J.Viewz’ leader Jonathan Dagan has been quietly making a name for himself among indie electronic artists since 2005, when Infected Mushroom remixed his song “Muse Breaks” into a club-ready dance track. Since then he has amassed a faithful following based on his technical prowess, his diversity, and his love of live elements mixed with laid back electronica. On top of that, a recent Grammy nomination for his album Rivers and Homes and an MTV O Music Award nomination for his “Rivers and Homes” music video suggest that J.Viewz has cracked the mainstream concrete shell. Dagan possesses the rare ability to invent sounds in his head that fill gaps in his genre, and then fully realize them on a record. For instance, Jonathan recorded the thick and summery single “Salty Air” in 2010, just as the “chillwave” subgenre, which the song fits nicely into, was being labeled. It is clear he is a pioneer of a new age of electronic music, where the novelty has worn off and the real work must begin.
The unorthodox delivery method on J.Viewz latest album Rivers and Homes – Fans pre-ordered the album before it was written and received tracks in real time as they were released – is a testament to artists finally being able to decode a viable internet business model. This original and fan-centric process was acknowledged by the music industry with a Best Recording Package Grammy nomination for the CD package that was a visual diary of the recording process. Engaging fans is a staple of J.Viewz, and it was the basis of their video for the single “Rivers and Homes” which contained over 2000 fan photos. Jonathan, a native of Israel and current resident of Brooklyn, is a collaborator at heart, leading a band with a rotation of excellent musicians from all over the world. J.Viewz longtime vocalist, Noa Lembersky, is perhaps his most trusted musical ally, further humanizing his music with her jazz chops and soul influences.
Once we saw his YouTube viral video “J.Viewz Making A Salad”, showing off his freakishly prodigious live-sampling skills on his Novation SL Mk II, we knew we needed to film him performing in our studio with an audience. His live set is a special thing to witness. Musicianship bounces off the walls as electronic and acoustic elements wrap themselves around each other like long lost siblings. After the show we had a chance to sit down with Jonathan, Noa, and drummer Ofer Levy.
So, what’s the name of that song you guys played tonight?
Jonathan Dagan: “This City Means No Love”. The samples in the beginning of the song… these are little pieces from the actual song in the album. It came from a “salad” that I made.
Noa Lembersky: Yeah, from the actual recordings.
J.Viewz making a salad! We love that.
JD: [Laughs] Yeah, I just thought it was going to be a temporary thing when they made this video of messing around with little pieces of the song. It’s like samples and remixes of the same song. That was really nice and then Noa and I did something really nice based on that where we looped her vocals singing the chorus and then she does, like a dialog with herself. Which she does a lot anyway…
NL: I think it’s the first time we ever tried to do anything “loopy” live.
You’ve played with a lot of musicians in this band. What is the story of J.Viewz? How did it come to this point?
JD: Well right now, it’s the first time that we’re doing a three-piece show. Usually our smaller setup is a four-piece setup. In Israel, we have a totally different band, still with Noa, but with a different drummer and different keyboardist and usually we are eight people there, with a brass section and all that. This is a part of an American branch, but it’s becoming like a family. We’ve been through many revolving members, since it’s been sort of a format of a project, but it feels like we’ve found something now that is kind of solid. And there is nothing that can really replace playing together. I feel like between the three of us, a real connection happens that you’re feeling in the music. You can just see that you start to know each other well; it’s the little things that are starting to happen.
NL: It’s a good frequency.
The live sampling and remixing you did tonight requires mastery of your equipment. How has this informed your live shows? What do you feel like you need from your live performances and from your gear when you’re performing?
JD: Well, being in New York, the first and biggest lesson you get here is how to make music with nothing. It’s really important because in Israel we got to a position where we could just demand stuff, like just the red M&Ms.
NL: Red M&M’s, that’s my thing. [Laughs]
JD: But here it’s so hard she has to get the yellow M&M’s… no really, but the live setup when we came to New York was like a trombone player and an MC, stuff that I couldn’t really let go of. I wanted everything and in Israel we have two computers and eight channels, that are synced together. But, just recently, I moved to one computer with everything in it. I’m using less channels, four instead of eight, and now I’m choosing my equipment by weight and not quantity. It borders on obsession. I just showed Ofer how I packed everything into two bags; really it’s like “Yeah!” because some bands just go with so much stuff and for me you have to find a balance with how you can really pull off something that sounds amazing, but still not use too much equipment.
Making do with whatever you have.
