LWE Podcast 114: Jonsson / Alter

Having accumulated a bevy of experience, there comes a point in life where you just know what you want. Speaking with Henrik Jonsson and Joel Alter, the Swedish-born, Berlin-based duo behind one of 2011’s most stunning albums, it’s quickly apparent these veteran producers have reached that point. The album in question, Mod, offers such a luxurious, detail-intensive house sound that it requires repeated listens to drink in its slow-burning majesty. Despite this, Jonsson and Alter revealed to LWE in a recent, extensive interview that the record came together rather quickly as the result of swift, immaculately performed studio sessions. Having pushed each other to embrace new sides of their musical personalities, the pair’s decisive demeanor paid off immensely and has birthed a project greater than the sum of its parts. In addition to their in-depth interview, Jonsson/Alter contributed LWE’s 114th exclusive podcast: a recording of a late-2011 live PA which conveys just how loose and party-oriented their music can be when the timing is right.

LWE Podcast 114: Jonsson / Alter (50:24)

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Tracklist:

01. Jonsson/Alter, “Acapellan” [Kontra-Musik]
02. Jonsson/Alter, “Djup House” [Kontra-Musik]
03. Jonsson/Alter, “House 4 You” [white*]
04. Jonsson/Alter, “Kyrka 2.0” [Kontra-Musik]
05. Jonsson/Alter, “Hela Berget” [Kontra-Musik]
06. Jonsson/Alter, “Dvärg” [Kontra-Musik]
07. Jonsson/Alter, “Tre Ackord” [Kontra-Musik]
* denotes tracks which, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased

How long have you two known each other?

Henrik Jonsson: We knew each other a bit in Gothenburg, but our friendship and our professional relationship really came to life here in Berlin just — two years ago? One and a half years ago?

Joel Alter: Yeah, I mean we’ve been acquainted for maybe 10 years or so; but it’s since Henrik moved here like one year before me and then I moved here, and we kind of bumped into each other — we realized we were neighbors. He was actually living just across the street.

Now you said that you guys knew each other back in Gothenburg. Henrik, were you living there at some point?

HJ: I lived there for almost 11 years. I was brought up and born in a neighboring small city an hour outside of Gothenburg, but I moved there to attend art school, and stuck around for 11 years. And we both moved around the electronic circles, with different people doing parties or whatever. Joel was very involved in his scene, and I was involved in sort of more, perhaps, a club scene, but at least a music-loving environment anyway. And we kind of overlapped between those.

I see. So there’s a pretty good scene in Gothenburg?

JA: Well, it’s gone back and forth, I would say. When I lived there I was doing a lot of parties and promoting music all the time. And I mean there’s a small scene, but it’s kind of vivid, and —

HJ: I think there’s a lot of talent and creative people, and they’re trying to develop their skills and arts, actually.

JA: But at the same time it’s not that many people from Gothenburg who actually reach out. It’s —

HJ: They’re kind of content on staying there, you know, being decent at what they do.

JA: Gothenburg is an old, working city; in the 80s it used to be northern Europe’s biggest harbor. And there’s kind of this thing that you should know your place, a little bit. Which is maybe not so good when you want to reach out in the rest of the world.

HJ: It’s an old socialist tradition, that you should just keep on working and never aspire to be, you know, professional. You know?

JA: So yeah, it’s an underground scene that’s living, but sometimes its almost too much underground, you know.

HJ: It’s too small for us, anyway. We felt we needed more. So that’s why it felt natural to move here. Also, you learn German in school, as a kid. You know, it’s mandatory. Either that or French. And it’s close so it’s a one hour flight to Berlin.

In a previous interview, Joel, you were talking about you guys made a track nearly every time you guys met up. So I was sort of curious if you guys work together pretty fast if you were making something pretty much every session?

JA: Yeah. Really we just usually start with kind of a sound or a beat — just one part, you know, a possible track, and then we just keep on going from there. We don’t really plan. We just start the session and be creative. And at the same time, if something doesn’t really fit, we take it away immediately and we start again and work. We don’t work for long hours on an idea.

