By Steven M. Housman
Jay-Jay Johanson gets great reception with Antenna
In his very first US interview, European recording artist Jay-Jay Johanson revealed to me the pure joy and excitement of releasing his American debut CD entitled Antenna. Born in Sweden at the tail end of the turbulent 60s, Johanson progressed through the influences of ABBA, Kiss and Portishead, to his own fascination with jazz, ultimately developing his unique electronica sound, which has been thrilling European audiences for years. In our conversation, we discussed his musical explorations, from his love of Kubricks soundtracks, to his latest single featured in the sexy new 2(x)ist television ad campaign.
This being your fourth CD, how do you feel this differs from the previous three?
The change started when I was making my third record. I was working with the same people, in the same studio, with the same equipment, also I had the same kind of inspiration for my first three albums, and I decided already during the making of the third record that next time that I wouldnt do the same thing again. Because I felt that a lot of the risks were not there anymore. I started to feel comfortable in the studio. And to me, I wanted to try new things and to work with new people. To try to feel like a kid in the studio again. To not know what would happen if I felt like this or that. And that s basically why this time I decided to work together with producers instead of to produce the album myself. The change started already while I was making my album Poison. When I started the process of making Antenna I definitely knew what direction I wanted to go in, and with what people to work with.
I understand you were inspired by Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter when writing this CD-Is that accurate?
Sure, sure. Who can not be? I like talking about Kubrick and Carpenter, I mean the biggest part of my record collection is soundtracks. Ive always been really into soundtracks. The soundtrack that I lately have been most into are the more electronica soundtracks, such as Carpenters and the electronic pioneers. Kubrick used to take tracks from the guys who made electronic music in the 40s and 50s. So, these guys were into electronica long before the word synthesizer was even invented. These kind of groundbreaking ideas were a big inspiration.
Automatic Lover is becoming very popular on the club circuit. Was it always your intention to have it as your kick-off single, or was it prompted by the release of the new 2(x)ist advertisements?
In Europe, its the second single. But in America its logical that we do it first. Its also the way of presenting a new artist. The story about the choice of Automatic Lover is pretty funny. Its the first time I did a cover. Its also incidentally the first 7 single that I bought as a kid. I dont think there is a cover of that song before mine. I think the song has a lot of potential. I really like the melody and always felt that I had to record the song someday.
The ad is very sexy and your song greatly enhances it. Were you surprised when the 2(x)ist people approached you?
No, not really. I think the track Automatic Lover is pretty sexy too. When I first saw the ad, I thought that it worked perfectly with the images. I think it works really well. Im very happy because the song comes out really nice in the ad. Some of my earlier tracks have been in advertisements, but I think my song is featured the best in this ad.
I also am aware that your music has been used in the Queer As Folk series. Were you thrilled to hear your own compositions used in a hit TV series?
Yes. It was the first time that American people could hear my music. I have a lot of American fans who have bought my records over here in Europe. Ive got some letters from American people in a fan club and such. But this was the first time where the people all over America could actually hear my songs. Im very happy about that. The TV series just started showing recently on Swedish TV. I havent seen the episode with my song in it, but I rely on the people and I think its cool.
When you were growing up, what musicians inspired you?
My dad is a big jazz addict, and my mom was really into Elvis. My sister was only listening to ABBA, and my brother was really in to the glam scene, with Swede, and such bands. Im the youngest in the family, so I realized that to be able to make a little bit of revolution in the house I had to be the noisiest of them all. So I started out as a hard rocker, only listening to Kiss and Black Sabbath. It wasnt until I discovered Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, that I realized that I got some other idols. So I would say that Kraftwerk was my biggest influence during the 80s. I also got into the hip-hop scene. I would say that in the 90s it was more or less groups like Massive Attack and Portishead. One really big moment in music for me was when I saw Chet Baker live in 1984. That also was really important. Thats when I started buying jazz records. Seeing Chet Baker was a magic moment for sure.
When you listen to music now, whom do you listen to?
Im DJing a lot as well nowadays. And also by living in France a lot now, I listen to a lot of French house and dance music scene. I appreciate the dance music a lot now. I actually really appreciate the David Bowie album a lot. Ive never been a Bowie fan before, but I really think that the new album is really good. But then again, I think the best album of last year was the Missy Elliott album.
Do you always write solo?
So far, yes. Theres one track on the new album, Déjà Vu, which is written together with my girlfriend. Weve also been working on some other tracks together, but basically I write my songs alone.
Do you have aspirations of collaborating together with any people in particular?
Well, Ive been approached by some artists big and small who wants me to write songs with them and produce their albums. Last year I got a phone call from the manager of Grace Jones who wanted me to work on her comeback. I dont know exactly where that project is right now but some songs have been sent over to her management. Basically I feel that my lyrics are so personal so I usually like to keep them myself. To be honest, Im not really fond of giving away songs. In certain cases of course I can be generous enough to write for other artists, but Im not so inclined to do so.
Since Automatic Lover is becoming such a big club hit, the song has developed a large gay following. Any feelings about that?
Not at all, I see it already happening here in Europe in the past few months. Ive also been doing some club gigs here and its a great audience.
As a heterosexual man, how do you feel that a lot of gay men are big fans of your music?
To me, as long as I am sure of who I am, I think all my fans are great. Im happy for all of them. I have nothing against anybody. I have so many friends who are gay, to me, I dont mind at all. As I said, gay people are a great audience.
Do you have plans to come to the US and tour with the release of Antenna?
We are coming over in a few weeks and Im sure Ill be coming back a lot in the spring and summer. Were still putting the schedule together.
Are there any songs on Antenna that are particularly special, more personal than some others?
When I started the recording of the album with all the electronics I was a little bit scared. Very often electronic music can be very cold, and I felt that after the first sessions, some tracks needed some warmth to be added. Thats when I arranged the recording of the string orchestra in Stockholm. Some of the moments with the string orchestra and the electronics became really magical for me, especially in the track Kate. So those particular moments are very special to me. Of course, it was also magical to record it with my girlfriend.
I was going to end the interview there, but now that you mentioned Kate, is that somebody that you know or is it purely fictional?
Actually, its nobody I know. I feel its a strong name, its a short name. I felt it was perfect.
© 2003 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.