HEAR MY MUSICAL PERSONALITY: AN INTERVIEW WITH MATT JOHNSON

On 29 April, 2019 by Aldo Sianturi

Matt Johnson, pianist, keyboardist and composer, began studying piano at the tender age of five years. Born 3rd Feb 1969 in Bournemouth on the South Coast of England. His musical influences range from Herbie Hancock, Miles Davies, by Squarepusher. Matt joined Jamiroquai in 2001, recommended by Simon Katz. Derrick called him to offer him an audition and since then has become a key component of the band. You may hear his awesome work start from Dynamite, Rock Dust Light Star and Automaton with Jamiroquai. I personally like Tallulah and Something About You. So please read our latest interview by e-mail here:

1. Did you grow up with music in your house? Yes, my dad was a musician and had a music shop. We always had a piano in the house so it was natural to play.

2. How old were you when you started taking piano lessons? 5 years old

3. What was the kind of things that you were listening to as you were coming up? My brothers records which were mainly Hendrix, Bowie and The Beatles. Only when I moved to London did I get to hear all the soul and funk stuff.

4. Were you putting bands together in high school? No, I used to write songs with my brother and record them on a 4 track I saved up for. Only when I was 16 did I join a band.

5. Do you remember the first keyboard you owned? It was a clarinet/pianet duo, now a highly sought after vintage keyboard but not cool then! I sold it and bought a Yamaha DX21!

6. Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a professional musician? Yes I think I always felt I would do something in music

7. Tell me five albums or artists from your past that was seismically influential for you?
*Japan-Tin Drum. The synths are so otherworldly this album changed my life.
*Stevie Wonder Innervisions, great songs and again great sounds.
*Prince Lovesexy, just awesome funk
*Mishell Ndaegeocello Plantation Lullabies. Conscious lyrics and amazing energy
David Bowie Heroes, pop turns into art
I could go on, 5 is not enough!

8. Tell us about your live rig journey and what gear do you use now on stage with Jamiroquai? I have a Fender Rhodes Mk 1 suitcase 73 with a CE-1 chorus pedal, on top of that is a Yamaha Montage 6 which linked via midi to a Dave Smith OB6. Then I have a Montage 8 and a Prophet 6.

9. What kind of modern synths and plugins/technology did you use in the making of this new music? Automaton was made on Pro Tools but I didn’t use any software synths, it was mainly vintage analogue synths which I often ran through a tape machine. The synths most used? Moog Memorymoog, Roland Jupiter 8 and a Prophet 10 but I used a lot of different ones as Jay has an amazing collection of rare synths.

10. Do you think reason why you’ve been able to navigate lots of different music is because you studied, listened
to and played all kinds of music? Yes I’ve always had eclectic taste and have played all kinds of music in bands from funk to metal! To me in every genre there are great exponents so you can’t write off a type of music, just the artists making it.

11. How did you get the gig in Jamiroquai and what was the audition process? I had auditioned to play 2nd keys for Ms Daynamite and although they decided they didn’t need 2nd keys in the end Simon Katz and Stuart Zender were in the band. I guess they liked me as I got recommended via them to try out for Jamiroquai. I think around 10 or so players auditioned but I got the job.

12. Did you know the reason why they decided to work with you? I think Jay just loved my playing style as I’m not afraid to go for it, he got excited when I started soloing. Also I made sure I had the songs down properly.

13. How many members are in Jamiroquai band currently? The core band is 6 including Jay and has been since I’ve been in the band. We are the ones who make the records.

14. What are your individual impressions of your other band members?
Derrick is very kind and generous, Sola a ray of sunshine with an enquiring mind, Rob is great fun to be around as is Paul. Jay is very complex but can be very gracious and has a special talent of course.

15. What was your biggest challenge when you joined the band? To establish myself, I wasn’t daunted by the legacy of Toby because that’s just not my personality. I have always loved playing his parts though. I guess it took Automaton for me to feel that I had made a real constitution to the band on the level I always wanted to, I’m very proud of that record and you can hear my musical personality in it.

16. What is your favorite song to play in the set and why? Hard to pick, I love Shake it on because it’s so powerful but I also enjoy Runaway as I get a good Rhodes solo!

17. What piece of music makes you most emotional when you hear it—one that really transports you to a place of feeling vulnerable and in touch with your innermost feelings? Again hard to pick one but I would say the album Secrets of the beehive by David Sylvian, introspective beauty.

18. I think what makes your music so special is deep and beautiful melody. Please tell us the fundamental secret to continue producing such music? I try to make music that will resonate, I think coming up with greats hooks and melodies is more important than technique or playing an amazing solo. I just try to make stuff I would want to listen to I guess.

19. What was the first tour you’ve worked on? What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from it? My first proper tour was Japan with Elisha La’verne. I don’t know what I learned apart from concentrating on nailing my parts 100%. I’ve always tried to do that not matter how crappy the gig!

20. What do you do when you’re off tour? Please describe a “normal” day in your life? I normally working on some music project. I get up at 6am and make a coffee then he’d straight to my studio for an hour before the kids wake up, it’s the best time of day.

21. What advice can you give to anyone that has a dream of being successful in their career? Never give up always believe in yourself.

22. In Jamiroquai music they’re always putting orchestra arrangement. What’s the goal of this. Was it just a sweetener? What is your standpoint? Yes a sweetener, strings can add a 3D quality to music that you don’t get in a band. It’s something about that many people in a room playing the same thing, it’s beautiful.

23. Who were Jamiroquai’s initial audience? What were these people like? How has your audience evolved over time? I wasn’t there at the start so can’t answer that.

24. What would you tell the next generation about how to succeed in an ever-changing music business?
I’m still trying to work that out myself, I guess be flexible and take opportunities even small ones.
I think people who wait for the right thing sometimes never make any moves.

25. How important is Asia for you these days, as a market? It’s important but I’m an artist not a business man so I don’t think like that.

26. Did you come to Jakarta when Jamiroquai perform here back then? How do you see my market so far? Do you have any plan to play here again? Yes I came and really enjoyed it, would love to come back please:) Always fascinated to see different parts of the world.

27. What your opinion on Incognito, Brand New Heavies and Corduroy? Do you recognize some new names from UK who are under their music influence? They are great but I don’t really listen to them, did back in the day. I know a few of the band of Incognito and they are lovely and really good live, I went to see them in Yokohama, Japan a few years back. I think music goes in cycles and at the moment there is a lot of 90’s vibes being recycled by young musicians, good luck to them!

@AldoSianturi/Photos: MattJohnson

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