There’s no sense in presenting it any other way. You may not know the name Justin Meldal-Johnsen, but you really should. Chances are you’ve heard his phenomenal bass playing, songwriting or production in some of the best bands and on some of the best albums over the last 25 years and not even known that he was involved.
Watch the entire video interview at the bottom of this post.
All video edited and post production by Nathalie Sejean.
All photos by Raymond Flotat.
As a simple primer, Meldal-Johnsen was a session musician for various artists in the ’90s (most notably playing bass on several of Tori Amos’ albums). He joined Brad Laner in the alternative rock band Medicine for a time, and became a central piece of Beck’s live band. Doubling as musical director for the band, he made significant contributions to many of Beck’s most praised albums, Mutations, Midnite Vultures, Sea Change and Guero to name a few. During this time he played on more albums than can possibly be listed, including everything from Garbage’s Bleed Like Me, Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend and even the unforgettable stand-up bassline on The Mars Volta’s somber “Televators.” As if that weren’t enough, he founded Ima Robot with Alexander Ebert (now the frontman of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) and spent a few years touring with that band. After that, he joined the live band of Nine Inch Nails for the group’s final three tours: Lights in the Sky, NIN/JA and Wave Goodbye. While touring with Nine Inch Nails, he formed a bond and friendship with M83’s Anthony Gonzalez. This led to Meldal-Johnsen producing one of 2011’s most acclaimed albums, the double-disc masterpiece Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Now, the bassist and producer is producing new music from both Paramore and Tegan & Sara.
We sat down with Meldal-Johnsen one morning prior to the daily recording sessions currently in progress with Paramore. “It’s been a really crazy, particularly, six or seven years,” he admits in the beginning of the conversation. Confronted with both divorce from his former wife and the tragic passing of his mother to terminal cancer, Meldal-Johnsen threw himself head first into his work. He toured non-stop with Beck and Nine Inch Nails, but the release finally came from working with M83’s Gonzalez. “I found my way with the M83 record, really.”
From there he began a major career pivot, focusing on his role as a producer. “I decided one day sort of on a whim that would be good a way to grow older gracefully, to parlay that experience for the other side of the glass to use my ‘wisdom’ to try and help other people out,” he adds.
Meldal-Johnsen confessed that he wishes the live presentation of Nine Inch Nails had gone on longer—a thought many hardcore fans surely echo. Once the final tour had ended, he said he thought to himself, “Wow, that was an incredible ride, and I didn’t feel like getting off the rollercoaster yet.'” He complements NIN mastermind Trent Reznor on his commitment to his craft, explaining, “If there’s one thing I took away—and there is more than one thing—the work ethic is so inspiring. I’m trying to take some of that with me.”
Meldal-Johnsen will also continue as the bassist for Beck’s live band and has recorded tracks on a lot of his new material over the last year. In news that will surely excite Beck’s fans, he explains, “I would estimate that there are currently about three or four albums’ worth of material floating around. Essentially, he has to decide which one he wants to finish.”
Meldal Johnsen’s current project–producing Paramore’s next album–is coming along nicely. “We’re almost halfway done,” he says. Diehard Paramore fans itching for news on how the band has evolved won’t be disappointed. “They’re not by any means reinventing the wheel with what they are. They are attempting to carry the banner as Paramore in terms of what it means to their fans and what it means to them, and the power that it has… Their songs are lending themselves to be a part of the landscape of their existing music just fine, but they are free. And they’re free to the extent that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want.” The recording of the album will be wrapped up soon. “Paramore ends on October 31st, basically we finish, [and] it’s do or die.”
It’s impossible to sum up Meldal Johnen’s thoughtful responses without writing a full-on textbook. Instead, we present to you almost the entirety of our 75-minute conversation, separated by chapters, broken down and detailed below with a table of contents. Will Meldal-Johnsen produce M83’s next album? How did the songs he produced with Tegan and Sara come out? Who was his favorite performer in last year’s Serge Gainsbourg tribute show at the Hollywood Bowl? Select your preferred scene to find out or watch the whole interview below:
Chapter Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Taking a Break From Nonstop Work
Chapter 2: Finishing Paramore, Downtime and Creativity
Chapter 3: The Need to Perform Live (Beck and Otherwise)
Chapter 4: Working with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails
Chapter 5: Working as a Producer to Help Artists Accomplish Their Vision
Chapter 6: How the Role of the Producer Has Changed
Chapter 7: Progress on Paramore’s New Album
Chapter 8: How Paramore Are Evolving
Chapter 9: Having The Room For a Band to Find Their Sound
Chapter 10: Song Titles on the New Paramore Record
Chapter 11: Knowing When a Song is Finished
Chapter 12: Working With M83’s Anthony Gonzalez
Chapter 13: Will The Collaboration Between Yourself and M83 Happen Again?
Chapter 14: Losing Connection With Youthful Optimism
Chapter 15: Working With Tegan and Sara on Their New Album
Chapter 16: The Future of Digital Noise Academy
Chapter 17: New Material From Beck
Chapter 18: Damn the Torpedos
Chapter 19: Coachella Wire Rant
Chapter 20: The Success of the Serge Gainsbourg Tribute Show