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Q&A: Pete Jon and his new ‘Deplacer’ LP

Lansing-based songwriter and DIY producer talks DIY synth-pop, techno

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Last month, Pete Jon released “Deplacer,” a synth-pop album that’s drenched in ethereal samples, arpeggiating keys and harmonious vocal melodies. The hook-filled, 11 track LP is available at petejon.com, iTunes, Spotify and Google Play.

Jon, a Lansing-based DIY producer says he grew up “all over the place” but has called Lansing home for the last six years. Read on to find out more. 

Genre-wise, you seem to pivot in a few directions. How do you classify your sound?

Pete Jon: I still am, and may always be, what we call a singer-songwriter. But I got bored with the strum-and-sing format and wanted to be able to make a wider variety of sounds, so I learned how to use a couple samplers and synths for live performance rather than the guitar. In that process, I’ve learned that I like making the sort of dance music I have always enjoyed dancing to and have spent some time with that as well.

Do you recall when you first got interested in music?

I got my start when I was 6, free-soloing dissonant melodies over the preset demos on an early ’90s Yamaha keyboard that my family had. When I was 12, I started playing guitar and writing singer-songwriter type tunes, inspired by Paul Simon and a bunch of really bad Christian music. I think I was trying to write to make sense of or engage with some absurd and violent and sad realities. In that respect, I haven’t really changed at all since I was 12.

The new album, “Deplacer,” sounds great. Where do you record at?

I mostly record in my home with my laptop. That’s freed me up to make a lot of recordings, beginning with some sincere, but cringey, efforts in high school. That was stuff I’d burn on a CD to give to my friends. A year ago, I deleted a backlog of eight records from my website in a fit of embarrassment, realizing that a lot of it was really harmful lyrically and also that the music sucked. So, now I have three records and a couple EPs of synth-and sample-heavy songwriter material on my Bandcamp page. I also have a smattering of instrumental house and techno-oriented music on my Soundcloud — like a living cliché.

What inspired you to start using loops in your music?

One of the things I enjoy about electronic loop-based sequencing is how much time you can lose making and exploring it. I quit smoking tobacco in October 2018 and spent lots of time with loops: house, techno and other dance music. That’s what I did for the next six months. I was distracting myself from physical and emotional cravings. In May 2019, I came out of that with some energy to write songs and made a record called “Joyride // Deathdrive.” As the title might suggest, it was equal parts despairing and determined in the face of things like hegemony and mortality.

Is writing lyrics something that comes natural to you?

I still go through episodes where verbal, lyrical content, what I have been most involved with for the majority of my music-writing efforts, is really difficult to access. It’s been soothing to turn to techno and house. Something hypnotic, not too complex or serious. This was the case with my newer EP, “Frender,” that I made the weekend the realities of COVID-19 were sinking into our collective consciousness in the US. I really needed to exist in a different space than my day-to-day life for a little while.

Looking back at the EP, I have never known how to evaluate electronic, loop-based music so I don’t know if “Frender” is any good, but I find it to have a unified, steady mood with the brooding of drones offset by the nervous urgency of rhythmic movement. This may or may not be a metaphor for my personality.

When there’s not a pandemic, where do you like to gig?

I mostly play — and most enjoy — house shows. I’ll occasionally travel the region. I try to play a show every two or three months. I find that allows enough time to keep re-arranging the material and working in new material for each show. My last long tour was in 2012. I got so bored singing the exact same stuff every night. Since then, I have de-prioritized touring, found other livelihood and try to keep it fresh and fun for myself.

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