Gareth Genius Jones: When we collaborate, we are amazing

Gareth Jones has always found transformative inspiration in recorded music and has dedicated his life to the form. An initial training at the BBC in the late 1970s led to this 40 year arc exploring the art of capturing and creating magical vibrations inside and outside the recording studio. In the early 80s, the British producer and musician moved to Berlin for 10 years and worked at the legendary Hansa studio, where he continued experimenting with recording the space around the music (making, amongst many other projects, the “Berlin Trilogy” with Depeche Mode).

Ģirts Ozoliņš visits the music technology aficionado in his London studio and digs in the past, present and future of Gareth's inspiring path in music.

Feature photo by Piers van Looy Van Loop Media & Performance

- How did you become Gareth Genius Jones? How did you end up doing what you do?

GJ: One of the reasons I fell in love with recorded music was because of my father's passion for his record collection. It was a significant influence on me, though I didn't fully recognize it for quite some time. Initially, I believed that by immersing myself in the world of studios and rock and roll, I was rebelling against my parents' expectations. They likely envisioned a more traditional career path for me—a teacher, doctor, or lawyer—the quintessential middle-class dream. However, as the years passed, I came to realize that my father's love for recorded music had deeply shaped my own interests. My journey into audio and electronic music began as a young sound engineer in a recording studio. Like many of us, my childhood experiences played a pivotal role in inspiring my career path.

- Today, it's easy to set up a studio; you just need a proper laptop or computer, a pair of monitors, and an audio interface.

GJ: Even just a set of headphones will do. When I was starting out, I didn't know how to land a job in a recording studio. I didn't have any connections in the industry. My first valuable training came from a basic program at the BBC, where I worked in radio around 1977-1978. It's fascinating how nowadays a studio is more of a state of mind; we can create one anywhere. It could be you and me or anyone with just an iPad and headphones—we've already got a studio. But back in the 70s and 80s, it felt like if you wanted to make music recordings, you had to be in a proper recording studio. I never owned a studio; I just got lucky and landed a job. A guy gave me a break at a small eight-track studio in North London, which has since disappeared. It was a simple setup, analog tape, lots of reel boxes, and a one-inch analog tape machine. A compact, dimly lit space, but brimming with creativity. Many punk bands frequented the place, and it's where I crossed paths with John Foxx, the legendary electronic musician from Ultravox. We collaborated on a record called "Metamatic," which became the first album I recorded and mixed as a junior sound engineer—a significant introduction for me. Not so much into electronic music per se, as I already had an appreciation for it, but more into the process of making an electronic music record, or rather electro-pop, given its vocal elements.

That's how my journey began, even back in my teenage years at school I had a passion for playing musical instruments—cello, trumpet, French horn, a bit of keyboards, even dabbled in church organ. Though I must admit, I wasn't particularly skilled at any of them.

Redbull London with Emmy the Great

- Did you undergo any specialized training?

GJ: My training primarily occurred during school music classes. Being part of the school orchestra was a highlight; I played in the brass section. Although, looking back, I can't help but think we probably sounded dreadful.

- Is it possible to develop instrumental skills through participation in a school orchestra?

GJ: In the school I attended, there was greater investment in arts education. It wasn't a private institution but a state school, yet arts education held significant value, perhaps more so than it does today. Consequently, I received lessons during school hours from a tutor who was a professional trumpet player.

- What kind of music influenced you during your teenage years and early career?

GJ: I was greatly influenced by my parents' musical tastes. In our household, popular culture was often dismissed as trivial, with classical music held in high regard. Initially I adopted this, because I didn't know anything about jazz or popular music. I embraced my father's belief that classical music was the epitome of valuable and significant musical expression. And of course, classical music is a very broad church, and it is valuable and important, but it's not the only music that I've learned to love. So, there I was - in a pool of classical music, yet not playing it very well. It was never something that was going to be a career, I was very focused on science as a student.

Gradually I had a bit of exposure to some popular culture, for instance, through friends I discovered Pink Floyd . One particularly influential album for me during my teenage years was "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel. This album held a special place in my heart, partly due to its connection with the movie "The Graduate," which left a lasting impression on me from the 1960s.

