INTERVIEW Donald’s House

The Melbourne House express is rolling through this interview in an highly energetic and vibrant manner like clubbers and electronic music lovers usually react to their music. After some experiments in the past, brothers James and Pete, commonly known as Donald’s House, have implemented and spread their signature House sound mainly on and through Berlin and Amsterdam-based labels like Touch from a Distance, Filament or Permanent Vacation creating powerful if not to say an uplifting atmosphere once their music shakes the speakers. In late August the duo gave Torture the Artist followers an insight what a night with them could sound like as they contributed to the art:cast special series – a flawless set of old and new music smoothly put together to a 2h19min long extravagent yet avant-garde composition. Now Pete and James are back on Torture the Artist giving you the insights on… everything and more.

Torture the Artist: Hey guys, tell us something about your day.

James: It’s Sunday today, I just had a really delicious croissant.

Pete: It’s super sunny too – I just got back from my morning walk with my wife, our greyhound Batman and a coffee.

Torture the Artist: What’s the story behind your Donald’s House moniker, is it reference to a place where you decided to have a career in music, is it connected to comics or just something that popped up in your mind?

Pete: There’s not too much to it. We both grew up in a house on Donald Street in Brunswick…

James: Yeah, it’s not overly creative… our studio is in there too.

Torture the Artist: You are from Melbourne, Australia – the place where pandemic measurements have been extended because the number of infections have not decreased as much as expected over the past weeks. How do you deal with the current situation, and how does it affect you personally and at a musical level?

James: We haven’t been able to get to the studio together in about four months. And we haven’t been able to see friends or anything. So it’s had an impact both personally and musically. I’m fortunate though I’ve got an amazing girlfriend who is really good company.

Pete: Yeah it’s been annoying, I guess – we were on a bit of a roll in terms of finishing music, but it is, what it is. I try not to focus on it too much, it’s not something I can control. Like James, I’ve got an amazing partner and a dog, which has made things far easier.

I’m a sucker for 80s drum machines, cheesy vocals and big basslines. (Pete)

Torture the Artist: What’s a track that you do connect with a better time, consequently puts you in a better mood, and why?

James: The Countach – My Oasis. A super uplifting, summery, Balearic tune from 1990. It always brings a smile to my face, it’s a real cathartic one for me. Reminds me of all the fun I’ve had at day parties in summer in Melbourne.

Pete: I’m a sucker for 80s drum machines, cheesy vocals and big bass lines – so at the moment, I’d have to say it’s Steve Arrington – Dancin’ In The Key Of Life. It always brings a smile to my face.

Torture the Artist: With releases on Filament, Permanent Vacation or Touch From A Distance over the past year you’ve left quite an impression in the scene. But the question rather is, where does your preference for Disco sounds come from, and when did you develop it into perfection?

James: I wouldn’t necessarily call it perfection…

Pete: Yeah, we’ve got a while to go before that.

James: But I’m flattered. I guess older dance music… or at least nostalgic dance music has always spoken to me more so than other stuff.

Pete: I think also with James being a classically trained musician, means that we kind of err to an era where there was more classically trained musicians making dance music. For me, that’s what grabs me with mid-80s disco. It was this time of experimentation where musicians were first getting their hands on a drum machine or synthesiser and just play it like they would a regular instrument.

James: That’s not to say that we don’t love repetitive dance music.

Pete: No, not at all. There’s just this vibe from that era that we try to bring out in our music. But not all of it, of course, we’ve got quite a few tracks that are more hypnotic and rhythmic.

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Torture the Artist: Nick Höppner’s label Touch From A Distance kind of describes your musical influence or connection on the European electronic music scene, why have you chosen to release your music on labels from Germany/ The Netherlands and do you see your music, maybe musical career rather in Europe than in your home country?

Pete: We did feature on a few various artist releases from Ken Oath, which is an Australian based label…

James: But we don’t really have a geographical preference to where we put music out. It’s just happened that way.

