LWE Interviews John Talabot

John Talabot is an astoundingly busy man, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to him. The Barcelona-bred producer — real name Oriol Riverola — almost seems to prefer a full plate. On the heels of his wildly acclaimed 2012 debut Æ’IN, Talabot and frequent collaborator Pional took to the road with a globe-spanning live performance that was as warmly received as the album. Relatively standard procedure for a release and subsequent promotional tour. But whereas most artists would collapse upon completion, taking time off to recoup and gather their thoughts, Talabot shows no sign of slowing. Much of his 2013 activity has been centered around his label, the always impeccable Hivern Discs. Aside from an already released single from New Jackson and one shortly forthcoming from Aster, the label has also launched its BLANC series. Limited to 100 single-sided white labeled copies per edition, they have already let forth their first offering, titled “It’s All Over” and as casually transcendent as we’ve come to expect from Hivern. Now, with the forthcoming festival season approaching, Talabot is prepping to roll out the live show once again, taking him essentially nonstop from his performances at MUTEK this week through Italy’s Club to Club in November. And somehow, amidst all of this, he found time to talk with us, about his label, his album, and the path he took towards becoming John Talabot.

I wanted to start off by talking a little about Hivern. It seems like you’ve built a relatively tight-knit roster over there. I was wondering if you could take me through the selection process as to how you decide what gets released.

It’s a really personal thing. We are three people working the label. I started the label with making a bit of A&R and trying to get artists that I really like. And since then, I have two other friends that have helped me with the label. Between the three of us, we just decide what stuff to release. We receive many demos. At the moment, the things we are releasing is things we received or things people were sending to us. So at the end, it’s been pretty simple to release stuff at the moment. And I don’t know. There is no clear genre in the label. We could release techno, maybe house, something disco, maybe a reissue, some edits. It’s a bit crazy, but I think it’s the way that we work because we really like so many things that we can’t stick to one kind of music or one genre. We just release everything that we like without any kind of restrictions.

Is it safe to say that you know everyone over there, like you would consider them friends?

We don’t know everybody, but we try to know everybody. We’re going to release some from several people we didn’t know, but we just travel to some country and we met them. We try to be related to the artist and we try to work in a way to build off the artist profile, like to try to help them get the best remixes that can be good for their career or profile. Try to help him become more popular or have more opportunities. So at the end it’s just trying to work close to the artist, in the same direction. We don’t make money off the label. We are not huge sellers because sometimes we release strange stuff, not really commercial. And the vinyl, you can’t make money with the vinyl. So the thing we wanted is to make the profile of the artist grow. Try to encourage him to make more records and try to release an album if he’s good or if he’s OK to do that. Or just try to help him develop his project. That’s the main idea. And that was the main idea of the label, because in Spain we didn’t have so many labels that did that. So when we started with the label, the main idea was like, OK, we’ve been working in other labels and we’ve been related to other things that we didn’t like so much.So now that we know what we don’t like, we’re going to try to make things how we want and how we like. And one of the main things was that we were going to try to help the artist, to do the best for him.

The BLANC series that you just started seems to especially speak to a level of trust that the label on your people have for you, where they just hand over a record and you just release it white labeled.

The thing is, the schedule now with the label is really tight and sometimes you receive something that you really want to put out. And we just developed the BLANC series because we wanted to be able to release stuff without promos. Being able to have other artists on other labels that can’t release under their names, maybe just release stuff from them in an unknown record. And put it out pretty fast, sell it really fast, in a really nice edition. Doing that in a really spontaneous way. Maybe having the track, and in four weeks the record is out. No promotion, no whatever. And if people like it, they will spread it. That was the philosophy behind the BLANC series. Some people say, “You’re just doing something to be exclusive.” But that was not even the point. The people that follow the label, we just want them to have some special editions because there are some people that really trust in the label and they buy everything and they support it. We just wanted to make this series to make things easier and be able to release things really fast, you know? Not having the schedule of the label related to the BLANC series, just having this apart. So we receive a track, we like it, we decide with the artist, make the second volume, and in four weeks it’s out and completely sold out.

You seem fond of collaborations. Does working with someone else in the studio, having someone else to bounce ideas off of, does this make the music creating process easier for you?

