English electronica wizard Jon Hopkins may be a two-time Mercury Music Prize nominee who has performed in the Sydney Opera House at the invitation of Brian Eno, but nothing in his career beats the extraordinary devotion of some of his fans.
“I sometimes receive beautiful and moving messages from people who find comfort and solace in the music,” Hopkins reveals. “I got one from a guy who was contemplating suicide. It’s extraordinary to hear from people who are bereaved, or gone through a divorce, and they still take the time to tell me how a certain track or album helped them through tough times, or kept them sane.
“I’ve met people who’ve had some of the album artwork tattooed on them, which is totally mind-blowing. When you’re writing and producing, you’ve absolutely no idea the effect of what you are creating will have.”
The full Hopkins effect can be heard on his hypnotic fifth album, Singularity, which is the eventual realisation of an idea he had some years ago. "Shortly after I finished my second album [Contact Note, 2004] I had a bold idea that evolved from a very simple tone for an hour-long musical cycle, which begins and ends on the exact same note," Hopkins illuminates. "But I didn't know how to make it. Also, the technology I had at the time was prohibitive. So I parked the idea, but I eventually returned to it when I finally had some time to breathe after an endless tour for Immunity."
Singularity was inspired by reconnecting with nature through meditation. "It is funny how we talk about nature as this separate entity when we are nature, and nature is us," Hopkins says. "I know that sounds very obvious, but we've completely forgotten this somewhere along the way. I've always lived in my head, which is very easy to do when you live and work in a city. In the last few years, I was forced into reconnecting my body and mind with nature. It was an extremely healthy process."
Such epiphanies directly inspired the 10-minute epic centrepiece of Singularity, Everything Connected. "I had a cascade of different realisations," Hopkins says. "I realised nothing separates us from anything else in the entire natural system. At this point in history, human life dominates the planet, but when you move away from the manufactured world you begin to reconnect with a natural feeling, which was there all along from the very moment you were born, but is gradually eroded over the course of your lifetime."
Hopkins practises Transcendental Meditation (TM) and autogenic training on a daily basis. “I do TM twice a day where I repeat a mantra internally,” he explains. “As soon as I finish meditating, I get a beautiful feeling of expanded consciousness. When I’m in this headspace I can make so much progress in my writing. There’s a knock-on effect in terms of inspiration.”
TM is conducted without music, or any distractions whatsoever, but Hopkins listens to music while doing other forms of meditation. “I do another type of self-hypnosis meditation with music, which is very handy if a musical idea is stuck in my head,” he says. “Although I usually don’t go near my own work. I prefer to listen to Brian Eno or Harold Budd. Their music allows my mind to go quiet.”
During a chequered and colourful career, Hopkins has worked with Coldplay and David Holmes, and he continues to be a long-term associate and collaborator with the aforementioned Brian Eno. What musician – living or dead – would he most like to work with?
“It’s a predictable one but I’d love to collaborate with Thom Yorke on some level,” Hopkins answers. “I keep saying this in interviews. I hope if I say it enough times I might be able to at least get a track to him. He has such an amazing melodic sensibility and his voice is so beautiful. I can sometimes envisage Thom singing lyrics to my music.”
Hopkins can’t remember a time when he wasn’t obsessed by music. “Creating music was in me from the very beginning,” he says. “I didn’t have any other interests, or ideas about what I’d do with my life. When I was eight years old, my parents bought me a second-hand Tascam multitrack tape recorder. Layering sound became a deep love from that tender age. It hasn’t really changed much to this day.”
However, music hasn't always been plain sailing for Jon. "It was going very badly when I was about 19 or 20 after a band I was in split up," Hopkins recalls. "After my first solo album (Opalescent, 2001), I was flung into a similar place again. I didn't know what to do. The answer was going to lots of live shows and meeting the musicians I loved. I met King Creosote [Scottish singer-songwriter Kenny Anderson and creator of over 40 albums] and things began to change."
Things certainly did change. A collaborative album with King Creosote, Diamond Mine, earned Hopkins his first Mercury Music Prize nomination. Despite a burgeoning profile and becoming one the most revered electronic artists in the world today, Hopkins still does it for the music.
"I have no interest in fame whatsoever," he states. "I still find it highly unusual that anyone would want to interview me. It took me a very long time to reach this point. Luckily, I was very young when I started, so I hopefully I've plenty of time left. However, I'm going to take it a little bit easier on the live front. I did 24 shows in the launch month for Immunity in 2013, which is absolutely insane."
On the subject of shows, Irish fans have two chances to catch Hopkins live in the coming months, both indoors (Vicar Street) and the great outdoors at Body & Soul.
“I still vividly remember playing Vicar Street with King Creosote,” he enthuses. “I’ve met the people who run Body & Soul every time I’ve played there. I’m always struck by the authenticity behind it all and the crowds are fantastic. My only regret is that I’ve never been able to stay around for the whole weekend. Body & Soul is always a standout festival, but I’ll never forget a special moment at Electric Picnic. I had projections on for the show, as I always do. At some point, the audience discovered that if they raised their hands high enough in the air, they could do their own shadow puppet shows on a screen behind me. They got very creative. A hand would come over and grab my head. Another would swot it away. It was great fun.”
Until the festival merry-go-round kicks off again, Hopkins hopes Singularity will be as warmly received as its predecessors. "I had a really beautiful experience making it," he concludes. "Some of these tracks are my personal favourites of anything I've done to date. I just hope some of it translates, and people feel something similar when they hear it."
- Singularity is out on Friday, May 4th. Jon Hopkins plays Body & Soul, Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, on June 22nd-24th, and Vicar Street, Dublin, on October 18th.
Music and the mind: musicians who meditate
When the singer and actress played a benefit show for the David Lynch Foundation in the Music Hall of Brooklyn, she said: "TM sort of saved my life. I'm being 100 per cent, for real. Also, it's for my number one person in the world. David Lynch."
The pop star is a keen TM enthusiast. "It's a game-changer," she says. "I feel neuro pathways opening up and a halo of lights, and I'm so much sharper. I just fire up."
Colm Mac Con Iomaire
When asked about how he likes to relax, Mac Con Iomaire replied: "I cook. I meditate. I write. I walk. I talk. I parent."
The Charlatans singer believes meditation gave him a new lease of life. "I felt a bit like an empty shell for a while and I had to start building the stuff that makes the soul again," he said. "Coke's a rubbish drug and it does take the soul out of you, so I started going to the soul gym."