Andrew Darley talks to Jonna Lee about the organic development of online multimedia sensation iamamiwhoami, and what that means to the evolution of music in the digital age.
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Four years on from their teaser music videos, iamamiwhoami have evolved from their cryptic, Internet-bound realm and are now ready to perform their music to audiences across the world this year. iamamiwhoami is the collaborative effort of Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee, music producer and co-songwriter Claes Björklund and a visual team that has made their videos captivating, and often surreal. With last year’s release of their debut album, kin, the group have returned to physically release bounty, the collection of singles that started the project off. Similar to their debut, the multimedia album tells a story through organic electronica and the nine videos that accompany the songs. Jonna spoke with me to talk about their origins, the journey they’ve taken so far and why she feels the release of bounty feels like a homecoming.
Hi Jonna. It’s a big pleasure to talk to you. I’ve been fascinated with iamamiwhoami since the very first video back in 2009!
How does it all feel now thinking back to 2009 when iamamiwhoami was just coming together?
The beginning was overwhelming but also a salvation. So they are precious days. It has been four years since our start and I’m glad that leap was made.
The initial cryptic videos caused quite a stir in all corners of the music world. Did you enjoy people’s analysis of them and attempts to guess your identity?
The growth of the early work that happened organically was surprising. To be able to continue exploring what I had started we had to block out the talking that had little to do with our creative motives for what became iamamiwhoami.
When your identity was revealed, were you concerned that people would draw comparisons to your previous work?
I didn’t want the focus to be misdirected. This is me in musical collaboration with Claes Björklund, with visual collaborations. Also it is something musically different. I made a clean cut with the previous work to focus all attention on the work we do so it could become a constant.
You are now physically releasing bounty, which was the first collection of songs released digitally in 2010. How would you describe bounty in relation to kin?
bounty is the first planted seed and our beginning. kin in itself evolves around the project’s battles in adapting to the shapes of convention and my emotional journey in leading us through it. Stepping out into the physical world has been a rewarding trial.
Who or what is bounty? Does it have any connections with kin or are they two distinct narratives?
It is the bounty at the end. So it is what it is. kin is the product of our joint venture together with the audience.
The story evolves around my project’s own growth and development through me as an artist. As iamamiwhoami was sprung from the audience’s will to nurture it and grow it. Without it this story would not continue to tell itself.
Were there any conscious decisions about sound or direction after the bounty series in order to progress and create kin?
It was the next natural step in sound and vision. Absorbing the current around the project led us there.
After experiencing bounty and kin, I strongly believe they have been uniquely innovative in utilising multimedia for artistic effect and to connect with an audience. Did you always intend to combine music, visuals and technology or did it organically come together in this way?
Experiencing sound isn’t one dimensional for me. I strive to capture and procure the entirety of it. Not only by putting vision onto sound, but to mould them together. The way we release our work is in a way that gives us room to do this.
In ‘sever’ there’s a lyric, “To be accepted I must blend into convention’s ways”. Given that you’ve funded, created and developed iamamiwhoami all on your own terms, do you feel you have created something distinctly individual?
Yes for me it is distinctly individual.
People familiar with your solo albums may have been surprised by the change in style. Even though they are two diverse styles, both focus strongly on songwriting and composition. How did you come to explore electronic music?
Through being strained inside a normative way of creating.
I find pushing away from boundaries and comfort is a way to discover other sides of yourself. But one has to take leaps. Even though my previous work was different, it was still me. But time and life alters.
Can you describe the creative process in making the music? Do the words come first that you build music around them?
Sometimes. First is core of story, mood and setting. A blend between the sound landscape, the voice and the words where the mutual story is central.
And do the visuals emerge when writing the music or afterwards?
The visuals are built around the words, but the first idea of both comes simultaneously with the words.
Did you find yourself writing or singing in a different way to you had previously on your solo albums?
Yes. I began experimenting with sound and voice and found other ways to express new emotions and to make good use of my range.
You are about to embark on a European tour this summer. For a long time, iamamiwhoami existed online. How does it feel to finally perform these songs that you have labored over for so long?
It is magical seeing the audience faces. Every concert is a reunion, although a first physical encounter.
From YouTube clips I’ve watched and the ‘in concert’ film, it feels like you approach live performance as a way of continuing the story of the music?
Yes. Every event has a purpose. As does this interview. Not only as an experience but also in this story.
Do you have any plans to extend or add more tour dates for this year?
I would like to. But if it’s possible I can’t say.
Both the accompanying videos of bounty and kin are deeply layered and intricate, which open up multiple possibilities for the viewer’s own interpretation. Do you think the music world today can be too literal?
Yes it can be. I want our work to communicate rather than using words on top of them to summarize it. One can rely on the audience’s capacity to uncover and interpret. But it doesn’t apply to everyone. Some want guidance.
Has there been a point when you felt iamamiwhoami was going in a direction that you did not first imagine?
From the beginning until now, I’ve let it have it’s own course which is part of the beauty of it. Working in real time creatively makes you stay in the now.
I understand that you are concentrating on the tour at the moment; but have you thought about or started work on new material?
Delivering bounty physically is in focus now. Once this is done I will know where we are at. I’m curious to learn what happens next.
There are other songs such as ‘.’ and ‘220.127.116.11.5.723378’ from the prelude videos, which have been performed live . Could these songs get released in the future?
If there is a purpose creatively anything can happen. They are part of the foundation of iamamiwhoami.
Finally, do you feel iamamiwhoami has come full circle, now that you have released a debut album and are now releasing the initial bounty series physically?
I feel it has grown into something solid. As it is constantly evolving it’s more of a straight line forward than a full circle. But bounty being released physically is a homecoming for the beginning of iamamiwhoami.
bounty will be released on June 3. iamamiwhomai will be playing London’s Electric Ballroom on May 30. Click here for more information and/or tickets from their official website.