When you guys meet up, do you bring each of your ideas, like, “Oh, I had an idea to do something like this”? Or do things come together in more of a jam way where you just decide to pick something for this, and then someone else picks that, and it just sort of comes together right on the spot?

HJ: I think it’s the energy — like, depending on what kind of movie you recently seen, or what kind of vibe he’s going for. Or kind of the first joke that comes out when we meet. I kind of pick up if it’s messy in Joel’s place, I come in and make a joke about it, and from there we get this. It’s a thing, you know, when you get to know someone who likes all the same things, in a sense. You have your language. We both have a huge will to just play — play out ideas. It kind of just maps it out itself. It’s really easy.

JA: I mean sometimes it could be like Henrik says, “Oh, I played these nice chords yesterday. Let’s try these.” And then I come up with an idea for that.

HJ: But we also have great reference points. Joel being a techno-y house DJ, he has a great selection of disco funk. I have a great selection of records too. I never was a DJ in that sense, but I’ve always been buying records, club music and so forth. So when we talk about a sound we can [say] “Oh, that record or that record.” It’s like we don’t have to explain the much. We just play it, and it just goes there.

Did you guys have any specific reference points in mind sort of like from an overall perspective when you were working on the album material?

HJ: That’s a good question. The album kind of came out of two 12″s in the same time because we were so productive over the course of eight months, almost. So we basically made the whole body of work that’s available now during these months, and if there was a reference point, we weren’t talking about city and industry and maybe kraut and electronics. No particular record or sound.

JA: The album is called Mod, which is a Swedish word. And that’s “courage” in Sweden.

It’s funny because when I see this, I see the English meaning of “mod,” and so it’s an interesting to hear that it actually means “courage.”

JA: We were actually thinking about it, and it’s like, “Well, that’s just the way it is. Some people are going to think like that.” But it’s actually a Swedish word. Because I was thinking that people actually will maybe check on it because all the titles are in Swedish. So it would be stupid to have the title of the whole album in English.

HJ: Yeah, of course.

JA: But anyway, it means “courage,” and we’d been having a lot of discussion about just not being afraid to go the whole way with a certain idea — being creative without stopping to think about it. Maybe you stop and you think like, “Oh well, but we can’t do the end like this because then the DJ won’t play it.”

HJ: It’s never been a question about a whole scene or anything.

JA: We started out with this discussion when we did this track “Jätten,” which means giant in Swedish. It’s a 15-minute track that was on the first 12″ — it’s a journey that goes into three movements. First we were kind of like, “Maybe we should just split this up into three tracks.” And then we were like, “No, why? Why can’t you do a track that is 15 minutes and goes two, three places,” you know? We had a lot of discussions about these “no” thoughts that comes into your mind all the time. It’s like, “No, we should just not listen to them.”

HJ: There is something very powerful and also gratifying with — as Joel said — following through your idea and ending up a place you can never predict or calculate. That’s always what we found the most interesting place to be when arrive there. And I can just honestly say that what’s available now from us is two 12″s and this album. These are these places we went through. Of course we’ve reduced the album, but you end up with that when you just take away all the unnecessary stuff you don’t need just to make it fly.

That brings me to another question: a lot of the material is sort on the slower side; it’s very enriched by details, but it’s still pretty functional. As a matter of fact, I’ve played a couple of the tracks in my own DJ sets. I was curious what relationship you wanted the Jonsson/Alter material to have with the dance floor?

HJ: We want the bass to be there, the kick, as a solid motor.

JA: It’s kind of a big sound, you know? Or so. It’s like —

HJ: It’s an open stage.

JA: There’s always the pulse there, but it’s not like you have a kick and just a hi-hat. I mean some tracks are really simple, but some have a really huge sound. And some even might think it’s not going to work even in the club. But we did our first proper club gig at Panorama Bar. It was working so good, you know. We started out at 116 BPM and — but the music filled the whole room and kind of made it’s own stage. Because it was different from stuff before. Tama Sumo was warming up, and she was playing, like, house in maybe 124 and, like, really uptempo and we just [whoosh sound].

HJ: I wasn’t worried about working. But as long as you amplify sound in a room, immediately you paint it. It will work.

