Jon Sheffield Interview

sheffield.jpg Jon Sheffield has recently dominated my listening space with Calves Valves and Shore Hoses; both discs feature magically layered musical elements and generally subtle percussion, wrapped up in an artistically convoluted presentation.

I had to know more about the man who was making such wondrous noise. Thanks to Jon for sharing with us.

AmbiEntrance: Thanks for joining us at the AmbiEntrance; many readers may not yet be familiarized with you, so can you give us a bit of background.

Sheffield: born the 3rd of december, 1971. i've lived in the midwest all my life. travelled the country briefly..i have experimented with sound since an early age. when friends began throwing house parties, i started playing in public. this is when i became a little more serious with my hobby.

AmbiEntrance: How does life in Columbia, MO contribute to your music?

Sheffield: living in columbia doesn't contribute much to my music. it's a college town... it's not exactly a metropolis for new music - but it is definitely growing

AmbiEntrance: I tried to do some web research on you, and came up with an awful lot of soccer pages (i.e. "From the resulting free kick, Mark Bradshaw surprised Jon Sheffield who was alert enough to save his shot on goal." That's not you, is it?

Sheffield: nope ;) i'm not into many sports. i still enjoy skateboarding once in a while

AmbiEntrance: Tell us how Calves Valves and Shore Hoses came to be? Are these literally your first recordings?

Sheffield: a large portion of calves valves was from a live performance i did in '96. around that time, i was introduced to subversal / sparkling beatnik....so i prepared more tracks to compliment the performance and calves valves was released.

shore hoses was my first reaction to digital multi-track recording and music i was listening to. everything before this was lovingly layed over onto tape, done completely live or not recorded at all.

i have always documented sound somehow. i've looked at it as a sort of diary. my dad had a cubby hole with short wave radios, reel to reel and cassette recorders, etc. i remember doing "time stretching" by holding the fast forward or pause button halfway down thus speeding the tape up while it records.

AmbiEntrance: What does your dad think of the sounds you're making these days?

Sheffield: my dad has a great way of describing how he sees and hears tracks. he likes them :)

AmbiEntrance: Since you've experienced both sides, do you prefer digital recording over analog?

Sheffield: it depends on the sound i'm going for. digital recording is great for stuff that requires a lot of layering. it keeps the clarity up there. however, i still record on cheap cassette recorders to loosen up edges and add depth

AmbiEntrance: Give us the inside scoop on the creation of a "typical" track; where does it start, how does it evolve and when do you know it's done?

Sheffield: a "typical" track would start with a metronome...add beats or noises, melodies, basses, complimentary sounds, mutes, etc..feed the whole track through differently effected pannings...eat a tangelo...maybe run it into the pooter for some subtle dsp...come back to the track a few days later...then use what was left as background noise for a 'new' song.

for a 'non - typical' track i never really know what's going to happen....and these are my favorite to create

AmbiEntrance: Where do you think your music comes "from"? Do you credit any specific influences?

Sheffield: about 96.5% of my music is inspired by everyday life...the sounds i hear around me, dusk, craftiness, food, good coffee, thoughts of the future... the other 3.5% comes from the actual creation of the music and how it naturally progresses for me. i feel like a mere dabbler when i think of traditonal composers and how serious they were / (are) ? :)

i'm fascinated with the road experimental composers from the 1930's (+) paved for the artists of today...i also admire folks who play guitar, sing and tell stories...and i think about all the artists that have made music their entire lives - but no one has ever heard it...

AmbiEntrance: Where, in the scheme of things, would you place your music?

Sheffield: i would place it in a large field ..unaware of where you were. like if you were frozen for an undisclosed amount of time...no boundaries of territory to ponder. just the contrast and compliments of cloudy blue skies above green, green grass .... or possibly in the perpetually odious product, aging punk-rock, happy-post-pre-bored section of the record store ???

AmbiEntrance: What about gear? How fanatical are you about the equipment?

Sheffield: i'm neither an analog or digital nut. however, each one's "sound" has it's definite role. even if it's just the sloppy unconscience combination that becomes a soundtrack.

AmbiEntrance: You call yourself a "living room producer"; what equipment is in your bedroom studio?

Sheffield: it's very messy and lo tech - i have a cheap sampler, lots of $5 casios, 2 drum machines, a couple older midi synths, an 8 track adat, mixer, delay/reverb rack, tape recorders, toys, horns, whistles, harmonicas, music boxes, duck calls, weather radar, speak n spell/math, an electric and acoustic guitar, crappy microphones....

AmbiEntrance: Your song titles tend to be especially eclectic; where do they come from? Are they supposed to be "meaningful", or just designed to make us think/wonder?

Sheffield: a lot of the song titles are very meaningful to me. they usually just form while listening to them after they are finished. words and music can come so close to speaking the same language, while never caring enough to argue that they will never be the same. other titles are either sculpted from word fragments and letter combinations or intentionally labeled in a broad way.

AmbiEntrance: How about the meaning of these titles specifically... crowdy - the second or limexicant marathine from Calves Valves, and daubwelnd and elmergooze from Shore Hoses.

Sheffield: crowdy - the second is just a play on words. it reminds me of a crowded place with lot's of movement in the air. . the sweece report is breaker-music for the nightly news.

[i]haust possiblex is a reference to exhausting the possibilities of a track... layering so much that it becomes absurd. a tulip sent was a musical flower i delivered to my family. selphaing is me 'rapping' under the samples, etc.

AmbiEntrance: I've really fallen for wailstag... it's just gorgous; what can you tell me about that one?

Sheffield: wailstag is a sparse, hyper piece...each of it's few elements has it's chance to shine, spaciously. despite it's "danceability" it remains very sweet to me....

AmbiEntrance: What about the "File under..." tags which appear on both discs?

Sheffield: those were put on the cds without my approval. i was very bummed on them...it's very limiting...

AmbiEntrance: My web research also indicates that you were to play in Colorado at the nowhere festival in May; can you tell us about your performance? The event?

Sheffield: the festival was supposed to be friday - sunday. it started raining hard [very unusual for that time in colorado] thursday night and didn't let up until late saturday afternoon [right after everyone decided to cancel - go figure] but the beauty of the whole trip was how determined everyone was to have a good time. people from all over the country travelled a long way to nowhere...and never did i hear a single person complain. i think this positivity paid off in a big way. an indoor space was rented for a few hours. everyone got everything going FAST and it turned out to be one of the best parties i've been to...even though it was inside and not quite what everyone expected

AmbiEntrance: Do you play live often? What's your preferred venue?

Sheffield: i don't play live very often...outdoor festivals, picnics, clubs, radio, art galleries - i enjoy them all

AmbiEntrance: What about future recordings? What can listeners expect?

Sheffield: more personal music should see the light of day next year..

AmbiEntrance: I think you're off to an incredible start; where do you hope to go with your future releases?

Sheffield: the bank...so i can spend more time at home :)

AmbiEntrance: Many thanks Jon for sharing with us; anything you'd like to add while you're here?

Sheffield: thanks for asking me to do this interview ... hi gabe :)

This interview posted August 28, 1999 | Interview Index

AmbiEntrance © 1999-97 by David J Opdyke (except CD cover art, rights retained by original owners).