A Conversation W/ Electronic Producer Mark Pritchard And Iconic Artist Jonathan Zawada
Pop quiz. What do all of these names have in common: Reload, Harmonic 313, Global Communication, Reload & E621, 28 East Boyz, Jedi Knights, Use of Weapons, Vertigo, Pulusha, Shaft, and Africa Hitech? Don’t even bother phoning a friend because they won’t know either. These are all of the aliases of Mark Pritchard, who is one of England’s most iconic electronic musicians. Since 1991, Pritchard has been part Man Behind the Curtain, part United States of Pritchard for the UK’s experimental electronic movement.
For his latest album, Under the Sun, with Warp Records, Pritchard returned to his given name, injected nursery rhymes sung by Julie Andrews and vocals by Thom Yorke, and then wrapped it up in a layer of otherworldly beauty with the help of artist and collaborator Jonathan Zawada. Over the years-long process of creating the album, Zawada became the Robin to Pritchard’s Batman. The Kim to his Kanye. The… Well, you get it. Zawada is a bit like the art world’s Pritchard without the name changes. He’s an Australian visual artist, graphic designer, and creative designer who’s just as likely to do a gallery exhibition as he is to do album artwork, making him the perfect creative partner for Under the Sun‘s eclectic sound.
Across nu-wave, avant-garde electronic and folk music influences, Zawada has been creating a gallery’s worth of art with Pritchard since the pair teamed up a few years ago. Luckily, the art they created together found a home within Red Bull’s weeks-long Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York, the energy drink’s month-long music and arts festival that features everyone from Spike Lee to Milk fav Anohni. With the help of Warp Records and RBMA, the duo presented a collaborative A/V installation titled Mark Pritchard x Jonathan Zawada: Under the Sun at the Red Bull Studios last week. In the midst of their installation, we caught up with Pritchard and Zawada to talk about how everything came together, the trials and tribulations of genre-hopping in the music and art worlds, and the other Mark Pritchard (he’s an erotic novelist).
How did this creative partnership come together?
MP: Going back to when I first started working with Jonathan, I’d asked Dom Flannigan, who runs LuckyMe, to send me some designers that he thought were really good. He has really good taste in art and he’s a designer himself. I got sent ten peoples’ websites and I found that everyone had a [specific] vibe.
What I liked about Jonathan’s stuff is that there’s a lot of different things going on and I think that’s what drew me to his work because it’s similar to what I do—I make music in a lot of different styles. I’d wanted something different and wanted someone I could trust that I didn’t have to direct. I just wanted someone to go and do whatever they want to do. Listen to the music and be free.
JZ: Well, you’d been releasing different music under different names for so long and, weirdly, Warp were keen to have you start releasing music under Mark Pritchard and have me come in and do something that was consistent. Like Mark was saying, he responded to the diversity of stuff I do. In the beginning, we really got along—I love that you were releasing stuff under different names. So it kind of backfired because I love that idea of there being no consistency.
“Doing something like an album has a much bigger cultural impact than doing an exhibition in a gallery. It actually connects with people and has an effect.”
MP: We were just chatting about protecting yourself when you’re trying to be creative and having the freedom to do exactly what you want with no outside interference. We talked about that a lot. I always do what I want to do and don’t let anybody interfere—I’m quite stubborn. In the design world, it’s obviously slightly different. Obviously, when you sign to a label they’re going to maybe mold you into a certain thing, but Warp is not that kind of label. When you’re doing something for a client and they say, “Do whatever you want,” and you do, they [usually end up saying], “Well, actually…”
JZ: “How about…,” “Can you…,” “I like this, but maybe…”
MP: Yeah. They basically want you to do what you did before that they liked. That’s what used to happen in music when people would ask you to do a remix and say, “Do what you want and you do,” but then it’s something completely different and they go, “I actually want you to do it more like this track you made.”
