“The idea that you can create this invisible thing that didn’t exist before in the form of music really haunted me as a child. I thought of it as a powerful way to shape my universe.” - Simonne Jones
The poet Henry Longfellow described music as “the universal language of mankind.” Many studies have since been done to prove it. However, in today’s technology-filled world, code is quickly becoming the next universal language.
We had the opportunity to interview Simonne Jones, who combines both in her work as a singer/artist/engineer/physicist/composer. She began writing music when she was 10 and started college when she was 15. She’s gone on tour with Jared Leto and to Africa as an HIV research volunteer. She’s one of our favorite #girlbosses.
If you ever thought you weren’t analytical enough to code or weren’t creative enough to be an artist, Simonne is proof that STEM and music aren’t mutually exclusive. Not surprisingly, her new single, out today, is titled ““ and pairs techno beats with physics metaphors. Often tying arduinos into her work, we can’t wait to see what the live performance of “Gravity” looks like.
Get familiar with Simonne, learn how technology has helped her build and develop her career, and find out what technology she can’t live without in our Q&A below.
Q&A with Simonne Jones:
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am an artist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer from Los Angeles. Now I live in Berlin.
Were you always interested in music?
I started learning piano when I was 3 and composing music on the piano when I was 10. At the time, I was mainly interested in classical music and wanted to become a classical pianist. I always wanted to compose my own work and I loved to invent. The idea that you can create this invisible thing that didn’t exist before in the form of music really haunted me as a child. I thought of it as a powerful way to shape my universe. When everything in my world was falling apart, I always had this magical musical universe to play and exist in that was impenetrable. Music was the only thing in my life that I was unable to stop doing.
After I graduated from college, I moved to Berlin. My first music job was playing during the Diesel runway show at fashion week. Eventually, I started playing more local shows and got invited to different festivals in Europe. People starting writing about me organically and more people started coming to my shows. I started getting asked to collaborate with well known producers and musicians and began composing music for theater and orchestras.
When did you become interested in computer science?
My sister got me interested in computers and engineering. She used to build battle robots when she was a teenager and compete in robotic competitions. I was more interested in the bio medical side of science growing up and even shadowed surgeons at UCLA to feed my interest.
As a summer job in college, I taught STEM to inter-city troubled girls. I noticed how inspired they were by my excitement in physics and engineering because I made it accessible to them. I would give them basic physics lessons and we would build planes or take apart computers. Sometimes, we would build radios and I would also teach them basic HTML to help them build their own blogs.
How do your passions for computer science and music tie to each other?
After moving to Berlin and deciding to commit my life to music, I needed something to fill the scientific void. So, I started taking apart machines and building costumes and sculptures with LED’s. I also started building midi controllers and basic on off switch signal converters as drum triggers that I put in the surface of my guitar. I learned a lot from people that I met in Berlin who were interested in DIY engineering and eventually got an arduino as a birthday present. I decided to integrate arduinos into my work. Now, engineering is a way for me to relax.
How do you find engineering relaxing?
When I need a minute away from music, I get together with my friends and do simple and fun projects like building a hologram out of a CD case. Right now I am working on a midi-controlled Tesla coil. It is not for anything in particular, but it’s fun.
Has technology informed how you make music?
I use computers to program my music. Technology is essential to my creative process. I originally performed solo using loop devices before I had a band. That helped to open the doors to experimenting with my productions. Being a recording engineer has been really helpful in creating productions without being dependent on someone to help me record. Ironically, being able to produce my own music has made my collaborations even stronger because I know how to communicate what I am doing in technical terms and communicate the right engineering tasks needed in order to achieve a sound or effect I am trying to create.
What is the most exciting thing about what you do?
Watching something you create touch other people in ways that you didn’t expect is the most exciting thing about my job. Also, being in front of a large body of people singing your song, or swaying to something that you wrote is a really powerful feeling.
When I was on tour with Jared Leto from 30 Seconds to Mars, he would play for around 12,000 people a night and by the 3rd show - even as the opening act -people were singing the hooks of my songs. It was a wonderful feeling and definitely unexpected.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
It’s the feeling of being around a large amount of people constantly, yet feeling alone. It is paradoxical but if you meet hundreds of people at a venue on repeat every day, you lose of sense of intimate connectivity and you feel like you can’t relate to any one. I’ve had to sacrifice every bit or normalcy in my life in order to have a career in music, I don’t have a normal schedule and I don’t have normal relationships with people that I love.
What would you love to see your work achieve?
I would really love to do a philharmonic tour around the world.
What have been greatest lessons learned in your career?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is understanding the magnitude in which your thoughts are powerful. What you are thinking about and how you feel about that thought changes the way you perceive and interact with the world. Each of us has the power within us to create our own destiny.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Take light issues seriously and serious issues lightly.
Did you ever encounter people who discouraged you from your path because you are female? How did you over come that?
Gender aside, people will try and discourage others from doing things that go outside the norm because they are afraid of the unknown in the form of diversity and change. Whenever I was strongly discouraged from a path that made me excited about my existence, that was precisely the moment where I realized I am doing something important and right. Being an outlier is essential to innovation.
Do you think technology has harmed or helped the music industry?
Technology has helped my career because of what is possible as a producer on a computer in comparison to 10 years ago. A composer inexpensively has every instrument known to man on a computer and quick access to limitless library’s of sounds to construct songs.
Technology has demonetized the music industry in many ways like streaming and being able to generate high quality recordings without having to pay to rent an expensive studio. Even labels are feeling the demonetization by technology because artists no longer need them to provide a bridge to a listener. Consequently, many artist that would never see the light of day have been given a spotlight by the audience that organically demands them through technology.
Many producers that I know feel daunted by the enormous amount of creative possibilities that music technology provides and often try to limit their writing to simple instruments. I am somewhere in the middle.
What are the 5 pieces of technology you rely on every day?
Interested in learning how to code like Simonne?