JA: And one good point as opposed to that, Henrik — he was doing more ambient, kind of slow stuff, some deep-house stuff before. And I was doing more kind of house and more techno stuff, and I kind of slowed down, and Henrik was speeding up a bit. So we kind of met somewhere in between.

HJ: We met at a great point in our lives when we both wanted to explore new areas. And we also could lean on each other, in that sense, which is great because we both agree that this project is so beyond our own personal selves. So that’s why we got to know each other in this process, and we kind of just realized this — whatever we feel and think at the moment is secondary. This is more important to follow through.

JA: Also a lot of people who listen to the album, they don’t really see what is going to happen in the club because it’s really a whole piece, which is kind of moving slowly through different stages. But we are both coming from club culture somehow, and so when we go onstage and play live, it’s going to be rocking. It’s not like we want to do the album onstage.

HJ: I spoke to a guy who writes for De:Bug, a friend of ours; he went to see us at Panorama Bar, and afterwards he said to us, “I could never imagine that album would work so well in a club.” Because he knew that was sort of a whole-listening kind of vibe album. Just a very interesting the way people see house music or techno still, in this day and age. With dubstep and all this kind of slowed-down bass, as long as you say you do a house record — it’s fun to play with the idea of it, anyway.

You were talking about how when you’re together and you’re making music, it’s a very streamlined process: you’re not spending a lot of time over-analyzing. Yet a lot of textures and a lot of the synth sounds are so gorgeous. I feel like I’m looking at a room full of gems because everything gleams perfectly. It’s just so beautiful. How much time did you spend actually fine-tuning things, or was it just sort of a natural?

JA: Most of the stuff is live recordings, you know. Everything is, more or less.

HJ: Hand-played.

JA: And then fine-tuned in the last two months of the process. Then we had all the tracks almost laid out, and then we just fine-tuned and maybe put on a little bit more effects. We work a lot of low-volume layers. So at some point maybe there’s three takes with the same string machine. It’s mostly this Roland string machine making all of those sounds, but working in layers. And for this track “Kyrka 2.0” — that means “church 2.0” — we have this choir that comes in the end. And that is me and Henrik; we recorded our own voices and layter them, making new waveforms from every voice.

HJ: We tuned our own voices in five, six layers and kind of detuned them left and right to make this kind of voice. And to answer your question also — yes, we work really fast, but I think it’s all these years of finding out what you really like. It’s so easy, when you’re two people, to immediately hear what’s working or not. And Joel tests an idea with me on a hi-hat or whatever he tries at the moment, and I’m just like, “That’s great. That’s bad,” in one second. If I try a sound for [Joel], immediately, you feel right or wrong. So that’s why it’s been such a speedy process. Quality control between us has been so rapid.

JA: Basically a working session has been a little bit between a jam and a kind of programming session. So it’s like we record something and kind of [say], “I’ll put it in place,” and then [say], “OK, go back to record again.” And like going through the track like this.

HJ: We sit maybe two hours, two-and-a-half in each session.

JA: No more than that.

One of the things I noticed about the album is that there are very few instances of vocals. You guys were just talking about one of them; there’s also that vocal, “I just don’t want to dance,” and the spoken vocal in the first track.

HJ: That’s me. [laughs]

Well, right now house music is very concerned with vocals. And I was wondering if it was a conscious decision, or if it was just sort of like, “This is what felt right”?

HJ: I don’t like vocals too much. I think it’s overrated. I get so bored about it.

JA: But I mean it’s an interesting point because now it’s like you say. But at the same time I think it’s less vocals because there’s a lot of these vocals samples and there’s a lot of this shallow, hollow stuff, you know?

HJ: We just did a remix for a guy in America, we received vocals, and we had this discussion about it. But I said, “That’s so corny. Don’t you want to — ?” Joel says, “I don’t care what they’re saying it’s trippy.

JA: It depends on what we’re talking about — this particular sample was trippy, but in house music, you have a lot of really lame singers. I mean it’s not like in ’93 when you had super gospel singers all over house. It’s, like, really bad.

HJ: It think it’s a lot of shit. I don’t want to get too negative, but I mean —

JA: Actually, this track where he says this “I just don’t want to dance” was supposed to have a vocal by Eric D. Clark, a friend of mine, but we never had time to do the sessions. So in the end we just recorded a little — because we kind of felt to have a little bit of a human voice.

