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Folk artist Jono McCleery goes way beyond a genre description. We unwrap his influences and his album There Is
words Ali Raymond / images Romain KedochimJono McCleery: Tomorrow
Jono McCleery is not your conventional London based folk/soul artist. Having independently released his debut back in 2008, Darkest Light—a self-produced venture funded by fans—it seems he has ventured to a greater nefarious depth with the sublime There Is.
An album that sees his heart-rendering vocals waltz with moody, cinematic electronic bass its in parts harrowing—but also surprisingly settling, making an exquisite piece of music that made us, amongst others, immediate fans.
Meeting Jono I was slightly taken aback by his humble and subdued character, even shy perhaps. But that’s how he likes it. Softly spoken, Jono leaves any extrovert colours for his music. Positioned in the corner of a giant leather sofa at Ninja Tunes HQ, he slowly and carefully unwraps the meaning behind his debut, starting with his specific musical influences.
“Astral weeks by Van Morrison, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye. I think Jeff Buckley’s album Grace is also really special. The intensity by which they all experienced their music is so deep yet heartfelt. It really moves me,” he says, explaining the unifying tread between the albums.
“My ultimate favourite musician is John Coltrane. I really love his stance. I see it as a stance because he is so sincere and full of self-belief, but without the arrogance. There is humility in his music.”
I can’t but feel the same way about the man in-front of me. An exceptional songwriter, his play with words are gripping, drawing the listener in with sincerity and abstract thought.
“The way Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen write is an inspiration. Leonard Cohen has a way with words that’s amazing and would translate really well in other genres. A lot of folk music is really well written but I tend to be influenced by the more jazzy stuff for the recording side.”
And there lies your point of reference, that thing that sets him apart from other singers in his immediate bracket. With There Is, he has joined forces with acclaimed electronic producer and fellow label buddy Fybe, stitching a darker cloak on proceedings. Having witnessed a remix by Fybe of one of Jono’s previous tracks, the label decided it would be a could idea to get the two together once he was signed. Jono explains the process.
“They asked me to come on board and do a record together. I hadn’t done anything like it before so I thought I’d give it a try. It was a new experience for myself and fife and everyone involved, a big risk. And it took along time.”
“A few people are doing it now and it might be seen as cliché, but at the time the only singer, song writer I heard collaborate with a electronic producer was Thom Yorke on eraser.”
“At times it felt quite messy. We weren’t sure where the song was going because of the many directions it could have gone. But we got there in the end. Fife gave my vocals and guitar parts an almost harshness and over time we would soften that, bringing the live band and live strings in and kind of make it all blend.”
Jono turns to some of my favourite tracks on the album and the reason for their inception, starting with the magnificent ‘Tomorrow’.
“I think Matt Kelly came up with this huge string arrangement that everyone loved. It was a single and it’s a long wait for the album version but I think for the album we felt we wanted it to be more of a cathartic experience where you could just lie down and just really take it in. I feel now when it does really come in it has much more of an impact.”
Listening to ‘Tomorrow’ you can’t escape that signature, hair-standing-on-end double bass. Its use comes from another classic track that uses the same emotive weapon of choice.
“Actually I was going to say, when all my mates were into drum n bass, when we were 14 of so, discovering Roni Size and ‘Brown Paper Bag’ was a big turning point for me. I remember thinking ‘wow, these are real instruments.’ I remember how much of an impact it had on me and from that age I sought out music with a double bass on it. I have my own double bass now that I play on the record. So yeah, Roni Size did a good thing for me, ha!”
More animated, he continues.
“I got into 4hero later on, and that’s wonderful stuff. I was listening recently to the jazz loving bass guys Robert Mitchell trio and their 4hero cover. They are brilliant.”Jono McCleery: Home
Jono explains two more songs on There Is:
“Home’ was a first improvisation take. I have no idea what’s its about. I got into some dark deep jazz space there, ha.”
“So many of my songs recently have come from improvisation that I’m often left in the dark myself as to their meaning. I can almost shape them into sense afterwards but I often don’t have the incentive.”
“Fears’ is again a bit of a stream of consciousness, a flowing of words. The chorus though is about losing someone.”
Jono has toured with the likes of the late Gil Scott-Heron, Bonobo, Fink, Jose Gonzales, Little Dragon, Portico Quartet, and Jamie Woon, with whom Jono came up on the London circuit. He is already itching to start on his next album—which he assures me is nearly ready—and has taken a Latin direction for this record.
“I’m really interested in the different rhythms you can incorporate the guitar into songwriting, without it turning into something too jazzy or too pretentious. I really want to go that route and see where it takes me.”
He also expresses a keen interest to collaborate with one of our all time favourite wizards, Bonobo. But whatever the outcome, it seems the future is rife with exciting prospects—for Jono, and for us.Jono McCleery: Fears