint No Sunshine’ came on so I let it play and then the middle section came on with just the drums and Bill singing and I thought…’hmmmm that would be a great bit to sample’. So I got all excited, went home, put some chords over it and the tune was born! Before ‘She’s Gone’ I had been making dubstep and deep techno so really this was my first deep house tune, and I’ve never looked back since!
Spill the beans. . you’ve obviously been using and putting a studio together for a few years now, for the budding producers out there, what pieces of essential studio kit, hardware/software, would you start getting twitchy without?
I started making music in the mid 90s with a good old midi/hardware based studio. At that time I had moved away from house music and was into techno and drum n bass. Near the end of the 90’s I got kind of bored with dance music and got really into experimental music so basically stopped using my sequencer (which by that time was Logic) and most of my studio. I then spent the next 8 years in different bands ranging from improv/noiserock to electrorock bands playing guitar, bass, and programming drum machines. By 2009 I had given up being in bands and was on my own again and it was at this time that a friend gave me a copy of Ableton, and it just blew me away!! I instantly fell in love with it and the ideas just flowed out of me!! I mean, I hadn’t really used a sequencer for about 8 years so I just couldn’t believe what you could do with Ableton!! It’s so fun and easy to use and is just made for making any electronic loop based music. I say to anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a shot…you’ll not regret it! When I first met Alex (Agore) he was using Reason (a great package too, but limited) and I kept going on at him about how great Ableton was so eventually he gave in and tried it and he’s been using it ever since! So to answer your original question, Ableton Live 8.
What two critical pieces of advice would you pass on to like minded aspiring artists/DJ’s/label owners?
Simple: Follow your heart and NEVER give up!!!!
If you could collaborate with anybody past and present who would it be and why?
Freddie Mercury. I reckon we could knock out some dope tunes together!!
We SCM fellows do like to shake a tail feather on dance floors across the world, but sadly none of us here at SCM have had the pleasure of partying Glasgow style. . . what are we missing, should we book flights and can we stay at your house?
You’ve never been out in Glasgow?! C’mon guys, get it together!! We’ve got the Sub Club here and the regular Saturday night, Subculture, featuring residents DJ Harri and Domenic is one of the longest running House nights in the UK, and arguably one of the best!! I’ve been going there since 1993 and I love it! Plus you’ve also got Hung Up! on a Sunday run by the legendary Optimo boys!
And there’s not just the Sub Club. We’ve also got great new venues like Le Cheetah and the warehouse/art space SWG3 plus numerous other nights in venues all over the city. To be honest, Glasgow has an amazing nightlife just now, there’s just so much going on!!!
So YES, book flights ASAP!! And you’re more than welcome to stay with me as long as you don’t mind getting woken up at 7.30am by my 4 year old son, that is of course, assuming you sleep ;)
The earth is about to explode (could happen), you just about have time to retrieve 3 pieces of prized vinyl and make a sandwich (or Baguette) to take with you in your emergency evacuation vessel. what records would they be and whats in your sarnie?
Haha….well as much as I like to think I’m cool and underground I’m just not so I guess I would take:
Genesis – Selling England By The Pound
I don’t even like the cool prog rock...haha…I like all the uncool stuff by Yes, ELP and Marillion! Still, this is my favourite Genesis album. I love the atmosphere on it, and Tony Banks’ synth playing on The Cinema Show is just amazing!!
Pixies – Surfer Rosa
This is the first Pixies album I bought. A lot of people say Doolittle is their favourite album cos I guess that was the Pixies breakthrough one but in my opinion Surfer Rosa had a much bigger, better, more raw sound thanks to Steve Albini on the desk, and the songs ROCK!!! Just listen to Something Against You and smash your house up….haha!!! Killer album.
LFO – Frequencies
I first heard the track LFO - LFO on the John Peel radio show and it blew my mind!! I then bought Frequencies and instantly fell in love with it. It was moody and mysterious and had a real warmth to it. The production on it is amazing and it STILL sounds great today! This is the album that got me into real electronic/house music.
Sarnie wise, a simple prawn mayo on wholemeal bread would do the trick!
If we could take care of all your commitments this weekend and you had unlimited funds, where on the planet would you go and what would you get up to?
I’d got to Cape Town in South Africa and visit my brother and his fiancé, then I’d hit Pretoria and Johannesburg because I’ve heard deep house is massive in these cities!
what’s your current "big" tune that makes the party go off?
Depends on the party, either Orlando B – It Aint Over/Lighter Thief – Fun, They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse In Your Soul or Fugazi – Waiting Room
Who is your favourite DJ/producer at the moment and why?
One of my favourite DJ/producers at the moment has to be Cottam. As well as making great records he’s a shit hot DJ, and also happens to be a damn nice fellow too!!
Next 12 months, what can we expect from no matter what?
All we have planned so far is a full EP from Alex Agore followed by a full EP from me…beyond that, who knows?! We try not to plan ahead too much and to keep our release decisions more spontaneous.
James's next EP A New Day Begins on Fine Art Recordings will be released on Vinyl soon. . . check it right here!
Also coming soon: An EP for Under The Shade and a split EP with Deep Space Orchestra on Boogie Originals