HJ: Remember we had a lot of vocals in that track, but we ended up taking everything out except for that sentence. And that was enough for the whole track. You don’t need more.

Do you find yourselves subtracting a lot from your tracks to really boil them down to the essence?

HJ: Yeah. Really.

JA: For sure.

HJ: We start with all the tracks, but with eight or nine tracks left on the arrangement in the end.

JA: At the same time, some tracks start out like really just four tracks and no more. You know, like, really — “OK, we didn’t do a bass line? OK,” and we just put some noise, and then we put a string, and it’s like, “Oh, it’s ready.”

HJ: I really like what you before said, Steve — you felt this kind of gleam in the music, that you picked up that, because we exaggerate noise and the kind of noise and randomness that analog machines make. We tend to raise that a bit intentionally. Because in there — this is what we believe — is magic, or whatever word you want use. It’s in there and it moves. And you know, you put a flange on it, a reverb or something. With a kick and bass line, that’s a track already, in our perspective. So that’s why we feel so secure with that foundation. That’s the funk; it’s right there. But don’t tell anyone. [laughs]

I wanted to kind of ask you about one other specific track, “Dvärg.” It’s so simple and hypnotic, but at the same time you feel like you’re getting bounced up even though very little is changing. How did that come into being?

HJ: That was a great day because —

JA: Maybe we should show him the machine. It’s just basically this small synthesizer made in Berlin.


Jonsson/Alter show me the Dvärg synthesizer, via Skype

HJ: It’s this one. And it’s called “Dvärg,” which means “dwarf” in Swedish. And what I did was I held a C note down and triggered it for five minutes. I was playing with the LFO at the time to sync it to a kick and beat Joel was putting on at the same time. So we recorded it. So what everyone’s hearing in the track is basically an LFO tuning towards the beat he was making so there’s very few edits in it. And it was made in one hour, the whole song, as an arrangement. And then we worked on the production a bit.

JA: It’s a recording with the bass, and then we arranged the whole track just from the bass line, which is one take.

HJ: I remember feeling so good because this is exactly what I wanted to do; I felt it in that moment. It feels first lost and, “What’s going on here?” But then it’s so obvious. It’s the party track of the album, basically. We feel it really does the job on the floor.

It seems like it’s not particularly to a grid. Is that important to you?

JA: When you work in music programs like Ableton or Logic and stuff like that, you could easily end up just following these grids of 16 bars and being too mathematical, which it really bores me a lot. Most techno or house tracks, you will always know where the break is coming.

HJ: I couldn’t care less about grids and stuff. I’m not interested. I mean we love music by people that really works great with grids, but we do something different. I think we consider ourselves more as old traditional — playing instruments deep in the forests in the 1800s. We talk about this a lot. Like, nature romance in melodies, and you’re supplying energy in the kick — underneath that, in a sense.

That’s a really interesting thing to hear your guys say. Although the openness of the album sort of conveys a sort of open space — maybe in an outdoors sense — I get a lot of machine feeling from the record. Is that natural sound important to you in this tracks? Or is that sort of something that you just hoped would people would interpret that themselves?

JA: WI think it goes back a little bit to what we were talking about before that we also realized — Henrik is from this a small town called Trollhättan, and my father is from the same city. It’s the old workers city of Sweden, which was used in the really early industry, and it’s also in up in the pine tree woods. It starts to be really woody there, and they believe in trolls up there. I mean it’s like “Troll Stone,” or something. There’s this big river there with falls, and if you see the artwork from the two 12″s, it’s these old pictures from this area, and there’s some kind of mysticism over this whole thing.

HJ: It’s also Sweden’s first power plant.

JA: And a power plant, but turbine-driven power plant. We also used that as a picture for one of the 12″s. A lot of Swedish people said to us that you could kind of hear that it’s techno and house with somehow a Swedish footprint. Because you can hear this little bit of melancholy that you can find in Swedish folk music somehow.

