Wellingtonian Eddie Johnson – AKA Lontalius, AKA Race Banyon – is busy. US label Partisan Records took Lontalius under their wing last year, and are gearing up to releasing Eddie’s debut album, I’ll Forget 17, this March. Following 2015’s shows in Los Angeles and New York, Eddie closed the year at Rhythm and Vines, but the smell of firework sulphur had barely dissipated before he was back on stage in 2016; opening for Jamie XX, playing Laneway and DJing at Auckland Art Gallery’s new rooftop series Anno Domini.
This weekend, Eddie returns to Splore Festival 2016 as Race Banyon. We spoke about the creative challenges of producing two musical projects and what Splore punters can – or won’t – expect from his set.
Lontalius is really taking off; you’ve been signed to Partisan records and you’re releasing a debut album. How do you approach Race Banyon while Lontalius gains so much traction? Is it easy to find time for both projects?
It’s easy to find time but it’s kinda harder to find inspiration, you know. Musicians are influenced by which of their songs are gaining popularity, and because so many people are starting to listen to Lontalius now, I’m really inspired by it and want to make better music. Race Banyon’s a bit quiet - I don’t have the urge to work on it as hard. But you know, it’s all me, so as Lontalius progresses, so does Race Banyon just naturally, and I get more opportunities through advancing Lontalius.
Do you find you have to motivate yourself to focus on Race Banyon, or does it come naturally?
I do have to motivate myself, but I’ve been DJing a lot recently and I do really love that - it’s definitely a different experience to playing a guitar and singing songs. But different in a really good way, it’s like a different side of my brain that I get to use.
Do the projects ever lend sounds to each other, or do you try keep them quite distinguished?
They definitely lend sounds to each other. I mean, I’ve noticed in the past few years that my favourite electronic songs, and my favourite R&B songs, and my favourite indie rock songs – they all share the same qualities, in that they’re very atmospheric, and quite emotional. So it’s all the same, you know, I can’t pretend that I have two different personalities in my head.
You mentioned you’ve been DJing quite a bit lately - how have those 2016 gigs been going? You got to open for Jamie XX, that’s pretty huge.
Yeah, that was really cool. Very nerve-wracking, because I feel like a lot of the songs I DJ are songs that I have 'cause I’ve seen Jamie XX DJ them, so that made me anxious. But they’ve been good. DJing is surprisingly tough, like, trying to find your own voice, because I could so easily play three hours of house music that I don’t really care about. It’s more about trying to work out how to be unique in what I play without it being too confusing, or no one wanting to dance to it.
You played Splore last year. What can festival-goers expect different from 2016?
I don’t know, last year was one of the first times I just DJed at a festival like this, but I had a really good time. People will just go to a stage and start dancing, doesn’t matter who’s on or what kind of music they’re playing, which is really cool. It’s really exciting as a DJ to see that, because you can start taking more risks, and play songs that you might be a bit scared to at other festivals.
Are Splore crowds any different to, say, Laneway crowds?
Yeah, I think so. Laneway crowds can be kinda - I don’t want to say pretentious, but like, a little bit like that in that they want to see their favourite band, and then after that they need to go eat lunch, and then after that they need to be in the front row for their other favourite band. It’s this very planned out, specific thing. Whereas at Splore, like I said, people will just go up to a stage and start dancing, doesn’t matter who’s on or what they’re playing.
You’ve got some new Race Banyon releases in the works - what can people expect from those sounds, compared to your EP Whatever Dreams are Made Of?
They’re pretty different. I reckon there are similarities, but I did some stuff with Red Bull Sound Select when I was in Los Angeles with some pretty exciting people that I worked with. The first song comes out on Thursday, and it’s - I don’t want to say funny, but it’s kinda funny to me that it happened. But it’s cool, it’s a cool song.
[Editor: here's that song...]
Are you excited for people to hear it?
Yeah, I really want to know what people’s reactions are.
When you’re approaching Race Banyon shows, what makes a successful set?
I mean, I want people to dance, and I want to technically do well with what I’m doing, but I think it’s more like, I want to play something that maybe I would have been too scared to play somewhere else. The last few shows I’ve been playing 1901 by Phoenix, which is not - I mean, it’s a dance song, but it’s not a “dance song”. I love that kind of thing, you know. When you’re DJing you can be restricted a lot by the kind of thing DJs are supposed to play. I want to play stuff that’s a bit unexpected and I want to have a fun time.
Are you ever tempted to really fuck with people and just do something dumb and crazy?
I have actually put some Paramore songs onto my USB sticks, so maybe some day they’ll come out.
Your Red Bull Music Academy gig was pushed forward to Montreal this year, after the Paris attacks. How do you feel about that change?
It’s interesting. Paris is quite an important city for me, in terms of being quite inspired by the music that’s come out of there, so it was really exciting that I was going to go there and meet some of these people I’ve been idolising. But I think it’s actually going to be really cool in Montreal, because I don’t really know anything about music in Montreal so it’s going to be a different experience - I won’t know anyone there and I won’t know what to expect. Which I think is maybe what you want from these kinds of things. It’s just like two weeks of full-blown inspiration.
I think Grimes started making her music in the basement scenes in Montreal.
Yeah, I’ve heard it’s very, like, there’s a lot of illegal warehouse parties and stuff like that, it’s quite a thriving scene.
Is there anyone/anything at Splore you’re excited to see/do?
Little Simz is playing, I really like her. I hope I get to see her.
Hear Race Banyon’s new song with Ty Dolla $ign and DJ Dahi here, and catch him this weekend at Splore: Saturday, Jager Bar, 4:30-6pm.