My transition into electronic music was catalyzed by Wendy Carlos, formerly Walter Carlos, and her groundbreaking album "Switched On Bach." This album, featuring Bach's compositions presented in an entirely electronic format, resonated deeply with me. In a way this blew my mind and opened my mind to synthesizers and electronic sound.

- What led you to pursue a career as an engineer?

GJ: During my school days, I harbored a keen interest in tape technology, fascinated by its ability to capture audio from the world and manipulate it through editing and tape collaging. The tape recorder was actually the first musical instrument I purchased for myself.

Upon entering college, I encountered a diverse array of individuals and was introduced to psychedelics. The influence of LSD significantly expanded my perception of what was possible, opening my mind to new realms of creativity and exploration beyond my previous boundaries.

I found myself surrounded by a group of creative and intellectually curious friends with whom I embarked on psychedelic journeys that we approached with a degree of seriousness. These experiences felt like expeditions into the depths of our minds, each trip contributing to the expansion of our consciousness. While undoubtedly enjoyable, these experiences also felt profound and transformative, shaping my outlook on life in significant ways. While I may have eventually found my way into studios without the influence of psychedelic drugs, they undeniably played a pivotal role in my journey. In a safe and supportive environment, psychedelics have the potential to be profoundly inspirational, fostering creativity and personal growth.

- 100% agreed.

GJ: We must approach them with seriousness. In the appropriate setting, with the right people and the correct mental attitude, it can prove to be a profoundly transformative and spiritually enriching experience. However, it can also present challenges and dangers, so caution is paramount.

- So, was Ultravox your first professional exposure to electronic or synth-based music?

GJ: It was with John Foxx, although he had already departed from Ultravox at that time. He served as an early mentor for me, marking my initial foray into the professional realm. I found it immensely fascinating. Interestingly, it was for a solo project of his. He appeared vastly experienced to me then, having already produced three LPs—a stark contrast to my own lack of experience. He had worked in large 24-track studios and even collaborated with Brian Eno. John's vision for this project was to create a minimal record. With his background in fine arts from art school, he brought a unique perspective to the table. His approach involved utilizing a small studio and minimal instruments. As a result, the record emerged as a minimal electro pop masterpiece, largely attributable to John's vision and talent.

John provided me with a significant opportunity. We crossed paths in the studio by chance; he hadn't actively sought me out, and I had yet to establish a reputation. I was simply working in a small studio close to where he lived. He came in for a test session, and somehow, he appreciated my attitude and liked my work enough to invite me to collaborate with him. And that's how it all began.

- How old were you at the time?

GJ: I had already worked at the BBC. I believe this was around 1979, so I would have been about 25 years old.

- What was the name of the record?

GJ: The record was called "Metamatic." It's considered a classic in the early electropop genre.

- What have been your professional breakthroughs as an engineer?

GJ: I experienced a significant breakthrough when I was hired to work with Daniel Miller and Depeche Mode. Interestingly, it wasn't a role I initially desired. It's fascinating how life unfolds—often, we're like ignorant little monkeys, constantly passing judgment on what's good or bad without truly knowing. During the 1980s, this area, just a couple of blocks away from where we are now, was closely connected to that era. Nowadays, it's bustling with activity, filled with bars, restaurants, startups, computer companies, media professionals, and fashion outlets. However, back in the '80s, it was desolate. There was nothing here, which is why many of us gravitated towards it—it was affordable. John invested in a building alongside three other artists, purchasing the basement and transforming it into a recording studio. I assisted him in setting it up as his engineer at the time. He compensated me for various tasks, including wiring, equipment rearrangement, and providing technological advice. It's remarkable, really—neither of us possessed extensive knowledge in the field. John had a clear vision for the studio's ambiance; he wanted it to be a unique space—a haven for electronic music, not just another rock and roll studio catering to guitarists and drummers.