JD: Yeah but it’s a form of art to fold your stuff amazingly and then to open it and have it on stage.
When you were releasing your album you were putting things out as singles, you developed a website where you could get a fan base and give them songs as you developed your album. Do you think that’s something that you will do for the next one? Was it successful for you?
JD: It was really successful for us in terms of the connection that happened with fans and the growth of the fan base, was pretty amazing. The website was like an album, like a work in progress, 12 songs potentially there. I didn’t see a reason why you should get into a room, seal yourself, do stuff, then after a year go outside and say “Hey, look what I’ve been doing for the past year!” Like you have a pizza place and instead of selling fresh slices you just put them away for the sake of selling them in supermarkets so you wrap it up, you make it beautiful for the distributor and you’re like “Hey that’s sellable, that’s an album, that’s a pizza, put it in the supermarket”… and then you get not-so-fresh pizza.
There’s a lot of no-so-fresh pizza out there. People still eat that not-so-fresh pizza.
JD: It’s not bad, but it’s so nice to make fresh pizza. For example “Salty Air” was a perfect summer song, it was inspired by something, it was released like three weeks after the inspiration was conceived. You know what I mean? It has something. Music matters, you know? But I think it’s more meaningful when it’s fresh and happening. So, I don’t see a reason if I mix everything in-house and just send it out to master… so why should people wait? The most beautiful thing you can do is just open a window and let people in and see what’s going on and be in real connection with people who buy your things. These are the people who purchase the music, who care about it. “Maybe it’s not perfect, but this is how I felt.” But of course everything’s perfect so far, so… [Laughs]
There’s a lot of people out there that tour with just one Macbook Pro and a table and they have thousands of people who come out and go nuts. You guys have a live element that’s amazing, why is that so important in general and to your project in particular?
JD: I think it’s important to have a live element in the live show.
Ofer Levy (drums): That’s how we enjoy a show better.
JD: Now we’re doing this as a three piece and we don’t have our keyboardist so I took all the keyboard files and put them in my computer. It’s nice but you want to have something breathing in the music. When you go see a show you want to have the stuff played to you. It is the same idea as a fresh pizza. When Noa either feels something towards a song that she sings, doesn’t feel it, or feels something that is the opposite, it changes it up and creates something. I’m her audience when we perform. I see it and feel it. It moves me.
NL: It moves you because you’re conducting.
OL: With songs with a melody and a singer you cannot just press play.
I think it’s the freshest pizza. I think that’s the answer.
JD: Music is free basically, MP3s and all that. You don’t need to download it anymore. The one thing that’s amazing in a live show is that you have the artist that you like, you can see them, and you’re in the same space as them. You pay for that. You can’t download that either.
NL: You choose to work with people so that on the spot you’re going to have an interaction that is not something you press or control. You have an idea of what they will bring but you don’t know.
How do you write the music? Is it super collaborative?
JD: Well, the live thing hasn’t penetrated the studio in a way that it’s like a band that sits down and writes music. I don’t know if there will ever be a time for that even though we are getting closer and performing more. There’s something in the studio that comes out when I just sit in my boxer shorts and play guitar. (laughs) We’re not so much of a traditional band. When Noa comes into the studio and records vocals she brings her own personality into it and sometimes she adds to the lyrics. And Ofer, he actually played in only one song so far but he nailed it. It’s “River and Homes”. A lot of the heart in the song is his floor tom. It’s amazing to get to perform when he plays it because it sounds like it does on the record and we don’t have many songs that do that. I think that electronic music is not that interesting anymore as being purely “electronic”. It used to be like, in the ‘80s or later, “Robot, Robot, I have a computer,” and I was like, “What?! How did they do that?” It’s not like that anymore. Every type of music now is electronic music. Who’s the folksiest artist that you have in mind right now?
Bon Iver? He’s pretty good.
JD: Bon Iver is electronic music, man. He sat in some forest with his laptop. He didn’t sit with a tape machine. That’s electronic music even though it doesn’t sound like it.
NL: Futuristic is something that has to be in the past.
JD: Trying to define the future with music is a thing of the past. Now electronic music is just more stuff and you can add more stuff to it. It’s funny that our parents thought that the human voice was home for them and for us it’s analog stuff that’s still electronic but not computerized.
NL: It has the opposite position. It comes in to make us feel more human which is beautiful.
Where do you guys want to take J.Viewz in the future?
JD: I don’t know, but performing is nice. I think in 2012 it will be nice just to get out of the studio!
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