„When I finish my album, I hate my album.”
Oriol Riverola, better know under his artistic imprint John Talabot rose to fame rather unexpected in 2010 when his track “Sunshine”, released on Permanent Vacation, hit just the right spot of the Zeitgeist, bringing melancholy to the dance floor. But Riverola proved to be no one-hit wonder at all, since then he released his marvelous debut album “ƒIN”, his energetic „DJ Kicks“ mix CD and several dance floor anthems, solo and also opposite Axel Boman as Talaboman.
Right now he is in preparation for his new album, scheduled to be released on Young Turks in the summer of 2016.
Together with Kaput Oriol Riverola is reflecting on the new era of clubbing where people are constantly watching the DJ instead of getting lost in the music, his ambitions as a DJ and as a producer in general, the great challenge to bring music on the stage – and of course the Catalonian independence movement.
Photos by Oriol Riverola, shoot on the his journey with music between Coachella and Iceland.
Where did you play last night?
At Pukklepop, a fucking huge festival. They give you a map, if you wanna go to your backstage, cause they have so many backstage areas – those backstage areas alone are like a small town. Ellie Goulding played, I checked her out. A great show, a lot of 17 year olds crying.
Do you use these opportunities a lot and walk around on festival sites and check out the other acts?
I like it in general, and right now it makes sense to check out other live shows as we are starting to think about our new one. I also wanted to see Chrvches as I read upfront that they have one person who is in charge of the midis – which is really funny: a midi technician for all the synthesizers. That is cool – I also want someone who ensures, that everything is in synch. That is the most common problem for electronic live acts: a sequencer sends information to the synthesizer, then it goes to another drum machine… a person like that takes a lot of stress from you. On our last tour a lot of problems came from the sound cards and midis and the loss of synch.
A person like that, also has the same effect as using a crib in school – the moment you have it in your pocket you ain´t need it. Knowing that somebody is taking care, ensures that the problem is not happening.
It makes one feel safe and comfortable.
But it also makes the set up more expensive, which means that you are not making money with touring in the end – something you hear a lot from bands.
Exactly. The band problem: usually everything is included in the fees, so they have to pay for things like that. So the questions is: Where is the money?
Uri, are you someone who is challenging himself a lot by setting his sights (too) high – for example with the new live show?
Yeah. I think everybody tries to push himself a bit. Artistic life is about bringing things to the next level. For me it is not about competition, it is feeling well with your actions. This comes along with rising questions:
Do I have the skills?
Will I be able to do so?
In this period (of time), when you are trying to do something and you do not know if you can make it – that´s the moment you feel super lost within the process.
To come back to the example with the live show: you know you have to find a team, but you must find the right team. You need to have the new songs and want to play them in the right way. What I am saying is: there is a moment you don´t have anything and you wanna built up all the parts. Sometimes you feel really anxious and lost.
Yesterday I was telling someone that I am really done right now with DJing and wanna go back to live shows. DJing is just DJing, you go out and play records. I do not know what the next thing will be, when it comes to DJing for me – but with the live show I see more challenges for me ahead to bring my concept up, like finding the team who understands the songs and ideas. Or when it comes to the songs, experiments with percussions for example, in general preparing different versions of a song for different environments. That is really challenging. But with DJing? The maximum is to try some new records, some new edits… there is not so much more.
I hear you. You are a great DJ and know how to do it – but you should not forget, a lot of people are not acting on that level, also DJing could be challenging.
Yes, there is of course the process of getting better in DJing, but producing your own music is so much more challenging than the limited possibilities of DJing. Yes, you could play longer sets, that´s why we have so much „all night long“ sets now.
Don´t get me wrong, I really enjoy DJing, but in regards of creativity I feel it gets a bit limiting. Yes, one could think about light and video show, but for me DJing is DJing. I want to make people dance. I don´t even want people to look at me while I am DJing.
Then you have lost: the new generation of people is about looking.
I would prefer it wasn’t. Or they should watch the stage and I play behind it. They should dance. I remember DJing for the first time at well known Barcelona club Nitsa – back then the DJ booth was at the end of the club in the corner. The stage was for dancing people – so the other people were watching the ones dancing on the stage. Only the nerds came and looked at me in the booth. Sometimes nowadays I am on stage and there are 20 meters between me and the audience. What are they looking at? There is no need to watch.
Well, that´s what you wonder, when you see a broadcast of a big rave on television, with the David Guettas of the world performing.
