Recently dubbed 'Future Star of 2013' by BBC Radio 1's gatekeeper of dance, Pete Tong, Swedish DJ and producer Jonas Rathsman is no doubt a rising artist, quickly ascending the ranks of more than a few musical circles. An integral member of "Protectors of the Feel Good" imprint, French Express, he's topping off his 2013 by embarking on a 10-stop North American tour with the group, one of those stops being the legendary Boiler Room in LA. Not only is he known for producing his own signature sound, a crossbreed of soul, tropical, house, disco and R&B, he's also celebrated for his remix skills–having reworked tracks for key acts of the moment such as Tom Odell and London Grammar. Oh, and by the way, he's also a graphic designer, co-owner of a fashion label, and a father of two. We got a chance to ask Jonas about his creative process, DJ aliases, French Express, and how he manages to do it all.
EARMILK: You grew up in Western Sweden, away from any sort of contemporary club culture—how and when did you first start getting into the sort of music you produce now?
Jonas Rathsman: I have the worst memory ever but I would say around 2002-2004. I was running a weekly hip hop, R&B and disco night with two good friends in Gothenburg, Fredrik and Johan. Fredrik (aka Dj Nibc) was also hosting several other club nights during that time but focused on house music. He introduced me to all kinds of house music, new, old, chicago, detroit, garage etc. I was a huge disco fan at this time (and still am) so house music for me just felt like a natural progression. It didn't happen over night of course, it was more like a gradual transition over a couple of years. Me and Fredrik teamed up and started producing house music under the name Stuffa. Fredrik had already been producing for several years, so he taught me everything he knew about laying down those beats. He's my Mr. Miyagi! I guess I have a lot to thank Fredrik for! I'll give him a big hug next time I see him.
EM: How did you know that music production and DJing were things you definitely wanted to pursue in life?
JR: I didn't actually, not until after the release of Tobago. Before that producing and DJing was still more a thing on the side. I've always worked with graphic design and illustration and thought that was my future occupation. It's still a big part of my life and I would never give that up, I like the contrasts between working in the studio for days and then take a break to do some illustration. At the moment it's more music than illustration.
EM: In 2011 you switched from using a DJ alias to using your real name to release and produce. Was there a specific reason behind doing that?
JR: It came up when I released 'Love is my middle name' in 2011. 'Love' is actually my middle name, clever hah! Then Leon (Perseus) told me, "why don't you use your real name?, it's really exotic!" I've never thought of my name being exotic but like many times I trusted Leon and went for it. Listening to Leon usually turns out to be the right move… most of the time. It took a while getting used to it, but now it just feels obvious. So thank you Leon, you'll get a big hug as well.
EM: How would you describe your sound and creative process?
JR: I'm trying to just go with first idea that pops into my head. Hopefully something good comes out of it. Usually it doesn't but at least I've learned something on the way. I think my strength is coming up with the ideas, not so much finishing them (I know I'm not the only one out there). It's just that arranging and finalizing a track is so damn boring.
About the creative process, this is pretty much how it goes:
Shit this is awesome!
Or is it really…
Maybe it doesn't
Or what do you think?
EM: What was the inspiration behind the “Tobago” track and music video?
JR: I just wanted to do something playful and simple. I found this perfect vocal sample and started building something around it, added some steel drums and that’s pretty much it. We really wanted a video to go with the release but there wasn't enough time to produce one. Two days before the release I played the track to one of my friends, Jesper Bolmén. Jesper told me that he had recently been away on a surf trip to Brazil (not Tobago) and that he had to spend a day hanging out and filming one of the locals. ‘Might be the perfect material for Tobago’ he said? A couple of hours later he sent me the video. The vid was exactly what I wanted! Nothing to advanced, just tropical and honest.
EM: Essential Mix you did with Perseus for Pete Tong’s Radio 1 show in January of this year was one of my and a lot of people’s favorite of all time! How did you both seed out what tracks you wanted to use? Did you have a specific idea or theme in mind while making it?
JR: Really nice that so many people like it! Our main goal was to create a mix that you actually want to listen to for two hours and not get tired of after 10 minutes. We added a couple of personal favorites, some brand new French Express stuff and then spiced it up with a couple of classics.
EM: What’s the best part of being in the French Express family?
JR: Simple question! Let's say I did this on my own, then I would never had come this far, and probably kept on illustrating instead. The French Express "family" gives me inspiration, feedback and guidance but above all they're the best guys and we've become really good friends over the past two years!
EM: You’re set to head on a North American tour with French Express, what are you the most excited about?
JR: How can you not be excited to spend two weeks on the road with three guys, combined with no sleep, unhealthy food, sharing hotel rooms (even bed from time to time) delayed flights and no alcohol…Ok, maybe a beer or two. But the best part is, this time we get to experience all this together with Isaac Tichauer!
EM: Who and what inspires you the most as an artist?
JR: I get a lot of inspiration from the French Express crew both from listening to their music but also when we're hanging out and playing together. And of course there is so much amazing music and talented artists out there to get inspiration from, like Deetron, Axel Boman, Dusky and Breach to name a few.
EM: What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
JR: A lot of people get surprised when I tell them I have a wife and two kids at home. I guess it's not that usual having a family life when you're a touring DJ.
EM: If you could collaborate with one artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
JR: James Blake! He is such a talented musician and singer. The collaboration would probably be me sitting behind him, just observing him work and feeling really shitty about myself.
EM: Tell me a little about the fashion brand that you co-own called Uniforms for the Dedicated. Do your music and fashion work ever collide creatively?
JR: Basically, Uniforms for the Dedicated is a collective of friends (based in Stockholm) who create clothing collections parallel to indulging in art, music and film. I don't run it, but I'm a proud member of the "family" and also a co-owner. I used to be more involved in the brand but at the moment I'm focusing on my music so there's not enough time to do both.
EM: Favorite place traveled so far and why?
JR: I went for a three-week trip to Costa Rica and a small surf village called Santa Theresa. I hope that's how heaven looks when I die! Or Hell, if I'm for some reason end up there…
EM: Shake Shack or In n’ Out?
JR: Don't have any clue what these places are, so I'm gonna go with Shake Shack just because it sounds cooler.
EM: Dogs or Cats?
JR: Not a big fan of either of them. Sorry! Monkeys are cool though!
EM: If you could bring 3 (you can make it 4) things with you to a desert island, what would they be?
JR: My wife, a sailing boat, food and wine. Happy times!
EM: After the French Express tour, what’s next for you?
JR: Spending time with my family, producing, DJing, meeting more awesome people, get those releases coming and enjoying life as much as possible!