On the opening night of this year’s Igloofest, a couple of low-lives had the opportunity to sit down with Canadian techno/house royalty: Kenny Glasgow and Jonny White, the two members of Art Department. The group had just closed the evening by immersing us -the lucky audience- in a seductive narrative fuelled by artistic delicacy, the sub-zero temperatures, and a shared pulse with five or more thousand of Montreal’s finest. Their multi-faceted display of tasteful song selection, foolproof mixing, along with the pair’s unmatched air of ‘cool’ earned the title of our decided favourite set of the entire four week event. During the exchange we touched on an array of topics, including: their personal style, beauty in everyday life, and the unmatched power and importance of relationships.
Without further adieu-
Low-Life: Who do you have to give an honest evaluation of your tracks? We often find from other artists that this far along in a musician’s career you should be able to rely on yourself. Perhaps in a duo you have to be able to rely on each other.
Art Department: Absolutely. No… we don’t really give a shit what anybody thinks. It is what it is, and if you don’t like it – then pass.
LL: Jonny, you’ve said in the past that to your surprise you find yourself on the creative side of the music business, being that your dad was heavily involved in the business side of the industry.
I want to ask if that hereditary trait skipped a generation? Or if you see yourself simply as an artist with a hand into the other side of your industry?
Jonny White: Absolutely! I’ve actually built myself a tiny empire. [laughs] I have the record label, No. 19, I executive produce all the work that’s coming out of it. I manage a couple of the artists, and been throwing parties all of these years.
We’re developing other artists on the side as well – even pop artists and stuff.
LL: Your label exists as a much needed musical ambassador for Canada, especially within the house/techno side of things. Where are most of these artists based? Toronto?
JW: Thank you man! Well, our most recent one is a 20-year-old girl out of Estonia. But in regards to Toronto – we are opening up a nightclub this week, Coda. We’re unbelievably excited about that.
I love the business. I’ve just always really loved the business side of things – it’s a labor of love in some respects but basically – developing new artists, and that side of the business is as fulfilling for me as anything else. Because without that and without that evolution and new artists coming up – there’s no new music. There’s nothing exciting going on in the industry and we’re gonna’ have a shitload of horrible pop music in 20 years and that’s it.
So yeah, I’d say that I’m heavily involved in the business side, and I enjoy it.
LL: So if your hands get cut off – you’ll still be a part of it?
AD: [Laughs] Oh yes – exactly.
LL: What about you Kenny?
Kenny Glasgow: Honestly, I’m just about the production side of things.
LL: How about an influential manager or some member of your team in the past that you really identified with?
KG: Uh – a manager who handled my stuff when I was single…I’ve been in a four year relationship [laughs]… no not specifically.
As I said – I’m more about the music. I’m truly thankful that there are two of us, because without that it would take away from my ability to stay focused on my end.
We do have a sixteen or seventeen person team working for us – who kill it.
LL: Has any component of your team been with you for a while? Perhaps someone who was present prior to Art Department?
AD: Yeah! Our main agent, Jazz Spinder, whose at CAA now – we all came up together – he’s been at it since we all got going on this.
LL: Okay, now for the question that’s had me bursting at the seems since we sat down. Who / what are you wearing? – I ask this because since my introduction to you guys, I’ve had an insane amount of respect towards the way you guys present yourselves. It lies not only in what you wear, but how you wear it, and even – how you could arguably define it as a sort of Art Department “uniform”.
JW: That means a lot yo!
LL: In an interview with MTV Iggy you were asked –
When a medium that’s built so heavily on repetition and hypnotic beats, how do you make sure you’re not falling into retread?
Your response was:
“Well that’s what separates the real artists in this field from the rest. But it is and should be a natural evolution of an artist. I think it’s less worrying about formulas and more about keeping yourself interested.”
What measures do you take outside of your careers to ensure you retain that interest?
JW: I think it’s mostly an inspiration thing. That’s the beautiful thing about being a musician, being able to be creative all of the time, because in any other field that I’ve gotten into I’ve had a threshold – a six month threshold, in industries where you aren’t able to evolve all the time. When you’re making music you can just keep changing – what ever your into, whatever’s influencing you at that moment, travel, or women, or whatever it is – it changes you – the same way that you’re not the same person you were four years ago. You change – and you’re able to express that with music. So, that’s the natural evolution, that’s what keeps me interested personally.
LL: Amazing man. How about you Kenny?
KG: For me – I enjoy music first and foremost. It’s what I love doing. He (Jonny) calls me the “one trick pony” [laughs] because my job is t0 do what I gotta do – which is to be in the studio, making music for Art Department.
LL: What is it that keeps you there? What keeps you into making music?
KG: It’s my ultimate love of music, and the ability to love what I do.
LL: Back in 2011, you were asked “what inspires your overall musical aesthetic”. There was a segment of Jonny’s response that really stood out for me.