That is not about DJing. They do a spectacular show of lights and video, the music is the prepared soundtrack for that, the music is only 30% of the show.
Me, I like my DJ sets being 100% about the music. I really enjoy it and love playing music, but… on the other side, when I was playing live a lot I said: „I don´t wanna do live shows anymore, please give me DJ gigs.“ Now it is vice versa. Now I feel that I wanna do it, I know it will be a super hard process and I will suffer and be under a lot of tension.
You call the process right now „working on the new live shows“, but that means you are working on new songs. Exciting! So there is a new John Talabot album coming up?
Yeah… Last time I did an album, I was just working on the songs – and then I had some issues with bringing them to the stage. Some of them needed four drummers for example. So this time I am thinking about this before and have a perspective on how to bring them to the stage.
Is that good or bad? It seems like a limitation.
It is different. And yes, it is a limitation, but limitation is not bad at all – it is good. When I was doing my first album, I was super limited in my resources about music, my computer, my gear, so I did the album with what I had. With music you have so much gear these days, with all that plug-ins, you could really get crazy in doing an album without limitation.
Last time it was me and Miguel pressing buttons, this time we want more of a live show. Maybe some of the crazy noise will just be a sample live, that´s fine. I am not that kind of purist. If I wanna lay a chord or strings, I wanna do just this and not think of doing a sample or a HiHat afterwards… with the first live shows it was crazy, we were doing everything all the time… we couldn’t actually enjoy it because of that.
A little bit like when Radiohead asked James Holden to join them on tour – of course you could not say „no“ to such an offer, even if you had no idea how to do it the moment you say „yes“.
We stayed for two weeks in the studio, even sleeping there. James is a person who knows a lot about modulars and everything, but we are not so talented, we had to read a lot of manuals. We broke down often and wanted to throw the computer out of the window.
How did The xx react? – did they realize how nervous you were and thought it was cute?
The thing is: the first live show we ever played was at Primavera Sound. We played the slot after them. So while we were playing, I was so nervous I could not press one key as my fingers were shaking… it was the first time I was singing in front of people, and there were 15.000 people. First I thought I can´t make it… in the middle of the show Miguel tells me that The xx are there. What the fuck? They just finished their show, how did they manage to come to see us? So we finish, and by surprise everything went well. After the show they came and told us that they enjoyed it and had the best time of their lives. Maybe it looked better from outside.
You have this a lot: on the inside it feels bad, on the outside all shines bright.
I thought we were really bad, but when they came I thought: maybe they really liked us. And then the next morning we received that offer from the agency for the America tour. Our reaction: „We can´t do that.“
I mean, we just did one live show. The Primavera people asked us to play and we thought of maybe playing 10 more shows in special locations with it, but it wasn’t supposed to be something we wanted to do: playing live. We are not prepared to play 35 shows in 35 days, we are going to die. We have to say no. But then: we can’t say no, we have to say yes. But how could we do it? I have never been in a band. All I know about music is how to go to a club and bring an USB flash drive with me and play the music I like. At that stage I did not know anything about getting to a venue at 4 in the afternoon, having soundcheck, dinner, playing, picking up your stuff, going to the hotel, having six hours of sleep, getting up at 8 and driving 8 hours to the next city in America. I never did that. But we did it for 35 days.
Somehow it feels like a step back in evolution as you come from that super luxurious DJ environment. On the other side, artistically spoken it must be…
It is amazing. Sharing the nights with them, we were able to play venues we would never imagine to play on our own. Places like the Forever Cemetary in Hollywood – we were mentally not prepared for that. The xxare twenty-somethings now and have been doing this since they were 17. They have a perfect team. We did not have that structure, so for us it was super hard. At the end we were so tired.
As a DJ, are you prepared for your gigs or do you start from an unknown point every night?
I need to have a mental plan. Every night I make some notes on my phone with the tracks I should really play, otherwise I forget them. But in the end I never manage to do what I want to. It is so hard to be creative when you play every night. You need a story. It is usually 2 hours long, and as you want to play some stuff you need an order. There are some tracks which work and some which are making the connection to other ones and some to turn the set in another story – those are the ones I play more often. Most DJs just keep changing some tracks when they are tired of the others. It is easier to have a story prepared in your head. This also helps me to concentrate, which is important for me as I otherwise lose the set. What was I going to play? I don’t understand the DJs who can dance and play at the same time? How can they do that? They find the next track in 20 seconds. I need to be really focused, to find the right thing to mix in a certain melody…
You need a tension. When you relax the muscles it is gone…
But as you mention those two-hour-sets. Is this a length you like? Your journey often takes so long and in the end the thing you do all this for, the fun part is only two hours long?
