Interview: Donald's House
Donalds House is the musical project of two brothers, James and Peter Isaacs. As brothers they share an easy relationship. Despite being separated by seven years in age they appear to get along effortlessly, enjoying weekends filled with writing music and routine orders of za’taar bread and cheese pies from their local. As a production duo, it isn’t what they have in common which leads them creatively, rather it is their musical differences which produce the Donald’s House sound. When quizzed, Peter described he and his brother as an architect and a builder. Peter, with a keen ear for dance floor fodder having DJ’d since his early teens donates an educated view to how a piece of music will be received in a club environment plays the role of the architect. While James, the builder, and an actual tradesman outside of music, has a more formal musical foundation having trained as a jazz guitarist provides a musical sensibility resulting in their brand of well crafted Italo-leaning bangers which found a home, perhaps surprisingly, on Nick Hopnner’s imprint, ‘Touch from a Distance’.
Tell us about the start of Donald’s house, how did you get started?
Pete: So I started DJing at about 13 but I didn’t really take it seriously until I was about 18 and then, I like, snuck James into one of the parties that I used to run, called ‘Too Much’, which was originally dub step and then turned into post dub step. So we brought Pearson Sound out and snuck James in, and… you didn’t really like dance music then did you?
James: It was my first time hearing music on a really big sound system and more than anything I was thinking, how do they make those sounds?
So you weren’t DJ you were just attending?
James: Yeah so my sort of roots are with guitar, I was at VCA secondary doing jazz and listening to lots of sort of guitar music, I guess.
Do you think your background In guitar is what helps your sound now?
James: Absolutely, I would say it’s an influence but just the ability to do it, like our music is super, musical like melodic, for me it’s part of my make up, what ever comes out is going to have melodies, that’s just how I hear things.
Are you looking at making music in the future which lean on your foundation in guitar?
Peter: We’ve got one thing coming out that has guitars in it
James: It’s definitely something i want to delve deeper into, but at the moment we sort of just make whatever feels good at the time… and at the moment bangers are feeling good.
So how does the process start, you’re going to make a song what’s the first thing you do?
Pete: Drums, always drums. All the shit that we’ve done that’s been ambient has been when we haven't started with drums, but the drums kind of get that groove going, get you moving so we start with that. I think we always have some idea of sounds that we want to play with, or at least you (James) do?
James: Yeah, we sort of have this thing where we’ll stick on a vibe for a while, we have two EP’s worth of music ready to go and the creative process for them were, we’ll write one track and then we’ll stick with that vibe for 2 or 3 songs and say “cool that’s an EP and move on” what sort of vibe are we going to explore next.
Pete: We wrote some stuff for one label and that was an EP, it didn’t just end up happening, so this last EP of tracks written over 3 or 4 years.
How do you two work together, because for example theres no way I could do what you’re doing with my brother. Aren’t you too honest with each other sometimes?
Pete: Yeah we are for sure! We’ve had fights when we’re making music, like not serious fights…
James: We’ve had disagreements…
I’m picturing you guys upstairs and your mum coming from downstairs and asking “what the fuck’s going on?”?
James: I think we’re constantly learning from each other, you’re the architect, I’m the builder. Pete has a perspective that I will probably never have over our own music because of the way we work, I’m the sort of musical one I come up with the parts and Pete will be like yes, I like this part so lets put it there.
Peter: I come at the music in a way that is more functional if that makes sense, like a DJ’s perspective.
James: Where I find it very hard to kind of do that
Peter: I don’t have a musical background, I don’t look at it like we’ve got melody, we’ve got bridge then we’ve got this, I go by like always trying to put myself on the dance floor, kind of like, “what would I love to happen next” or “if I was on the dance floor now what kind of emotion would i like to get?”.
So it’s quite an important dynamic of you two, one having a traditional music background and the other having an understanding of how that’s going to work in a club?
James: He’s good at pulling my head out of my own arse.
Peter: James will go the biggest solos and I’m like no, doesn't need it.
And what’s planned for 2019?
Peter: Put out more music, play some more gigs, there’s no real master plan, take it as it comes, we’re getting to play a lot of regional gigs real soon which is really cool, definitely want to go around Australia and play a lot of small towns
James: touring is something that I want to do, I mean there is nothing set in stone at the moment because everything is so fresh and new but hopefully, getting over to Europe. I think putting out more music is probably the highest priority.
So you’ve got two eps ready to go and like you said before you find a mood and settle on that mood, to complete the EP what are the kinds of moods for these two eps ready to go?
Peter: One is kind of super like, the KORG M1 super fun
James: Super like you know, at the garage in the late 80’s early house, fast paced, super playful
Peter: And the other one has a hypnotic, Italo sort of vibe to it, it’s so subjective but to our ears it’s a bit more serious, but everyone’s gonna interpret it differently
James: Uhhh. I don’t know if there is actually. If there was more hype on Discogs then maybe, but I think it just did really well with a certain group of people who just bought it all out.
Your relationship with CC has been a big one for your music. How did this come about?
Pete: I played at my friends birthday with her, and I think CC got to know my wife who also DJ’s and makes tunes. Then I think CC might have come to see me and my wife play B2B at Revolver, which we used to do a lot from like, 4-7AM. I think Georgie just became friends with her, then I became friends with her. Then I sent her a track we made when I was in London, which was a dark, spacey, balearic kinda thing, I think it’s still on our Soundcloud, it’s called Outback Cosmos. She played it, and then we sent her some edits about a year later, one called Hypnotic Slumber which she just caned for ages, always sending me videos. We didn’t make anything for awhile, well, nothing good. Then we sent her Dan’s Dancing just before Pitch.
I was actually watching her at Pitch and I left to see someone else, I think Millu was playing the other stage and some friends wanted to check that out and so I actually missed the time when she played it. I got a message from her a few days after asking if I saw it and I didn’t know what she was talking about, she said it went absolutely nuts. Ever since then we’ve just been sending her tracks, literally everyone we send her she plays I think.
James: She holds a very, very important, sacred place in Donald’s House’s heart. She’s pretty much the reason, well part of the reason, that things are starting to happen for us now.
Pete: Yeah, well the way we got that record out on Touch from a Distance is because I used to help with that thing CDR in London, which is basically where you take your music down and you have it played on a big sound system and we’d have interviews with producers, people like Ron Trent and Marcellus Pittman, really cool stuff. The person who worked the door there became really good friends with my wife, who is good friends with Nick Hoppner. She said one day I want to send your songs to him, he’s starting a label, is that okay? I said yeah, sure, Nick Hoppner’s not gonna like it. I’d never seen him in my head but you know, I thought Panorama Bar, he’s probably not gonna like it. Then a few days later she sends me these screenshots of them talking and he’s ‘like who are these guys, I wanna sign them’ and we were like wow… what the fuck? Amazing. Nick’s actually a super diverse DJ, his mixes online aren’t actually a great representation of his broad taste, he’s a fucking amazing DJ.
James: Yeah he’s amazing. He started playing like UK Garage and Jungle.
Pete: I think he was in a punk band at one point too.
There’s always a punk band wildcard.
Pete: Well you were in a punk band at one point.
James: Well I was in a Psych-a-billy band, which is like rock-a-billy and punk put together. Sort of like early Living End.
But it died for a reason, it’ll never see the light of day.