…”It’s not even what I listen to often when I’m relaxing. But a lot of where we grew up and what we’ve been through and your relationships with people affect it more than anything. The city that we live in, your habitat, your family, your friends and the people you surround yourself with: I think those are the biggest influences more than anything.”
I have an affinity towards this outlook, as it’s something that I personally identify with – due largely to the nature of the collective identity which my ‘crew’ shares. Could you delve a bit further into the role these relationships play in your musical lives?
JW: I would say that there are only a few of them that specifically influence what we do musically – mostly people we worked with back in Toronto before all of this happened. But when I say relationships affect us, “inspire us” – it’s actually just the relationships that we have as people. As humans we are affected more by the relationships that we have with other humans than anything else.
KG: If you’re in a bad relationship – or even a bad situation with friends, or a bad situation in life – the music that you make is going to be reflective of that.
JW: Unfortunately, the best shit comes from the worst relationships.
LL: Does it? For you at least?
JW: Absolutely man. I mean it seems when everything is status quo, and I’m in a good relationship, and everything is just cool – I don’t really feel it. It’s hard to write.
LL: In that same MTV interview last year – this question was posed to you:
“There’s a line in “Robot Heart” that I love: “Feel the magic in our hearts, feel the music in our soul.” Do you feel like there’s any mystery or magic left in the world as an adult?
Jonny responded with:
“Yes, of course. Fuck, that would be a horrible thought if there wasn’t. Imagine a world without any fuckin’ mystery or magic. It’s everywhere and you’ve got to be blind not to see it. Listen, life isn’t all fucking pixie dust and an amazing surprise around every corner, but you can make a conscious effort to look for it in less obvious places.”
Where does someone like you guys, or really even someone your age – find that mystery?
JW: Well we’re fortunate that we travel a ton right? I mean, I could see it being more difficult for some people when they’re kind of on…you know its groundhog day for them, they have a 9-5 and they’ve lived in the same city, and been dating the same person, and have the same five close friends that they hang with all the time – which is still magic in and of itself. Having people that you’re close with – that’s what the whole journey’s about. Personally, I find it a lot in our travels. I mean we just left BPM down in Mexico. I spent most of the week under the stars in Talum, and uh I saw some shit that would absolutely blow your mind…but I’m not gonna tell ya right now or I’ll sound like a fuckin’ lunatic.
LL: Don’t you worry – that would be difficult.
JW: I mean – you can spend a night on the beach with a couple friends lookin’ at the stars in a magical place like Talum – and that will give you what you need for a few months.
So – Travel’s is lot of it, the time you get to spend with interesting people along the way, and the conversations you have with them.
LL: I couldn’t agree more.
LL: Since we’re well past our time together, I want to wrap this interview up with a question that resonates with me personally.
AD: Thank you so much man!
LL: This was my first year attending, but it wasn’t my first music festival, nor my first “ arts / humanities” focused one either. The post-burn experience for me brought forth an overwhelmingly nostalgic post-festival bliss that I hadn’t felt since returning from the parallel universe of Shambhala for the very first time. Being that the arena in which you perform your craft is often in a similar context, do you guys still go through a comparable transition period once you leave the playa?
KG: I’d say so for sure. For me – the days after Burning Man – I’m very composed, and insanely inspired. Just like from any great festival where you’re in a compound, being forced to listen to this or that. Thanks to all of this amazing music, I was instantly back in the studio – happy as hell to be doing what I’m supposed to do.
JW: Burning man for me…it’s all about switching off. Why I love Burning Man and festivals like that is because I’m naturally a stress ball due to everything that we have going on. I find I’m hanging on by a thread a lot of the time, and don’t have an opportunity to switch off all year – or else everything will go to shit. It’s the ultimate in freedom. The chance to be as free as you are at Burning Man is… priceless!
So, in the days after – I’m feeling very recharged. I feel new. It comes at the perfect time of the year, because at that point I’m reaching a breaking point – and it truly acts as a ‘start over’.
LL: I love that guys, I want to thank you immensely for your sincerity, and of course – for your time. Now, I wanna give you an opportunity for some of your very own shout–outs, or as we like to call this segment – the Oscar Speech, cuz ‘fuck the Grammys.
JW: Shout-out to my pops, who’s working with us – handling a lot of shit for us, and for inspiring me to be here. Shout-out to everybody that I just spent the last three weeks with in Mexico who started the year off in an unbelievable fashion for me, and – out to the BPM Festival crew! Of course, out to this guy [Kenny], and to our Robot Heart family. MFR (My Favorite Robot) too!
KG: Shout outs to my Brother here [Jonny] who has truly helped me get off my feet, helped me develop something with him. I guess I’d say – shout outs to Art Department, we are so lucky to do what we do, and I’m so glad people are enjoying what we’re doing.
Connect with Art Department:
No. 19 Music: facebook.com/no19music