I think Berghain does it perfectly with allowing the DJs to play for four hours. You should get payed for four hour sets. As you said, it does not make sense, that you get paid for flying in from Barcelona, the transfer to the hotel and to the festival and at the end you play for one and a half hours.
There is this one DJ, I forgot his name, who is charging less money, if he gets booked for four or more hours.
I read this interview with Michael Caine, the actor, and it reminded me of my position: He said: „I love my work and act for free, I just charge for the traveling.“ The same with me. I would play for free.
As you mentioned the new live show and the new album, do some new songs already exist?
I have some ideas and am working on them. It is slowly taking shape. I have to finish the whole album by the end of February – well, I am not sure if it is ready then… (laughs)
Are you pushing yourself to new territories?
Yeah. I am trying at least. Challenging yourself is hard when you wanna do an album, especially when it is the second album and you know the first one worked but you do not know why?
So you keep on asking yourself: Why did it work? What were the things people liked about it? Because I am not able to see it like other people. For me it is an album and it is okay. What did the people enjoy so much about it? There is lots of better music than this one. When you try to live the perspective of the other person…
Practically you wanna include the new gear you bought, the new things you learned, the new ideas you have. For me producing music is an inner dialogue: what I want, what I know, and what I get. This is my fight. I have an idea of what I want to do with the album, but I am not sure yet if it is the right one.
With the first album I was in the same situation. Everybody expected it to be like my 12-inch „Sunshine“ tracks. I remember the first interview I had with the Spanish press: „Well, you did not include „Sunshine“ on the album. You think this is a good idea?“ And I was like: „I don´t know!“ I did not put „Sunshine“ on the album, as it did not make sense. So I remember that I was completely lost when I finished the first record and I let it go. In the moment you are so lonely with your concept and you do not know if it is the right concept.
This is what it means to be an artist. You live a life of doubts. The people just see the success stories, the results of the right moves, but there are so many with do the wrong moves…
All the artists I like also did bad albums. Wrong moves are somehow good for you. They probably did good ones, cause they did a terrible one before.
But the second album is a tough one to follow this idea, as it is too early for a terrible one and also difficult to be the best one.
Exactly. That´s the problematic situation.
People who come up with a second album which is exactly like the first one, they hoist the white flag: we are so afraid. You are in a great position as you have artistic freedom.
Something I learned and am thinking of a lot lately. When I did the first two singles, „Sunshine“ and „Whatever“ on Permanent Vacation, they just came out and people liked them. But when I decided to do something different for the album people enjoyed it too. Maybe not exactly the same ones, but people liked it. If people like your universe, the kind of sensibilities that move you, and if they feel a connection with you, these connections will probably keep on existing, when you come up with the next thing. Maybe you show another part of your personality, but it is still part of the connection. I wanna push this to the limits by showing something new.
How do you start a track?
The thing with this album, „A Cycle Cybit“, is, that I want to be a bit more physical. When I say physical, I am talking about the sound – this is essential, as I want the live show to be more physical too. A real experience. My idea is to be a bit more rough, not as gentle as the first album. I am in the process of achieving this right now, as it is not so easy to mix gentle and rough.
Are you a very analytical person when it comes to your music?
I analyse a lot before doing it. I can´t make an album without thinking it through before. The problem of many bands and artists is that they put an album out, tour for one year, then go back to the studio and record another album, even if they are exhausted. For me as a DJ there was no necessity to do another album straight away. When I finished the last tour with the live show I had nothing new to say, I was still in need to refill myself. Just imagine going to the studio and write twelve songs about that state…
What is the motif? I make a new album when I feel like having something to bring to the people – not to get more live gigs.
The next album is coming out on Young Turks, a big step for me. I wanna give them a really nice thing. I wanna give my best.
Listening to you talking, I get the impression, that you have a storyline for it in your head?
There is no storyline, there are some storylines. I work like a mental collage. I take ideas from here and there and put it together. For example, for the physical music I was feeling not to go more techno for it but using some of the techno techniques for it. I want the people to have a sonic experience, also at the live shows. I aim to use elements for my songs which are not so common to be used.
