I have been chatting with Jonni Slater…
about his new work, Inversions. The E.P./mini-album consists of rearrangements and reworkings of previous songs from his collection – he talks about the process and which tracks from the bunch stand out to him.
Slater tells me about his favourite music and what the music vibe is like in Bristol; if we can see him hit the road very soon; some new acts we should keep a watch for – he tells me about writing for film and T.V.
Hi, Jonni. How are you? How has your week been?
It’s been a good one, thanks, Sam. I just won a couple of festival slots through a songwriting competition run by Glastonbury FM in Somerset, which was judged last weekend at a live grand final. Then, I was back that way on Thursday for a live session on the radio - so all good fun really.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a songwriter and composer based in Bristol. My music ranges from intimate and heartfelt to epic and cinematic; I love the pure sounds of a solo guitar, piano or voice but I also love arrangements that build up atmospheric layers of sound and take the listener somewhere out of the ordinary.
Your Inversions E.P. was released in April. What sort of themes and experiences compelled and enforced the songwriting?
My songs tend to be a melting pot of personal experiences mixed with fictional scenarios. I often picture a movie scene in my head, either existing or imagined, and write to that. On this E.P., the songs have been inspired by classic Noir films and hard-boiled 1940s Detective Fiction, Greek myths and one (Not Giving Up) is a nod to The Great Gatsby.
How did the songs come together for the E.P.? Is it true they are reworked and collated from previous work?
Yes. I’ve put out a couple of E.P.s prior to that (Hold On and Now), which were mainly full band arrangements of the songs with an Indie/Alternative-Rock sound, but my live gigs have often had quite different setups. Sometimes, they are stripped back to just piano or acoustic guitar; sometimes more sampler and beat-based, so there have always been multiple versions of these songs out there. This was a way to bring some of that together on record.
Is there a song from the pack that stands out as a particular favourite?
There are two or three songs that I always look forward to playing in a live set. Alright is one of them: a song about the loneliness of living in a big city, which was given a retro makeover for this record with vintage synths and samples from a Mellotron. Lyrically, it has some quite personal associations for me, although the details aren’t autobiographical. It was recently played on BBC Introducing in the West and it’s been great to get some nice feedback from different sources.
When did music arrive in your life? Who do you count as heroes?
I guess, like most people, my first exposure was via my parents’ record collection; I remember Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band being played a lot when I was a child as well as Paul Simon, Cat Stevens and the occasional Jazz L.P. My biggest heroes are mainly the artists I discovered in my teenage years; including Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and the Belgian band dEUS. The bass player in my first band introduced me to Herbie Hancock and his album Maiden Voyage really connected with me.
You also collaborate with other artists and writing music for T.V./film. Do you feel yourself growing as a songwriter because of the experiences you have gained outside of your own work?
Yes. It can’t help but influence you. I’ve contributed to musical projects in a diverse range of genres, from Hip-Hop and Pop to Classical; working with inspirational people who have introduced me to music I knew nothing about previously - and it’s great to find fresh rhythms or chords - or ways of approaching a melody that you can bring back into your own work - even if only in a small way and filtered through your own style and taste.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been playing keyboards for Maaike Siegerist, who has a strong Jazz influence and, despite having listened to a lot of Jazz that was a whole new area of playing for me that I had to pick up as quick as I could - and which is now seeping into new song ideas...
Being based in Bristol; what do you think of the local scene? Is it a good place for an ambitious artist to play/create?
I think it’s an ideal size for both of those things: it’s compact enough but there’s lots going on to draw inspiration from and to get involved in…and loads of great musicians. I think there’s an inevitable element of competition wherever you are these days, just in the sheer numbers of artists trying to get their music out there. But, it always seems like London can swallow you up all too easily, whereas Bristol feels more supportive.
Are there going to be any tour dates coming up? Where can we see you play?
The next couple of dates I have lined up are in July: on 20th at Cafe Kino in Bristol, supporting a great composer and pianist from Bath called Edward Bettella who is launching an E.P. that he has recently recorded with cellist Jonathan Stabler. They’re both fantastic musicians, so it should be a great night. Then, on 26th July, I’m at The Royal Standard in Blackheath (London).
Do you have any ambitions to fulfil before the end of the year?
My main focus is to work on some new material. I recently recorded a live studio session of a brand new song, which I’m really looking forward to releasing later in the summer. I’ve been co-writing some new songs with Maaike Siegerist, which we’ll be putting out as a joint venture later in the year. I hesitate to call them ‘duets’ in case that conjures up visions of cheesy '70s ballads, but they will feature both our voices and a blending of our influences and styles.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
I wouldn’t say there is any one grand moment that stands out above all the others - so far, it’s been a consistent run of experiences and opportunities that I would never have had if it wasn’t for music - but I’ve particularly enjoyed performing in the Netherlands over the last couple of years; it’s great to explore a new place while still getting to play some tunes...
Which three albums mean the most to you, would you say?
Tough to pick only three, but I would probably have to go for Chris Cornell’s Euphoria Morning, his first solo album, which is such a fantastic collection of absorbing, musically-rich songs and soaring melodies; made all the more haunting by his sad death last year.
Then, Worst Case Scenario, by dEUS, which introduced me to Tom Barman’s great songwriting hiding in amongst eccentric Art-Rock noises.
Then, lastly, I’ll pick Peter Gabriel’s So, which is a record I can just listen to again and again.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
There’s so much advice out there for new artists, some of it somewhat conflicting; so it’s hard to know what you can add, in a way. There are many different definitions of success, but my aim is always to be doing something that I really want to do; getting involved in projects that interest me and making music that I want to hear - irrespective of changing fashions or whether it’s earning me any money...
IN THIS PHOTO: Ruth Royall
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I always enjoy listening to Guillem Mitchel who released some great songs with Chloe Tyghe recently and is working on his own E.P. In a totally different genre; Scarboy, who I’ve played music with on and off for a few years...and Ruth Royall, is making some great, soulful Pop tracks in Bristol at the moment.
I’m also going to mention Catherine Rudie, a fantastic songwriter with a unique voice based in London - who has yet to release anything of her own but it’s going to be pretty special when she does later this year.
IN THIS PHOTO: Catherine Rudie
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Whenever I can, I like to just get out and take a long walk somewhere windswept and just forget for a while that phones, laptops and digital distributors exist. There’s nothing like watching the waves pounding against a piece of rugged Cornish coast to clear the mind and put those everyday twenty-first century troubles into perspective.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
I’ll choose a song of Maaike’s (Siegerist), co-written and sung with Catherine Rudie, called Keep It in the Dark. Just beautiful.
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