Jonti - MusicNSW

South African born, Sydney-raised multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer, and vocalist, Jonti creates beautiful psychedelic electronic music fused with a pop sensibility. Jonti has toured Europe with the internationally acclaimed artist Gotye, and worked with artists like Mark Ronson, Santigold, Sean Lennon and the Dap-Kings. After a stint in LA, he has returned to Sydney. We grabbed him for a chat about his plans for 2013, and sought his advice on how to make it in the music biz.

Describe Jonti in 3 words.

Jonti the Full Monty Aunty. Tried to make it rhyme to as a bonus.

How did your journey into music begin? Did you always want to be a musician?

I was a shy and quiet child. At school I just muttered nonsensical words till I was 11. Sensical words just didn’t come. But I draw pictures and it would get responses from other kids and they would understand me a little more and let me hang with them. So I just kept at it until I came to Australia in 2000 and went to high school here. I saw a kid playing guitar and it blew my mind, I kinda replaced drawing with that because it was so physical. I could feel what i was creating instead of just looking at it. Music became my new way to talk.

What was your big break as an artist?

My big break came from TED’s ‘The Lab’ Competition, which I won and my friends and I got sent to write and record with some amazing names including Mark Ronson, John Taylor(Duran Duran), Santigold, Sean Lennon and the Dap Kings. FBI was the first station to play my music and give it a life.

You are originally from South Africa, then spent many years in Australia, then moved to LA and now you are back in Australia again! Where do you consider home? How long will you be in Sydney for?

I don’t know where my definite home is. I love LA, Sydney and Johannesburg and I feel all of those places make me who I am for better or worse. Right now I was drawn to Sydney because I wanted to be with my brother and I felt there was an excitement in the music scene here that is really exciting to see unfold.

How have you found the music scene in LA compared to back at home?

Very similar. I was expecting something completely different and harder to what I found here. But I remember thinking after a while in LA, that – in terms of this music life – were all in this together all around the world. So you find the same excitement, lulls, good promoters, bad promoters, cracking parties, boring industry drawls, communal strengths etc.

What tips can you share with musicians planning to tour internationally or move overseas permanently to better their career in music?

Just get out there and meet other musicians. Jeff Jank is the art director at the record label I’m signed to in LA called ‘Stones Throw Records’. His advice to me when i got there was to meet, learn and get out there with people from the music community. And it was good advice and good to keep in the back of my mind as obvious as it sounded when i heard it.

What has been your most enjoyable live experience as a musician so far?

Either at Low End Theory in LA or maybe Las Vegas with Gotye. Low End Theory was special because it was my ultimate goal to play there and when i did, it was bliss! I remember KCRW presenter Jeremy Sole talking about me after my set which made me feel very welcomed to that community. Gotye has been a shining light and guide in my career and took me on tour with him last year playing all the greatest venues in the world. The first few shows were so rough and i thought i was failing bad and that people hated it, and was degenerating into some decrepit version of myself and still had 40 more shows to go! We arrived in Vegas and was kinda luck ‘fuck this train of thought, people can hate it but a bigger injustice would be if i didn’t give 110%’ and i kind of slated through my set with full passion and people dug it a lot more and it set the tone for what was the greatest time of my life so far.

What has been your worst live experience as a musician so far?

At the end of last year there was a gig. After I came back from the Gotye tour I spent a week with my girlfriend at the time. The traveling and distance was hard for her, and I had an industry show the day before I was due in Moscow the next morning. I was literally watching her fall out of love with me with every note I played. It was kind of a soul crushing ‘why do I do this’ live experience. But I soon was reminded why I do this and couldn’t think of any other place to be then the stage or studio.

How important was the role of community radio in making you a successful musician?

Like I mentioned before, it launched me into the world. It gave me the confidence to pursue music in addition to exposing me to the brilliant artist’s of this country. Without it, the chances of me having a music career would of been very slim.

Based on all your experience in the Australian music industry to date, what is the best advice you can give to an aspiring singer songwriter who wants to break the mould?

Keep the romance high. Doing what makes you happy, creating what makes you feel something, making music with friends, making people dance, learning from peers, dancing in your bedroom when you get out of bed, going to parties, searching for the truth are all things that count in the end.

What’s one of the biggest obstacles you have had to face during your music career, and what did you learn from this experience?

Just dealing with failure. Especially now more than ever, failure and criticism finds you and is rubbed in your face to the point where your too frightened to sing a word. Even when it used to be your only means of speaking a word! Things like I mentioned before, playing in front of thousands of people and thinking it was terrible, touring breaking up my relationships, being dissatisfied with my performance on these amazing opportunities people gave me, giving it all up to play in bands with friends which eventually evaporated into thin air.. I could go on and on.. And I could just do nothing and avoid living through those situations again. But not creating isn’t living. I learned not to over think things, smile when it works, laugh when it doesn’t and enjoy the roller coaster!

Sydney venues are in a sure state of crisis at the moment, with many closing down due to issues with local council, noise complaints and/or unsubstantiated financial overheads. How valuable is live music to Sydney’s arts and culture scene?

Live music is what gives life to any music scene. It gives it a face, an audience, a community and ultimately a meaning. Live venues are essential to the Sydney music scene and its heartbreaking to see these venues in a state of crisis. Arts funding can sometimes be a tricky subject matter when brought up in a group of people, but these venues hold the magic, color and identity of our culture. Its terribly sad to see any of them go.

Who are some Australian artists that inspire you?

Random ones that come to mind are: Gotye, Avalanches, Taku, Jagwar Ma, Polographia, Japanese Wallpaper, Elizabeth Rose, Collarbones, Rainbow Chan, Alba, Cliques, Chet Faker, Hermitude, The Preatures, Faux Pas, Tre Samuels, Seekae and many more I can’t think of right now.

What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of 2013?

Two main projects, an exciting performance for OutsideIn Festival which I can’t talk about just yet. And I’m working on a special project/album which has been in the works a little while now. I also did a bit of stuff for the Avalanches next album which is crazy. Everything I’ve heard from it has fired up my soul and my booty big time!