Keeping Up With Jonze

14 August 2013 | 3:00 am | Liz Giuffre

"My dad’s a gizmo geek, he loves it. I found it [the Theremin] on the balcony one day, exploring as you do as an early teen, and he explained to me that it’s an instrument that you play without actually touching it."

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"Not many people spent their time thinking about the Theremin,” Pluto Jonze admits. However the indie-dance-pop darling is, thankfully, one of those people. In case you are not, it's a space age-sounding part machine, part musical instrument that sounds very sci-fi and looks like a magic trick when played live. Featuring on Jones' debut album Eject, as well as in his touring spectacular, it is, along with some other weird and wonderful bits, a thing to behold.

“My dad's a gizmo geek, he loves it. I found it [the Theremin] on the balcony one day, exploring as you do as an early teen, and he explained to me that it's an instrument that you play without actually touching it,” Jonze recalls. “And that was it, I was in love. There are certain types of melodies that are easier to play than others, and I create easy, hoopy melodies on the Theremin. But it's also difficult when you play live because it bases its tuning on the room, it's like a radio antenna. You know how sometimes if you open a fridge or turn on a heater it might get a bit temperamental? The thing that's closest to it has the biggest influence, but still, everything has an influence. So you might tune it up at soundcheck and then people will swarm into the room and change the tuning, so you'll have to do it again. But it's fun, and I guess it's part of my schtick is the tuning of the Theremin. It sounds cool and hoopy tuning it up too. And you just run with it, making the limitations a strength.”

Another gizmo that makes it into Jonze' live show, as well as into his videos and other promo, is the old school analogue TV set. No flash flat screens, just clunky, static-y types that look like they've heard and seen some of the best (and worst) entertainment of yesteryear. The aesthetic and slightly unpredictable style matches Jonze' sound to a tee – a bit edgy, but also familiar and warm. “The cool thing is working out how the tuning works so my visuals can come up,” Jonze says in reference to the part of his performance where lyrics and 'ghost-ing' add to the experience.

“And [the TVs are] not just a fancy prop; I like that they're hooked up so these visuals can come across in a slightly abstract way, representing some of the sequenced portions of the music live. Although, I always get jealous of the DJs who rock up with a USB. I'm there with a station wagon, it's like I move house every week!” While he won't reveal how the sequencing is done, exactly (“That's a deep and dark Pluto Jonze secret”), what Jonze is more than happy to embrace are times when the TVs decide they want to actively participate, apparently without him. “Sometimes, depending on how the venue's wired up, or just the feeling in the air, the TV gets static and you can control it by stomping your feet, or the kick drum will make it kind of distort in a cool way – so we play with that for a bit.”

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Jonze has made waves for himself with singles Eject, Plastic Bag In A Hurricane and the unpronounceable, but very danceable, Hispedangongonajelanguiro (Capiche?), but tying him down is difficult. In addition to these upbeat tracks, he gets slower and more sultry too, with closer Come On Sunshine particularly strong. His attention to detail in both recordings and performance does invite comparisons to Gotye, and it's a label he's fine with, thanks very much. ““Yeah, I'll take that. I'll take worldwide number one, why not?” he laughs. When it's suggested he might have to get his kit off for the film clip, the response is perhaps not as enthusiastic: “Well I guess that'll be bold, yeah.”

The preparation for his debut release was about a year, although Jonze is one of those driven musicians who had more than enough material to choose from. Proof came on his way to be interviewed today, Jonze running late because he'd lost track of time while in his writing bunker. “Mostly in the mornings I'll start something from scratch if I'm not really feeling it with something I've already got, or I'll be developing something already started. But it's kind of a constant process for me, I can't really turn it off. I'm always scanning conversation, menus, the world, misheard names from a radio in another room, whatever – for a good title. So it is an obsession that I can't turn off, and as a result of that disease I've always got things on the boil. And it's cool because then when I'm writing I'm always tied to the real world situation where it came from. I don't normally start with a blank canvas, but it's always tied to the thing that got me there. I do, it funnily enough, mostly on my phone, because that's the thing that I always have on me and I guess I've only really worked like that for maybe two years. And before then, until embarrassingly recently, I had a cassette recorder – that's how I managed my ideas in a hugely inefficient way. But now it's voice memos on the phone.”

This description conjures up ideas of another technology/Pluto Jonze collaboration in the future: perhaps some songs co-penned with Siri? “Sure, she's my little creative secretary,” he jokes.