Daniel Miller was already familiar with John and had heard about his studio. When Depeche Mode sought a new location to record their third album, they expressed interest in John's studio. After inspecting the space and conducting a test session, they were impressed. Although I didn't participate in the session, John encouraged me to do so. He described them as intriguing individuals. He had previously introduced me to "Warm Leatherette," the iconic debut single released on Mute Records by Daniel under the alias The Normal, later covered by Grace Jones. He played it for me while we were working on Metamatic, and it was a significant influence. I expressed to John my reservations about the track, deeming it too commercial and pop-oriented—it was being played on the radio, which didn't align with my musical preferences at the time.

- So you were quite picky.

GJ: Back then, I was actually quite arrogant. I was arrogant youth! (laughs -ed.) I adamantly refused to do something if I didn't want to. Fortunately, they were impressed with the studio, but they didn't quite gel with the engineers they had been working with. So they returned to John and expressed their discomfort with their current engineer, asking if there were any other options available. This was before the era of the internet, when finding talented individuals was much more challenging. We were all essentially beginners at that time. John came back to me and essentially said, "Wake up boy! Go and meet them.'' I obliged and met with them, and I suppose they found me acceptable. Likewise, I found them to be decent people—a cool bunch, and it seemed like it could be an enjoyable collaboration. It wasn't as daunting as working with major labels like Sony Music or Warner Brothers; their office was quite small at the time, located in Kensington Gardens Square. That's how our working relationship began. I'm sure there must have been a trial session, maybe for a day or two. It's all a bit hazy now; it was so long ago. But that marked a breakthrough—a breakthrough that I hadn't initially sought or desired.

The universe kind of slapped me in the face and gave me another chance, which was great because not only were the records in the Berlin trilogy amazing to be a part of, but the group itself was incredibly creative, especially during that period in our lives. The songwriting was wonderful, and it presented great opportunities to contribute to a highly successful project. It also paved the way for new relationships with other records, sparking further opportunities. Moving to Berlin marked a breakthrough moment for me as it involved stepping out of my comfort zone and exploring work in a completely different setting. I collaborated with a German band, and we tracked the record in Vienna. I co-produced it with a German musician named Mickey Moser.

As a younger engineer back then, I lacked confidence, so I initially wanted to take the record back to a studio in London that I was familiar with. However, the manager suggested that I visit the HANSA TonStudios in Berlin, where all the band members lived, making it a convenient option. Despite my overall confidence, I felt nervous about mixing in an unfamiliar environment. The manager then escorted me to an impressive penthouse mix room in the HANSA studio, equipped with a large Solid State Logic console—a coveted item for young engineers, and still highly regarded today. It was essentially the dream setup for us at the time. The moment I stepped into this space, I was captivated—it was incredibly high-tech for its time.

Hansa Tonstudios, Berlin

Hansa Tonstudios, Berlin

- How long did you stay in Berlin?

GJ: I stayed there for 10 years. Essentially, I relocated there after discovering the incredible facilities available. I was captivated by the atmosphere - this was during a unique period when the Iron Curtain still divided the city and the Berlin Wall stood. It was a truly special time to be in Berlin. Although I'm certain Berlin has always been an amazing place (apart from a bad period in the 1930s and 40s obviously) , at the time of my move, there was considerable support from the West German government for artists and industries in West Berlin. Despite the challenges of working there, such as the divided city status, we benefited from tax breaks and other incentives that made it a highly attractive location.

Hansa Tonstudios, Berlin

- Let's take a little detour. You're not only an engineer but also a seasoned hardware enthusiast.

GJ: Yes, that's correct. I wouldn't consider myself an expert in tech, but I have some skills when it comes to tasks like soldering microphone boxes onto walls and other hardware-related work. Recently, I've revisited these skills by purchasing a kit—a small sampler from 4MS. I've even been contemplating building your DIY bass drum module because I'm intrigued by its sound. Additionally, I recently acquired the LXR-02 from you, which offers an incredible wealth of tones and possibilities. Building the 4MS sampler was relatively straightforward, although I did find it a bit challenging at times. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable experience—I'm not entirely sure why I did it; perhaps just for fun. (By the way - it doesn’t currently work properly, so I clearly made some mistakes!)