To make sure I understand you right, every sound could be a possible one for you. Like watching television and hearing…
Exactly. Definitely. Sometimes I am trying a vocal distortion, and this could be the main motif of the album: distortion. These ideas are like bricks, together they built a wall.
Is it necessarily going to be a dance album?
No, it is not dance. It is a totally open field. For me the challenge is to get some sounds produced I have in mind. I am still not sure, if I could get them done myself, but I have help from other people. With the first album it was only me working on it, but now I have a label with a budget and contacts working for me. For example, when I want to record a drummer, they organize me a studio and a good drummer. They bring me to the next level. Sometimes you could get lost in this process, but in general it is good, as you are able to do new things.
From listening to your disco sets I also feel a change happening in this field. You started of with slow disco sets, but listening to your 2013 Melt! set, it seems you were searching for total freedom.
Melt! was indeed a special set. I never played a techno set like this before, but I was going on after Tale Of Us and felt like this is the perfect moment to play a techno set. While having dinner before I decided to do a techno set. The moment I arrived at the stage and listend to them playing I arranged a little playlist of tracks. For me there is not so much difference between playing techno or disco, both is parts of me.
Was this always like that? As people are having expectations, I could imagine this limits your artistic freedom sometimes.
I learned that there are always some people who get bad and angry when I don’t play what they expect. But a lot of others will accept, maybe 70% of them. People should not have expectations. That said, of course I want to play music people like.
Are you a dancer yourself?
Yes, when I like it. Maybe not, but I enjoy it anyway. Sometimes I am so obsessed to know what a certain track is that I can´t dance.
Are you walking up to sneak what is played?
Have you been surprised by your success?
Absolutely. alhere was no budget for PR, only a bit in Germany and US, nothing big. We made it to position 2 in the yearly charts of Rough Trade, right after Grimes. How did this album that I did at home with super simple set up and with so many troubles achieve that? Well, I guess cause I enjoyed doing it.
And did you get frightened after that? When I interviewed Barnt for Kaput he mentioned that with success came the anxiety that this might be over too soonish. So he took every offer and played and played and played to make money.
I had this problem too, for some time, but never too much, as I realized that even those who are not on the radar anymore, who don´t appear on Fact, Resident Advisor or Pitchfork, still have their own circle, play enough and make enough money. There are also people who do not appear anywhere and still get booked. I never imagined that I do what I do and get so much money for it. Maybe one day it will be over, because the next album is not so good and I have to go back to a small or my own label – but what I do know: I will continue to make music, because I need to. In the end these parts of me are there, being successful or not.
You seem quite structured. Why did you decide to do the album not on your own label Hivern and instead work with Young Turks?
The thing is, I would never do my own album on my own label. The main reason is so simple: When I finish my album, I hate my album. How do you sell your music when you hate it. This process is necessary for me. I need to hate it.
Do you feel in those moments that it is a really shitty record?
Totally. That is totally true. It is a natural process. You give so much within the process of making it that you hate it afterwards. Because the process is too hard. I hate this cause it make me feel sick.
I like you. I have other friends who are so self-confident that they play their music right to my face over and over again, and just wanna hear me raving about it.
At some point you need someone to hear it. You have been alone in the studio for maybe ten months. Someone has to hear it – when it is finished. Only my manager heard it before, he asked to after four months.
When other people work on your music, they are fresher, more enthusiastic.
In the music industry these days things have to go too fast oftentimes, so that you do not get enough feedback from the label and other artists, there are not enough artistic discussions going on. As a writer I know how important this fact is for your work.
It is hard with musicians. Take the example Hivern. Sometimes we have the case, that artists do several versions of remixes, because they are unsure what direction to take – and sometimes even we are unsure. But how can I tell for example Roman Flügel, wo also send in three versions of a remix, what is good or not. Fuck, he is a genius, I can tell him nothing. But at the same time, after speaking with him you realize everybody sometimes gets a bit lost in the process. A lot of people enjoy having feedback and use it properly.
Well, it is not easy to do a remix as most of the times the original is good.
That´s why we wanna concentrate with Hivern on original tracks in the future and come up with remixes only once in a while. There is the intention of the artist to do something specific with the track, for example very toolly, and then you have the intention of the label, like a poppy version. You rarely have the same idea.
Why did you start Hivern? Often artist start a label to help profiling themselves, but in your case you were already established.
I started it to put out music from others. You are right, a lot of people do it to focus on themselves. I haven´t released anything on Hivern since „Sunshine“.
