In Conversation: iamamiwhoami Interviewed

Piercing the reclusive project's latest iteration...

​​iamamiwhoami is a familiar yet enigmatic name in the music industry. Comprised of musical creatives Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund, the duo have been enchanting listeners since 2009 with their musical curiosity and a variety of expressive viral videos.

To the delight of fans, after an eight-year hiatus iamamiwhoami have returned with another introspective, mellifluent project. Conceptual and comprehensive, 'Be Here Soon' is a ten-track album accompanied by a ten-episode video series, due for release on June 3rd. The album cuts deeper using previous releases, laden with code and reference to the narrative universe built by iamamiwhoami throughout their discography.

Informed by the complexities of the pandemic and the psycho-physical changes Jonna Lee experienced whilst making the album, 'Be Here Soon' is a kaleidoscopic marriage of the acoustic and electronic, harkening back to iamamiwhoami's roots. Ambient and wolfish, the album is set to be another popular release for the duo.

Clash was delighted to speak to half of iamamiwhoami, Jonna Lee, about their upcoming music project, her pregnancy, and iamamiwhoami's history.

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What's something that's inspired you today?

I'm glad that spring arrived finally. Something that inspired me today is my friend and collaborator Oleksii who’s in Ukraine. While his reality has been turned upside down for months, he remains positive and determined to get through, though he’s really missing his family.

You've done your fair share of incredible collaborations and projects. Who did you work with for 'Be Here Soon'?

This being an iamamiwhoami album, I’ve written and produced the album together with my colleague Claes Björklund, and made the video series counterpart with cinematographer John Strandh. We’ve worked together for 15 years in total, even with some of my solo work. This is the first time we make an audiovisual album series again since 2014, but we’ve made other projects in different formats since such as live installations and films throughout.

I’ve also worked with people like jazz musician Kjetil Moester who plays woodwinds and brass on the album, drummer Tobias Tagesson, Lars Winnerbäck (Canyon) who’s a Swedish folk singer, and choreographer/dancer Tove Skeidsvoll (Thunder Lightning) as well as a humble but amazing visual crew working hard to help us achieve the visual series.

Why was it important for you to return to the roots of your sound, and how do you feel the evolution of your sound has impacted the memory of your musical origins?

Me and Claes come from a background of a more classical musicianship. We play most instruments between the two of us and enjoy the live part of a recording. Our first 10 years of working musicians was all organic sounds for me. We just really wanted to record something rawer with less veneer that puts out songwriting and my vocals in focus this time. There’s so much gloss and layers being distributed in our sonic and visual feeds each day, and it doesn’t rhyme with the reality we live in. And if each new project isn’t a challenge, then the stakes are lower. So although stripping ourselves off our habits was intimidating, I knew we were on to something.

I hadn’t touched my acoustic guitar since 2009 as I left my previous solo folk work behind to start experimenting with iamamiwhoami. It’s been staring at me from the corner of the studio. I’m still not a hundred percent friends with it, but it got to shine a bit on this album.

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You returned to your "immense creative process" for this project – what does this process look like?

The format of an audiovisual album project is a massive undertaking for me yes. I suppose it looks like this: I write, record and produce all songs closely with Claes Björklund, this time for a year and a half from start to finish. Some of my albums took longer and some less. Whilst the recording heads into mix and I can be more mobile, I begin script writing with John Strandh based on the lyrics and concepts of the album, this time for six months. Then as I’m running my own label, the administrative preparations and funding parts run parallel to this, pre production of the filming begins, which leads into filming the visuals for the album. This time we filmed for two months spread out over spring 2022. Now I’m editing the final video episodes and completing the world tour routing for 2023. It’s insane and no human should ever attempt to work in this set up. I don’t cut corners, It’s a sickness.

How did the concept of 'Be Here Soon' arise?

As we decided it was time to see what we could make in 2022, and the songs started coming to life, a portrait of having lived isolated in one’s head for a long time started to form, being forced out from that tight space to perform and work to survive. To meet audience expectations, despite the shitty odds that independent artists such as myself work against. Discovering I’m carrying a child in the middle of the process. Having not ever wanted to become a parent, that personal and intimate process runs parallel throughout. Choosing to continue making the full audiovisual album despite changing body and mind, ageing, against a music industry and society that celebrates perfection and tends to make women hide away until they’re back to “normal”.

How do you balance the past with the contemporary in a way that feels so refreshing?

Thanks for that. I think we carry so much previous work references that to us it’s like continuing a story, and based on what’s previously been told, those references are just naturally there. I always want to treat our past work with respect, whilst not get stuck in it. What we’re really doing is portraying our creative process and our own struggles, and moving forward into new adventures is a must and a relief with that.

'Flying or falling', features an introspective wolf that reappears across the videos. What does the animal represent?

I think the answer to this lies with you and anyone watching.

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This song feels soft and soothing, despite lyrics that suggest the opposite of comfort. How did you build this soundscape?

It was built on guitar and vocals alone at first and the sacral vocal parts takes the song out of the pop format. The sounds of the verse beat are fingers knocking on wood, breaths, scratching, castanjetts and timpanis. It is built on different paradoxical contrasts of hopelessness in the lyrics, versus the somewhat euphoric chorus which gives some comfort, similar to when things just become too much in life, there’s still some way to make it feel beautiful.

I'm also living with OCD and as a result of the pandemic, I've learnt a lot about myself and the way my mind works, perhaps against my will. How did the pandemic affect your growth – musically or personally?

Thanks for sharing this. Yes, I was diagnosed in 2019 and throughout that year and the first year of the pandemic I underwent an intense psychiatric treatment that demanded a lot but that was another level of learning about my wiring. I wasn’t even aware of some of the peculiarities and destructiveness that was woven into daily life. So that was all going on, and as my 2020 world tour was cancelled I got to breathe a little instead during a slower pace, whilst trying to save my work from going under financially. A bit of both good and bad to summarize. I made some fun projects despite.

It’s no new phenomenon that meeting (or perhaps confronting) expectations of society and the music industry as a female is difficult. Has this been heightened since you've been pregnant?

I mean I see especially Sweden as a very equal and liberal country, yet I’ve literally been told that being pregnant in our visuals is a limitation to our release if we want media to acknowledge it. Both in regards to the ongoing women's rights debate in America, but also in general. Luckily the people on my small but amazing team are open minded and we do what we do despite. I'm staying confident in my choices.

The album is out on June 3rd. How will you celebrate?

Well I’ll most likely be in the hospital then. We set the release of the album before I knew about expecting a baby. So at this moment they share the same release day. Insanely.

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'Be Here Soon' is out on June 3rd.

Words: Gem Stokes

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