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Johnny Jewel can't do it any way other than DIY. As a result, the producer and icy-cool synth-wielder for disco-noir duo Glass Candy has carved his own niche in the underground dance world entirely on his own terms.
During the past five years, Jewel has been a key component in Italo-disco's futuristic-dance-music revival via his Italians Do It Better label. In addition to the frosty arpeggios he sets up for chanteuse vocalist Ida No in Glass Candy, he performs and produces music with the darker-hued Chromatics and more idealistic Desire, and both acts are featured on the Oscar-favorite score for the Ryan Gosling stunt-driver flick Drive. With so many projects running simultaneously, does this studio madman and purveyor of chilled-out dance tunes actually have time to relax?
"I'm not really that much into chilling," Jewel says during a break from mastering one of the Chromatics' forthcoming singles in his Montreal home's basement studio. "Pretty much the only thing I feel like doing that doesn't involve music is sitting in the sun on the beach. Other than that, I'd much rather be working in the studio."
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Perhaps Florida's sandy beaches will provide some much-needed R&R and vitamin D, as Glass Candy performs at Miami's indie hot spot Vagabond this Friday and West Palm Beach's annual ghastly bacchanal, Moonfest, on Saturday.
In 2007, Jewel teamed with New Jersey-born punk-turned-DJ Mike Simonetti's influential independent Troubleman Unlimited label, which has released albums by experimental noise rockers Wolf Eyes and Black Dice, to form the dance-oriented offshoot Italians Do It Better. With the help of a glowing Pitchfork review of Italians Do It Better's After Dark compilation — which was originally a 300-print promo waxed for Glass Candy's 2007 tour — Jewel's vision, label, and affiliated groups like Mirage and Professor Genius have entered the discerning blogger vanguard, and the Italo-disco movement has entered the forefront.
Since then, the soft-spoken 30-something has produced, designed artwork and booked shows for, and performed with almost every act he has set to vinyl — all at his own pace. "I run everything; we have no deadlines, zero responsibilities," he affirms.
Glass Candy's last full-length album of new material, B/E/A/T/B/O/X, came out in 2007, but that hasn't impeded the group's momentum. Its latest 12-inch, the glitzy New Orderesque "Warm in Winter" single, sold out in North America in just under 24 hours. Look for a new Glass Candy full-length called Body Work sometime next year. With Jewel's many other projects, releases, and art-before-deadlines modus operandi, however, don't hold your breath.
"We've only put out two albums since 1999, so we are right on schedule," he says, before adding that one of the group's favorite bands, the Cramps, put out only four albums in 22 years.
A majority of the carefully crafted analog nuggets on Body Work were actually recorded back during the B/E/A/T/B/O/X sessions, Jewel tells us, explaining what would seem like an intentional shift to a heftier electro-pop palette is just an allusion. "Mainly, I sought a group of songs that fit well together that send a unified message." Jewel feels the result is a new album much more optimistic than the moody B/E/A/T/B/O/X.
As to the exact meaning of the Body Work title, his frolicsome vocalist No attributes it to her fondness for acupuncture and yoga: "It's more about metaphysical internal body work and less of the physical kind, I think, but [No] comes up with all the lyrics and titles, so your guess is as good as mine."
Adding to Jewel's many happy distractions of late was his teaming up again with Danish director Nicolas Refn — whom he dubs the director equivalent of Italians Do It Better due to his desire for full control in every step of his film — to provide music for the heralded crime-drama Drive. (Glass Candy's "Digital Versicolour" was featured in Refn's 2008 film Bronson, as well.) Unfortunately, Refn's decision to use Jewel's score was rejected by his movie studio bosses, and Desire's "Under Your Spell" and the Chromatics' "Tick of the Clock" are the only remnants of their collaboration that made it to the soundtrack.
"Too many people were involved in that decision," explains Jewel. "It had way more to do with a jumbled process than with any ill intentions." Making lemons out of lemonade, Jewel has plans to release some of the unused tracks from the film project as an album he is calling Symmetry. Fans have urged him to release all the unused material in its entirety, but Jewel feels it wouldn't be a classy move. "I don't want to pit people against the movie," says Jewel, who is so adamant to subdue any debate that he changed all the track titles so the public wouldn't know what scenes they corresponded to.
As for his future in film, Jewel is hesitant to confirm rumors that he'll be working with Refn again on the imminent, big-budget remake of 1976 futurist drama Logan's Run: "They asked me about it, but the movie is not shooting until 2013, and the screenplay isn't even done yet; they have my number. Run was a $16 million budgeted movie; Logan's Run is $200 million. If you multiply the amount of headaches and cooks in the kitchen based on that ratio, it's just not how I work."
The way Jewel works onstage with Glass Candy gigs is undeniably frisky, and he's quick to call the act his favorite in the performance setting. "The nature of the music is more bouncy and fun to do live," he says. "[Ida No and I] have been doing shows together since 1999, so we know each other really well and improvise quite a bit onstage."
Jewel has fond memories of playing Vagabond a few years back but not the foggiest idea what kind of scantily clad goblin and ghoul revelry he has signed up for at the 19th installment of Moonfest, a mass of costumed partiers clogging up Clematis Street. "So, there'll be alcohol?" he asks.
Look for Glass Candy's performance shortly after Moonfest's notorious costume contest at midnight Saturday. As an additional lure, Glass Candy will unveil its newest single, "Halloween." Jewel describes the song as a "snap-track," a rap tune set to "808 drums that are really slow and superheavy." Sounds like something the carousing Moonfest crowd will eat up entirely.