Joe Armon-Jones on his influences, new project and cosmic sound. A conversation @ Montreux Jazz festival

A few weeks back we’ve had the chance to have a spontaneous conversation with eminent British musician, keyboardist, composer and producer Joe Armon-Jones after a performance at our our very own, very prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival 2022. With his 2nd album being listed as one of the top 10 albums of 2019 by the Time, the virtuoso has been consistently blessing us with releases, juxtaposing dark sounds with hopeful emotions through a variety of seemingly undefinable cosmic music.

Thank you so much for giving us your time and knowledge. The concert was amazing man. So how is Switzerland and Montreux so far ?

It’s been treating me very well, man. Yeah, it's been a good day, really enjoyed myself. 

Amazing ! Let’s start with the beginning. Can you tell us a little about how you started making music, you know, with both your parents being musicians and stuff. How did you first get into it? Especially music production.

Yeah. Both my parents were musician. Um, music production, mostly through Maxwell Owin which is a friend of mine. Wicked producer. He taught me a lot about how to use Ableton and stuff like that. Incredible producer. I learned a lot from him and just watching other people, you know.

I know how hard this can be but how would you describe your music to people who might not be familiar with? 

I generally don't like describing my own music to be honest, they just have to listen and describe it for themselves. 

I respect that. You definitely always blend many different styles of music, house, obviously reggae, jazz, electronic, hip-hop, etc and that makes it hard to define. 

Yeah, I guess so it just, probably just the music I listen to, you know. All of those different genres are just genres that I have on my record player. It feels natural to play and record similar music. 

Have your parents put you into a lot of music growing up? 

Yeah. A lot of soul and jazz and funk and stuff like that. A lot of that stuff. 

Does the fact that you do so many different things, um, has it ever like held you back or confused people? 

No, luckily. I don’t think so. I mean, maybe it has, but I don't know about it, but you know, I guess it shouldn't be that confusing. The same way people don't just hang out with one person, you know, there's three of you here, you hang out with each other, but not all the time. You chill with a bunch of different people and they have different vibes. Same with music, you know. Different energies to dip into. And you learn a lot if you try and do a new genre, then you learn a lot by learning how to do it properly. Whatever that genre is, there’s always a lot to learn from all different styles of music.

Great, thanks ! You mentioned Maxwell Owin. In 2017, you released a project called Idiom together. I really love this project man. I listen to it all the times. Can you tell us a bit about just how you met and how you put that record together?

I've known Max for a long time and we go back quite a few years. I met him quite randomly actually. He was just doing some recording for a friend of mine and we just crossed path quite randomly. We just started chilling after that really.
But yeah, Idiom. We just moved in into a house together. Idiom was just the first music that we made in that house basically. Like the very first few months of the house.

Ironically, once we released Idiom, well, we lived in that house for about six more years. We started working on another project. And just after we moved out of the house, we finished that project. So like, you know, there's another, you know, another part to that story or whatever coming at some point in the future, whenever we get it out. 

That’s beautiful ! I’m excited for you to release this project. So just you two living together ?

Yeah, no, it was a whole house with other people. Artists, bookies and more.

It's the dream to just live with other producers, musicians and creative people isn’t it? 

Yeah, man. It was really nice living with incredible producers and DJs. Big vibe. 

So we all watched your Against the Clock video, which was so inspiring, especially for us musician and producers. 

Wow. Thank you. 

Do you have any special tools you use for live and production? What's your workflow like?

My workflow changed a lot over lockdown. I can't remember when we did that against the clock, but before lockdown I think. Over lockdown, I got a lot into using a mixing desk and sort of dub style approach. Mixing tunes, you know, dropping things out, doing a dub version or something. Starting to integrate that process more and just making more and more songs in general. Over the last three years, I've kind of moved more into using a mixing desk as an instrument basically. 

Fascinating ! Do mix your own stuff?

I'm starting to, I haven't really released anything yet that I've mixed, but I do have a lot of dub plates in my house that I've mixed and cut and I’ll go back to them and mix them again maybe. I'm mixing a few tunes right now. If I play something on a sound system and it sounds good and people dance and there's a good energy, then I'm happy to finish it myself. That's happened a few times. 

