Eddie Johnston has become pretty well known for his songs as Lontalius, having played support for Liam Finn, randomly won over Jane Yee when he was only 13, and released a bunch of music. Alongside his songwriting moniker, Eddie has been making instrumental stuff on his computer as Race Banyon, and finally dropped his EP Whatever Dreams Are Made Of on Bandcamp a week or two back. Michael Upton quizzed him a bit for the latest round of Production Value, an occasional series on New Zealand producers and beatmakers.
You did put an EP out last year, Tricks, but you’ve said this feels like your first real one. How come?
It was really just a collection of songs that I wanted my friends to hear. I’ve been making electronic music for ages but at that time I was still exploring and experimenting. I’m still doing that now but I think I’ve found a sound that works for me. I worked on the WDAMO songs for months and I put a lot of effort into how the whole thing sounded as a whole. It’s the most time I’ve put into anything I’ve released.
You use Ableton Live, right? Is that what you’ve always used? Any thoughts on Ableton?
I like it a lot. The workflow works well with how I want to make music. I do most of my work in the session view which lends itself towards looping and experimenting with phrases, without having to stop the song.
The first software I used was Renoise. I did really like that at the time but I think that was because I got pretty good at breaking it. I had an old soundcard that would start playing with the frequencies if there was a loud enough signal going into it. No idea how that worked but it was fun.
I guess with Lontalius songs you play all the parts, I’m curious whether it’s the same with Race Banyon. Do you use any keys or controllers, or just draw stuff in, essentially?
Yeah, everything is drawn in. I generally play around on the computer keyboard with synths etc first. I’ve thought about getting a midi keyboard and start trying to play stuff into it. I’m not sure if that’d work though, I usually feel very limited using physical instruments. This is the biggest issue I have when trying to write songs for Lontalius.
You’ve started doing Race Banyon live shows, how do you approach them and how similar is it to when you’re making tunes at home?
I’ve been trying to get a set together that is fully flexible. There’s a video of Four Tet going through his live setup and he explains that he adjusts his set to the room he’s playing in. I want to get to that level of freedom. I’ve also been trying to make my songs work in a more upbeat and house context. I hardly ever want to make house music when I’m at home but after playing a show that’s all I want to do. Something about the 4 on the floor kick…
How did you start these tracks? Did you have a specific idea of what you wanted with each of them?
No, not really. Recently I’ve been starting songs with chord progressions on a kinda generic pad synth. From there I just go with however I’m feeling. I generally fall into hip hop BPMs. I couldn’t tell you why, it’s just how my songs always end up.
On the flip side, do you find it easy to call a track done? One of the things with recording at home is surely that you can just keep tinkering.
Yeah, I’m pretty good with finishing songs. I usually have to push myself to tinker with a song even further. The actual creative and writing part of the song can happen pretty quickly with me, but I can spend a few months working with the sounds and parameters.
There are lots of (justifiable) comments about ‘Only Sixteen’ being a bit of a trip through flavours of dance music. Do you consciously pick styles when you’re writing? Do you think about where your tunes “fit”?
Making ‘Only Sixteen’ was quite a different process for me. I had split the song into two different project files, one for the chilled out part and one for the rave part. I was picking pieces from old unfinished projects as well. I wanted the second half to have a real footwork vibe. That all changed when I put the 303 in.
I never really consciously pick styles, I just have a vision of what direction I’d like the song to take and most of the time I never actually get there.
I have no idea where my songs fit stylistically. It’s always interesting hearing what people describe it as. For this EP people have mostly been saying hip hop, pop and footwork. That’s cool, I like all of those genres! The thing that makes me most happy is when people call it beautiful. Someone told me ‘Only Sixteen sounded heartwarming to them’. That was pretty amazing to hear.
Listen to Whatever Dreams Are Made Of below.