We chat with Jonathan Boulet
Upon the release of his self-titled debut three years ago, Jonathan Boulet quickly found himself labelled as Sydney’s ‘skate rat’. Albeit an internationally recognised one, thanks to the street cred of hip label, Modular, but a ‘skate-rat’ nonetheless.
With his second release however, Boulet is ready to outgrow those previously constricting tags, starting with his new album’s tongue-garbling title. We Keep The Beat, Found The Sound, See The Need, Start The Heart is one of the lengthier titles in recent memory, it’s sing-song name bound to appear alongside Fiona Apple’s When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King… (we’ll spare you the full title) in future music lists.
“Originally, there were two parts to it,” explains Boulet, speaking in gentle, clipped tones and adorned with a bushy facial scrub that Ned Kelly’d be jealous of, “the second part – it did make it onto the album artwork actually, it’s there on the inside cover… there was a list of about ten more different versions…” He trails off but confirms the title was originally taken from a scrapbook of lyrics. “A word document,” he adds, “of about ten pages made up of lyrics from every couple of years.”
Whether as a result of it being the last interview in a long day of them, or simply not feeling the need to elucidate his unique brand of music-making; Boulet’s demeanour is in direct contrast to the up-tempo, percussive music that’s supposedly spurned as a result of his diagnosed ADD.
Sounding calm, even a little reserved, he calls his recent Vivid LIVE-endorsed Modular showcase “really fun;” with all the energy of someone who’s had too much of it. Playing alongside UK electro-bending pop acts Kindness and Tom Vek, Boulet describes the gigs as “some of the best shows we’ve ever played. They were really fun, all those dudes are really nice, cool normal people.”
The shows also offered the first taste of We Keep The Beat’s material in the live setting. “We’ve started to get more comfortable… there’s a couple of the new songs that we haven’t attempted yet,” reveals Boulet, before adding humorously, “this tour it’s going to be ‘good, good, good’ – then a really shit song. There’s always a period where it’s a little bit dodgy, then it just becomes second nature. We need to get the dodgy ones out of the way as quick as we can.”
Though it’s the first time some of the new songs are being played on tour, interestingly, they’ve been finished on tape since early 2011. “Yeah, we had all the audio finished and mastered by May of last year” Boulet admits casually, “the artwork and all the little pieces that come with putting it out, all took their time, it kept getting pushed back and eventually we ended up here… I was happy to wait for it to be done properly this time.”
‘Doing it properly’ also extended to the recording. Though Boulet’s success meant he was granted access to a larger budget, and therefore a flashier studio; he instead opted to return to his parents’ garage, the same home-made studio in which he recorded his entire 2009 debut.
When asked about his decision, there’s a long pause before offering a sensible answer. “With a studio there’s a lot of pressure and time constraints,” he says, “recording costs a lot of money as well these days. I felt confident with the skills I’d built up over the last couple of years… it’s a lot easier to get it done, you can take your time but you don’t have to deal with a producer trying to get their way.”
The only meddling from the label was getting someone to originally tackle mixing Boulet’s output, “just to see how it would turn out… to hear it from another perspective.”
However, the 24-year-old wasn’t keen on the results, “there were a lot of subtleties that I was married to that I thought got lost… so I said, “naaah, I’ll get better, I’ll get better’.”
After obtaining a “couple extra bits and pieces,” Boulet set to work in his small studio, allowing more of his character to set in. “I had to be able to do it a lot better this time. It helped me to progress… [besides]I feel a lot more connected to it this way as well. My hideous little baby.”
Despite the name and the image of a man alone in the studio tinkering away at his solo project, Jonathan Boulet has always been a communal beast. Most pointedly with his teeming live ensembles made of muso friends. Boulet explains it’s about “it’s not just a big spotlight on me in the middle and just my show. It’s supposed to be about people instead of one person.”
It speaks of the sense of community that runs through Boulet’s music, most obviously in the summery chanting and infectious percussive tones of surprise hit “Community Service Announcement.” But the sense of kinship his music engenders extends to Boulet’s own sense of belonging in the musical community.
Aside from his ‘solo thing’, he’s the full-time bassist for hardcore act Snake Face who have just finished a national tour accompanied by the release of their debut album on vinyl (“they look really great – can’t wait to hold one”). While as the drummer for criminally underrated Sydney act Parades, Boulet’s commitments have cooled down (“we’re all just doing our own thing for now”).
The sense of community is the lingering influence of the punk and hardcore scene, “there’s a vibe, a community around metal music,” explains the Sydney-sider. “It’s something that’s kind of lacking in the pop and indie world. It’s something I’m always trying to strive for. How can you translate that over, is it through music or through more than that? I’m always trying to get characteristics of that style into our pop music.”
The way in which this surfaces in We Keep The Beat’s material, is in the rhythms. Whether it’s the muscular urgency of grammatically-taunting lead single, “You’re A Animal”, or the clattering pounding of “Trounce”. Lathered in what their craftsman calls “too many layers” of percussion, it’s perhaps the most essential element to the multi-instrumentalist, but what is it about it that excites him? “That’s the whole plan, that’s why there’s a beat and a chance to move to it… maybe it’s just from our genes,” he begins, “rhythm and early man, I feel like it’s all ingrained in our bodies. I feel that when you hear a good rhythm – you start to move to it. It’s very primal.”
Though primal might undersell the sophistication of his arrangements, it speaks perfectly of the spirit and energy in his anthemic rackets, swells of upbeat movements and communal chanting.
When pressed about what Jonathan Boulet represents, the bearded man states in casual philosphy, “It’s being part of a group, it’s everybody’s music. We have connections to the music and each other, a feeling that you can’t get anywhere else.” In these cases, to use Boulet’s metaphor, it’s everybody’s baby, he adds with a final joke “we’re all crowded around it telling everyone how cute it is.”
We Keep The Beat, Found The Sound, See The Need, Start The Heart is out now through Universal, with Jonathan Boulet embarking on a nation tour from June 27. Full dates and details here.