Who Is…John Talabot

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 03.20.12 in Who Is...?s

File under: Moody, deep house and psychedelic sample-play with an indie-pop twist

For fans of: Four Tet, Caribou, Delorean, and Junior Boys

From: Barcelona

Personae: "John Talabot"

Fin, the debut album from the Barcelona producer known as John Talabot, marks both an end and a beginning. It caps a period of experimentation, in which he developed his singular voice — a kind of retro-leaning disco/house fusion, super-saturated with color and overflowing with ecstatic energy — across EPs for leftfield dance labels like Permanent Vacation, Young Turks and his own Hivern Disc. But the record also represents a significant step forward for Talabot, who takes his alias from a private school in Barcelona. All of his signature elements are here: the billowing loops, the rough-hewn drum samples, the melancholy undercurrent. But Talabot steps out of his club-music comfort zone as he tackles more varied moods, beats and tempos. And on three songs (“Journeys,” featuring Delorean’s Ekhi Lopetegi, and “Destiny” and “So Will Be Now,” both co-productions with Madrid’s Pional), he sets his eyes on the ultimate musical prize: actual pop songs.

He and Pional are back in the studio together now, working on a new set of songs and rehearsing for Talabot’s upcoming live shows, in which the two musicians will multi-task across drums, keyboards, vocals and laptops. Wherever Talabot goes next — and a full-fledged duo with Pional, under a different name, is one possibility — Fin feels like a snapshot in time, a blurry portrait of the artist discovering his identity.

eMusic’s Philip Sherburne spoke with Talabot before his album launch party atBerlin’s Panorama Bar; they spoke about aliases, 808s and heartbreak.

On making music in times of personal upheaval:

I hadn’t made any music since my breakup, until recently. At first I blamed the music for everything that happened to me. Like, “Shit, this all happened because I spent a whole year working on the record at home because I didn’t have money for a studio…” I had to do everything at home, and for me it was really hard to get up, work at home, not go out, eat, keep working…It’s like that, days and days and days. And of course, that affects you personally. At first I blamed the music for all that.

On giving the album its distinct character and shape:

I didn’t want to do an album of club music, because I never listen to club music albums. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an entire album of house music. So it didn’t make much sense to me to make a record and make it like the 12-inches. I wanted to do something very specific, but not immediately related to this moment in time — something that you didn’t necessarily know when it had been produced. And with a very particular sensibility, that wasn’t quite the club or the home, but that was a mix of everything.

[I decided] I’m going to make an album that’s a whole in and of itself, where each track forms a part of the record, but not where the sum of the tracks makes the record. That’s important to me, this concept of a record where each track stands on its own. I like those albums where you listen to a track and the next one is different, and the next one is different — there’s not one obvious thread running through them.

For example, James Blake’s album has, like, four elements. Almost all the synths are the same. In many albums, you find that the whole album has been produced in that period of time, using almost the same elements. I was interested in creating an album in which each track was distinct, but they all formed a part of the album. With one track, I worked with a drum machine and a synth. For another, I used a sampler and something else. And then in terms of production, I tried to give it all a coherent sound.

There’s sampling, like I’ve always done with John Talabot, but I didn’t want a record that was just hard drums and samples. I wanted to do something more. More than anything, on the level of a personal challenge, to say, “Hey, I’m capable of doing more than just loops and long songs for DJs to mix with, like ‘Sunshine’.”

It didn’t make sense to me to do the same thing I do on the 12-inches. I have songs like that I’m going to put out on a 12-inch that I didn’t include on the album, because I believed the album should be something more. And not show one side of myself, like the 12-inches sometimes do. I was a little worried about how people would receive it — maybe people only want “Sunshine”!

On building up his studio chops:

I don’t feel like an expert, but as I get older I have a critical sensibility that I didn’t have before, and I’m capable of using it. I also know production a lot better than before. Before, there were things that I didn’t know how to do, and now I know how to process sound better. Before, it was much more raw. You made it, left it there and it stayed like that. The album is more processed. It’s been run through tape, through Space Echo, things like that, to give it a distinct sound. Like I said, I wanted to make a record that you didn’t really know exactly when it had been produced.

On creating new identities:

[The alias John Talabot] is not about being anonymous; I don’t play wearing a mask or anything. I just decided that I didn’t want my image to be based in my physical form or my face or whatever. I’m not anything special; I prefer to give a more creative touch to the photos. I don’t think [my identity] is a mystery any more; I went to Red Bull Music Academy and I came out speaking [on video], showing my face. It’s not that I’m saying, “I’m going to hide who I am,” not at all. I just wanted to make an image of the project that didn’t include my physical form, my face. Also, it gives me more possibilities when it comes to doing things with the photographs for the project. It’s one more piece of the puzzle. To find out who you are, and what you identify with. When you do a project, you like to create the image, and for me to pose for a photo wearing sunglasses, I’m not feeling that.

On what he thinks about the allegedly colorful nature of his music:

Actually, it has a very dark ’80s vibe. The record might seem like it’s dark and dense, and it is. There’s a will to not be tropical, more than anything, because I’ve never considered myself a tropical person. Delorean, El Guincho, me — we were a part of a scene [identified as a new, "tropical" Barcelona sound], but still, it’s not like Delorean spend the whole day listening to maracas and xylophones. We don’t live in the Caribbean. Barcelona isn’t the Caribbean. Yes, my earlier music had bright tendencies, but, for instance, “Matilda’s Dream,” for me, isn’t bright at all. It’s a dark warehouse track with an acid line. For me, it didn’t have anything happy in it. And I’ve always been more into sad music than happy music. I’ve always preferred minor chords to major. I’ve always liked dark melodies better.

All the music I like from the ’80s is a lot darker. And what I like about Chicago house is the darkness. But in this album, the fact of having spent so much time locked up at home, just me alone — really, when you make a record alone, you end up talking to yourself. You have dialogues, internally, the whole time you’re listening to the album, and in the end you go a little crazy. If you’re part of a group making a record, everyone talks, everyone says their piece, but if it’s you alone — I really struggled.

On seeking his identity as a DJ:

I worked as a warm-up DJ for many years, and I’m really tired of sets where you know what the next track is going to be. I like it when DJs take risks. To say, “I don’t care if these don’t mix well, or might be off-beat, but I’m going to play this track because I want to shake things up.” I like that kind of DJ. I try to go more that direction than be a DJ who’s super predictable. For example, when you go to the U.K., there’s a more open attitude. You can go to a party — a friend told me there are these parties, Beauty and the Beat, where they start out playing, I don’t know, jazz, and they end up with house and techno, and in between they might play Krautrock, and then samba. I like that in England there’s that kind of vision of not doing linear sessions. When I saw Jamie xx, he also didn’t just play dubstep or house. They go changing, and looking for their identity in the records.