Pushing metal boundaries with the Ableton Push 3: an interview with Northlane’s Jonathon Deiley

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Pushing metal boundaries with the Ableton Push 3: an interview with Northlane’s Jonathon Deiley

Northlane Ableton Jon Deiley
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Northlane are no strangers to doing things their own way.

Having exploded onto the national scene just over ten years ago, then the international scene shortly after that, Northlane and their sound had them as early adopters of things like the Axe FX systems, using them to create new and unique layers of ambience and texture underneath bombastic, energetic riffs and rhythms. Now, Jon uses the Ableton Push 3 to elevate this even further.

Jon Deiley

Jon Deiley, the primary songwriter in the band has spent years chasing the sounds he hears in his head, often just writing without intention to see what comes out—regardless of whether it ends up serving Northlane or not.

While it’s all good and well to build up big walls of sound, these still need to be played live, and for that, Jon has decided to use Ableton’s Push 3 hardware to do it! We chat writing, performing and his decision to work with the Push 3.

Jon, thanks for taking the time. Northlane has always paved their own way sonically – what inspires this?

I’ve always just enjoyed the song writing process while being curious when it comes to exploring sounds and ideas. There are a million ways to solve these musical puzzles and sometimes if the initial idea is great it will lead the way and sometimes it’s stumbling across a sound on a synthesizer that pulls the whole thing into a different direction.

Read more features, columns and interviews here.

I like my writing sessions to be pretty free form until the song basically pokes its head out, then I’ll set up rules based on whatever type of song it’s trying to be. Inspiration usually comes from a feeling that I have at any given time, and sometimes these feelings last months or even years that sort of subtly shape things that I’m working on.

How does a typical Northlane song begin? Riffs, loops, sequencers or are you jamming in a room etc.?

When I sit down to make some music it’s not always for Northlane, I like to keep things loose, which means I have an ever growing folder of ‘side project’ stuff and sometimes those projects become Northlane songs. Usually I’m just chasing a vibe which reflects that feeling of inspiration. I’ll start on atmosphere usually, so synths and anything with delay and reverb to set a tone and I will gravitate towards my Oberheim OB-6 and eurorack modules like Beads or Morphagene for that. Then I might abandon that for the time being and just move on to a groove, which technically is riffs, but could be on any instrument, synths, guitars, loops. I love using sequencers to suggest other ideas and just being hands on with the riff itself, love the Metropolis from Intellijel for that. Honestly, this part of the process is fun but it’s exhausting. It feels a lot like throwing paint at a wall to see what slowly emerges. I will have every instrument that I’m using at the moment, broken down into individual outputs that go to my Apogee Symphony MKII, running Ableton Live, and I will just be recording everything and multiple iterations of the same idea while I play with knobs. Then on a different day with a different side of my brain active, go in and listen objectively and start moving stuff around and try and make some arranging happen.

How has that workflow evolved since Discoveries or Singularity?

Since Discoveries, I stopped using guitar pro tabs to write music. At the time that served me really well, sweating over the perfect combination of numbers to bring my ideas to life but just before I started writing Singularity, I decided it was more natural to write into the computer with the guitar in hand. Less thinking, just hit record and go, kind of like with the synths, immediacy is crucial I find.

Have you personally always pulled influence from electronic music?

Yes definitely. I feel like when you’re a kid, you absorb so much subconsciously and growing up in the 90’s there was definitely a lot of amazing rock/nu-metal, but there was also SO much awesome electronic pop and house music on the radio. I just didn’t really know what to make of it and appreciate it until later in life (around 24 yrs old) where you find yourself still humming melodies and making sounds that remind you of that time.   

Ableton Push 3

The Ableton Push 3 seems to have created a solution to additional sounds in your live set. Why the Push 3?

I’m a big believer in user interface and experience is everything. If I don’t love the way the instrument looks and feels I won’t use it. I just sold something actually that I bought for its sound but navigating around it was such a chore it didn’t get used. I used the Ableton Push and Push 2 with Northlane as well and the Push 3 is just a remarkable expansion on what was already great. I love that I can have all my controls per function laid out on that LED screen and that I can change the colours of individual pads so that on stage in the moment I can easily recall visually patterns of pads that I’ve arranged. In general though, it just feels comforting taking what is my bread and butter DAW out on stage with me. 

Ableton Push 3

More explicitly, how is the Ableton Push 3 being used?

Because a lot of what I do involves recording external gear, when it comes to performing live I usually use [Ableton] Push 3 standalone in its sampler and sampler instruments, occasionally having to recreate a synth I’ve made with one of Ableton’s instruments like Operator or Drift and playing melodies live using the MPE pads. [My] approach to doing all of this is printing out the idea through my external gear note by note, or sometimes summing notes together into one pad, and that allows me to still kind of play chords.

For example, when I go to play my chord of 5 or so notes on the Push, it might be a total of 3 pads that make up the chord, and when I press them they’re not always going to be played exactly at the same time which allows a human element to poke through. We also play to a click track, which means we can have audio in time with what we are playing sent to the Push 3’s inputs and I can manipulate it Live which is fun. Then outputs from Push 3 to the mixing desk and out to the club’s speakers.

Thanks for taking the time! As a closer, what does the future of Northlane look like musically?

Our latest EP Mirror’s Edge felt a little like a back to basics, in that the electronic elements took a back seat allowing the band to do more, but the stuff we are writing at the moment is heavily electronic. I would love to do some type of immersive or Dolby Atmos style experience with Northlane! Who’s got the contact? 😉

Keep up with Northlane here. To shop, or for more info on the Push 3, visit Ableton.