- For me, it's a form of meditation. I've built all sorts of elaborate systems and DIY projects, and that's where I find my mind wandering freely.

GJ: It's been a long journey. When I was a junior engineer, my work revolved around modular setups, not Eurorack modular specifically, but we were always fascinated by connecting different components together. That's one of the most creatively stimulating aspects of the analog world for me. This experience has truly transformed my approach to music-making. My journey with Eurorack has led me to discover my instrument—I can tap into spiritual energy and create sounds, songs, and unconventional pieces with these electronic instruments. What I mean to say is that I have the freedom to experiment and make mistakes, which is something I find challenging to do with a computer

- I agree, I cannot connect with software.

GJ: You can probably imagine that I have a plethora of software instruments. For years, I found myself unable to complete anything while using them. However, as soon as I fully embraced Eurorack, the pressure to constantly record diminished when I unplugged everything. This, to me, is incredibly liberating and fosters immense creativity. I am grateful to all the makers, including yourself, as they have played a significant role in fueling my journey as a musician over the past decade. Thanks to Eurorack, I've been able to complete projects both independently and in collaboration with other artists.

Snap, London, David's Lyre mixing

- When you were talking about your work revolving around modular set ups did you mean 5U or recording rack units?

GJ: Originally, even in the late 70s and early 80s, all was still modular. We were plugging boxes, guitar pedals, studio equipment, guitar amps—everything was interconnected. This modular approach has always been deeply ingrained in my musical journey and soul because it's what I've always done. So, when modern Eurorack modular systems emerged, it was a significant moment for me.

One of the great aspects of modern Eurorack modular is the support and service available. For instance, if I purchase a device from a manufacturer like Erica Synths and encounter any issues, I can send it back for repairs, and it's relatively affordable. In contrast, vintage gear, while prestigious, can be prohibitively expensive to maintain. Even if I were to purchase vintage equipment, the costs of maintaining it, along with the need for specialized technicians, can be overwhelming.

This accessibility to repairs and maintenance is a significant breakthrough for me. While equipment malfunctions are rare, having affordable repair options provides peace of mind. Some of my esteemed colleagues and friends, such as Martin Gore and Vince Clarke, have impressive vintage collections, which they can afford to maintain. However, for individuals like myself, the accessibility and affordability of modern modular systems are paramount.

- When I talked to Martin Gore, he said that mixing engineers and producers had a huge impact on the outcome of the music. What's your take on this?

GJ: It seems to me, especially with electronic music, that by its very nature, much of it is studio generated. While there are vocals performed by vocalists and performers, many of the sounds are created within the studio environment. For us, and I know we're not alone in this, the recording studio was very much an instrument in itself. It was akin to working with hardware synthesizers like the PPG, the Emulator, the ARP 2600, or the System 100. It was fascinating for me to experiment with different setups in the studio. I'd have a synthesizer in one corner, then I'd start thinking, "What if we send the synthesizer through a guitar amp in that room, then route it through that distortion box over there, and perhaps send it to a big PA system in that room, and finally mix all the sounds together?" Suddenly, we'd have a completely new sound. It was all about layering sounds and exploring the possibilities. So, this process of layering, multitracking, and applying effects meant that the recording studio was very much an instrument in the way that I liked to use it. Fortunately, there was a synergy, especially in my work with Depeche Mode, where we all enjoyed experimenting with sound. Despite having limited track counts—just 24 tracks on two-inch tape, with one track for code and one for click—we made the most of it. I was particularly keen on recording effects, which was relatively new at the time.

So what we would do is build a synth sound, adding delay, ambience, distortion, and room effects to it. Then, we would track it all together. This approach allowed us to create depth, richness, and layering within the limited track count. Since we only had a limited number of effects boxes available, we used them repeatedly in various ways across all the different tracks. As a result, when you opened the faders, you wouldn't just hear dry synthesizers on tape, but synthesizers loaded with effects and distortion, creating a more dynamic and textured sound.