Well, not easier. It’s just a matter of, when I did the album, I was working so much alone for almost one year and a half, working in the studio in a really obsessive and compulsive way that, after doing the album, I didn’t want to make music again. [laughs] I was so exhausted. I was completely empty. I didn’t have any kind of ideas to make music. So I needed some kind of refueling and I thought working with other people, with having no pressure to make any music, just jamming and connecting synthesizers, it was a good way to restart. I’ve been doing that the past year and trying so much that sometimes I don’t have time in Barcelona. But in the end, I just enjoy traveling to some city and having some friends to just go to the studio with and have fun making music. Sharing some knowledge. Showing some synthesizers, collecting some drum machines, and just do a track. Maybe it won’t be released ever. Or maybe yes. You don’t know. But for me it’s been a good break from myself, and my obsessions and fears. Sometimes I’m really insecure with this stuff. Doing the album was a really hard process for me. I left a lot of myself. And it was like, oh shit, I can’t repeat that another year. I need to make it a little bit lighter. Not so much pressure. So working with others, for me it’s nice. And in most occasions, the other person is able to give me another part of the music that I’m unable to get myself, so it’s a good combination. And I learn, the other people learn too, we share things, we grow together, and that’s something I like.

When you first started to appear in the public consciousness, there was a shroud of mystery surrounding you, even to the extent where the most common descriptor when people described you would be, “mysterious producer John Talabot.” Why was there the decision to let the wall down? Did it just get too difficult to hide?

When I started making music, I made music because I wanted to have stuff to play by myself. There was not a plan of releasing anything. When I started making music, I just started putting stuff on MySpace just with a name, not even a photo. Just a logo. And it was just like that. There was no plan to release. So when they offered me a release, I was just like, OK. But sometimes Spain is a little strange country and there’s not so many people doing music. So my main idea was to just build the label and put out stuff and try to encourage other people to put it out. So the best way I thought to do it was like, OK, I’m not even say who was the producer. Just try to encourage other people to release stuff, or just to put it out even if it’s not a commercial thing, just thinking the music is good. I don’t want anybody in Barcelona to know what I’m doing, I don’t want anybody in Spain to know that the label is mine. I just want them to listen to the music and that’s it. And when we made the photos, we just used the photos without the face, because I didn’t want to show my face. I prefered a really nice photo with an artistic approach, rather than showing my face in a corner with sunglasses. Like the photos of DJs that you see quite often. [laughs]

So I just wanted to have a nice photo. And I have a friend who is a photographer and he offered me these options and I really liked the option of the tinfoil. I’ve never tried to hide my name. I never tried to do that. It’s just like the press tried to build this mysterious thing around it. And at the beginning there was an intention, but just in the Barcelona scene. Barcelona is a very tiny city and I wanted the people to be excited of having a new artist. And people encouraging them to release more stuff and doing crazy music and forget about the establishment and tech-house. There was a moment in Barcelona where everybody was doing tech-house because they thought that was the way to get big. And everybody was establishing the same sound and using the same kind of compression. And I was like, hey guys, that way is not the best way to make a career. Like, I think it’s better to do your own sound, even if it’s not so popular at one point. But I think your own artistic vision is better than trying to copy another thing, you know? So I just wanted to encourage people here to make things, because there is a lot of good musicians, but sometimes they are afraid of doing crazy things because they think they will fall apart of the commercial and DJ circuits.

Speaking as someone from the United States who has never been to Spain, your music seems to somehow represent my idea of what Spain is like. Do you get that often?

Yeah, but I don’t get that from my music actually. I feel like my music is quite far apart from the Spanish tradition or the Spanish sound. We’ve never had a Barcelona sound or Spanish sound. There’s a lot of people producing or making music. But there’s not a specific sound that we had or specific producer or sound that we had. So I don’t know which is the Barcelona sound or the Spanish sound. It’s something that we are still building. And maybe one can never exist. There are some cities, like Berlin, Bristol, Cologne, or Detroit, that are based on the same sound because the same producers met together and built something together. But I think here in Spain, everybody goes to their own side and tries to do different stuff. There are some people doing dubstep, others doing electronica, some doing techno, and some are doing house. There is no one specific sound that is popular in the cities. I don’t know if that’ll happen in the near future. I’m not sure.

