Jay-Jay Johanson: ‘Develop your creativity and believe in it’

Jay Jay Johanson after the London gig

Jay Jay Johanson, in London

With Jay-Jay Johanson’s next album ‘Opium’ expected in June, and his new EP ‘Moonshine’ just out, I’ve looked back at some interviews we did during his ‘Cockroach’ tour last year. Here are some extracts. A chance to find out a bit more about the person behind the rich, melancholic voice…

(Born in Trollhättan on the West coast of Sweden in 1969, Jay-Jay Johanson grew up in the little town of Skara, then moved to Stockholm, where he went to art school, in 1991. Married to Laura Delicata, they have a young son Roman Sixten Lou Delicata Johanson.)

Where do you feel most at home?  Here, at home, in Sundbyberg, in the suburbs of Stockholm.

If you had more free time, what would you dream of doing with it?  Painting, drawing, taking photos, travelling with my family, learning to play guitar better.

As well as music, is there another activity you’d like to do more in the long term?  Well, film is something that inspires me alot, and I adore making my videos. So… write a small script, have auditions, make a soundtrack and find a great film photographer… Yes, that would be truly awesome.

When times are tough, what keeps you going?  Creativity, and family.

Is there a particular music that you keep coming back to listen to, that has accompanied you through changes?  Chet (Baker)… and if I have to try to find something else to answer… hmmm… well, the Cocteau Twins, Velvet Underground, David Sylvian, Brian Eno, My Bloody Valentine…

I’d like to ask what sort of things inspire you. Not so easy in such a short conversation…  I’m not inspired by other musicians, when it comes to the actual part of writing, lyrics and melody, I try to stay away from any influences. But when we start to arrange and produce my songs, then I enjoy being inspired, and I find most inspiration from classic music and soundtracks. I used to be obsessed by Bernard Herrman, John Barry, Ennio Moriccone and Michel Legrand etc. The drama you can find in this music is so great, and there is nothing of it in pop music – so I try to bring some of that dramaturgy into my arrangements.


Jay-Jay Johanson, for the album Cockroach

With this in mind, can you see a change in your sources of inspiration over time?  Well, my songs and my songwriting have changed since I met my wife, and again since we had our boy. Before I met Laura, I was more depressed and suicidal, nowadays I find myself more romantic and paranoid maybe…

Could you name a few new groups you like?  King Krule, Grimes, FKA Twigs, oh there are many… I really like to listen to new bands, new young creative experimental artists.

About your beginnings: do you remember a moment when you decided “I want to become a singer/songwriter”?  When I saw Chet Baker live on stage back in 1984. Before that evening, I thought that you needed to be proud and loud and extrovert to be on stage… but Chet was quiet and shy, and whispered his sadness in the microphone. And he moved away his chair from the lights, so he was sitting in the dark on stage. It was awesome… and I thought: ‘I want to do that too – I can do that too…’

Which songs have you most enjoyed recording?  Hmm… the whole first album Whiskey was fun, ’cause it was my first time in a recording studio. Especially The Girl I Love is Gone and I’m Older Now. Poison was very special, especially Believe in Us, that I recorded on my 30th birthday, all alone in the studio, started in the morning and the song was finished before I went to bed.

The Long Term album was nice to record, because then we were back again in the studio with the same musicians as on the first three albums. Monologue and Shadows on the Spellbound album was very interesting to make: I did them all alone in my bedroom, and I’d just bought an acoustic guitar and started learning how to play.

And then Cockroach…hmm, Coincidence was a true pleasure to make, the peculiar drum structure on that song was so fun to create. And it was a true pleasure to record my older sister playing the flute part on Hawkeye. She also played the flute on The Girl I Love is Gone, the first song we ever recorded.

Do you ever worry before a concert?  I have never been nervous or worried. I look forward to each concert… and just try to do the best I can.

Could you tell me about your links with London?  London has a very special place in my heart. It was the first place I escaped to as a kid. I used to take the 24-hour boat from Gothenburg to Harwich, and then the bus up to London. I did this trip two times per year between 1984 and 1996. I adored the club scene in the mid 80s, and then it became awesome again in the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s. And I used to work in London, at i-D magazine back in 1992.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone with dreams of becoming a musician?  You know, the best thing is to always try to find your own style, and to always be true to yourself, not trying to do what other people are already doing. Develop your creativity and believe in it, and work, work, work!

Thank you Jay-Jay!   


This is from a ‘before and after’ series around Jay-Jay Johanson’s London gigs in 2014 (in French). Our third and final interview is on the way… sometime soon.


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