Carmerstrasse Berlin, picture by Sunshine Gray

- What kind of gear did Depeche Mode bring in and what did you have already in place?

GJ: I guess we were fortunate enough to be in a very creative era. We were making money, so the studio was constantly expanding. I was particularly intrigued by sampling, as were we all. Anyway, for us, sampling was like a fucking miracle, you know? It was mind-blowing. We were never interested in replicating sounds, like mimicking a violin or a trumpet. Instead, we were fascinated by the idea of capturing sounds from the world and creating beats and melodies with them.

I purchased some early samplers like the S612 and S900. There was also a studio rack sampler called an AMS, which was of high quality but ridiculously expensive. Nevertheless, I invested in it while I was making money and spent a large portion of my earnings on gear—something I still do today because of my passion for it. The AMS was a straightforward sampler with only two voices, and there was a costly add-on for playing simple melodies. Despite its simplicity, it had knobs for adjusting the start and end points, making it incredibly versatile. You could trigger it with audio, which was quite innovative at the time.

As I mentioned earlier, Daniel brought in an ARP 2600, and Martin had an early Emulator. I can't recall all the gear we had, but there might have been a MiniMoog. I don't recall Moogs being a significant part of our sound at the time. Martin also had a Wave PPG, and Daniel introduced a Synclavier quite early on—first as a synthesizer and monophonic sampler, and later as a polyphonic sampler. Although expensive, it was heavily utilized on "Black Celebration".

- What would you recall as the most special achievements of your career?

GJ: Everything Counts" - the first Depeche Mode single that I recorded and mixed. That's a magical moment for sure. But it goes beyond that. "Metamatic," the first record that I recorded and mixed as a junior engineer, was fantastic. I mean, it's a wonderful record primarily because of the artist, of course. But for me, that was such a special moment. Even at that stage in my career, I was able to invite some musician friends of mine to play on John's record. John Barker played keyboards, and Alan Durant played bass on it, and they're all credited on the record. So, you know, those things. My debut solo album, "Electrogenic," is also hugely important to me. It's actually the only solo record I've released so far. So, you know, that is very special for me.

GJ: After 40 years of playing around in the studio with Daniel, we used to improvise even back in '82 when the young Depeche Mode had gone home. Then, Daniel and I, both living in London, would hang out in the studio and jam with the synthesizers and effects we had set out. Now, 40 years later, we have a performing and recording project called Sunroof. We've just finished our third record. We've released two records and finished our third, so that's hugely important to me and something I'm really passionate about.

As well as all the other records I am currently working on. I love all my children.

- If you compare what engineers do today and how they contribute to the end result of the recording, to how it was in classic analog studios back then, what are your thoughts?

GJ: When I started, most musicians couldn't operate a studio. So you needed an engineer to operate it. Obviously, if I, as a producer, went into a studio to record a band—because I still enjoy working with groups of musicians who might even play together—then I would desperately need the services of a great engineer to help run the whole session. But the big difference for me now is that almost all musicians are engineers and producers themselves. This is because, as you mentioned, with the advent of laptops, almost every musician now acts as an engineer and a producer. When you create your own music and record it, you've done everything. You've written the melodies, designed the sound, and recorded the end result. This was very rare in the 70s when I started because most musicians didn't have access to good enough quality recording equipment.

And now, all the young musicians are themselves engineers and producers. It's not to say that there's no room for great engineers in the music scene anymore, but it's definitely changed a lot. One of the ways it's changed is that budgets have shrunk because music is essentially free now. Few artists sell records, except maybe for the likes of Taylor Swift or Beyoncé. Many independent artists struggle to sell records, so their income is greatly reduced. As a result, they are often forced to handle their own engineering, production, and mixing. Otherwise, it wouldn't even happen, you know? Back in the 80s, you might have landed a record deal somewhere, and your music could have sold 35,000 or even 40,000 records. Even my music might have sold that many records considering how unconventional it is. But nowadays, we release just 250 vinyl copies, and they're still not all sold. However, we're not on a traditional label; it's all self-produced. The industry has changed drastically, and everyone knows it. So, the business models have evolved a lot. But the big thing for me is that now all musicians are also engineers. They can create tracks on their laptops with software like Ableton, Pro Tools, or Logic.

