Fast Car hitmaker Jonas Blue takes us into his tech den
Fast-emerging London-based producer Jonas Blue has found immediate success with his debut single Fast Car, a cover of Tracy Chapman's famous hit single almost 30 years ago. Originally an acoustic track, Blue has turned Chapman's version into a smooth, uplifting tropical house number with assistance from vocal talent, Dakota.
With the single hitting the No. 1 spot on iTunes and Spotify in numerous countries, we chat to Jonas about the track's conception and his love of hardware.
Why did you decide to debut with a cover version?
"I always remember it being the song that would come on when I was getting in the car and going on long journeys with my mum. It was a few years ago that I knew I wanted to do a cover version, but I didn't know when or how I was going to do it.
"The one thing I did know is that I always wanted to stay faithful to the original and find a singer who was, not similar, but could do it justice in the original key. I didn't want to use any of the original sounds either. Time has moved on and I wanted something that would work in my DJ set."
Was translating it from an acoustic to electronic version the key to getting it sounding right?
"Definitely, and I think that's why there isn't much there in the break downs, because I wanted to keep that acoustic feel. Everything came into my head before I'd even got into the studio and made it, so when I did get in there and started laying everything down it was a quick process - I literally made the whole track in one night. "
What was your introduction to music technology?
"Do you remember Kellogg's Coco Pops used to give out a free program? I think it was called Ejay, and that was my first ever piece of software. I don't think I've ever told anyone that [laughs]. It was like building blocks, the sounds were already done for you so you just had to piece it together. Looking back, it was a great way to learn how to arrange, even though I didn't have a clue what I was doing.
"I never really had any gear; I was more into the DJ side, so I had that set up, a pair of Technics 1210s and a Numark CD MiX-1, which was a CD and mixer built in one. I tried all the DAWS, starting with Fruity Loops, which I love, then Cubase and Reason - and from that I went to Logic and never looked back really."
What is it about Logic that you prefer over the other DAWS?
"I think it's personal, just workflow. Especially for the music I'm making, I find it quite hard to do that on the other DAWs now. I love the idea of Pro Tools, but it doesn't seem as attractive to me in terms of the music-making side. It's great for recording, but with Logic you get the best of both worlds, the ability to do great tracking and producing something that sounds great as well."
Have you tried Ableton?
"Yeah, I use Ableton for DJ mixes and quick mash ups. I've actually been using it recently to warp a lot of the vocals that I've been getting sent and time stretching them. We're working on some live shows at the moment, so in terms of my DJ setup I'll be using Ableton, especially Ableton Push."
What software are you using in Logic?
"I love what Native Instruments do and you can't go wrong with Komplete. I love using Massive and Kontakt, they get used every single day. Omnisphere is massive for me as well, but the only other thing I'll use is Logic's built-in EXS24 sampler, which is a godsend for programming all my drums."
You've also accumulated a lot of hardware, and at such a young age?
"I've always worked from a young age and was never big on drinking or smoking, so whatever money I had I put into synths. I wish I didn't get into it because it's the worst thing to ever get into. The one thing I can recommend to anyone is, don't get the bug because you'll never want to stop buying. One thing I also didn't realise is that you have to maintain it and get it serviced, so you need a very good service engineer."
What was your entry point into hardware?
"My first bit of gear was a Roland JV-1010 sound module. I used to hammer the hell out of that. Then, when I was about 12 or 13 I got a Korg MS2000 and started to learn a bit about synthesis. I loved the sounds and the vocoder in it. It's actually quite a complex synth, it's not straightforward like a Juno-106, and I used to get the most amazing sounds out of it.
"I got on a bit of a rollercoaster looking into how Herbie Hancock used to make his tunes, and I remember a picture of Jean-Michel Jarre at one of his concerts and seeing the Memorymoog. When I heard the sound it I was like, "Arrrgh, I really need that".
Are they more like vintage toys or do you frequently use them in the studio?
"I do use them on my tracks. If something needs to be done quickly I'll turn to plugins, but I also take the time to use outboard gear, especially the Yamaha CS80, which I use a lot for pads, or the Minimoog for bass.
"Everything does have its purpose and I know what to go to. The way I've got my studio rigged up, a lot of the synths have MIDI retrofit, so you can stick them on a MIDI track and send them out to whatever board you want to use."
Out of all your synths, which ones really stand out for you?
"Definitely the CS80. I only got that last year and there's nothing like that synth. A lot of the synths I have are mono or polyphonic, and you can get similar sounds out of all of them, but the CS80 is a completely different beast.
"The ARP Odyssey is my punk synth, with the ring mod some of the sounds you can get out of it are crazy, but then Herbie Hancock created some sweet bass sounds on it. I've actually got the limited edition 'Whiteface' version; it's got the Moog infringement filter in it, which sounds great."
Are you on the lookout for more gear?
"I'm leaning towards buying newer stuff at the moment. Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim's OB-6 blows my mind and I really want to get my hands on that. I think a lot of Dave Smith's stuff really does it for me, especially the Prophet-6, and I'm even trying to get hold of a Poly Evolver because that has some great sounds in it. I'd love an EMS VCS 3 as well, but I'm going to have to wait on that."
Is Modular an area you'd like to explore?
"I'm not getting into that. The closest thing I've got to modular, or semi-modular, is the Korg MS20 and the ARP 2600 - but that's how it's going to stay. Modular doesn't serve a big purpose for the music I'm making because it's not really blippy kind of stuff, but it's nice to have those machines and get some weird sequences out of them."
What about drum machines? You have a handful…
"The EXS24 is my go to for drums but from time to time I'll bring out the EMU SP1200 to sample bass notes. I did actually use my Korg Minipops 7 on the breakdown of one of my tracks because it has pre-programmed patterns. I also love my Akai MPC3000, because it was my first ever drum machine."
You use quite a lot of outboard for processing too?
"Everything outboard goes through my BAE 1084; the preamp on that is beautiful. I don't tend to compress on the way in because I get a really clean signal using my Prism Orpheus audio interface.
"I've got a Mutronics Mutator here as well, so if I do wanna go for some weird filtering then I'll send it back out of the box, into that, and back in again. My vocal chain is the 1084 and Tube Tech CL 1B compressor; that's a winning combo for me."
Do you have tracks ready to follow Fast Car, or an album?
"We're working on a second single at the moment and have some really good demos down. The people I look up to, like Calvin Harris or Avicii, are very much singles-based. Albums are great projects to be involved in, but nowadays people want to hear your music all the time rather than wait for a whole big campaign, so maybe an album in early 2017."