HJ: And also that we use a string machine. I don’t think a string machine’s been used in house this much ever. [laughs] Because we used it for bass lines– for everything, basically. 80 percent of all the synths, basically.-

I guess that explains why it’s a very coherent sound. Every sound sort of is very compatible. Is that just because you guys are using, literally, so few pieces of gear?

HJ: Exactly. We have a really minimal setup, and that makes it connect somehow. I mean we have a lot of gear to choose from. I mean the next album, we already talked about what’s going to be the source for that one.

JA: Yeah, I mean there’s a Moog standing over here, but we didn’t use it to do bass lines on the album.

HJ: We used it for one effects sound in one track.

JA: I think there is a point of having a really pretty limited instrument and then but just squeeze the hell out of it, you know?

HJ: Exactly. I really like that idea.

JA: Henrik worked like that, and I also worked a lot like that. I’d always kind of bought machines that I was like, “OK, this is the shit, and I’m going to use this until I don’t know what more to do with it,” you know? Instead of buying new stuff.

HJ: I mean I don’t have so much, but I have a few items. But as soon as I get some money, I’d like to buy a vintage piece because I know I’m going to have so much fun with it in the future when I get down to it, you know. And also we made a fair amount of records over the years also, different projects and stuff.

That actually leads me to my next questions: Henrik, your previous projects included Porn Sword Tobacco and Stress Assassin, and those two, at least, were not related to house and techno, especially the sound that you guys made together. But I was curious how those projects sort of influenced or informed the collaboration.

HJ: From my perspective — you mentioned two really, I don’t know, really free, ambient sort of dreamy music that is in my life. I’m very relaxed with playing and exploring ideas. I really like it, even. But I felt an urge for bass, for an energy more and more. So that’s the key, for me, for getting into this with Joel. I made two 12″s as Gunnar Jonsson also before we made this Jonsson/Alter thing, which is —

JA: We kind of complete each other really well, musically. I totally agree that we couldn’t have done this alone. It’s really like we met in the middle.

HJ: Exactly.

JA: Through this project, we kind of started to explore different sides of each other, because we were triggering each other. Henrik plays more, kind of, and now I started to play more. I had been trained as a kid as a violinist and stuff. I used to play guitar and stuff a lot. And then I kind of went into this programming and working with an MPC and took it as far as I could take it. Now when meeting Henrik, the other side of me comes back, and he goes and starts to explore more kind of beats construction and funkiness of things.

HJ: In a sense it doesn’t really matter who does what because we both have the quality control saying, “That doesn’t work,” and then immediately one of us takes it away. So we just synced in that sense. That we strive for the perfect sound.

JA: This collaboration will also affect our upcoming solo work because we kind of triggered each other to go further and build our worlds, you know, make our worlds bigger somehow. Also with Ulf [Eriksson] from Kontra Musik, you know, he wants a new album, we have new 12″s in the pipeline, we’ve got remix jobs, it’s so exciting at the moment just to — to keep going while we have this energy going.

Yeah. Let’s sort of elaborate on that if you don’t mind. There’s plans for a new album’s worth of material, then?

HJ: Yeah.

JA: We’re going to do a new album.

HJ: Next year.

Two singles came before the first album. Do you think you’re going to follow a similar structure where you build up to an album?

HJ: We do 15 sessions this spring, coming to the summer. Then the album is ready. I’m not saying this to be in any way arrogant. This is how we work properly.

JA: We’ll just take it from the sessions. Now we have a collaboration with Eric finally coming out; I got an a cappella from him. So we took a little piece from that and Henrik had these chords, so we made this track for the live set. And Ulf phone called — pretty funny because at first he didn’t really like it because it’s a vocal and kind of a happy track.

HJ: And he heard it at Panorama and was like, “That’s a hit. That’s the next 12″.” [laughs]

JA: Yeah, then he fell in love with the track so now he’s pushing us. So end of May it’s going to be released. That’s how far we have plans now. In the end of April we have a remix 12″ coming out with stuff from Minilogue, Donato Dozzy and Dorisburg. A really nice remix 12″, and then our follow-up 12″ in the end of May and then —

HJ: Then the album.

JA: We’ll just take it from there. Maybe we’ll do a 12″ in fall and then the album in 2013. We are kind of a new project, and it’s important to give this album some time to grow.

