Home Interviews Interview: Jean Caillou

Interview: Jean Caillou

34 min read

First emerging in 2016, Swiss artist Jean Caillou quickly established himself with releases via Magician On Duty, RYNTH, Sag and Tre and Underyourskin Records, where his deep, melodious sound flourished. Moving forward, July of 2019 saw the Zurich resident make his Sound Avenue debut with a well-received remix of Joe Miller’s ‘The Days’. Deep and enchanting in equal measure, its organic vibe immediately won over DJs and fans alike, sparking what has been a fruitful relationship between the Belgian imprint and Swiss artist. Now on the strength of 2021’s ‘Departure Unknown’, Jean makes a welcome return to Sound Avenue with a sprawling five-track showcase entitled ‘Simplon’. We had a chance to catch up with Jean for an exclusive interview leading up to the release. Enjoy!

Hi Jean, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hi Mitch, thanks a lot for having me. My current mood is pretty good, somehow positive, energetic despite all. I just stumbled over a set from a year ago for the Elements Series curated by El Mundo which has a great vibe and some awesome tracks on it. But my hymn for this year so far is the Purple Disco Machine Remix of Rüfüs du Sols Treat you better. Such a cool positive track.

How’s your year been so far? And what are your plans for the coming week?

We all live through pretty strange times at the moment. On top of that I managed to have a little ski accident some weeks ago breaking my right hand and hurting my back. So my plans are first and foremost a quick recover. But as I said, spirits are high.

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

I consider myself only a producer and not a DJ at all. Although I always liked curating and compiling music on mixtapes I never deejayed and don't really dig a lot of new music. That's why I always was reluctant to do DJ mixes, it just would feel a little forced to me. Never say never, but at the moment I'm “only” a producer.

Do you think growing up in Switzerland had any effect on your career path into music? And if so how?

It surely had an effect. I believe every person reflects the environment, the society, the nature it lives and grows up in. Switzerland being a very liberal and open society and a rich country gave a lot of possibilities. In the end a career path, if there is any, is a meandering line of countless small steps you are not even taking consciously. Musical education, both classical and hanging out in some friend’s basement listening to all sorts of music from west coast to German punk. A city full of clubs and squats to go to and hang out, a country full of the most beautiful outdoor locations and raves. A near wood where you could go make your own parties, sometimes just five guys and a self-made sound system you would hear over miles. A great musician and producer Debal Sommer which happens to be a friend and first studio buddy. A lot of things coming together and affecting who and where I am right now.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

An unforgettable memory was back in 1998. At the aftermath of the street parade there was always this huge goa party called Zoom. It was happening pretty much in our backyard wood, so my teenage friends and I went there. Before that, I had only gone to drum n base and jungle parties and never had been to a place, where the DJs would play in a huge, towering illuminated eye and armored mad max looking guys on stilts would wander by you with their flamethrowers cozily warming your back. Entering the huge place in the midst of a big clearing in the woods, losing my friends within the first five seconds, the erratic hypnotizing lights, the crazy pulsating mass of lovely open-minded people, the relentless driving music, that all made me feel such an overwhelming freedom, I just knew, I wanted more of that.

What have been some of your favourite venues to perform or attend events at in Switzerland and why?

There are so many beautiful places in Switzerland where I was lucky enough to stomp with my feet on the ground. One to remember was in the ruin of a castle in the valley of Mesocco, a night full of flashes and thunder, breathtaking visuals and a morning giving warm light to an ever so happy dancefloor of survivors. I really like the outdoor vibe, dancing in the nature with nature surrounding you. clubs are cool to of course but my most beloved places like the Cabaret or the Dachkantine are long gone unfortunately. There are still some really nice clubs in Zurich like the Kauz with the best bar, the Hive with its beautiful tanzstube or the Zukunft but as I grow older I don't happen to go out that much anymore. For performances I only played my hometurf the Braui so far. Its's a rather small place, very cozy and familiar and if nothing else, one of the last real underground places in Zurich (at least one that I know of).

I find your music connects very well with art and nature, what are some of your biggest inspirations when working on new music?

I thought really hard about this one. I mean what influences me is clearly other music and all the memories of feelings and experiences I made. But what inspires me to make music is music itself.

You’ve gained some nice notoriety within the world of deep and organic house since first emerging just over five years ago, is there a release or track you could point to which had the most impact on your career thus far?

Most important were for sure the first releases with Debal Sommer, which opened the door to really lovely labels like Copy Cow and Bunte Kuh. Most impact in terms of plays and exposure had “There” on the EP Departure Unknown on SoundAvenue, which is funny because the track almost hadn't been on the EP. I had produced the track some years earlier and totally had forgotten about it still slumbering on the hard drive.

You have a new EP out this week on Madloch’s Sound Avenue imprint, tell us about the collection and how it showcases your sound.

It's a collection of more or less recent produced tracks, in this case recent means of the last two years (haha). My tracks on the one hand always reflect a mood or state of mind I was in when producing. On the other hand, as I'm learning by doing and still am learning, they reflect and showcase a sound of where I am at my journey as a musician.

What does your set-up like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of this EP?

