Under the Skin with Jonas Sjöström

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IMG_3023Jonas Sjöström is one of Sweden’s unsung musical talents. The Stockholm-based synth master sports a Sequential Circuits tattoo on his arm and a studio full of analogue equipment, which he deploys to create poptronica of real quality and distinction. He has been putting out his music on Soundcloud, while providing remixes for other artists like Candide and appearing on compilations as part of The Future and La Dolce Vita. CWNL caught up with Sjöström to dig a little deeper into his influences and background.

You have released a number of songs on Soundcloud and taken part in several cover or remix projects, but when we will get to see an album of Jonas Sjöström music?

Well, good question really, haha! Mostly, I have just been playing for fun and haven’t really thought more of it, but of course it would be nice to release something at some point. I need someone who can write lyrics and sing first, I think. I would feel a bit more comfortable releasing something as a band, if the possibility would arise, rather than a solo act. It would make it easier to perform live, as well. I’ve always preferred the studio work before the performance part, but I have to admit the very few appearances I have done in recent years have been really fun.

Your dedication to Dave Smith’s technical legacy is written on your arm, but what is it about the Sequential Circuits and DSI instruments that most attracts you?

Ohh, there is something about his instruments that really appeals to me – first of all, the sound! I love the Curtis LPF filter, they look good, and one of my first synths – the SCI Pro~One – also had the built-in step sequencer, so for me it was like a dream machine. They are far more versatile than most of the other synths of the era. Also, when I think of a sound I have in my head and transform it on a Prophet, it just sounds they way I imagined it to sound. You know what happens if you turn “that” knob. They also have quite a sophisticated modulation matrix or modulation possibilities that enable accidental sounds, too. Even his new synths have this classic Prophet sound but take the modulation possibilities to a completely new level – almost like a modular synthesizer. I could go on forever.

How did you first get involved with synths?

Like for many people, it was my older sibling who introduced synths into my life, back in 1983. Overnight, 90% of his class started to listen to synth music, so he brought home LP albums with Depeche, OMD, Kraftwerk and Yazoo and VHS cassettes with videos, which were fairly new at the time, and I was hooked! The 2 first songs I heard were ”Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats and ”Love in itself” by Depeche Mode. Depeche still stands out as number one, even to this day. But it wasn’t until 1989 that I got my first synthesizer, a Korg Mono/poly, and started to mess around with the instruments myself.

In the summer of 1992, I finally got hold of a Pro~One. I had read about it for years but couldn’t afford one. At that time, a friend of mine who also was very interested in the analogue world of synths taught me a lot about programming sounds, so my programming skills are much thanks to him – and then, of course, thousands of hours just turning knobs and step-program sequences on the Pro~One sequencer. We only set two rules: no MIDI and no digital. So, that is how I started.

IMG_2846Vince Clarke is clearly one of your synth heroes. Which other artists working with synthesizers do you most respect?

Is it that obvious? Vince is probably my number 1, 2 and 3, even! But, of course, there are others. Besides him personally, there is of course Depeche Mode as a band – a huge inspiration to me. Daniel Miller is another one. Other artists are Sweden’s Eddie Bengtsson (PAGE, SMPJ), who is a big inspiration to me, then there’s DAF, OMD, The Human League, Adolfson & Falk and Lustans Lakejer, to name a few.

Which other current artists do you feel are doing the most interesting things in electronic music?

Trust and The New Division are two artists/bands that really stand out for me, and also Junior Boys.

What instruments are in your current set-up?

Oh, I love this question. It’s always interesting to see what instruments people are using. In my current setup, I have the following instruments: SCI/DSI Drumtraks, Prophet~5, Prophet ’08, Prophet 12, MoPho, Moog Sub37, KORG MS20, Roland MC-4, System-1, TB-3.

I also have the Arturia V Collection, and when I use it I usually use the Prophet V, ARP 2600 V and the Spark VDM. Another software synth I have and use occasionally is the UVI Emulation II (Emu Emulator II).

If you could take one instrument with you to a desert island, which one would you choose and why?

Ohh my! Hmm… it used to be the Pro~One (before I sold it), but I have to say, today, it would be the Prophet ’08. They sound almost identical, but with the Prophet ’08 you get four of everything. The Pro~One used to be my “go-to synth,” but now it is the Prophet ’08. Most melodies, syncussion and bass lines tend to be written on the Prophet ’08 – amazing machine!

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