Talking to Jonathan, I said just listen to the music and create what you feel. I saw the first few [images] and thought it was fucking unbelievable. It evolved over a long period because it started when I first began to make the album a few years ago.
JZ: Yeah that was really nice because it let the artwork evolve as the music and album were evolving. That’s totally opposite to everything else I normally do when making album artwork, where the album is done and the record label has a position or direction they want to [go with] it.
What made you decide to keep switching your names?
MP: When I started in the ’90s, you had to [switch names] because people were very into their genres. If you were a techno guy and you made a house tune, the techno guys would be annoyed and the house guys wouldn’t check you out because they think you’re a techno guy. I had to keep tricking people, just do the music, not say I’ve done it, and let it speak for itself. I was quite worried about using my name because Mark Pritchard is not exactly… If I was doing some kind of sci-fi space album, it’s not a very spacey name. Someone was taking the piss on YouTube and said my name sounds like a geography teacher. [Laughs]
Jonathan, you also jump between art styles. Have you had any blowback because of that in the art world?
JZ: It’s equally problematic in art and design in the same way and I’ve dealt with the same stuff over the years. People really identify with one thing like pencil drawings or hard graphic design and then think the rest of it is crap because it’s not their vibe.
MP: I suppose you also got to navigate the art world since you do stuff in galleries.
JZ: That’s an even bigger nightmare because the art world basically sticks their head in the sand when you do something like this. I’ve had big arguments and long discussions with curators and people in fine art about the fact that, for me, doing something like an album has a much bigger cultural impact than doing an exhibition in a gallery. It actually connects with people and has an effect. No matter how big an exhibition is, it’s not the same. It doesn’t have the same meaning to viewers.
Mark, on the album you have this nursery rhyme with Julie Andrews. How did that come about?
MP: It’s on an album of nursery rhymes for kids. It’s the kind of stuff I listen to but then I heard that bit and wanted to sample it. I like the sentiment behind the nursery rhyme, too. It turns out the origins of the song were from the 1700s, which meant I didn’t need to clear the copyright to use it, because obviously… [Laughs]
MP: I’d already done some remixes for Radiohead, and then I was in Sydney and he came to a gig I was doing. He had a night off so I told him to come down and I didn’t really know if he would come. They’re into new music so whenever they have a night off, they want to hear some good club music. I just asked him at dinner if he’d be interested in working with me and he said he’d do whatever I want.
After that, we just kept in contact online because everything is done online. Eventually I wrote some things for him and sent him four tracks and told him to have a listen and see if he was into them. He did two straight away and it took a long time since he’s a very busy guy, but luckily it’s taken me ages to finish the album anyway.
They just deleted all their social media to promote their new album A Moon Shaped Pool, which is pretty wild. Are you heavily into social media and keeping an online presence?
JZ: I am with Instagram but, recently, my Instagram’s been co-opted by fans of the music that I’ve been designing for so I don’t really feel like it’s mine anymore. It’s a bunch of Mark’s fans. [Laughs]
Do you tweet?
JZ: Most of my Instagrams automatically go to Twitter, which unfortunately… Mark’s username for Twitter and Instagram are different. If I tag Mark on Instagram and it posts to Twitter, it tags a totally different Mark Pritchard.
MP: Yeah, the erotic novelist Mark Pritchard. [Laughs]
JZ: He likes all my tweets!
MP: He’s a nice guy and I apologize to him every now and again. I warned him that when the album comes out, this is going to start happening again. He’s really nice he actually forwards on tweets.
He actually writes erotic novels?
MP: Yeah, he’s definitely written some and he does other things. [Laughs]
Maybe you could team up and have him write something for your next album so you include everyone.
JZ: [Laughs] Mark Pritchard featuring Mark Pritchard.
Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York is presented by Red Bull and runs through May 22. Check out more info here.
Lead image by Kathryn Chadason. Images courtesy of Red Bull Music Academy. Additional images from Under the Sun.
Stay tuned to Milk for more genre-hopping legends.