Featured Story - Marina and the Diamonds
Keyboardist and remixer Jon Shone began his career by giving up. Strange as that may sound, at end of a long string of dead-ends he ended up selling a keyboard through a classified ad. Through that sale he met a man tasked with managing a new group called N-Dubz, and the rest is history. Jon has gone on to work with a variety of other artists such as Ironic, Tinchy Stryder, V.V. Brown and most recently playing live in Marina and the Diamonds. We caught up with Jon in- between tour dates to chat about how he got started, and why heís rocking the Little PhattyÖ
Did you learn piano as a kid, were your parents pushing you to do that?
Yeah I had formal training but no, no-one pushed me. My parents werenít musical at all Ė they didnít give a crap, I could have done anything. I had a choice. I was really into swimming so it was like: band night, or swimming?
Of course theyíre totally related!
Ha, I know Ė I was getting quite up in my field of swimming, getting to quite a competitive level, and I was starting to have to make a choice where itís either band practice, or swimming on a Tuesday night. And I chose the band. And starting smoking twenty cigarettes a dayÖ
So how come you left for London?
Well, it was kind of like the only place thatíd take me was London. Iíd actually wanted to go to Leeds college of music to do jazz, you know. I was such a jazz head when I turned 18, so I was like ďJazz is the way forwardĒ and Iím glad I didnít get into Leeds, because Jazz isnít the way forwardÖ
As soon as I got to London I realised it was going to pave the way for me to get into the music scene. I saw the scene and realised this is it Ė where I want to be. I wanted to be in the pop world. So I came down here and did music at Middlesex university.
Did Middlesex Uni help you get into the industry?
They didnít give you any help, but in some respects thatís probably a good thing. They say Ďlook, youíre in the deep here Ė go and get some gigsí, and so you start hustling the gigs which is a good way I think.
I was doing restaurant gigs at Pizza Express, once a week, for a Pizza. And by the time weíd had everything off the menu, you know I just thoughtÖthis is not it! I was here to make a living. So I thought how do I get away from this? And get into the RnB scene? So I just started doing loads of unsigned acts and open-mic nights. Urban music nights where it could go on till 3 in the morning. You wouldnít really make any money from it, and youíd have to chase the guy down the street to get your money at the end of the night, but it was good fun, and it opened my eyes up to this world of other players Ė gospel players and groove players.
How did that relate to getting in with Marina and the rest?
After the unsigned stuff I realised I was kind of getting stuck in a rut, because you can just go round in the unsigned circuit for years without getting anywhere. So it wasnít until weirdly I was giving up really, and deciding to say sack that Ė Iíll get a real job.
I had a Motif ES6, and a few other vintage boards, and thought thatís it Ė so I put an ad out on Sound On Sound. And people were ringing up. ďAre you selling it?Ē, and Iím umm-ing and ahh-ing, and this one guy rang up, and he was really persistent. A guy called Tim. And I was like ĎNo Iím not selling it mateí, and heís ranting on about it Ė and Iím like ďIím still not selling itĒ. Then Iím sat in the bathroom and am like ďYeah actually, Iím gonna sell itĒ.
So I rang him back, and he came round. He was on a small label doing something with a band called N-Dubz that Iíd never even heard of. And we got chatting, and then we went to work on it together. When it first started, around 2007/2008 it was when they were just getting signed. So we co-MDíd that and I still work on that project to this day. By selling a keyboard on Sound on Sound!
Then from that I went on to work with Ironic, then Tinchy Strider, V.V. Brown for 9 months, then from that Iím working with Marina and the Diamonds.
So how did you come to get a Moog Little Phatty?
Well when I started working on the Marina live show, it was really a case of Ďhow do we make the most of this album live with the guys that weíve got?í
And itís a no-guitar band Ė two keyboard players, a bass player and a drummer. There isnít a lot of guitar tracking on the record, and wherever there is itís quite low in the mix. And for me, as the synth player, the pianos are the foundation and I kind of layer everything else on top.
And so for my rig I already had a few bits of pieces, and back in the day Iíd played the MiniMoog and the Moog Rogue. Iím not an in-depth synth player but I have a grasp of synthesis. So for me I needed something that would give me really great lead sounds for the solos we do, and some really nice things that sit lower down to cover those guitar parts.
