Despite an acclaimed debut album and successful live show at Primavera, John Talabot isn't ready for the hedonism of stardom, he tells IAN MALANEY
THERE’S ALWAYS AN element of pressure when a band plays live for the first time as they wonder how their songs will work in front of an audience. Every possible thing that could go wrong crosses the mind. Thankfully for most, there is little in the way of expectation to deal with. John Talabot, however, had a mountain of that to climb as well, with his debut album, fin, being one of the year’s most lauded releases.
In the end, opening his live performance account at Primavera Sound in his home town of Barcelona was worth the effort – the show was a complete success, taking place in front of thousands of ecstatic fans. The contrast between festival stages and the heaving, sweaty clubs Talabot is more familiar with as a DJ is not lost on the Catalan native. He finds something to enjoy in both environments.
“For a DJ set I prefer clubs, having people close to me,” he says. “I really enjoy small clubs but sometimes I understand that promoters have to move to bigger rooms.
“At the moment the live shows are only booked for festivals because it was a good way to get the training for small clubs where you have people around you and a longer slot. So festivals are a good way that people can see you, you can make a bigger live show and try to get people into my music. Later, you can do small venues and people will come, too.”
Though Talabot’s profile has increased massively in the past year, little has changed on a day-to-day level. While his weekends are spent playing to bigger and bigger crowds, Monday to Friday is much the same as ever, including working with the Barcelona record label he helped found, Hivern Discs. This, he says, is part of a conscious effort not to get too sucked into the hedonism.
“I don’t want to go inside the DJ lifestyle, having all the week resting and playing the weekend,” he says. “I feel like I have enough energy to work during the week. I arrive home on Sunday night after playing two or three gigs and go back to work on Monday, trying to put music out on the label . . . I don’t want to get used to having good money on the weekends and that’s it because you don’t know when it will be finished. So I prefer to try to keep things going in whatever way I can.”
And Barcelona, it seems, is the place to do it. Though the city has a long cultural history, it is somewhat devoid of a definitive club music identity, with the vague umbrella term “Balearic” on loan from the Ibiza scene.
While this might make the Catalan capital difficult to pin down for lazy journalists, it made for a vibrant and varied musical environment for the young Talabot.
“My background comes mostly from the club scene in Barcelona and the music I learned going to clubs from different styles, disco, funk, indie and techno.” he says.
“I lived with my mum and she was working quite a lot so she didn’t have so much time to care about music. She really liked music, she was listening to music, all the 80s stuff when I was just a child. At the end though, it wasn’t something that was really important in her life or at least she didn’t have the time for it to be so important. So my background came when I was pretty old for having a background.”
After discovering Aphex Twin, Warp Records and Joy Division at the age of 16, Talabot threw himself down a path of musical discovery, working his way back through the decades to the earliest pop and electronic music of the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Separated from the often smothering influence of any particular scene or style, he found his own way through the cultural mass, with suitably off-beat and personal results.”I have my own influences but it’s not defined by a genre or a style, it’s maybe more defined by tune,” he says.
“I’ll really like this tune from this genre but not the other ones. I’ll like one really obscure disco track but not the main disco stuff. So at the end my taste is based in the obscure things of the genres. I’m not this knowledgeable guy who knows about every genre or everything. I just know about what I like, the tunes I like and who produced it.”
Taking the path less trodden has also provided perfect sampling material for Talabot to mine. Inspired by hip-hop pioneers like GZA and J Dilla, Talabot’s technique of turning old melodies and textures into something that feels new is one of his defining facets. Sampling, however, is something that he sees becoming more and more difficult.
“Sampling is something that has become mainly illegal because the process of making it legal for artists is too hard. I would really like to credit the people that I sample because I like their music and I would like them to be part of my stuff and I’d like to give them credit so the people would know it.
“I don’t like when art is restricted by law. You have the example of Dangermouse and The Grey Album, which was done without any permission but he mixed Jay-Z with The Beatles’ White Album and it became something very important. If that guy had decided not to make it because it was illegal, we would have missed something in the world. We would have something less in the world. I think it’s a very creative thing if you do it properly.”
John Talabot will be appearing at next weekend’s Body & Soul festival in Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath