We asked the venerable producer, keyboard player and composer to look back at his 2001 debut and tell us about the remastered version dropping this month
By now Jon Hopkins needs little introduction. His sonic appreciation and capacity for composition have led to work with Eno, King Creosote and even Coldplay. He has released records on Domino and Warp and has scored a host of films since 2009 to great praise. Not to mention 2013’s Immunity: hailed as a modern classic and nominated for a Mercury prize.
Opalescent was where it all began. Before then Hopkins had been working sessions and programming since his initial stint playing keyboards for Imogen Heap. 15 years on, the album comes out on vinyl for the first time having been remastered specifically for the format. We asked Jon to take a look back at that time and how his artistic approach has changed over the years.
Hi Jon. Had you been hassled for a long time to try and get this record on to wax?
Yeah there have been people asking for a while about the possibility, it’s great to be able to celebrate its existence this way. It was also really satisfying to re-master it for vinyl and get the most out of the sound.
It was 15 years ago now, what can you remember about putting the album together?
It was a beautiful time. I had zero expectations – writing solo music wasn’t my job, I was a session player and part-time programmer, spending my life helping other people make their pop tunes. I would write and record this stuff late at night in my bedroom in a grim house in Wembley and just dive into it, never thinking anyone would listen. I was discovering what it was like to make music in an entirely pure way and I haven’t quite experienced that innocence in writing since.
Equipment-wise, things were more stripped back for this record. How do you think that’s reflected in the sound?
I did the record with a Korg Trinity, a Yamaha SY77 and a PC with Cubase and Soundforge on it. I kind of think that since that era, when for the first time you could easily work with lots of full-quality audio files on a cheap computer, it has been mostly irrelevant what you write with, as the software and audio quality has been of such a potentially high standard that theoretically you can use any program to make anything you need, provided you are willing to put the time in to make it work. I didn’t change my set-up for another ten years after making this record.
How do you think your philosophy towards production has changed since this record?
It hasn’t really, even though my sound has. I still just work on instinct, moving through ideas that move or excite me and discarding those that don’t. Back then I had no previous work to move away from so maybe now I’m more inclined to feel a need to actively [make something different].
Do you think the record still serves as an introduction to your sound?
I’m not sure how many fans of the most recent album would go back to it and connect the two that easily, but there are common factors in there, certainly on the melodic or atmospheric side. The rhythmic side I think has changed beyond recognition but the overall intentions aren’t that different.
What were the influences pouring into this album?
I think I took on board a lot of the pop and song-based stuff I was working on for other people at the time. Electronic records that were big for me back then were The Orb’s Orblivion and all the ambient stuff coming out on Recycle Or Die, but I don’t think I had it in me to actually make music like that then. Listening back to it now, more than anything I hear traditional song structures, almost like instrumental songs – but built with the sounds I was into back then.
Looking forward to the new record, how has Opalescent informed your process now?
It’s so distant now, it’s hard to see parallels but the fact remains that making this record is how I first learnt how to structure an album, how to mix, even how to arrange my own tracks. All the things I learnt in that process remain relevant now. You only make one first record and there are many moments on here that still move me.
Opalescent is available to pre-order on double LP now via Just Music