Jon Reichardt is an accomplished session guitarist, producer and songwriter who’s contributed to releases by 360, Chance Waters, and Illy. His latest undertaking, ‘Strings Attached’ for Bliss N Eso, is his boldest yet.
Producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Reichardt is a risk taker. Reichardt’s been a professional musician since late adolescence, when he graduated from playing in bluesy jam bands to working as a session guitarist. Reichardt’s familiarity with the studio environment has meant he’s worked with acts like 360, Chance Waters and Illy, Hilltop Hoods, Drapht, Sarah Aarons, Hayley Mary, and Pez.
Reichardt first hooked up with Aussie hip hop trio Bliss n Eso in the lead-up to their 2017 LP, Off the Grid. But his latest collaboration with MCs Bliss and Esoterik and DJ Izm is unlike anything either party had done before.
On Friday June 17th, Bliss n Eso performed ‘Strings Attached’ at Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall. Reichardt was responsible rejigging tracks from the BnE albums Flying Colours (2008), Running On Air (2010), Circus in the Sky (2013), Off the Grid and The Sun (2021) to be performed with the 38-piece Brisbane Symphony Orchestra.
The sold-out show was, in Bliss n Eso’s words, “one of the most incredible shows of our entire career,” and the group is now teasing an Australian tour. Tone Deaf spoke to Reichardt about his involvement in ‘Strings Attached’ and his propensity to jump in the deep end with projects like this.
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Tone Deaf: What’s the back story of the Bliss N Eso ‘Strings Attached’ show? How did you get involved?
Jon Reichardt: Back in early 2018, Bliss hit me up to start working on a Bliss n Eso project with Cam Bluff, Mitch James and James Illingworth. The project was reimagining some of BnE’s biggest songs from their career with a live band and string quartet.
As I was working on the demo for their song ‘Friend Like You’, I got in the zone and kept writing more and more string arrangements. I wasn’t consciously writing for an orchestral context; it just happened naturally as many of their songs have a sort of intrinsic cinematic quality to them.
I showed it to Bliss and I think we both had a moment where we realised we had to go bigger for the project. I didn’t even know if it was possible, but Bliss had the vision and drive, and we had a shared love for orchestral music and composers like Hans Zimmer.
The project was sidelined for a while as we finished off their latest album, The Sun, but this was perfect timing as the Fortitude Music Hall approached BnE late last year once The Sun had been released and asked them to do ‘Strings Attached’.
TD: The setlist included fifteen of Bliss n Eso’s biggest songs from their 20-year career and featured a 38-piece orchestra. Where do you start with something like this? Did you curate the setlist to include songs that were well-suited to orchestration?
JR: The boys created a setlist and enlisted myself, Mitch James and Cam Bluff to start chipping away. At first Mitch and I were re-producing/writing the orchestral arrangements and Cam was engineering vocals and mixing the tracks. However, half-way through the project, Mitch ended up moving to Japan and I had to take over his workload.
Since we were literally starting from scratch with all of the production for most of the songs, we had more freedom in choosing what tracks to include – we weren’t bound by the previous vision of the songs.
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TD: How much experience did you have working with orchestras and arranging parts for such a large group of musicians prior to this? Did you notate everything for the orchestra?
JR: I’ve written arrangements for string quartets in the past – a notable example is 360’s ‘Tiny Angel’ – but I had never written for an orchestra. So, it was quite daunting but exciting at the same time. I studied music at school and university, but to be honest my music theory is pretty rusty so thank God for programming and Google.
Simon Kruit was enlisted a few months before the concert to write some additional arrangements and transcribe the sheet music. This was a relief since transcribing is definitely not my strong suit.
So, the process entailed me writing the orchestral arrangements in my [digital audio workstation] with orchestral [virtual studio technologies], then I exported the stems and sent them to Simon.
TD: You also played guitar in the live show. Tell me about the extent of your role in the live production of ‘Strings Attached’.
JR: I played guitar and was MD. This meant liaising with the band, conductor and sound guys to make sure everything was running smoothly. This ended up being quite complicated since we were also running backing tracks, click and timecode for the show to be as sonically and visually huge as possible.
After each rehearsal, if there were any changes that had to be made in the backing tracks to work better with the live orchestra and band, I would have to go back to my hotel and make edits and re-bounce stems. So I was working around the clock.
TD: What were your inspirations for this show? Hilltop Hoods have done a few strings attached style shows, and so have artists like Nas, Kanye West. Were you drawing influence from other hip hop acts, or looking further afield?
JR: Definitely further afield. I remember buying Metallica’s S&M when I was a teenager and being completely blown away. That album is still in my top ten to this day. Michael Kamen’s arrangements were so emotive and fierce, adding a whole other dimension to Metallica’s music. This got me interested in cinematic composers like Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Danny Elfman and even post-minimalist composers like Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Some of music production for the show is very different from the originals and this is very much a result of me loving all kinds of music. I’m super grateful to the BnE boys that they were open to this sort of exploration.
TD: What have Bliss N Eso been like to work with on this project? Were they adding ideas along the way? Have they been malleable to your requests?
JR: They were very hands on, especially Bliss. He was very involved in every aspect of this show, from the music to the visuals. For example, if he didn’t like a string or horn arrangement I’d done, he’d hum where he’d like the melody to go and even make suggestions. He also helped source and edit a lot of the visuals. He worked his arse off. The boys also let me explore and take some of the songs in a very different direction.