Simon Green, otherwise known as Bonobo, has released five full length albums, and in just over ten years has made himself a unique style quite unlike anyone else. I managed to catch the last 40 minutes of his set in Montreal, where he played with a full live band to an audience of all ages. Despite the concert ending at 11:20, the live music and atmosphere in the air were euphoric. From a raging drummer to saxophone solos, the performance was constantly shifting with musicians entering and exiting the stage. One particular highlight was the lovely vocals of Szjerdene,who collaborated with Bonobo on "Towers".
With an array of sound constantly moving around on stage, Bonobo was at the center of it all, alternating between bass guitar and DJing. What made this performance stick out was that it was so different from your typical live show, the range of instruments being used bringing his music together perfectly.
One of the most surprising things was how Simon would constantly leave the stage himself and let the other musicians shine. One of the most memorable moments was the mesmerizing performance from drummer Jack Baker. He controlled the stage entirely; complemented by the lights, his solo was an example of Bonobo sharing the stage with other talented artists.
After the show, I managed to talk with Bonobo about his current North Borders Tour. He'll be performing with his live band at every stop during October and November. Tour dates are listed below. Read the interview to hear about what Simon thinks will be the future technology of digital music, the strangest place he's been recognized, his concerns with pirated music, and much more.
EARMILK: Hey Simon, it's great to have you with Earmilk today! We've been following and supporting you for some time. From your first album Animal Magic to your latest The North Borders, you've shifted in sound. When you try new things, do you take your fans' interests into account?
Simon Green: I don't really consider people as disappointed when they hear new music, I think for the most part they become accustomed to the direction that artist is headed. I feel that I've followed a relatively consistent theme of downtempo music. For me, it's just a record that sounded right at the time while I was making it. The music I made ten years ago was a reflection of my personal taste at the time and the music I'm making now is still a reflection of what I'm interested in, just at a different time. It shouldn't be seen as a service that's tailored, you can't make music to appease people. You just make music you want to make, obviously I still feel my fans are supportive but I find I'll focus more on what I love than what my fans love.
EM: Your most recent album featured the single "Cirrus", which immediately got a lot of attention. Yet recently we've seen a few musicians hold back from media attention and just release an album spontaneously out of nowhere. For instance, Jai Paul, who never spoke to any press and then, randomly, his album was leaked. Do you think this strategy holds any weight or do you think that you need a certain level of fame before you can go off pure speculation?
SG: I think people are often looking too much into an artist's publicity, most of the time there is no higher power at work, not even a media campaign. For me, when there's an album, I just want people to hear it. In terms of Jai Paul, I think it worked rather well, but even then, I wouldn't say there was a mastermind behind it all.
EM: Sampling in music has been around for ages. Remixing, on the other hand, has become increasingly popular in the past decade. There will always be an issue of copyright policy with reused material, but are you concerned with the spread of your own work, for instance if some fans made an unofficial video or just remixes on Soundcloud?
SG: It really depends on the remix or track. This is a case-by-case thing to me, although I do like the idea of my creation inspiring other people. It should be judged on the intention of the artist and the quality of the remix. A lot of the time people will rap or freestyle over the top of my music, put it on Soundcloud and such, and most of the time it's terrible. You'll often see bootlegs as well getting passed around, yet every so often you'll find something and it'll be incredible. For instance, someone just sent me a fan video to one of my newest tracks and it was really cool.
EM: Do you read much of your fan mail or follow your fan artwork?
SG: Yeah, I often read the mail that comes in, I try to read as much as I can. It can be hard to stay on top of, but I like to hear what people are saying. I often will read comments on my social sites as well, except for YouTube. I never bother with YouTube comments, the stupid shit people are saying there often makes me despair the future of humanity. I'll look at Facebook comments though, and I try to reply to fans when I can.
EM: A lot of artists are giving away their music for free, yet most of your music online is just up for stream. Are you concerned that you might loose attention by not following the popular trend?
SG: I think people will get my or any music any which way they can. You can never really stop people from downloading music because there will always be a means of getting to it. Regardless, I still think there is some merit in paying for an artist's music. It shows you're placing some value on their creativity. People just have the mindset, "why should I pay for something you've worked the past two years on?" Which, fair enough, why should you?
EM: Do you think platforms such as iTunes and Beatport will ever die off? That they might become some dead technology and we move on to a new way of getting music?
SG: I think it's already starting to happen, record shops are vanishing and CDs aren't being bought like they once were. There's no money in records anymore, people just find new ways to download music. I think the future of music sales won't exist, no one will own any music but it will all just be online for free streaming. Something similar to Spotify, you'll be able to listen to anything at any point. Artists will just have to find money in concerts, merchandise or elsewhere.
EM: Have you ever had any trouble legally with pirated music?
SG: My most recent album, The North Borders, was leaked about a month before its official release date. We know exactly who did it and when it was leaked. We had the album watermarked so we could trace it right back to the guy that spread it. It was some Australian radio station host who put it up as a torrent on Pirate Bay. It's really frustrating when you have posters, a tour, a day set, and you say "I'm going to release my album on this day" and someone else decides "no you're not, I'm releasing it for you." With the leak, we had to push all the digital sales ahead of schedule by two weeks.
EM: Since 2004, you've moved to perform with a live band, which is an exciting addition to this tour. Between the current live show and when you play DJ sets occasionally, do you notice a difference in crowds? What do you think is uniquely offered in each style of performance?
SG: I found lots of people wouldn't come to the live shows at first. I mean, the DJ sets certainly bring a far younger crowd, they're usually more of a frenzy and there's often more dancing. With my live act I'll often see an older crowd, they come more for the performance rather than the music. I find that the live shows are more chilled and people will dance less. I do really enjoy DJing from time to time, I think that I've started to prefer the live show, though, as I become more actively involved on stage with other performers.
EM: Alright, now for a few simple and quick questions. What is the most surprising turn out you've ever had?
SG: Anywhere in Russia, Russia or Poland actually. Yeah, some place like that.
EM: What is the strangest place you've ever been recognized?
SG: Mid-flight while I was in Australia. Actually, even more bizarre, I was recognized by a security guard at an airport in Bulgaria or something like that. Just while I was getting scanned going through security, she recognized me and asked for pictures and such.
EM: What is the most creative fan art you've seen?
SG: There's a lot of cool artwork and there's a lot of creepy artwork, the weirdest thing was probably a portrait made of my face. It was on a huge canvas and it was just a really detailed painting of me. That was kinda weird, just that someone had taken the time to paint such a massive picture of only my head.
EM: What's been your biggest regret so far in the industry?
SG: I don't think I have any regrets, maybe not working as hard as I could have in my first few years.
EM: Lastly, what percent of milk do you usually drink?
SG: *laughs* Well, England is a little different, as it's not percent but full fat, semi-skimmed, and skimmed. I usually drink skimmed milk but I'm trying to lessen the dairy in my diet.
EM: Thanks a lot Simon! It was a pleasure speaking to you and you certainly had an outstanding performance in Montreal, good luck on the rest of your tour.