|Yet Another Amazing Swedish Musical Export|
|publishing date||October 2012|
|publisher||Gay Times Magazine|
|photography||iamamiwhoami: John Strandh|
Yet Another Amazing Swedish Musical Export
iamamiwhoami's interview with Harry Clayton-Wright for Gay Times Magazine.
We're about to interview iamamiwhoami. Those already familiar, we share your excitement. Those currently experiencing their first encounter; love an avant-garde pop heroine? Welcome to the wonderful world of iamamiwhoami. iamamiwhoami is an internet phenomenon that has effortlessly transcended the lines between music, art and film. Mesmerising and delighting a continually growing audience, harnessed by the vial power of YouTube and social media, videos first came to light in December 2009, when teaser clips uploaded showing a sumptuous visual world and an obscured female, accompanied by beautiful electronica, started the obsession with what has become one of the most exciting online audiovisual projects of our generation. While people feverishly debated the mystery of this unknown artist's identity, over time it was revealed to be Jonna Lee, and we're currently waiting to meet her.
One of the main reasons behind our interview is due to the release of kin. Both musical album and 45 minute short film, videos were released in fortnightly chapters from February to June 2012, the physical birth happening in September. Lee's hauntingly ethereal vocals soar majestically over kin and captivate from the very first utterance of lyrics. She explores expansive vocal territories while an assembly of beautiful synths and electronic instrumentation accompany, creating landscapes as vast as those communicated visually. From the opening track, 'sever', crescendoing to closing number, 'goods', we're invited on a journey from melancholic to euphoric. It is a musical and visual story, masterfully told. Enigmatic and mysterious, apart from messages found in songs and visuals, past contact with the outside world hasn't been what one could call conventional. After such a level of mystery surrounding everything, the first thought in our conversation; what has motivated the decision behind giving interviews and how does Lee feel about it all?
"It feels there's something to say now and I didn't feel like there was anything I wanted to say before, I mean, except for what I am clearly saying in lyrics and with the music and the videos. So now it feels good, but of course I've been wondering how I put words on emotions in the best way, so I can only rely on being able to convey how I see it and we'll see how it goes."
At the time of publication, the videos have accumulated over 17 million hits and iamamiwhoami has garnered worldwide attention, mass following and a legion of fans in the process. Critical accolades include a Swedish Grammy for Innovator of the Year, nominations for two MTV online music awards in 2011 and then the Digital Genius Award this year, which they went on to win. As a collective, iamamiwhoami consist of Jonna Lee as the helm, credited as the artist and producer of visuals, songwriter and music producer - titles shared with Claes Björklund - working with the visual team of director, Robin Kempe-Bergman, cinematographer and still photographer, John Strandh, and set, costume and make up designer, Agustin Moreaux. As little was known in the beginning about who was behind the project, with the release of kin, names and involvements have finally been confirmed.
"For me it's no different whatsoever actually, but I think it's so important that the others get their credibility for their work, so for that matter I think it's good. We've never tried to hide identities really, except for in the beginning where I chose to close the door behind us to get some space to develop what this has become now, because I knew that if I were to be aware of what was around, I might not be able to continue. So, yes, it feels natural, just like a part of the evolution for the project."
We ask Jonna to take us back to the first inclinations that she was about to embark on this artistic journey. "I mean, I was in a place where I was dreaming of something else and I knew that my music that I was writing was not matching what I was portrayed as, and I was, with working with Claes, I mean he's such a versatile producer and then I had the idea of finding the visual counterpart of my music, because I like expressing myself visually. And so I guess that happened around, it was during my final releases as a solo artist and then everything happened pretty quickly because it was love at first sight. You know, like, creative love."
"Claes has been there as a producer for a long time and there's just a musical match there that's amazing for me. Robin and I have done all my visual work together since I started releasing things and Agustin and John, that are the two very important people for us, they came in in the beginning and if we, us five, hadn't had that; you know, there's something in the chemistry that just works and it wouldn't be what it is now."
Following the early preludes videos, the bounty era began (songs released completed the spelling of the word) and like all of their cinematic visuals, had such a deliciously unique aesthetic - a cardboard box fortress and tin foil forest, to give examples. The style, be it set, landscapes, make up or costume, has been consistently enchanting and the imagery having such an iconic feel. We're curious as to what inspired Lee during those earlier videos."
"There is a foundation of a theme throughout the whole series and added to that there is a treatment of the female stereotype of also being an artist and what that is like, so that reflects a lot of the imagery and also, of course, it's a collaboration with the people that do the visuals with me."
"Now I can see visuals when I write the songs because it's progressed so far, but the core of the project for me is I'm a musician, so it's the music, and then the production is a big part of that too and then I go into working very closely with the director, Robin, in a way that, and also the other visual collaborators, that sprung from lyrics and it happens in a very interesting way."
A live concert was streamed via their website after the bounty videos in November 2010. Fans chose a representative to experience the site-specific performance on a one-to-one basis, all of it reordered and broadcast online. A forest the concert venue, iamamiwhoami's playground, the fan chosen was a sacrifice and the concert concludes with Lee dancing in his ashes. It's incredible. We're fascinated, because production is always of an insanely high quality, how do they even start the process of planning these things? We're privy to an insight. "Everything we've done has happened in real time. So, once 'y' was released, the final bounty video, that was the next step." And it's all organic and happens from everything that has happened before? "Yes, because it's an emotional journey that sprung from me at the bottom, I guess, so it's the only way to do it. It's also the challenge because, you know, we didn't have any means from the beginning. Now we've sold music online, that enables us to be able to continue and that's how and why I'm still here doing this. But we started it and there was just something, I don't know, I was just ecstatic over the idea, getting that close to the audience and trying to bring down the barrier of, you know, bringing a representative of the audience to us, and may he rest in peace."
Conversation turns briefly to life for Lee outside of the work. "The thing is this world that we created and that my motive actually somewhere was to be able to stay there for myself" she explains. "iamamiwhoami is not something I can shake off, because it's not a character I play, it's me, so it's very strange in that sense there is no…I don't know." We help: there's no sort of on/off switch. It's just life. "It's life, and it's a nice life that I love". 2011 saw videos '; john' and 'clump' released, also part of their first live show at Way out West ("a close encounter with the audience physically, if you like, which started the process of kin") and following the current release, dates at European festivals are being played. With more of a public front and these live shows, is this a sign of the synergistic collaboration continuing? "As I base the work on my emotional journey in a personal enough way, I think once the events that now are in line for us, I will see where I am and what I become. It's transforming constantly and as long as it is developing into something, it will continue and I can't say; I only know I need to make music because I can't live without it."
"I'm astounded by noticing that people take things very seriously and we have an audience and followers, and even those who aren't following, they use their minds and really get into it and they find things that I could never imagine they would find, sometimes, both in meaning and in personal details."
"There is so much communicated on my behalf and everything is not literal, due to I want there to be a space for imagination to interpret, because everyone sees things differently and I'm seeing that the followers that we have, the listeners that we have, they are intelligent people with strong minds."