Pete: We lived in London for quite a while. And the way we got onto Touch From A Distance, was via our friend iona. She asked if she could share the music we were making with Nick, and the rest is history. That really kicked off that European connection. Since moving back to Melbourne, we’ve been slowly building a local following which has been great. We will happily go anywhere people want to hear us play!

James: We do have an EP coming on a new Melbourne label soon. But can’t say much else more for now…

We probably argue more than most duo’s considering we are family. (James)

Torture the Artist: Besides producing and DJing together, you are foremost brothers. How does this affect the initial tasks, if so at all?

James: We probably argue more than most duo’s considering we are family, but other than that I think being brothers doesn’t affect what we do too much.

Pete: Yeah, we definitely have little scraps. But we generally see the other person’s side apologise and move on.

Torture the Artist: If it’s not your brothership that affects your musical relationship, how do your daily jobs effect it? And also what’s a routine, technique etc. that helps you producing music?

James: I work full time as a carpenter which means I don’t get in the studio as much as I would like. Given the physical nature of my day, sometimes I feel pretty zapped when I get there, which makes being creative not as fluid.

Pete: My day job is a conversation designer. Essentially I design the user experience for voice based apps. Like James’, my job can be pretty hectic. Because of that, my studio time is limited to weekends.

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James: As far as routine goes, it’s kind of loose. But it all comes from getting a flow going. To do this, I go to the studio at least two or three days during the week, and then on the weekends Pete and I work together and try finish things.

Usually when I’m in there by myself, I’ll spend a few hours just playing with a new piece of kit, making drum wracks or jamming. Other times I’ll just take parts from other ideas and try to get something going. Sometimes these turn into ideas that we work on together, and sometimes they don’t.

Pete: And when it comes to weekends. We sometimes work on stuff that James has done during the week, and other times we’ll start fresh. We also, quite often work on an amalgamation of ideas, where we’ll take parts from what James has been working on and then start fresh.

James is the life of the party when he’s out. (Pete)

Torture the Artist: Since you are brothers, you probably know a lot more about each other than other acts do. Peter, what’s a thing about James that only you seem to have noticed?

Pete: James is the life of the party when he’s out – but he actually quite introverted. So after we’re out, or have been making tunes, he’s quite exhausted and needs time to be alone or wind down.

Torture the Artist: James Isaacs, what’s a thing that Peter remembers about you doing, but you have no recollection of?

James: Good question,… you would have to ask him. I’m sure there are many things I can’t remember that he can that have gone down at a party. Pete?

Peter: When we were younger, my dad had invented a made-up flavouring that would come out of an empty salt shaker called ‘Glupemarkens’ these would make any food taste incredible. I remember James getting me to put a lot of that on food that he wouldn’t eat.

It’s one of those relationships where we both kind of complement each other’s weaknesses. (Pete)

Torture the Artist: What’s everyone’s task when producing music together in the studio?

James: Pete, you’re good at describing the way we work?

Pete: Most of the time, James drives. When we’re coming up with ideas, we’ll cycle through things until we find something that we like. James might start jamming, and I’ll be like “that, but maybe a little more like this” then I’ll try and explain what I want in the most un-musical way possible (which usually creates a bit of confusion) until we get the right kinda vibe. Then when it comes to arrangement, I get a lot more involved. I come to things with the eyes of someone who has DJed for a long time and is always thinking about the dance floor. So I’m always going “If I was on the dance floor, what would I want to hear next?” And that’s kind of how we put things together. But sometimes James also comes to me with ideas, and then I help him flesh them out and get them into a cohesive track. Am I missing anything?

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James: Yeah, that’s about right. It’s one of those relationships where we both kind of complement each other’s weaknesses.

Torture the Artist: You have not appeared as remixers yet really. Does this mean you prefer original tracks over a remix or have you not gotten an appropriate or interesting offer yet?

Pete: We only did one remix for Cashminus, but it was a digital-only thing so probably flew under the radar a little?

James: It’s something we want to do. And would love to do more of.

