JONAS BONNETTA (BONNETTA/HUIZINGA, EVENING HYMNS)
Earlier this month marked the release of Dark Watchers, the first full-length collaborative album between Evening Hymns front man Jonas Bonnetta and virtuoso violinist Edwin Huizinga. We were lucky enough to get the inside scoop on the creative process behind the making of Dark Watchers, as well as the logistics of capturing the field recordings that would best compliment the music being composed by Bonnetta and Huizinga.
chorusVERSEchorus: Dark Watchers is your second ambient/instrumental/soundscape based record following up All This Here, albeit one major difference is the fact that this record is a collaborative effort with Edwin Huizinga. In what ways did you approach this project differently than All This Here, and were there any lessons from the recording of that initial album that informed how you conceived and executed Dark Watchers?
Jonas Bonnetta: All This Here originated as a film score and then became a record. We went to Big Sur with the express purpose of making this record, or at least, intending to make music together in hopes that a record would manifest. As far as composing goes it felt pretty similar to All This Here in such that all tracks, other than Carlos Kills The Goat and Carlos B which I had written before arriving in California, were inspired by place and field recordings. Edwin and I would wander around Big Sur with a series of microphones trying to capture the soundscape and then would use these as inspiration for the tracks, manipulating them and jamming with them. An important part of this record and this musical relationship, and maybe my biggest takeaway was how special it was to be in deep isolation with another artist. Our entire days/nights were spent talking about what we wanted this to be and being inspired by the time and space.
CVC: Have you and Edwin worked together in the past? What was it about this project that made you want to approach it from a collaborative perspective as opposed to recording and producing the music solo?
JB:Edwin and I met as touring musicians years ago which quickly developed into a fast friendship. I started using him to record violins on records I was making in my studio and the hangs were always really nice and inspiring and oftentimes accompanied by a nice red wine. I was ready to try and make this type of music with someone else. To try and talk through the creative process with a friend as opposed to just jamming on things until they worked. It was great for me to try and articulate ideas to Edwin and for us to discuss production/arrangement in kind of a classical sense. That was new for me. Does this work? Is this part too long? Do we change the key? Does this represent the mountains enough? Does it smell like eucalyptus? It would've been weird for me to try and do that there alone I think. This project only existed because of our friendship. It's the combination of the two of us coming together in that place and making something. We talked about that a lot, and still do. It was just a great exercise to get both of us working in new ways. Certainly for him it's way different than anything he'd done previously. It was fun to stretch him in those ways too. And he just lit up with it. It was really beautiful to witness.
CVC: I gather that a significant aspect of Dark Watchers is that the soundscape material was recorded in Big Sur, California on land that is under the protection of the Big Sur Land Trust. How was the opportunity made available to you to record on this otherwise restricted land? Were you aiming to capture something specific by choosing to record in this location, or was the goal to let the sounds of the location guide the project?
JB: We were up late one night in Mountain Grove and just talking about finding a way to collaborate on a musical project together. Big Sur was a place that Edwin had put down deep roots in and it was a place that I had visited over the years while in LA. Driving up and feeling really inspired and curious about the place. It made sense with his resources there that if we were going to collaborate on something environmental that that would be a great place to begin. For years Edwin has been teaching a kids camp for the Big Sur Land Trust and they were into the idea of us doing a residency at this amazing house they have in the mountains. We are forever grateful for them and the role they played in bringing this to life. Unreal!
We made long lists of sounds that we wanted to capture before we even arrived in Big Sur and a lot of that work felt like research/science. We were on an expedition to capture these sounds that we found represented that place. We knew that collecting the sounds meant being in the place and that being hyper aware in a place like that is very inspiring and overwhelming. It was a great way to begin the project.
CVC: Similarly, when you approach field recordings and are trying to capture specific soundscapes, how do you know when you have the "best" take? What are you looking for in the sound, and at what point do you know that you've captured something that will pair will with the instrumentals that will accompany it?
JB: It was important for us to make very detailed recordings with the location sound equipment. A big goal with this project was to capture the micro level sounds of the place. I wanted to zoom in very close and get very detailed intimate recordings of natural sounds in hopes that within these microsounds there was something specific to that place. I thought a lot about the microphones as lenses and was less interested in getting the wide panoramic shot of the coastline that we've all seen on the postcards. I wanted the extreme close-up of the creeks and trees. Hydrophones in the surf, mics deep in the redwoods. We made so many hours of recordings while we were there. The sound kit came everywhere with us and constantly we were discussing what should be on the record. Selfishly the record needed to represent our own personal journeys too. It had to satisfy our own nostalgia down the road. The field recordings came first I think for every track, other than Carlos, and then we wrote with them in mind basically. Again, it was about trying to figure out what the Big Sur soundscape was to us first and then writing with that in mind.
CVC: On the subject of instrumentation, it seems like a fairly straightforward pallet: piano, synths, strings, clarinet, and pedal steel. What was the thought process behind the choice of instrumentation, and why the decision to steer clear of guitar on both this record and All This Here?
JB:The guitar doesn't seem to make much sense to me in this world when it comes to composition. Piano, and definitely electronics and synth, are the best tools for me to work with while trying to interpret these new ideas. It's mostly a comfort thing for me. And synths are so versatile. For a song like Night Surf At Garrapata Beach for instance, it was pretty quick for me to dial up something low and ominous and then I was right in the surf at night being kicked around and part of it. It's just easier for me to articulate what I hear with the synth and the piano. And also there is something really nice to sit at a piano with Edwin on violin and just work through arrangements in a traditional way.
CVC: When you're not working on your own music, you are evidently a very busy guy recording other artists at your home studio, Port William Sound. Are there any projects that you're currently recording for other artists that you'd like to highlight? Likewise, are there any exciting developments going on at Port William Sound in general?
JB: I just made a cool record with a young artist from Ottawa named Aidan Saunders that I love. It's just coming out now. We are wrapping up the mix stage for the new Leanne Betasamosake Simpson record and I'm so excited about that. New Nick Ferrio record coming that I also produced! And a really cool folk/country record by a sweet band from Montreal called Maybel. It's dropping soon! And engineering a record for Camille Delean, also from Montreal, that is sounding so heavy and rad. Very excited about all of these and many others I'm not mentioning.
CVC: By all accounts the next Evening Hymns record, Heavy Nights, is in the final stages of completion. Are you able to disclose when fans may get to hear their first taste of the new record, as well when the album will be released?
JB: It is done! Ready to go. First single in April! Album out this summer! Cannot wait!