Jon Richards being interviewed by Morgana, about his 2012 album with MG Music – The Sacred Tree.
(Morgana) First of all Jon, congratulations on the release of your second album with us – The Sacred Tree.
(Jon) Thank you very much! It took slightly longer to finish than I expected, but I got there in the end – I think the album benefitted from the extra time spent on it, so I can’t complain.
(Morgana) For the listeners out there, The Sacred Tree should have something for everybody – an energizing collection of dynamic up-tempo tracks through to the slower, hauntingly beautiful “Triple Goddess” track. Some Celtic influences seem to have crept in since your last album (Elysian Fields) together with some exotic touches too. With these changes in mind, can I start off by asking you what inspired you to write this album?
(Jon) A change of scenery, mostly. Although I started laying down some basic ideas before moving back to my hometown in Somerset late last year; once I was back amongst hills and trees, the inspiration really started flowing. I spent a lot of time rediscovering my favourite walks from my childhood/teenage years, which was very rejuvenating. I realised how much I missed the locations, having lived in quite a few urban, built-up areas and I finally felt like I was home again.
(Morgana) As a concept, The Sacred Tree will surely strike a chord with anybody harbouring a desire to reconnect with nature. Is this something you feel personally?
(Jon) On many different levels, yes. I feel that our time is taken up with so much other stuff, that for the most part, we don’t have time to get out into the middle of nowhere. We live in an age where it is hard to be anonymous and to feel able to ‘get away from it all’. It’s amazing to think that a long time ago (going back hundreds of years here!) people only spent on average about one third of the day, dealing with essential tasks, such as collecting water and food, farming and harvesting crops and then the rest of the day was spent on socialising, creative pursuits and communing with nature. There was much more of a connection and respect towards nature then, as we realised how much we relied upon it for survival.
When I was young(er!), myself and my friends spent most of our spare time in the woods and just generally out and about. These days, it seems that people tend to spend more time indoors on the internet, or playing video games for example. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with internet and video games, but the bias seems to have gone from one extreme to the other.
I’m also a great supporter of environmental organisations. I keep an open mind with this, as there seems to be quite a divide in the scientific community about whether global warming exists/is a scam. I’ve spent countless hours debating this with many people and my conclusion is simple – if the sceptics are right, then we have nothing to worry about…however, if they are wrong then we stand to lose everything. I find it’s usually best to err on the side of caution.
(Morgana) From what you have just said, the “Sacred Tree” is clearly a concept that resonates with you. How important is it for you to have a strong concept in mind when you write?
(Jon) It depends. Sometimes I just write and try not to think about things too much. In those situations, the music will tend to write itself, almost like channelling, or downloading from some other-wordly realm. I feel that creative people serve the purpose of communicating messages from the spiritual realm in order to help humankind. That’s what I feel my role is, anyway. But going back to the whole concept thing . . . it’s always good to have a starting point, a theme. In those situations, I tend to spend a considerable amount of time doing online research, or ploughing through books – mostly to get track names!
(Morgana) Talking of tracks, what is your favorite track on the album and why?
(Jon) A difficult choice! I have to say that I’m very happy with all the tracks on this album, but if pushed then I would say ‘The Triple Goddess’. From a production point of view, it’s very smooth sounding and has a natural flow to it, very emotive, brooding, yet uplifting and powerful.
(Morgana) Can you say a few words about how you go about selecting sounds and putting a track together?
(Jon) For this CD, there’s a lot of female vocals, which are pre-recorded motifs that I arranged and put together in an order which sounded right to me. The key in which they are sung substantially dictated the overall feel of the track. A lot of it is down to sheer luck….most of the time, I just stumble across a sound that when played in a certain way will trigger a whole arrangement. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about letting the music write itself. There’s a great quote from a film, which I think sums up the whole process for me quite nicely: “The first draft you write with your heart, the second with your head!”.
(Morgana) That’s a great quote and I’m sure a lot of artists will agree with it. With that in mind, what is the hardest part of producing an album for you, the writing, the arranging, or the final mixing and mastering? Do you enjoy any one part of the process more than another?
(Jon) The writing and arranging is the fun part. When I get to mixing and mastering, then I’m my worst critic and more often than not, drive myself crazy! That’s the process I tend to dread the most; I just want to produce something that will be enjoyed by the listener and I feel it’s my duty to create a quality product – people are parting with their hard-earned cash and I want to make it worth their while. Typically, I spend a lot of time questioning every decision about a mix, whether I’m in my studio or not. It’s all-consuming!
(Morgana) What message or feelings would you like to leave your listeners with after hearing this album?
(Jon) Renewal and rejuvenation. Message-wise; we all need to get back to our Pagan roots and ideals about honouring and respecting nature.
(Morgana) Here’s a question especially for the nerdy types out there. You’ve clearly invested in a few studio upgrades since making Elysian Fields last year. What software packages did you find to be the most useful in making this new album?
(Jon) A complete overhaul was required. I invested in a custom-made PC, whose sole duty is for music production. I was using technology that was almost 10 years old, although I give kudos to my old faithful, as I wrote three albums with it…but you can only put up with constant system crashes for so long. I needed something more robust and reliable, so that was the first step. Next, I found myself delving into the world of virtual instruments and MIDI, which I have never used before in my life. So it was something of a baptism of fire in that regard. I invested in some sample packs from Sony, which is where the female vocals originate and then a lot of sounds from Native Instruments’ Kontakt and Komplete Elements, with a few patches from my trusty Korg Karma and M50 respectively.
(Morgana) Finally, is there a question you’ve been burning to answer that I have failed to ask? Anything you would like to say to anybody who has helped you, a dedication or a message to your listeners perhaps?
(Jon) I think we’ve covered everything. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has bought my music and I hope you have gained great pleasure from listening to it. A huge thank you to everyone at MG Music, for help and support, emotionally and technologically! And last, but my no means least a MASSIVE thanks goes to my lovely lady, Tam, for being so supportive and an inspiration….without whom, I would probably still be working on this at Christmas!
(Morgana) Thank you Jon. The Sacred Tree is fantastic follow-up to your last album Elysian Fields and I wish you every success with it on behalf of the whole MG Team.
(Jon) My pleasure!