Danielle De Picciotto & Friends: Jonnine Standish

Jonnine Standish: “A long rewarding description of what was originally maybe 5 seconds of life”


The moment I saw Jonnine Standish for the first time is etched in my mind very clearly. I had been hosting an event series “Bada Bing” in 2003 and invited the Australian band The Devastations to perform. They ended up staying in Berlin for much longer than anticipated and one day I met the singer at a party where he introduced me to an unfamiliar, beautiful girl.

Berlin was full of eccentrics back then and to stick out in that crowd was difficult, but this woman did so without trying. Her aura of introversion and simultaneous rapture was so strong it was almost like an out-of-body experience. Conrad Standish, her soon to be husband, introduced her as Jonnine, an extraordinarily fitting name. A little old-fashioned, almost tom-boyish but as exquisite as the name bearer turned out to be. The only other woman I have met who had a similar air of fairy dust was Anita Lane.

Jonnine, an extremely talented musician and singer had just founded her band HTRK, a trio, together with Nigel Yang and Sean Stewart and during her performances she would stand next to a huge drum and rhythmically hit it loudly whilst dreamily singing ethereal lyrics. The shows were mesmerizing, absolutely unforgettable. Jonnine moved back to Australia sometime later and besides working with Nigel on new HTRK albums she has been releasing solo albums since 2019. These solo albums reflect my first impression of her utterly as does the inscription on her Bandcamp page: “the world of these songs is imagistic and unrequited, attuned to absences and afterlifes“.

Jonnine Standish will be releasing another solo album “Maritz” on February 16th, 2023, which is a beautiful collection of her signature sound: wistfulness combined with an eclectic array of scavenged instruments, playful soundscapes and softly sung personal stories. I was delighted to be able to catch up with her and chat about this new and poignant creation.

Danielle de Picciotto: You have just released another solo album. What is the difference for you doing solo albums in comparison to your HTRK collaborations (besides the fact that you work by yourself on solo albums).

Jonnine Standish: The biggest difference between HTRK and my solo work for me besides being profoundly connected to a bandmate is the ideas on what perfectionism means to me compared to quickness. Also maybe there is a shift in earnestness to silliness and the sense of a devotional audience compared to just me and my dog. All of these traits exist inside of me and I’ve managed to compartmentalise them inside of HTRK and my solo work. HTRK is more socially and thematically interesting to me however my solo work is more of a personal energetic release with less judgment.

The title is unusual. Does it have a meaning? Does the new album have a specific theme?

It is my mothers Maiden name Maritz. My mother ran away from home as a young teenager and would never talk about her family again even up until she died in her early 40’s when I had just turned 21. The only thing I do remember her saying is that her parents ripped up any photos of her as a child. Her family was originally from Switzerland and there is some Jewish heritage on her side of the family as well. When I dream of her occasionally she is mostly walking away from me and if I do get close enough to say something to her, she never speaks and she is sometimes without a face.

The name itself is the meaning. The name has become a ghost inside of me, it only means something to me like an inexpensive keepsake that is so deeply sentimental that if lost, I would become heartbroken. The theme of the album is friendly house ghosts.

What are your greatest influences? You have lived in Berlin, London and Australia – does your surrounding influence you?

My greatest influence is how I move around the streets of the cities I’ve lived in, for example in London you can never let your guard down and our music was more menacing or cooler for it. Berlin became a swirl of social engagements, stumbling home at 5am and waking at 5pm, there wasn’t much productivity in this city but lord we tried. I’m also influenced by the interior spaces I spent time in these cities over months and years and also the memory of these spaces. My Australian family home is a recurring symbol that glitches itself into dreams till this day and old rehearsal rooms and living rooms. I can still feel the grey scratchy carpet texture of a HTRK rehearsal room in London with the scent of drummer man sweat from the previous band and the white fluoro tube lighting above. Right now I mostly move around the rainforest and animals and spiders are talking to me and finding their way into my visions and music.

What do you look for in music?

It changes as I change but for the moment what I’m looking for in music is a sense that I could make this music myself. There is something quite generous about sharing an idea before it is overthought. I feel it’s in the spirit of – here’s where I’m at with this idea, how about you take it over. This is the spirit I like most about DIY. I also like songs that anyone could cover from any genre on one instrument and voice alone. The skeleton or the soul of the song is so there that anyone could put themselves into it and it would still continue to be that song. I am drawn to observational lyricism of the overlooked or the stepped over, that I wish I had thought of. I look for a conversational and nuanced form of storytelling that transcends the act of ‘singing’. A long rewarding description of what was originally maybe 5 seconds of life. The documented human experience of the mundane can take on a bigger lifeforce and sometimes become an even creepier animation which I am drawn to. I also look for lyrics about bad days, a terrible Valentines Day, an expensive Christmas, gossipy neighbours. I look for emotion in instrumentation that you might not instinctively put together like silliness against loss or a sense of longing with daintiness. This feels weirder than just polar opposites. I look for little sounds that just appear out of nowhere and you never hear them again.

Are you a tech nerd? How do you record your solo work?

My initial response was to say that No! I am not a tech nerd because I don’t get into watching youtube tutorials on drum machines but I think in my own way I am a tech nerd and it’s more interesting to me to think about why I think that is. I recently love talking about tech with female musicians which was not a thing I experienced 20 years ago! We have a different way of talking to each other about tech, I can’t explain it though. Maybe they are the only ones who ask my opinion. I also stay optimistic that there will be more hardware and software designed by women and non-binary people.