We use four boards on this gig, and the one thing Iíll say about the Moog is since Iíve been using it, since Iíve had chance to mess about with it and get the sounds right for the job Ė itís the one thing that really cuts through out of all the boards, the one thing that when we want to take it up a notch, does.
Are there any other particular bits you use it on?
Thereís a song we do called Guilty, and I use a Moog lead at the end off the Little Phatty, and itís great. Iíve tweaked it, Iíve used the overdrive and itís great. Itís a great board. Thereís a bit at the end of the show Ė the drums are going mad, itís a real tribal ending, and I just switch to the Moog and just bring the solo in and it just cuts through.
Iím finding Iím using it more and more, which is the thing about it. I use an Alesis Micron, and a MicroKorg and a Korg M3 for strings and bits Ďn pieces Ė the really pop sounds. And the Alesis does a bit of analogue modelling, but Iím now switching away from the Micron because the sounds are all just a bit similar Ö itís a little too Euro. Iím moving some of my sounds over from there to the Moog because Iím just enjoying using it a lot more.
We do another song which we have to sync to a video, and I now use the Little Phatty arpeggiator to sync to that. It just sits really nicely against the video; and for live the latching mode is great because I know where I am on the board Ė Iíve got a lot of sweeping, lot of moving to do along with the arpeggiator.
One thing I notice with the Microkorg is when I play the arpeggiator Iím getting a little bit of drift now and then, but the Moogís really solid. No matter how many notes youíre running into it itís still tracking them really well.
Itís a great keyboard, really stable, and the VCOs are phenomenal. Theyíre ultra-stable and warm up really nicely together. And itís got the classic 24db ladder filter, which is just great, really great for sweeping.
Have you tried the Voyager?
The one thing I havenít tried is the Voyager. Every time I see it at a gig Iím like ďwhoah, I need to have a go on that!Ē It looks pretty amazing. If Iíd had the money I think I would have gone for the Voyager. But I thought Ė the Little Phatty Ė Iíve seen it and Iíve heard it on pop gigs, my mate uses the Phatty with Pixie Lott and theyíre just great.
Has there been any chance to use the Phatty in the studio?
With the tour weíve not had a chance to bring it into the studio, but I do really want to get more in depth with it. Every time Iím at a gig I sit and play for a couple of hours beforehand and Iím always finding something new, and enjoying creating really nice sounds with it. You know I was never like hugely a synth-head so for me itís really good to work with when I know the sound Iím looking for. And when someoneís starting out and really wants to get to grips with synthesis itíd be a really practical hands-on board. Itís like a Juno 106 Ė really practical and easy to see what such-and-such is and does.
The beauty of it is the simplicity.
Yeah thatís so true.
Weíve just done a bunch of European festivals, and thereís four or five thousand people, and you need one thing that cuts right through when itís needed to.
We do another song called ďAre you SatisfiedĒ and thatís a song where I use the ĎFusion Anomalyí patch, I think itís patch 84 Ė itís a real meaty womp womp Ė a really nice meaty thick sound. And thatís actually a guitar part on the record, but I wanted to get away from having guitar backing when thereís nobody there playing it. You can mask it a little bit in pop, but I wanted to recreate some of those sounds. And I thought - you know what, we can take that guitar rhythm and we can just switch it on to that Moog because itíll fill that frequency and I can adjust the filter so itís not massive up there, but it just sits in that bed where a guitar would. Itís so punchy and itís really good fun to play with, man. Iím really enjoying it!
For more info on Marina and the Diamonds, be sure to visit their site: http://www.marinaandthediamonds.com
For more info on the Little Phatty (and the new Slim Phatty), visit Moog online: http://www.moogmusic.com/littlephatty/?section=product&product_id=21113
And you can see and hear Jon doing his thing on the LP courtesy of YouTube:
For more information, contact:
Unit 6, Pembroke Buildings
Cumberland House Business Park
London NW10 6RE
T: 020 8962 5080
Photo caption 1: The Marina show in action. Credit: John Shore
Photo caption 2: Jons Marina Rig being prepared for action.