RareBit (Justin Hopkins) Interviewed by Anenon (Brian Allen Simon)
“I like to think of my music as fungus encrusted and in a constant state of growth and decay.”
Justin Hopkins is a musician, visual artist, sound designer and the newest signing to Non Projects. He currently lives in Los Angeles, though is originally from the Pacific Northwest of America. While the Non Projects faithful may remember some of his work that was posted on our blog over a year ago, I figured what better way to introduce Justin as an official Non Projects artist than with a proper label-artist interview. Plus, I had some questions for him that never seemed to get answered. Hopefully this will shed some light on the man and his work. - Brian
[Brian Simon] Do you have an earliest music memory? I know you grew up in a house of visual artists… was there more emphasis on pursuing visual art rather than music?
[Justin Hopkins] I remember being 7 years old on a road trip with my dad. We were listening to The Jaws soundtrack over and over again. My mind was completely blown. If you listen closely you can still hear the echoing influences of John Williams in the music I make… I think… I hope… Both of my parents are great artists. I was, and still am, constantly enveloped by the visual arts. I started learning the family business at a young age and still make my living doing it. I see no difference between the visual arts and music. Music allows me to be more easily abstract and disconnected from the imagery that I am trying to convey, but it still always comes from same place.
[BS] You’re originally from the Seattle area… when did you move down to Los Angeles? What region influences your sound more - LA or the Northwest?
[JH] I moved to LA at 18 from a small ferry town called Mukilteo, Wa. I am inextricably bound to both places. Its hard to say which has sonically attached itself more to me. They are both so different. I like to think of my music as fungus encrusted and in a constant state of growth and decay. In this way I am influenced by the organic, wet, and florally lush environment in which I grew up. A place where my sense of discovery was harvested. LA offers me an entirely different kind of inspiration. Music for traffic, canyons, beaches, blonde girls, and billboards. California is my home now and I take beauty and frustration from it every day. I cannot help but represent it in everything I do. Home.
[BS] When listening to your songs, I can’t help but feel a staggering amount of attention to detail – precise textures, sounds that appear only once, field recordings, session recordings with other musicians, etc… while this would turn into a mess for a lot of artists, it always feels completely coherent and meant to be in your work. Is this something you’re completely conscious of when you work or do you just run with it depending on the track? How often are you outside collecting field recordings?
[JH] I’m really glad you don’t think its a mess. There is always a general idea and detailed vision of where I see the end product going, but that always changes. Being open to this change is key. The aleatoric and improvised elements that seem to inject themselves and force you to change, edit, and rearrange the idea into a new vision are always the most exciting parts. I refuse to neglect a healthy wrench in the works. I don’t even consider RareBit to be a solo project. I’m more of a compiler and editor - some of the sounds are made by me and some of them aren’t. My friends play a huge part in the project and so do the environmental noises I try to wrangle. Some elements pop in and upset the rhythm while others stay for a bit and simmer. My Tascam recorder is always close by - usually in my car.
[BS] In my head, many artists depict one or two or three color schemes in their work. While I don’t believe that I have full on synesthesia, my mind tends to gravitate towards one or two colors and different hues of those colors when listening to music. Surprisingly, ‘The Destroyer EP’ sort of just blasts my brain with all these different shades and hues flying at me… do you think that you have synesthesia? Does working in the visual arts inform the sort of “technicolor” aesthetic of your work?
[JH] I can’t really claim to have synesthesia. I wouldn’t know how to diagnose that. I do, however, know that I have an extremely active and vivid imagination. Everything I do comes from an imagined visual idea - an idea, like a film, that I am tying to soundtrack. This original vision is usually warped and mutated by outside minds and stimuli, but it always starts as a vibrant dreamlike image. The visual arts background definitely plays a huge part.
[BS] Can you describe the process of professional sound design that you do? I for one am certainly interested, and I know you worked on some big projects including the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai. Is there a difference in the way you approach commercial work and the way you approach your own music?
[JH] Sound design is something that I kind of just fell into. I snagged a couple big gigs while working at a place called Olio Inc where I was an illustrator and designer. Again, there is no difference to me between music and any other art form. its all just the same process of creation and adventure. So far I have been lucky enough to have had sound jobs that were very musical in process and allowed me to make up my own new sonic universes. In a way the Atlantis project is just a big art installation with an ambient RareBit album playing in the background.
[BS] Being the new guy on Non Projects, how do you think you fit in with the rest of the label?
[JH] I hope I fit in well. I’m excited to be here. I love everything you guys have put out. It feels like I’ve been following this stuff since the beginning.
[BS] Care to divulge one of your “secret weapon” recording tools? I know I saw a few lying around during my last visit.
[JH] I just try to stay open to all the weapons that present themselves - I know this sounds like a cop out, but I really just try to change it up for every track… OK - my Tascam DR-1
[BS] What can we expect on your upcoming Non Projects LP as compared to this EP?
[JH] Drums. New explorations in rhythm. Broader - Deeper - Collected.
[BS] Any recommended recent listening or reading?
[JH] Listening - Les Tetes Brulees, Everybody, Whats Up!, TIGERBITCH, COMBAT!, Pomar, Doudou N’Diaye Rose, Pharoah Sanders, Blood Bender, boredoms, Dimlite, Space Equator, Obi Lori, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Radiolab.
Reading - Short stories of Robert Walser, and Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter.