Danimals creator Jonti Danilewitz discusses his new live band, returning to Sydney from New York and the band’s upcoming one-off special performance of collaborative piece Rainy Day at Eclipse Festival.
Jonti Danilewitz has to be one of the nicest and most huggable people in the world. Sitting in the courtyard of Saphos café and bookstore in Glebe his smile is wide and his laugh infective, showing a slight nervousness at the prospect of having to talk while being recorded. The mastermind behind dreamy beat driven pop project Danimals, you’d think with the myriad of interviews he’s had to endure he’d be more comfortable with it by now. His shyness however is a sign of how small a part ego plays in his music. It’s kind of funny though, because if anyone has a right to be a bit up themselves about their music, it’s Jonti.
The first ever Australian artist signed to legendary L.A. hip-hop label Stones Throw Records, the home of such luminaries as Madlib, J Dilla and Peanut Butter Wolf, and winning some competition last year where the band were handpicked by Mark Ronson to come work with him and a crew of his cronies in New York, you’d expect Jonti to be parading around the city with all the pompous swagger of Kiss from The Scare. Choosing to not be a dick though, Jonti’s humility is both refreshing and endearing.
Having moved to New York earlier this year with former band Sherlock’s Daughter, Jonti chose to return to Sydney recently to pursue his love of ‘Danamation.’
“There’s just this creative community here that’s still learning about itself and still open to try things,” Jonti explains in his usual excited mumble, “something you can get our head around and still feel encouraged to be a part of.
“New York was cool too, but there was just so much excitement around all the Danimals stuff I just had to kind of leave. Now I’m back it’s just great, all this fun stuff is happening and I can concentrate on goals and all that kind of stuff. I’ve just been feeding off people here you know. I didn’t really have the chance to get to know people over there, I kind of felt like everything was very temporary, everyone is like your friend for a day.”
Feeding off people, and people in turn feeding off him is what gives Danimals such a joyous and energetic presence. To use Jonti’s own Shakespearianism it’s ‘enjoyful,’ a mixture of joyful and enjoyable. “There’s just been this real brotherly vibe through the whole thing,” James Domeyko (Domeyko/Gonzalez, Arkestra, Aleesha Dibbs, PING!), the newest addition to the Danimals band explains.
“Obviously playing the shows it so much fun because it’s not dark and intense and brooding, you know we can dance on stage and it doesn’t look ironic. Also it’s just a totally different experience playing music that’s much more for enjoyment as opposed to being constantly challenging.”
With James joining the band, replacing drummer Will Russell who’s working with Sherlock’s Daughter in New York, there has been a bit of a reshuffle in the band. Originally made up of Jonti and three drummers, Will, Moses MacRae (Phrase) and Julian Sudek (Mercy Arms, FLRL), Jaie Gonzalez (Domeyko/Gonzalez, i like cats, Old Men Of Moss Mountain, PING!), joining as bass player in December of last year, more recently things have gotten a little less percussive.
Paring it back to one drummer at a time, with Mo handling the MPC at times while Sudek has taken control of the Synth station the band are weighted more towards the melodic end of the spectrum than they were previously. Add James on guitar and sax duties, amongst other instruments, with Jonti and Jaie sharing the sampler, as well as playing guitar and bass respectively, Danimals has begun to take on a shape more recognisable from Jonti’s bedroom recordings.
“Having the MPC has been an especially big change, and so we’ve just started doing lots more of that and bringing a more hip hop element back into it. The whole point of Danimals is supposed to be MPC plus vocals and Mo’s finally stole one from his sister. She wants it back but she’s not getting it back,” he confesses, laughter once again erupting around our little table.
It’s not just a matter of getting the right instruments and textures though, considering the dense layers in the Danimals recordings the band have had to really think about how they aim to recreate the songs live.
“We’re thinking a lot more about the arrangements now,” says Jonti, “the dynamics and harmonies and all that and having James on board has really added a lot. With signing I was always a little afraid and not very confident and with him, he’s a bit more muscular so I can feed of him a bit. And the sax has just brought a really good vibe. Girls just going crazy! I wish I was single,” he laughs.
“Also we maybe had too many drummers before, and having one is just a better balance,” he continues. “Also with the first band we were all between things like Sherlock’s and everything so we couldn’t really do it properly, only now are we starting to do things properly.”
As the new band well and truly hits its stride, having played to packed houses at The Espy and The Fitzroy Workers Club in Melbourne a few weeks back, it seems that it’s time for Danimals to put their experimental hats back on as they prepare to present a conceptual collaborative performance titled Rainy Day to headline the upcoming Eclipse festival at Hermann’s Bar this Saturday the 4th of September.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Jonti reveals, his usual childish glee brimming in his eyes, “just to play this Faust song for the whole set. It’s a really naive song and really simple and it’s got this great pop melody. We cover it in the Danimals set but this is more a chance to have fun with it and jam it out.”
“Somehow it turned into the headlining act for this awesome festival which is scary,” he laughs. “I was like fuck I better actually prepare, and I was working on all these little movements and things but I think it’s probably best to just keep it intuitive. Just have lots of instruments and non-musicians on the stage, maybe black out the keys on a keyboard so only the G note’s visible, something like that, where everyone can just keep the rhythm and have a party on stage. I don’t know if it could be anymore conceptual.”
Aiming to include a number of collaborators in the project, Middnight Juggernaut Daniel Stricker has been the first to throw his hat in the ring, bringing his barn-storming skin-bashing drumming to the fold. “Jaie told us when he was meeting with Stricker he just volunteered his services,” James explains, “apparently he was just like ‘I’ll get in on that.’”
With all this activity surrounding the band it’s easy to forget that despite having finished his first draft of the album more than a year ago, Twirligig has still yet to be released. “The album should be out next year sometime,” he explains at my urgent insistence. “It’s been ages though so what I’m doing is working on the second album and then release it as a double album. It was pretty short the first one and the second one has a lot more of a story to tell. There’s also just so much stuff I want to record now, so I thought I might as well just get it all in one package and give it my all. You only get so many chances in life to do this type of thing so I thought why not try and make a double album.”
Why not indeed.
You can have a listen to a taste of both album here myspace.com/jontidanimals
Danimals play Eclipse festival at Hermann’s Bar on Sep 4th with Megastick Fanfare, Domeyko/Gonzalez, Old Men Of Moss Mountain, Ghosts, Disco Club and Sick Python. Art from The Oh Really Group, Katerina Valentine, Tara Cook, Joel Burrows, Kurt Davies. Fashion from Christina Bou and Lulu Ross.