HJ: With the remix 12″ now even. Because these artists chose a track each from the album. Because we felt that the album is maybe going to be a bit of a slow burner. And then we’re going to reignite it again with this remix 12″.


Jonsson/Alter in the studio, mid-interview

That’s actually a very interesting point — the phrase “slow burn” just, like, really resonates with me. I’ll admit I listened to your album a couple times and I was like, “That’s nice. I like that.” And then I listened to it again and again, and then there were periods where I was listening to it every day for weeks. It’s an album I feel like you have to soak up. Which is really interesting because you guys were talking about how fast it came together. Considering that, it’s something you have to appreciate over time. Do you get that sense as well?

JA: That’s cool to hear because —

HJ: Yeah, thank you very much.

JA: I will say that we are both very sensitive in the way that we listen to stuff. So I think that we are good at taking out stuff that could be annoying, you know? Because some certain tracks, you first think that they’re really cool, and then really fast they will just annoy the hell out of you. But it’s the same for us; we still can listen to the tracks and really enjoy the trip.

HJ: Yeah, but that was the aim for the album, to make a timeless piece that will work for you.

JA: That’s also because the way it’s programmed, there’s a lot of small details. Even when we listen to it, we hear stuff and laugh, “Oh, that little sound coming there,” you know? It’s like we don’t know every little piece, you know, because it’s music that we recorded and — somehow.

HJ: It’s just going through ideas from a starting point to an end point where we both felt like, “This idea ends here. It’s just done. The track’s over.” And you feel it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and we talk about it a lot too — how wrong can you go when you sit down and take a few deep breaths and play exactly what you like? How off-key can you be? So I guess I know that this album was made almost 100 percent of exactly what we want. And that’s why we’re so confident in our next upcoming tracks and stuff: because I know from my source is where it’s coming from.

JA: I mean and there’s no other purpose than just the music. We’re not pointing at any scene or trying to convince anyone to like it.

HJ: I have to say that I’m very thankful for Ulf at Kontra-Musik because he has that kind of label. There’s not a label in Sweden that would allow an album like this and give it that kind of promotion because no one would dare to do it. But Ulf, he’s a music-loving guy, and even though our album is different from his previous catalog, he sees the potential and really understands it. So he gives us 100 percent freedom to do whatever we want. That’s also important.

JA: Of course. I know there’s definitely a bunch of labels that would have released our album, but it’s really cool that we did it on a Swedish label somehow. And it also gave us a push in Sweden, which we didn’t really expect.

HJ: Well, we did it because I got in contact with him, and it was just natural to continue with it.

JA: Yeah, but I mean we were expecting more feedback from the rest of the world than Sweden.

HJ: But again, I think it’s a slow burner. We’re talking to you at the moment, we’re talking to other people, who really just enjoy the album, and that’s, to me, initially more important than just reaching a sort of plateau of recognition. We will get there if we want to, but building a solid foundation with people who really enjoy our music is more important, I would say.

JA: Maybe it’s going to be even better next year when vocals are totally out. [laughs]

HJ: [laughs] Then we’ll do more vocals. But it’s funny because also I always kind of look around me in the world and think, “What am I missing at the moment? What is this hole that I feel I want to fill?” I think we both do that. When I’m flooded with something else in the record shops, I’m like, “Jesus, I’m missing that,” you know?

JA: It’s a valid point because as artists, we tend to think like that a lot. I don’t want to go out and do a bunch of 12″s that already exist. I mean in club music it’s a lot like that because you have to promote yourself as a DJ by throwing out records. But I think there’s no point of giving away something that actually already is there, which a lot of people do. So I think we try to avoid as much as possible.

I know a big component of the Jonsson/Alter project is the live sets, and I was curious how long your live set was in development before you guys sort of rolled it out, and what does it take you to achieve what you want onstage?