I recently lost my fear of reading manuals and will even read them on the plane. I don’t have very good recall or memory from verbal instructions so I learn by the physicality of doing things with my hands through trial and error. In this way I have taught myself a very DIY approach to Ableton, recording, producing and mixing. I studied art and design (before personal laptops) and I taught myself all of the design programs and I edit home-made films in imovie. I went deep on virtual reality for a spell and helped create a wild VR Ghost Train with complex sensory carriage mapping that premiered at Sydney Festival in 2018. I read up on new technologies without the desire to apply them. Although I’d be down with an AI chat bot to study the way HTRK communicates and take over our instagram. I studied classical piano and recorder from age 8 and could read music but dropped off in my teens. I had saxophone lessons for a couple of years in London (on Bond street!) but retained hardly any information because of the verbal teaching style and my life was in disarray. However, in early 2020 I taught myself bass guitar from a youtube tutorial where you play together and now have personal lessons on technique.

I love talking with Nigel, my bandmate about production techniques and how to best record instruments and vocals and what microphones to use and why and what distance is best for room mics for emotional warmth. He makes tech seem super romantic and personal. I mess around with different mics in my studio (Neumann U87, Shure SM7B and a Telefunken). The way the hardware feels and looks really affects me and I love Roland gear and the TR 808 it’s just the best sound with friendly coloured buttons. I like finding pedals that do one or two things well and that’s it. I recently acquired a Moog MF delay pedal I use on everything. I can get overwhelmed with wires but when I’m in the zone it’s absolute chaos and I’m completely content. My personal recording spaces always seem to look unhinged and the opposite to what you see in academic music magazines with white walls, pine desks, ergonomic chairs, lovely natural light and wire organisation. (that used to depress me)

I have a minimal hardware palette and a new Hofner bass guitar  And then collected acoustic instruments and objects of oddness to make sound all around me. I can get pretty nerdy on the history of acoustic instruments and go deep on ebay and gumtree and have a private pinterest board wishlist. That’s probably where I nerd out the most. I have several vintage books on making handmade wooden folk instruments and had a zither restrung with guitar strings.The tuning was inspired by unusual string gauge combinations.

I don’t usually wear headphones doing my vocals on my solo recordings for some reason I think it’s because headphones feel a bit more like ‘work’ or dissociates me physically from the music. So in the background of my recordings you can hear bird calls and the sounds of nearby chainsaws and my dog scratching. You can hear the ghosts of rejected vocal takes and basslines.

I prefer to record early in the morning before 9am. Before everyone’s collective day job energy makes the air busy. I’m closer to dreams and I like feeling like I’m ahead rather than behind. I work best if I have the whole day ahead of me with nothing else planned for distraction. If my husband Conrad hears what I’m working on and wants to collaborate with me I know I’m onto something good 🙂 I break one song into tiny tasks. It’s all about little tricks to get myself into routine and habit. So this morning I’m going to spend the whole morning trying out vocal melodies over a groove. I might later fill these melody hooks with lyrics or instrumentation. I have a large whiteboard list to methodically tick off tiny achievements, steps might read

– wake up (tick)
– remove that one annoying bell

I get a hit of dopamine from ticking things off and it propels me forward. Once I get adrenaline mixed with an indescribable intuitive feeling of excitement and then I know the song is finished.

You have a great sense for the avant garde – be it in music or fashion. What are the four most interesting things you have noticed lately that you think will be ground breaking in the future?

Thank you I’ll give it a go!

Larry David’s wardrobe  I think Larry David’s wardrobe will be a main subject in fashion schools in the future. The quality fabrics and the layering, the rejection of patterns for understated refinement is something to behold. He is always comfortable for any situation in long sleeves and tailored trousers. I think his aversion to shorts is futuristic style.

Wearing memories – Keepsakes from travel and memories of nice days and shows will be hand sewn onto garments and embossed into rings and other jewellry. Band merchandise will be more intimate for each fan with screen printed personal notes and good luck charms. Fashion designers will do more one-off pieces with the customer’s psychic energy in mind.

Archiving – We’ve compartmentalised our memory to our phone and hardly return to look at our photos. I think there will be a shift back to archiving our lives to look back on. This may take the form of the return of the physical photo album and dream diaries. Touring musicians may archive memories online or print diaries. I think more fashion designers will have archival stores.

Workday from 6am-noon – With all of our working hours doing a rethink I can see a shift for musicians and more office workers to clock on a more spiritual working day inspired by monks, farmers and ‘tradies’ tradespeople, writers and painters. After a deep session of work while our brains are high functioning and closer to dreams, the rest of the day will be for living.

What are you working on momentarily and what are your plans for 2023?

At this very moment I’m writing a new HTRK album with Nigel. We have a bunch of demos but there is one song in particular that might be the jumping off song. That’s a good feeling when we are in the midst of this private world. My solo album ‘Maritz’ is coming out on Idle Press (Paris) and I’ll just let that do its thing. My big plan for 2023 is to be more of a romantic nut with my husband Conrad and my friends who I appreciate. I also plan to be on time, maybe even show up annoyingly early this year.


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