You’ve kind of shied away from the descriptor, but a lot of people have labeled your music “pop,” especially the album. Is there a reason why you kind of shun this notion that you’re making pop music?

When I was making the album, I wanted to do something that was easy to listen to, but I never thought of it as pop music. I don’t know. Maybe there’s one track that had a pop structure. But I don’t think any of the other tracks have any pop structure. Maybe they have some pop vibes because of the use of the vocals, but some tracks are really based on that Chicago sound, like 707s. And other ones are done with synthesizers and are really ’80s sounding. So I really never had the idea that I was doing a “pop album.” But it’s true that to some people that were more used to listening to pop albums, the album was really well received by them. I don’t understand why. Some tracks are really loopy and some tracks are really simple, so I don’t think there are many pop structures in the album. But… I don’t know. In the end, people just listen to the album and take it the way they want, so you can’t control that.

Do you listen to pop music?

I listen to some of it, but I’m not a follower. I don’t know which is the most listened track of the moment or things like that. You know, I was telling someone before, in the last week I just bought the albums of the Fugees and the Destiny’s Child compilation from iTunes. And yeah, it’s pop music. But it’s just something that I wanted to listen to because there was some tracks there that I listened to a lot when I was younger and I just wanted to refresh the production things related to those albums. But modern production? I don’t know. I was just more trying to listen to the things they were doing at that time.

Do you know if you’re playing live or are you DJing at MUTEK?

I think we are both? We are doing both.

You seem to be splitting your time pretty evenly between the two recently. Do you have a preference?

No, I think they are really different things. After doing the live show this past year, sometimes DJing is more enjoyable because the live show is so stressful, there are so many things to think about, so many production things to take care of, so much luggage, and paying the flight companies and things like that. Then from that to DJing is so simple and so enjoyable that it’s a relief sometimes. It’s something you really enjoy to do. And it’s really nice to split between the two because it’s really different. Like, when you’re playing the live show, it’s people who paid to be there because they wanted to listen to your tracks. And sometimes in a club, it’s a more random thing, like some people are there because they know you, some people just because they’re having fun, some people just because they were told to go there. But at the end, that’s a nighttime thing and it’s not so personal. And I feel like with the live shows, it’s really impressive sometimes where I’ve never had anything related to a band or playing any instruments, so for me doing the live show, I feel a bit insecure on the stage. But even being insecure, it’s really impressive when you just start a song with one sound and people recognize it and start cheering and saying, “YES, YES,” whatever. And when they start singing the songs, it’s just like, wow! These people are here and they really know the tracks. So yes, it’s really different vibe and I enjoy both.

I wanted to go back to Barcelona. You mentioned the lack of a unified sound, but are there any up-and-coming producers from there who you think people should have an eye on?

I’m really excited for a new artist we have on the label called Mistakes Are Ok. We’re going to put out an album at the end of this year. It’s stuff that we’ve had. We had the first demos like two years ago. And he’s been finishing an album that’s like some kind of weird mixture of strange electronics and techno like Actress, but with housey sampling like Isolée. It’s a weird combination of stuff, but I really really like it. It’s something that I really want to put out and I’m looking forward to hearing the full album finished. But there are other really good artists doing stuff here in Barcelona at the moment, like Aster. They are really fun. They have some EPs and in the next month we are putting out one of their singles with some Bicep remixes.

And lastly, because I can only assume that there’s a lot of crossover between fans of Twin Peaks and readers of Little White Earbuds, I wanted to ask you about that “Invitation to Love” track with the “Laura Palmer’s Theme” sample [from TB, released on Hivern late last year]. Are you a fan of Twin Peaks?

Yes, I am. Why is there a lot of crossover?

Oh, just assuming as much. A lot of the readers here are into weird underground shit and the show defines weirdness.

Ah, yes. Yes, I really love the show. And when we heard that edit the first time it was like, hey guys, we need to release that. I don’t know how, but we just need to release it. So when we made the edit volumes, we just thought it’d be perfect to release that and it was like, let’s do that. And we just released it in a small amount of vinyl, but the vinyl is quite nice and I think that people enjoyed it. It’s been an underground hit for some people, so I’m quite happy with it.

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