So you wanna give some of the luck you have experienced back to the people?
Yes, I wish everybody could be in the same position as me. That´s what I’m trying to push with the label parties by getting them into good venues and get paid better. But most important: we wanna release good music. When we started the label all the others out there concentrated on electronic dance music, so we wanted Hivern to be eclectic. This is sometimes a bit confusing for the people. But I strongly believe, if I like this and that and this, there are also enough people in the world who do as well. Maybe three release of the label will be good for them, and others not, but in the end it is curated with our taste and so hopefully people discover new stuff. Our goal is to establish new artists. We release an album by INIT now., it is super dark, new wavy techno.
Before your musical career started to be so successful you were involved in a film company. What was your role within that, were you also doing music?
No, I was writing, scripting, and also preparing the projects. We did TV programs for kids. I studied scriptwriting at the university.
Is this idea of working with film something you could imagine to include in your live shows?
No. TV at this point is the less creative world. Maybe in my head the idea of scripts is still present, but what I mean with that: the way i learned scripting is not so creative, you have to follow rules, it is not an open world.
Aren´t your old partners pushing you?
No, when we split they stayed for some time in business and then decided to shut down the company. It was a tough moment in the Spanish economy. Everybody was struggling with making payments. Some of them found good jobs, no more thinking of company stuff, just a salary. They wanted to have family and kids.
Do you still see a huge effect of the crisis around you in Spain?
Not really around me. People are lucky to have jobs, maybe not really good paid ones, but at least they do not have problems. But the truth is: 25% of the people in Spain do not have a job. In the country a lot of people are not doing well, we have huge corruption problems in politics, we have problems in the way the country is organized. But right now we see new parties coming up, there is a lot of political energy, so it looks like it is going to be crystalized in neo-political ideas.
Do you think that Spain will stick together or do you see the separation process getting intensified when you speak about new political ideas?
It is a hard thing to tell. There was a moment when I truly believed, that there were enough people to decide to have an independent project for Catalonia. Now as the economic problems are not so central anymore for a lot of people, that momentum is maybe gone.
I do not hate Spain. But starting a new country with new ideas for the constitution and the government got my interest. Because Spain to me feels like a country dominated by the old families. We made it out of the dictatorship but still the families from that age have the command. That did not change within the last 25 years. So for me independence looked like the promising way to start something new – without hard feeling against Spain. I love Spain, I love Madrid and Sevilla and all these cities. But maybe Spain is not the best organized country in Europe.
Well, maybe Europe is not the best organized community itself.
Spain is a really centralized government. Catalonia wanted to have a different voice within this country – but if you are not allowed to do what you want, then… the problem in Spain is that the most voted for party in the country is only the sixth popular one in Catalonia. That generates a huge conflict. What the government in Catalonia wants to do is much different from the agenda of the Spanish government – but of course the Spanish government has the last word and the constitutional power. This gets frustrating for Catalonia.
Which role does Europe play?
Europe does not want our independence. Well, why should they. It is our topic.
As you travel so much and thereby visit all those European countries. Do you notice that more and more people wanna talk to you about Europe in general and the Spanish role within that community?
Yes, I got asked a lot about Catalonia and the independence, as it was in all the media. I always like to explain my feelings, my personal position and ideas. It really annoys me when I hear statements like that Greece spent money they did not have and made up their accounts – the people in the streets did not make up any accounts. It is not their fault. You can´t blame them – you have to help them. Instead we create tension between south and north, not an union. You should not point a finger at them. They may not be as strong in the European community as the Germans, but those people are not guilty. But even Spanish people talk bad about the Greek – not even one year after we have been in the same situation! They scream: They have to give us the money back we lent them! Well, did you personally lend the money to them?
That is the crazy thing about human behaviour. Everybody should know and behave like that – but then they just built the borders as they like. What disturbs me the most is, that no one talks about the peace aspect of the European union, it is all about the money.
Indeed. We need to talk more about ethics. That is why the new parties in Catalonia are so interesting to me. They do not have relationships with the banks and big companies, they come from different universities… they do not have to pay back anybody now. They wanna do common sense laws. They propose simple and clear things, and you wonder why we did not do them yet before? Let me tell you: because those people have relations with the big companies.
The only question is: how long could one be innocent? When do they also have their strings attached?
As far as people support them. They went into the government without any campaign payments. In contrast our Spanish politicians are so corrupt. It is so overwhelming, the amount these people stole and how many trials are going on, it is insane.