People might be surprised or disappointed on how much I work inside the box. I use Ableton as DAW and no external analog gear except for my guitar. There are some few VSTs I've been using for years now and I expand that pack very slowly. Because of that, there can be small additions to my “setup” that make things exciting again and give new possibilities and (virtual) knobs to play with. On the EP I heavily used the Valhalla Freq Echo, a VST that is probably very standard for most producers. But as I only used Ableton stock effects for years, the Valhalla gave me new possibilities that I use pretty often these days.

This is your second original project for Sound Avenue (in addition to two remixes), what makes the label such a great home for your music?

Dominique from Sound Avenue is just a great and very nice guy. He's very supportive and the work with him has always been very uncomplicated, straight forward and fruitful. Besides that, the label has awesome artists and music on it and I just love the whole style and artwork. So I hope we can keep that collaboration going.

Generally speaking, do you find it more difficult to come up with original tracks than remixing a track from another artist?

It depends. Working on original tracks gives you total freedom but can be frustrating when you are not inspired and the ideas you come up with start to bore you rather sooner than later. In such a time it's great to have the possibility to work on a remix, given that the original track inspires you and you don't have a deadline haunting you.

What’s the task you enjoy the most when producing and what is something you’d rather have taken care of by somebody else?

I always begin a track by jamming and looping. The moment when a loop becomes something more, when all of a sudden a new track on top creates a vibe and gives the idea of where this piece of music might go, what story it could tell. I like that very much, if it’s happening. Then I like the process of arranging. To spread out a loop and make it tell a story. I'm still fascinated on how much an arrangement can make out of a loop and what big of a role context and time. Are playing. I admit arranging can be a nuisance as well but it's still creative most of the time. And then there is the mixdown. A task I still feel very insufficient and limited that I'd rather leave it to someone else than struggling with it.

What’s a piece of gear or software that always gets used when you’re writing a track?

I almost always use Omnisphere for all sorts of organic and real-life sounding instrumentation. It’s a bit of a love-hate because it can sound very generic and the presets are just overwhelming but then again, I don't want to build a violin first when I want to play one. So it serves its purpose and is still a very powerful synth you could make a whole track with. The Reaktor which I find a very versatile and inspiring VST I use also very often as a tool for all sorts of randomization. The Reaktor Randomstepshifter is great for percussion and drums but also for chopping up all sorts of samples in unforeseeable ways. With the Reaktor travelizer you can create awesome pads or atmospheres out of almost every sample. Both tools have some obscure features and are hard to control entirely, which gives the sounds that random- and uniqueness and is very fun and inspiring to play with.

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

I try to finish tracks rather quickly and don't really like to go back to them rearranging much once I exported them. After one or two arranging sessions, the track should be finished. Then I almost only road test a track with myself. I export it and put it on my old MP3 player (yes those things do still exist) listening to it in all day life, the daily commute or doing the groceries. I might still change some minor things but mainly if I still like the basic track after some time and/or don't forget it on my hard drive, I'll send it to a label. A lot of tracks that I finish I would not consider good enough for releasing though. But when I play such a track in one of the few sets I happen to release and people react very good on it, I might reconsider.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Oh that’s a hard one. The evening could start with an eclectic mix by Zurich local hero Lexx, interesting yet dancy music you could sip some cocktails to and get in the mood. After him, I aim high and spare no costs, Jeff Mills would take the decks and just guide us through the night with his flawless sense for the right music at the right time. From there he could probably play until the end of the party, and no one would say a word against it but you said five artists. So when the night is dark and the mood is already high, Turmspringer could make everyone just go totally nuts with their energy and pure fun displayed while playing. For the dawn I'd like to hear Gabriel Ananda with a beautiful soulful techno set leading energetic in a new day. For the rest of the day, I would let Isabeau Fort an open end slot to tell her awesome enjoyable musical tales.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

I don't know. Maybe having a studio in my flat with daylight and a sauna for matters and a jacuzzi would be nice. Oh wait, that wouldn't be a studio any more wouldn't it? Never mind. But as you mention it, I could finally buy that pickup for my old cello. That could be fun and it shouldn't be too expensive.

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Sergio Leones il Brutto il Buono e il Cattivo. I just love that movie since I saw it as a child. The characters, the scenery, the story, the pace and most of all Ennio Morricones masterpiece score. How could you not fall in love with that?

What’s a superpower you wish you had and how would you use it?

Solving every problem. Then I would solve every problem. And they lived happily ever after.

If you could travel anywhere for one day, all laws and limitations void, where would it be?

I'd go to 20th July of 1969, sit on the moon and have my high-definition camera ready.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and what made you do it?

I tend rather not focusing on potential risks but have confidence that things will turn out good. Thank god I don't know about all the probable risks I just slipped through in life, which is ironic to write with a broken right hand isn't it?

What is your current favourite place to eat and what do you generally order there?

It's a small shop at the corner of my street where I used to get lunch during the lockdown time. You get a very decent Kotu Roti there.

Who would you like to be abducted by aliens?

I'd go see for myself.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Seeing my daughter grow up and sharing some time with her and other loved humans on this spaceship called earth.

What does the remainder of 2022 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

The only thing in the pipeline right now is a remix I did for Dom but I don't really know when that will be released.

'Simplon' is available now via Sound Avenue: https://bit.ly/3t5sLjJ

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