You mentioned integrating a mixing desk to your workflow. That make a lot of sense because you always seem to layer a lot of sounds on top of each other. Sometimes it feels like you have 40 musicians playing at the same time, but it’s just you.

A lot of the time. Yeah. 

What are your main influences in terms of layering and this whole process of overdubbing and stuff? 

King Tubby. Definitely. In my opinion, probably the best sound organiser in the world. In terms of frequencies and knowledge of how bass is supposed to feel when it hits and how treble is supposed to feel. But not just the mix, but then adding that to the arrangement in terms of, when I say like a dub version where the track gets played through, but you take the vocal or delay things. In that style, I think he's the best in my opinion. And that I like his approach to doing that. It's very jazz. The rest in my opinion is just improvisation. He’s incredible. I mean, he was. He got shot. I can’t remember when. One of the best.

Both sonically and visually, you seem very inspired by Retro Futurism, Afrofuturism, Sci-Fi. Whatever you want to call it. Where does this come from? Are you a big Sun RA fan or how would you explain it?

Yeah, a lot. I'm not the biggest Sun Ra person in the world. I don't know all his albums and tunes. There's a bunch of stuff that I've heard that's too far out for me. And then there's stuff that I've heard that I think is absolutely amazing and beautiful too, you know? I'm definitely a fan of different influences from that kind of realm. I don’t know how to think of it really.

I mean a lot of it is inspired by, um, old dub covers. There’s a guy called Tony McDermott that did a lot of covers for Scientist and few other artists in the scene.  His cover art is really a mixture of like real world and space stuff. But then mixing it with the sound system element and the kind of, musical instrument essentially is the main inspiration.

Great ! This is always consistent in your visuals and we love it. On another note, we wanted to have your take on the current ‘UK sound’, whatever that means. We’re all getting a little tired of the comparison between the UK and US jazz scene so let’s phrase it differently. What do you think makes the UK stand out ? (if you can). Some people would even say that London is the new New York but let’s hear your own take on it. 

Um, I mean it's UK. Jazz is a funny term man. Everyone who's doing jazz in the UK has different opinions about what that would sound like anyway. I'm always a bit wary of that. Cause when people put a name on something like that, it gives it a bit of an expiry day, you know? It gives it a vibe as well, but the strength of what people call the UK jazz is mainly coming from people's diversity. Like the sound in the music is very diverse.
You don't have too many people trying to copy each other, which is the main element. It keeps the sound fresh and it means that people can't really be like, oh, that's the sound of the UK Jazz. Cause it doesn't really have a sound.

Yeah, 100%. Naming it can actually turn it into a gimmick. 

Yeah. Well the bands are so different. I think a Moses Boyd show is very different than a Nubya Garcia show for example. Even though they both studied and learned together and stuff like that. I learned with them before our own journeys started you know. Playing in the same bands and stuff. Then at some point, you know, everyone's start doing different vibes and developing different sounds. Nothing better or worse. I would just say we're not trying to copy anyone.

Very interesting. Before the interview started, we talked about what makes you guys stand out and so different than the rest, but it was impossible to pinpoint a specific thing. 

I would say the main thing is the vibe in terms of people rather than the music itself. The people in the UK are quite likeminded and there's, there's a lot of that. But still, it’ll come out sounding different. 

We actually came to London a few years back and got to see Steamdown at Buster Mantis in South Lodnon. That was a very special and unique experience man. Met some amazing people and listened to incredible music too. So m final question my last question. Um, We talked about it earlier but let me ask this final question again. What are you currently working on and what should your fans expect from you in the following months ?

So I have an EP, actually I don't really know what EP means haha. A project. I have a work of music coming out with mall at the end of the month, 29th of July. (OUT NOW). It’s called A Way Back. It's coming out my label Aquarii records. Look up for that. And then after that,I have an idea, but nothing's announced yet. So I can't really say. You know, like I said earlier, me and  Maxwell Owin got music on the horizon, but you know, we're gonna take our time and get ready.

Amazing. Thank you so much for your time and music ! Keep it up

Yeah. Big up you guys. Very nice to meet you.

Go and support Joe's new project A Way Back and follow him on Instagram, Bandcamp, & Soundcloud.

Photography and interview: Kreæm

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