JA: That’s an interesting question. I mean we did our first live set here in Berlin at this Club Der Visionäre. We were mastering the album with Manmade Mastering — Tim Xavier and Mike Kuhn there. And Mike is a resident there so he said, “I would love to play this stuff there,” and I know Henrik loves the club so I told him, and he said, “Wow, you should play there.” They had a Clink label night there, and they invited us. It was really this cozy atmosphere. That’s how we started trying out our live set, and first I used a laptop and Ableton and some loops and ideas, and of course the string machine is really important. We always bring that. And Henrik has these Moogerfooger effects that transform the sound, and —

HJ: They are also basically the album. But anyways, we didn’t rehearse that much. We were so happy and felt confident.

JA: We are really confident being on the stage, and kind of not afraid of having kind of a loose frame. We aim to be totally loose. And so you can just work the tracks really freely.

HJ: Achieving the level of concentration that exists on the record, it’s impossible. We can’t do that so what we tried to do is pick out the most rolling, energetic pieces of the album and work on them to present a nice vibe for the dance floor. If we’re invited to play in a club that we know is more of a bar action going on also, we design it to that, you know, keeping it open.

JA: There’s so many parts that actually go on live. Since we started rehearsing, you have tons of new things. And some of the tracks became different tracks.

HJ: And then we learned about tracks on the album. Like, “Tre Ackord,” the last song of the record, which we think is beautiful; now we realize that — if we’re going to be a bit critical of ourselves, we found a way to make that song even better. We want to re-record that one because we’re not really satisfied.

JA: But that’s really where we’re going to go with the live set, just freely go through our musical universe. In the first week of March, we do two live sets in Sweden, and the second one we will play in a theater for people sitting down. And just half an hour. So we kind of took out the more clubby tracks and started to rehearse the more deep stuff, and just doing this, we found a whole new thing opening, like a new theme.

HJ: It was great.

JA: So I think this gig will influence our next club gig.

HJ: We did a run-through the other night for that special set, and it was so nice to be back there again, being creative. Just opening the stage again, putting a new piece here or there. Yeah, and also a new track idea came out of it; it was great.

JA: What we want to do now is really to play more and be more free onstage.

HJ: Yeah. Incorporate visuals, getting to the whole experience, in that sense. Not overdoing it with something mega-big, but just creating a vibe that you want to see, yourself, basically, when you go out. You want to feel like has a special thing.

In the live setting, do you guys end up coming up with new ideas that become full-on tracks, or something that happens on the stage and never gets recreated?

JA: Yeah, I think usually every time there’s some new ideas coming out. And I think they kind of add up in the back of our minds. I know that when we sit down for the next recording session a lot of these ideas will pop up.

HJ: I always bring a pen and a pad, and I have this next to the keyboards onstage because I play a new bass line, and I’m like, “Wow, that chord and these keys. I never thought of using a C sharp.” In a live environment, you notice sounds sound different. So, so different. You’re always overdoing it in the studio, but when you get on stage, you realize, “Wow, we need three sounds here. You know, we can take that out too.” And it’s so refreshing to stand there pumping the volume up and realizing.

JA: We can see now since the first live set we did, we had reduced the amount of sounds. Maybe we were really scared the first time so we had a lot of the background sounds and stuff, but eventually now we almost took everything away and play most of the stuff live or new versions of these songs.

Can you guys could tell me a little bit about set that you made for us?

JA: Well, it’s the last live set we did, from December.

HJ: It’s from About Blank. That’s the last live act we did in Berlin.

JA: It was really a kind of a loose night.

HJ: It was a great one.

JA: About Blank is maybe two, three years old. I don’t know, but it’s a cool place.

HJ: We played in the better room of the two, and it’s a very concentrated room, where people stand. There’s no dead area and a bar or anything. It’s a dance floor and stage. So if you’re in there, you’re there to party. So that room — I don’t know the capacity — 100?

JA: Yeah, maybe 100.

HJ: And it was kind of full.

JA: Pretty intimate.

HJ: And there were people dancing non-stop from A to B. For me it was a really good night, actually. I was surprised about the club, even though I understand it’s more of a summer club. It has this great outdoor area, too, which they actually open up in the summertime. Now we played during the winter, but it had a good crowd. Different from Panorama. It didn’t seem so druggy also, to be honest. It was just good, nice people.

JA: Panorama is more full of a lot of people. This is more like just common people who just want to have fun and dance. Yeah.

