Very rarely do I happen upon a music review that is based purely on personal reflection. Music journalism doesn't teach us to do this. Luckily, I don't consider myself a music journalist. If anything, I am a music antithesis. I am not always objective. I do not always use the industry-standard jargon that content machines survive on. I almost only write about acts that I truly believe in, ones that add value to a city's music scene.
This is what led me to the discovery of an internet anomaly from Edmonton, Canada named Noel Jon, or, HundredMillionThousand. He appeared to be a renegade himself, an irreverent creative playing by his own rules. A year or so ago I wrote a review on HundredMillionThousand's freshman album, lp1. Emotionally searing and challenging all fundamentals, lp1 speaks to those who are learning to get along, whatever the affliction. He touches everyone, from an entire culturally-oppressed group to a person struggling with addiction. Before the production artist began his first tour, he took a moment to speak with me about his career.
Jessica: It's been about a year since the release of your full-length project lp1. Did you expect the sort of reception (and coverage) that the album received?
HundredMillionThousand: No, not really. My dad still hasn't heard it so I'm still waiting on that (laughs).
J: Off-shooting that, some of the reviews mentioned that your album serves as an audio diary of sorts, especially with those who connect to the message surrounding mental health. Did you keep that in mind when you released it, or intend for the album to have that effect?
HMT: Oh yeah, totally. I implemented a bit of that theme into the actual mailing process of the vinyl. For everyone who ordered a copy of lp1, I wrote them a personalized letter on a page ripped out of a "mood journal" that I kept while I was writing the album. I messaged everyone who ordered a copy of lp1 on vinyl the same question, "What causes you anxiety in life?" and people would reply with some pretty vulnerable answers. So what I did was write them a small letter, say something optimistic, related it to my life or the album, then shoved the letter inside the sleeve of the record with a CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) worksheet, then mailed it to them.
J: What kind of answers did you receive from fans?
HMT: When I asked people what makes them anxious in life, most people mentioned that they worry about not reaching their potential, holding in regret...a lot of American fans said they worried about their health since they have no insurance, Some wrote about their children or loved ones.
J: Not too many instrumental/production-based albums I feel like today are able to elicit something as powerful as that. You must've been floored.
HMT: Having complete strangers tell you about their pains in life was truly the most emotional part of the release. It was really heavy shit.
J: You mentioned that you moved to Toronto. Tell me a little bit about how life has been in the city for you. Is it totally different from Edmonton?
HMT: Yes, I miss Edmonton. It's the greatest city in the world. My cat still lives in Edmonton.
J: On your social media, you mentioned that a lot of Toronto locals have noticed that many great bands have been coming out of Edmonton lately. Does this surprise you?
HMT: Yes, because half of Edmonton is jaded as fuck and the other half actually cherish how collaborative, talented-per-capita, and “up and coming” our music and arts scene actually is.
J: When were you last in Buffalo? Are you familiar with the city?
HMT: I haven’t been to Buffalo before but I am super excited. I’ve heard it has a super rich music scene and is very collaborative. People tell me Mohawk is a great venue so I'm looking forward to it. And hey! Buffalo is not too far from Toronto. I’d love to come back regularly.
J: Let's get to your performance. Can you tell us about some of the visual aspects of your live show, and how they work in cohesion with your music?
HMT: I’m really proud of my live set, it feels super honest. My musical set is contextualized with video of documentary on Iranian story telling, Naqqali. There’s clips of the documentary interwoven between songs I perform, and a bit of what I’d call “live music-scoring." In essence, the documentary clips tell a story about an artist called “Gordafarid”, an Iranian storyteller, and the adversity of facing censorship in Iran as a woman. Every video clip sets a certain tone, so after it ends I play some music that superimposes that tone and/or bolsters it. Oh yeah, there’s projection visuals and lights and color identities per each song. I can’t tour with a laser, but yeah usually I use a laser sheet while performing that looks like a cool backdrop.
J: I feel like your music is most definitely meant to be enjoyed live but not in what we consider the normal "social party" atmosphere. As an artist, how do you find your music is translating to a live audience?
HMT: I find that many production artists, including myself, have a difficult time translating their music into a live performance. My music is definitely headphone-oriented (I'd like to think it's great driving music too, ha), but when preparing a live set for a room full of people, there's different factors to consider such as energy, pace, flow, the average millennial attention span, interactivity, soul. I don’t really give a shit about these factors when I’m composing; the studio headspace is more about answering the question, “How can I make an interesting/challenging piece of music that also sounds cool?”
J: Would you say you enjoy more of the studio time you spend with a project over performing live?
HMT: When there's a need to adapt your music to a live setting, to make it more fitting to the social experience, the process of adapting it can be painful as fuck. My friend Jonathan Kawchuk (composer) and I both resent adapting our music for live sets. In a way, it feels like butchering your beloved masterpiece that took hundreds of hours perfecting.
J: But being able to translate your message to different groups of people must be empowering to you, yeah?
HMT: Definitely. I grew up performing instruments and going to indie rock concerts. So naturally, I admire the humanistic aspect of creating music in front of people and revealing the relationship between artist and art, and the charm of performance.
J: Question I always wanted you to elaborate on: Your album artwork. What's the story behind it?
I like rocks.
J: (Laughs) Okay, okay.
J: Last but not least, what's next for HundredMillionThousand, aside from touring? What can listeners look forward to?
HMT: I'm working on a project with the Algerian-Swiss visual artist Yassin Siouda. There's no concept or plan really. We're making a dozen 30-second long abstract animation videos with wild music. Even after one album I’m already bored of writing in the typical album format of tracks and songs, so letting loose with some 30-second-long, unstructured, flex pieces of absolute hooliganism feels like a breath of fresh air. I am also starting to compose for film, and taking on the old Goliath of writing a "sophomore" album, which I hope to release in 2019. Ya boy is growing up, and freshman year is over.
HundredMillionThousand played with Basha and Fe'netiks at Mohawk place on February 21. For more information, visit the event invite.