Interview with Jon Hopkins: Coldplay, the Next Album… and Retirement?!

JonHopkins_bySteve Gullick2Jon Hopkins, English producer and musician, stopped by Fortune Sound Club on July 22 on his final North American tour in support of his 2013 Mercury prize contending album, Immunity. We touched base with him before the show.

Vancouver Weekly: Immunity made a lot of waves last year. The US/Canada tour you’re on, it’s the last tour in support of it, so you’re kind of wrapping things up in that sense. Have you started working on another album?

Jon Hopkins: I have not. I think since this album came out, or since last March when I started playing the songs live, I’ve done over 110 shows or something, mostly in different countries. There’s been very little time to actually get into the studio. I’ve got a couple ideas searching around in my head that I really want to get out, but I still have another few weeks of shows before I can actually get back in.

VW: You mentioned in the interview you did with us last year that you’d be looking at learning new software for your next effort, saying how it would allow you to spend less time on the technical side and free you up to kind of follow your instinct more easily. Have you done any of that?

JH: I don’t remember saying that [laughs]. I haven’t done any of that, no. I haven’t done… I mean, that’s something that I would need to do. That’s actually… I’m quite glad you reminded me of that. I want to do that, but I totally forgot about that. I think I need to get someone who knows a real expert in the field of creating stuff more… live. No, I haven’t done much from scratch, but the thing is, I’m really impatient and I love to write on instinct; I love to write… just without any interruptions or distractions, and as I’ve been reading more, I find it quite frustrating actually – not knowing any further, not knowing how to realize ideas quickly.

VW: For “Breathe This Air”, both the original and the version with vocals by Megan James of Purity Ring, they’re remarkable in their own right. Why did you decide to make a vocal version?

JH: I actually, on the album version, I felt like it’s the only track where the name didn’t fit the track as I wanted it to, and I also fell really deeply in love with the chord changes, these very simple chord changes. There’s something about it; I just wanted to explore more. But I thought, like… I need to try and elaborate on why I didn’t think the name fit: it’s because the album version has this sort of melancholy, dusty, quite old school analog-sounding, quite broken-sounding quality, and “Breathe This Air” as a title, for me, sounds like something… fresh, like up in the… breathing clear air up in the clouds or something. When I started to make it, I just… my first-off idea was I’d explore the chorus and I thought, there may be a vocal on this, and I’d worked with [Purity Ring] before, on remixes and stuff. So I called them and sent it over, Corin [Roddick] and Megan got working on it and, just wrote perfect lyrics, and suddenly it became the song, in a way, that it was supposed to be. When I do the live version, it’s essentially that but without her vocals, or using snippets or processed vocals from it, but I find it a little bit bolder and a little bit more exciting than the original now, so yeah. It kind of superseded it, to me.

VW: Based on the success of that track and how it morphed into what you were actually looking for, would you ever consider making an album, intentionally, with vocals throughout?

JH: I’ve actually done, in my production work, quite a few things of that sort as well. But I always like keeping my solo things solo. That’s the other thing, is that you can tour it on your own. I don’t really want to include live vocals or totally do an album with someone. That would just complicate a lot of things. I prefer this idea of doing the occasional collaboration on the odd one-off track.

VW: You recently worked with Coldplay again, co-producing the track “Midnight” off the new album Ghost Stories. It’s decidedly more electronic than a lot of their previous output, it seems. What was your role in producing that particular track?

JH: Quite often [Chris Martin] will ask me if I have any sounds or ideas lying around that he might find inspiring, and I had this track that didn’t have a name or a place. I’d started it a long time ago. I played it to him, and he fell in love with it, and [assisting producer] Dan Green got a sort of vocal that’s like sound effects, and that’s what you hear. He came up with that vocal line very quickly. I stepped away from the production after that, and then they finished it off in their own way.

VW: There’s also your own remix of the track. What was your approach for, in a way, kind of remixing what is in large part one of your own tracks, and then with Chris’ vocals; what was your approach to remix that piece?

JH: I thought, maybe I can just finish the track how I was originally going to finish my own version, but incorporate vocals. Then when I started working on it, I realized that my style had changed a lot in the last few years, and I just fell into this sort of techno rhythm with it and it just worked, so I went with that. I wanted to make it, like, grow out of the song; there are the vocals and all the sounds, and then grow out more effects going on with the vocals, and then taking the vocals and building the rhythms around them and just… it’s almost like you’re listening for something, and it triggered off an idea, like, it happened spontaneously. I’ve been incorporating that track into my live set, and it’s really been working well, actually.

VW: You’ve done a lot of soundtrack work throughout your career too. Is that something that you’re pursuing? Do you have any other soundtrack projects coming up?

JH: I have this habit of not actively pursuing anything myself. I like to let things just appear. My priorities are really on my own albums, and then once in a while someone will ask me to do a score, and if the presence is right, and the script’s good, and I like the director, then I’ll do it. I think I’ve done three or four now in that way. But obviously, with this record, I’ve been touring it so much, there’s been no time to even look at anything. I would definitely like to do it again in the future. But right now I’m still kind of enjoying all this rushing about.

VW: Talking about rushing around and wrapping up the North American touring piece for Immunity, do you have any break time that you’ve scheduled in for yourself anytime soon?

JH: Yeah, actually. For example, rather than try and cram in extra West Coast shows, we’re going to take a day or two to drive down and stay a night on the way somewhere. I don’t want it to feel so urgent and rushed. Touring yourself can become a little bit more relaxing, but then I’ve also booked most of August off. I’m going to go on some kind of very quiet retreat of some sort, maybe meditation…

VW: Okay, well good. I guess maybe it’s a premature question considering you haven’t really gotten into any new pieces, but are we looking at a new album in 2015? 2016?

JH: I would very much hope for a release next year. It really depends, like as I said about the film piece, if something appears in the gap between two albums; that’s the only thing that could really derail it. I would love to be able to just crack on. I feel like, with this album, there’s been so much momentum created by it, and it would be good to follow that up and, you know, try and beat it as an album, really. I want to make my kind of defining album next… and then retire [laughs].