HJ: People like us. It’s different in a sense because there’s a new bass line going on in this set that I invented right there and then that I’ve written down, which I really enjoyed. And I said to Joel — I bugged him a bit because I wanted to [play] live, and he went away to Sweden for a trip so I couldn’t get it from him. And I was like, “I really want to rehearse that and work on that idea.” I remember it was a very creative night where we just kind of — we had a mic with us too, had some fun that, and it was loose. At Panorama, you know, you’re so stressed you want to do a good job, you want to impress, it’s a big night. This is a big night too, but it’s a different mood. You want to relax and have a good time.

Right. So this one’s more for fun than anything, but I was wondering, if your music was represented by either a drug or some something take that makes you feel good, like food or a drink, or whatever else, what would it be?

HJ: Oh, I’m going to be boring here. For me it’s just a fresh breath of air. I’m not a drug person.

JA: A bike ride, maybe.

HJ: Yeah, it’s a bike ride.

JA: Or maybe a rum drink if it has to be a drink.

HJ: Yeah, it’s a rum and ginger beer. And that and a bike ride combined. [laughs] A summer bike ride.

JA: Yeah, like a bike ride in maybe Berlin in April and it starts to get warm and you had a rum drink.

HJ: Yeah, like, you know, three o’clock, you stop somewhere, you have a bit of a rum, you get on your bike, go through maybe Treptower Park, you know, the war monument park. You know, get that vibe. Maybe up to Tempelhof — you know Tempelhof just opened so it’s got big, huge spaces open, which is really nice. Because it’s hard to get open spaces in Berlin; there’s always buildings everywhere, you know? Sometimes you get, like, abstinence from open air, like space.

JA: So yeah, we go to Tempelhof sometimes on our bikes.

Very cool. That’s a much better answer than, “Oh, I just like smoking pot.” [laughs]

HJ: We smoked so much pot already so we’re done with it. We don’t need it anymore. [laughs]

JA: Yeah, we stopped with that. [laughs]

HJ: No, I think it’s — you know, everyone smokes in Berlin, but I’m not interested in that scene. I’m more —

JA: When we work and stuff, we don’t even drink beer, usually.

HJ: I think I usually bring a coffee and a croissant and a bottle of water. That’s it. [laughs]

Hey, whatever it takes, man. Whatever it takes.

Abu Hassan  on March 5, 2012 at 6:50 AM

Love the set. Respect!

We Manage With Love / House Music With Love  on March 5, 2012 at 11:17 AM

That’s one awesome interview guys. Well put and good questions make good answeres. Great bike ride reference. Big ups!

Mickey Disco  on March 5, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Excellent interview and mix, have linked it. Cheers!

Oliver Linley  on March 6, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Stonking mix! love the raw nostalgic fuzziness

J.Knecht  on March 25, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Can’t say enough about this set. Thanks for the introduction.

Da man  on May 2, 2012 at 3:15 PM

Jonsson is a genius

Jacob  on June 16, 2012 at 10:13 AM

on of my fave house mixes. can listen it again and again.
intellectual approach and soft mixes, waiting for LWE’s nexr podcasts as always

Trackbacks

Jonsson / Alter, Mod Mixes | Little White Earbuds  on April 19, 2012 at 10:01 AM

[…] Mangado’s Auditorium Moraira Teulada by Juan Rodríguez[Kontra-Musik] Although they recently admitted to us that their tracks, composed of a lot of “low-volume layers,” are more complicated than […]

Jonsson/Alter interview and mix on LWE | Mickey Disco  on July 29, 2012 at 2:05 PM

[…] Jonsson/Alter along with a live set from the end of last year to download. It can be found here: http://www.littlewhiteearbuds.com/podcast/lwe-podcast-114-jonsson-alter/ and I would strongly recommend having a look. I can’t remember the last time I read such a […]

LWE Podcast 114: Jonsson / Alter is archived this week | Little White Earbuds  on January 27, 2013 at 10:01 PM

[…] recording from 2011 by swedish duo Jonsson/Alter showcasing their dance-oriented sounds. Be sure to add it to your collection before it’s archived this Friday, February 1st. » Alex Weston | January 27th, 2013 […]

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