- What inspires you apart from psychedelics?

GJ: What inspires me is the community, really, and the wealth of music and makers, especially in the electronic music scene. But the community of musicians, I find it hugely inspiring, you know? I still love listening to all different kinds of music. And it's such a deep river through my life, one that keeps on flowing and offering me water, you know, this wealth of music. Especially in the little corner of music that I'm in with electronic modulars, the makers are hugely inspiring as well. Because part of the process is hooking stuff up, and it's, as you know, for me anyway, very much a conversation with the machine making the music. So I might have an idea, an idea that I do something with, but what happens is usually very different from my original idea because of the process. And that's connected with the toolkit, you know? So going for a walk in the mountains inspires me, and having a cycle ride by the ocean inspires me. Movies, books, life, I count the days. Today, I think I can tell you, I'm not sure I can actually remember. But if I look at my journal entry for today, it says it's day 25,271 of my life. Yeah, that inspires me.

In Strongroom Studio 1, photo by Piers van Looy Van Loop Media & Performance

- But coming back to synthesizers, you need physical interaction with the synthesizer, right?

GJ: I do. Yeah, not everyone does, obviously, but I do. Partly because, as I mentioned before, I can't store what I create. So that's good for me because when I can't store it, I have to commit. And partly because it's a conversation with the machine. In fact, I'm trying to express that idea in the name of my solo project ''Electrogenetic''. I'm trying to convey the feeling that the music is born through the conversation with technology, or if not born then channeled, you know? I don't really think I'm responsible. I feel more like a tool, a conduit, or a vessel. I just do stuff, and I don't know where it comes from. But the process of interfacing with the technology allows music to emerge. So yeah, I like it because I can't save it, and because creative mistakes happen.

- What's next for Gareth Jones?

GJ: I struggle, if you will, with a difficult second album. The first album took me a long time to create because I spent decades assisting other people in making great records. So that was a fantastic experience. The first record took a long time to produce, but I managed to complete it. Now, for the second record, I have plenty of ideas that I love, but I'm struggling to make decisions about which pieces to include on the LP. The core concept of the second record was to extract small samples from my father's vinyl collection and utilize them. This is something I'm still exploring, particularly in live performances. In fact, this approach has provided valuable feedback with Sunroof. We record the music but refrain from judging it too quickly. Instead, we let it sit for months at times. Later, when we listen to it, the distance from the recording process allows us to hear it as if someone else had created the music.

"I like that piece. It's a bit long; perhaps we'll trim the end off." And that's it. That's been really helpful — having distance. Having distance has been particularly beneficial with Sunroof; it's a significant aspect of our approach. When I collaborate with others, like Chris Bono, on projects such as Nelson Alpha, we come together for a limited period. The work that ends up on the record is what we create during that workshop. It's akin to a residency; the artist produces a piece and presents it at the residency's conclusion. That's it — it's decided. And so, that's how I decide. That's how Chris and I have determined the music for our projects. In the three weeks we spend together, the music we create becomes the record. Perhaps not every piece makes the cut, but most do.

I do feel that our job as artists is to create the music and not to hoard it. I believe our responsibility lies in completing the work and offering it to people, saying, "Well, that's done." I'm very adept at this in collaboration. However, I'm finding it a bit more challenging with my solo project, ''Electrogenetic'', especially with the second record. I wouldn't say I'm stuck, as I'm engaged in live performances and still evolving, but I'm not finishing. This work is sitting there, and I really just need to complete it and move on to the next idea. However, I excel at completing projects in collaboration because of my experience as a record producer for decades. I know how to finish records with other people.

- Collaboration is what sets humans apart from other species.

GJ: Collaboration is amazing. When we collaborate, we're amazing.

Allaire, Grizzly Bear Veckatimest Mixing

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