Pete: Yeah, we have had offers though. But so far it’s been a time thing – we just haven’t been able to fit them in with EPs that we had to deliver. We both work full time, so we only have one or two days a week in the studio together.

James: And gigs makes it hard too.

Torture the Artist: What’s an artist you’d like to work in the studio with, and why?

James: There are so many at the moment, If I could to choose three, it would be between Goodblock, Paula Tape and Tornado Wallace. All of them are amazing DJs and producers, I could definitely see my self having a lot of fun with these guys in the studio. They all have such a great style that really speaks to me musically.

Pete: I think Jex Opolis could be cool too.

James: Ohh yeah definitely Jex too!

Pete: For me, though, I’d probably like to get into a time machine. Work with people like Arthur Russell or Larry Levan. As for more modern people, maybe Lauer and Prins Thomas. They’re both pretty special producers. We have actually been starting to do a few collabs here and there. We have a forthcoming track with Lipelis — who was great to work with. And we’ve been getting in the studio with our mate Midnight Tenderness a bit too.

Torture the Artist: What kind of track would you like to produce but have not (for whatever reason)?

James: Pete and I have gone through lot’s of different styles over the years, this has kept me pretty musically fulfilled, so I can’t say there is much I’m really yearning to try at the moment.

Pete: Yeah, I wouldn’t say there’s something I’m really itching to do. Maybe some UKG?

Pete, refuses to compromise on quality. Although his ability to execute what’s in his head on an instrument is limited, his ears most certainly aren’t. (James)

Torture the Artist: James, what does Peter refuse to compromise on (not only the studio)?

James: Pete, refuses to compromise on quality. Although his ability to execute what’s in his head on an instrument is limited, his ears most certainly aren’t. He really pushes me in the studio. Sometimes it gets ugly, but our music wouldn’t be the same without him. During lockdown in Melbourne, he hasn’t been able to make it to the studio, and I’m definitely noticing him not being there.

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Torture the Artist: What’s the artist you’ve searched most on Google, and don’t tell me you’ve just deleted your internet-browser?

James: Hmmm his initials are TW, that’s all I’ll say.

Peter: Larry Levan and Francois K. I’ve been going on a dub-disco buying binge lately.

I’d love to buy him a pint and pick his brain about what his studio looks like! (Pete)

Torture the Artist: Regarding the latter, is this the artist, you’d like to have a drink with? If not, who would that be, and why?

James: I’ve just recently discovered an artist called “Milord” I don’t know much about him, and he hasn’t released heaps of music, but I must say, I’m a huge fan. He seems to capture a really interesting sonic pallet. I’d love to buy him a pint and pick his brain about what his studio looks like!

Pete Yeah I’d love to go for a drink with Francois K. I love speaking to people who have been around for ages who can just school me on music. It’s the best. Gotta shout out Mr Tony Nwachukwu for that, I’ve had so many long conversations with him about music that was before my time. I remember once he took me on a tour through London showing me where all the old record shops were.

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Torture the Artist: What’s a sound from your childhood that you could implement or have implemented into one of your tracks?

James: I’ve been playing instruments since I was six or seven years old. I’m sure there’s probably much in my youth I could have implemented somehow into a track, however, maybe it’s good that I haven’t haha.

Pete: Yeah, rocka’billy is never coming into our music, haha. For me, I don’t know. I listened to a lot of hip hop, so maybe some more sampling?

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Torture the Artist: What’s the worst outfit your parents made you wear as a child?

Pete: I was pretty independent, so mum and dad never made me wear anything. But apparently, I would be adamant about wearing checkered shorts, a fluro pink t-shirt and gumboots.

James: There is a photo of me I recently saw from 1999, and I was wearing bright yellow jeans. I can’t believe my parents let me wear them.

Torture the Artist: What’s noticeable absent in your lives?

James: The obvious… studio and party time.

Pete: Yep! Pretty much that.

Interview by Holger Breuer

Pictures 1, 2 & 4 by Duncan Jacobs

Pictures 3, 5 & 6 by Alan Weedon