Jonas Bjerre – Very A-Mew-Sing

[Editor: It’s with great pleasure that I present this interview. In case you didn’t know, Jonas is the lead singer in Mew; a very influential danish alternative rock band. A bonafide rock-star and a music gear junkie to boot]

1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear and why?

The frequency knob on my Analogue Systems RS-240 Bode Type Frequency Shifter is pretty tasty. It’s huge! And I love turning it slowly to find the sweet spot I want to create a sort of strangely widened stereo image from a mono signal.

Analogue Systems RS-240 Bode Type Frequency Shifter

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

A few years back I bought a slightly expanded Make Noise Black and Gold Shared System, which I love dearly. I use it almost every day. I have a lot of other modules as well, but could probably get by with just the Black and Gold system – except I absolutely needed to be able to send clock from my DAW, which is why I opted for adding the Polyend Poly as one of my first additional purchases. I appreciate that Make Noise wants it to be separate from computers, and I think it would be strange if they made a midi to cv module, but that was the one thing that I absolutely needed.

Jonas’ Make Noise Black and Gold Shared System with lots of buddies

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?

Usually just my notebook, my laptop, and a little usb keyboard. But I rarely work on music during vacations. I tend to take pictures instead.

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

Oh, I don’t know. They both got their own thing going on. I can’t think of anything.

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

There are some modules in my modular system that I don’t use very often. Maybe because they don’t feel as intuitive as I would like them to. I mainly don’t like modules with sub menus and whatnot, as it tends to disrupt my creative flow. But I have no regrets, I will get into using them when the time is right, or I will sell them. 
Quite a few years ago I bought a Paca, to run Kyma X, and I have still only touched the surface of that. It’s a bit like Max, but it runs on its own hardware. I really got into it at one point, and it’s an exciting system, you can do boundless things with it, but I am a little unhappy that it still only runs on soundcards with firewire (and a few oldish usb ones). And it’s not just about the connection, and getting an adapter, it really has to be specific soundcards. They really need to upgrade that soon, to usb-c, or I don’t think I’m going to be using it again, as I no longer have a firewire based soundcard, and it seems kind of foolish to have to buy one.
I regret that Mew sold our Juno-6 many years ago.
[Editor: Ouch!]

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Honung & Møller Grand Piano

My very sweet parents gifted me a Tascam Portastudio 424 (mk1) 4-track casette recorder when I was about 14 (thanks mom and dad!). The fact that I could make overdubs opened up a whole universe to me, and we recorded the first demos for Mew on it. Of course this seems like ancient history today, with DAWs. Over time it’s probably been my Fender Jaguar and my Hornung & Möller piano. These days I am using my modular synths for almost every project, as well as my cello.

Yamaha CS-50, Prophet VS and Rhodes MkII

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

At present day, probably a laptop, soundcard, DAW, and mics. To me, the studio is the most important instrument. But then of course you’d need something to make sounds, and I don’t really like the feeling of using software synths. So I would get a nice analogue polyphonic synth, and a guitar. And a piano. And some drums. I’d definitely get into modular synths much sooner than I did.

Jonas’ instruments

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

Most problems I experience are with the software part of my DAW, corrupted preferences files, etc. Can’t do much recording without it, but sometimes I wish I had some simpler way of recording. In the last 5 years I’ve been using my Oberheim Matrix-1000 a lot, and that unit has caused me some headaches occasionally. I don’t really mind though. I don’t mind that things take time, and effort. To me, that’s part of the process of finding the happy accidents, and appreciating the results.

Marshall JCM2000 and Telefunken U47 vocal mic

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

Making feedback loops through reverbs and delays. You can design whole worlds of sonic texture, mixing an output back into an input. The Make Noise Erbe-Verb has this brilliant thing where the volume of the main output is translated into a control voltage, which you can patch and use to control the decay, so that it never completely distorts. Put a sound through it, and let it just reverberate for hours, cv-ing all the variables, it goes through an odyssey of sonic changes.


Artist or Band name?

Mew, Tachys, and Apparatjik

Genre

Oh man. 

Selfie?

Jonas Bjerre

Where are you from?

I’m from Copenhagen, Denmark.

How did you get into music?

I think I got into creativity as a whole, not necessarily music at first. I think, when I first watched Yellow Submarine with my dad as a kid, that’s when I first thought “oh of course, you can go wherever your imagination takes you”. So today I’m really into music and animation. It was the friendships with people at my school that formed the band, not so much wanting to be in a band necessarily.

What still drives you to make music?

More than anything, curiousity. And then of course this underlying need to create things, I am not sure where it comes from. I don’t want to believe it’s all escapism, but it’s probably all escapism.

How do you most often start a new track?

It really depends. I try to rid myself of methods. I just go with what happens. I always get the best results when I work without having a specific goal as to what the piece is going to be used for. Once I get too goal-oriented, it becomes less of a pleasure, and I think my best work comes from a process that I can take some kind of pleasure in. But I suppose a lot of the time, I start at the piano, or patching up something unexpected with my modular.

How do you know when a track is finished?

Sometimes it’s difficult. The really big ideas usually come about in an instant, and then I (or we) spend months trying to finish it in a way that doesn’t go against the flow of the initial idea. And towards the end, it’s often hard to let go and say it’s done.

Show us your current studio

Jonas’ home studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Let the song be what it wants to be, don’t force it. I think Michael Beinhorn told me that.

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

I did the soundtrack for a documentary series about Scandinavian Star, a cruise ship which caught fire in 1990 and killed 160 people. The music is pretty dark, for obvious reasons. I did most of it using my modular system, cello, and violin. It is out as a soundtrack album.
Currently I’m working on first Tachys music, my new project with Tobias Wilner of Blue Foundation, I’m really excited about that project!

[Editor: Scandinavian Star Soundtrack on Spotify]

[Editor: Also check out Mew]


[Editor: Do you have a favorite tip, trick or way of working with any of the gear from this interview?
Then throw a comment below…
]


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Martin

Is a composer of ambient lofi beats with soundscapes on top, also sometimes a writer of alt-folk songs with a unique lyrical shock.

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