March 18, 2019 / 8:30 PM

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John Digweed Talks New Album 'The Traveler,' Working With Author John Twelve Hawks, The Next Generation Of DJs, And More [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]



John Digweed and his longtime collaborator Nick Muir teamed up with bestselling science fiction author John Twelve Hawks on a new album called The Traveler. The album is named after the first book in Hawks' The Fourth Realm trilogy.

Hawks wrote the novel while listening to Digweed's mix albums and radio shows. After he finished the book, Hawks had his publisher send Digweed a copy to thank him for the role his music played in the writing process. Digweed read the book and wrote Hawks a note on his website telling him that he enjoyed it.

More than a year later, while clearing out his junk mail, Digweed found a reply from the author, mentioning that he'd be interested in a collaboration. They decided to create a piece of music based on passages from Hawks' work that the author would narrate.

Making this happen, however, posed some logistical issues. John Twelve Hawks (the author's pseudonym) lives off the grid and is strictly private. When they were unable to properly record the author's voice over the phone, Hawks agreed to meet Digweed in "in the middle of nowhere" to record the narration. They altered the sound of his voice to protect him from recognition, deleted the original files and haven't communicated since, save a few emails from protected account.

Their final product, The Traveler, is due out today via Bedrock Records.

Music Times spoke with Digweed about conceptualizing the album, his views on the future of underground DJs, and whether he's interested in scoring the film version of Hawks' books.

Music Times: You're new album The Traveler was inspired by the work of John Twelve Hawks. Can you tell me how you went about conceptualizing the songs after reading his work?

John Digweed: Nick Muir, who's been my studio partner for 20 odd years, and I kind of wanted something that was a journey. I know that's a bit of a cliché word to use, but we wanted for people who put on the album to not want to skip through it but to put it on from start to finish.

So there were moments when there was a bit of energy and then it came down and gave you a little break — moments of just atmosphere, different bits of drum and bass in there, bits of acid, some very ambient stuff. We wanted the spoken word that John [Hawks] had done for each track, based on each chapter of the book or that character, we wanted the music to kind of reflect that.

If you haven't read the book it might not quite make a much sense, but we wanted to just do something that you know had momentum to it, had pace, but also had a feel about it that you were intrigued about what was going to come next.

I don't really want people to just go onto iTunes and go, "Oh, I'll just download track 4 and track 7," you know. We've actually made it so that when you go on iTunes you can either download the chapters individually or as one continuous mix, 'cause that's how we'd rather people listen to it. I know people don't listen to albums the same way they used to, but we tried to create something that hopefully people will listen to that way.

MT: The only single to really come off this album is "3B3." Have you adapted it for your live show?

JD: Yeah, I mean that's the one we thought most leaned towards the dancefloor because it had that kind of old acid feel to it. Robert Babicz, who's also gone under the name Rob Acid, was sort of our first choice to remix that. We've got some remixes from him, and we also did an extended version for this beautiful picture disc that we did on vinyl.

We're just trying to make the package a very thought-out, collective piece. There's the vinyl then the CD, which comes in what feels like a book with the disc in the back in a little wallet, and there's like 32 pages of really nice images. We've kind of poured our heart and soul, not only into the production, but also into the finish product as well. I wanted it to be something that not only now but in years to come you can look back on it as a nice body of work.

MT: Did you envision the listening experience as a companion to the book at all or just as a stand-alone work of art?

JD: It's not something where you need to read the book to enjoy the album or vice versa. We had kind of been toying with how we were going to put this out, and we thought that it lent itself to some great images. It lends itself to being in a book-like form. I think nowadays everything is on MP3. No one has anything to hold in their hands anymore. So, we just wanted to do a limited run of a physical product for the collectors out there who will want it on their coffee table.

MT: I read that Warner Bros. bought the film rights for Hawks' The Fourth Realm trilogy. Would you ever see yourself being involved with scoring those films?

JD: I mean I'd love to. We've worked on soundtracks before, Nick and myself. We did the film Stark Raving Mad and had tracks on Trainspotting and Groove. We also did the music for Spider-Man, the animated TV series. We've hopefully got the credentials to do the job; it's just whoever directs the film usually has the say in who does the sound to it. I don't know if John [Hawks] has any control over that, or if he has just sold the rights. If the opportunity came up, I'm sure Nick and myself would jump at it. But I'm not holding my breath, if that makes sense.

MT: Did Hawks choose the passages he narrated on the album or were they ones that resonated with or inspired you?

JD: He basically sent us a list of passages that he wanted to narrate, and then we kind of cherry picked the ones we thought would work best with the music. There were a few more left on the cutting room floor, but when it came down to it, these were the ones we felt worked best.

MT: When can fans expect to hear this material live?

JD: I've actually been playing "3B3" for a year. So yeah, this project has been done for quite some time, but we had another album that was planned for last year, so we didn't want to be in a situation where we are trying to put two albums out a couple of months a part.

Because this one wasn't time sensitive, we didn't feel the need to get this out last Christmas. We wanted to do it this year, and because John Twelve Hawks has his new book [Spark] coming out [October 7] it kind of made sense after speaking to him to do it around the same time.

MT: John Twelve Hawks, like you, would be described as underground. He is very secretive, hides his identity and puts his work in the forefront rather than himself as the creator. Did that draw you to wanting to work with him, considering you're known for doing a similar thing with your music? What was that experience like?

JD: It was quite cool. The first time I spoke with him, he was talking to me on the phone with a voice scrambler. It was almost like having a conversation with Darth Vader. It was quite surreal, and he later told me he did the same thing with Steven Spielberg. I can imagine what Steven Spielberg was thinking. But I think there's something unique about it. We live in a world of selfies and people just wanting to publicize themselves all the time. Then here you have someone who doesn't want anyone to know who he is. I think there is something quite nice about that.

But yeah you won't see me fist pumping. I've never been a showman. I've always wanted the music to speak; that's the front-and-center part of the show. So I feel like with good music, you don't need me to throw my hands in the air to encourage you to have a good time. The music speaks for itself.

MT: It is no surprise that EDM has captured the mainstream in recent years, but when you started, your music was still underground. I was wondering if you've seen a change in the demographic of your club audience after you've exposed EDM fans to your sets at big festivals?

JD: Yeah obviously if you look back to the mid-to-late '90s when Twilo was at it's peak and that crowd that was coming to hear me, there are probably only a handful that make it out now, but they still come out and have a good time.

I think the beauty of being a DJ is that even though I've been around for a long time, my audience still seems to stay the same age in front of me. So, yes there are a few older faces, but predominately I'm playing to a fairly young crowd that want to hear good underground music.

I mean I don't really play the really big commercial anthems, so you know I think people respect me for what I do as an artist. They know they're not going to hear what all the other DJs are playing. There is an element of, "What's he going to do this time?" It's nice that I've got a lot of old faces that come, but there are also a lot of young people that want to come hear what I do as well.

MT: What are your thoughts on the next generation of underground DJs?

JD: Every week there are new DJs coming through that aren't playing the big main stage anthems that are getting lots of great reactions in underground music. As much as people want to go to the main stage, I think you've seen in New York that you've got Verboten, Output, Sankeys, all these clubs that are opening up all specializing in cool music not just the mainstream.

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