Name: Thomas Jack
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Current Releases: The Versus EP
Recommendations: Tribes - Seth Godin; Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love - Nicholas Schou.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this 15 Questions interview with Thomas Jack , visit his website or facebook profile for further information.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think all are important phases of developing your own sound and style. For me I looked at lots of other artists and how they were crafting their music. From there, I was able to think differently about my own music and start crafting something that was more unique to me. So I’d say listening to a lot, and trying a lot is the key to developing your own original sounds. I’ve always been a listener and think of myself a curator, so absorbing influences and trying to share them has always been vital. In terms of my own productions, I’m still growing and developing, and I think that will continue.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think knowing what I wanted to make in my head, but not being able to actually produce it or make it sounds as good as I would have liked it to be. I think this is something most producers struggle with, but can overcome over time. It’s always a case of having the time, but I've been taking less gigs and spending more time in the studio, as there aren’t really any shortcuts in this process.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I think being able to send a song anywhere in the world as soon as you finish it or even if you have an idea and want some feedback. Humans obviously excel in the creative side of creating the music which machines aren’t able to do. You can input whatever you feel into the synth or whatever but it can't do the opposite. I’ve also been exploring older analog synthesizer technology. It’s a completely different feel from VST synths that a lot of producer have grown accustomed to. It’s good to get away from that sometimes. Newer doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I’m all about jamming with others and seeing what comes out after playing around for a few hours. It’s interesting to see what we both vibe with. I collaborated with Ry-X, who was really an inspiration to a lot of my work. I think collaborating is really another chance to absorb and learn.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a track that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
For me, it starts with a feeling. I kinda write to the feeling and whatever comes out of that is the song I want to make. Then I will play around on a few synths til I like a sound or a melody which serve as the building blocks for the song. Ideas can come from anywhere - traveling, playing - I don’t think I have complete songs in mind when I start the process, I just see where the idea takes me.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How does music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My schedule is kinda the same but changes sometimes. I’m definitely a day person so I’ll wake up early every morning do a bit of fitness cruise around for a bit then work on some tunes hang with friends. It’s pretty casual for me. Music blends seamlessly into my life. Touring is a completely different story though. That’s just non-stop action from the moment I wake up to the moment I finish.
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
I’ll usually make a playlist of a bunch of tracks of a good variety. Normally, I know the first few songs I’m gonna start with, but then I’ll look to the crowd to see where they’re at, then I’ll just go from there. Each set is different, each crowd is different, and my job is really to try and figure that out and give the crowd what they want.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me it’s kinda meditative. After playing for a few hours, it completely becomes your focus. I think just being able to get lost in your own set, to be complete immersed on the decks, is really important. It’s why I really enjoy playing longer sets in smaller venues where you get the chance to get into that groove.
When it comes to production, it’s different for everyone. Some people can just lock themselves in a studio and write music from 9-5. For me it doesn’t work like that, ideas strike when they strike, and that’s when you have to try and get them down. I wish I could force myself into that zone, I’d write a lot more music. I don’t think the life of a touring artist helps - you are on the go a lot, never in one place for long, and always having to interact with people. Being sociable with fans and promoters is a hugely time consuming and necessary part of what we do, and all these requirements take time out of the day, that could potentially be spent writing or making music. But its a balance, if I only did anyone of these things I’d probably drive myself crazy.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
Definitely improvisation. I’m all about seeing what will happen. Explaining it is tough, but it’s sort of like a call-and-response between me and the audience. A set can’t stay the same the entire night. It evolves slowly. So each new track pushes the set in a unique direction.
I guess my overall goal is to make sure that the crowd vibes with the set and enjoys the night. It’s hard to plan that or compose it. It has to be done on the fly, because just like each set is different, each crowd is different.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I see the two as existing somewhat independently of one another, but arrangements and sound design go hand-in-hand. I think producing new sounds and timbres might be a little bit more important than arrangement. If you’re not creating something that sounds new and exciting, it will be hard to captivate an audience with arrangement alone.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
When making the music I think about how people will react to the song when played live. It plays a huge role and both are tightly connected. The music we make is meant to be consumed in a communal environment, so producing it in isolation doesn’t give you the full picture.
In that sense, composing music and performing music are two sides of the same coin. In the studio, I always have an audience in mind, and I’m always trying new things. On the decks, I also try new things, and keep my audience in mind. I create music for people, and I perform music for people. The audience seems to be the common denominator in all this.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
Yeah I think it’s 50/50. Half what the crowd is vibing with and half what’s in my head. I only think like 1 to 2 songs ahead. Planning any further than that becomes a little convoluted. I can’t see the future, so it’s better to think of each track in my set in the moment and react as the crowd reacts. That said, obviously I spend hours and hours listening for music that I could possibly play.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I think creating a multisensory experience is vital. People aren’t going to dance if a venue stinks or looks horrible. That’s why it is nice to have the chance to create your own events where you can shape what people are experiencing. There are promoters that do this really well - the folks at Elrow I think present an amazing multi-sensory experience. I think sound can be hugely powerful - it can kill people if pushed to its extreme limits, but in terms of a party, it’s one part of it, a hugely important part of it, but it needs the other senses to really make it work.