ionnalee (Jonna Lee of iamamiwhoami) has a brand new record out today. Titled Remember the Future, the full-length came quickly and unexpectedly; while it’s different to her previous work, the familiarly shimmering, atmospheric vibe we’ve come to expect from the Swedish artist is present throughout, and the line between Earth and space fittingly blurred. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Lee last month to discuss these new songs, her creative process, our planet and more, all of which you can read up on right now (after you grab a copy of the LP, of course):
BYT: You’ve got this new record out on the 31st, which is super exciting! Now, in the past, I know that your work has had a very strong connection to music videos. How many are you working on for this particular LP, and have you wrapped everything you plan to release for it?
JL: I’m working a bit now, actually! That’s why I’m so overworked; I was filming for two weeks before I left to come here. I’m not going to do a super expensive audio-visual thing, because I just did a feature film last year with the album, so I decided to go with a trilogy of videos instead. The second part has just been finished, and I’m going to do the third part while I’m in America, somehow! So I’ll be editing that while I’m here.
BYT: Cool! I’ve seen the first part, and those are your dogs who make a cameo, right? How did you decide to use them?
JL: I mean, they’re always with us, and initially it was just Ringo (who’s the little one, I adopted with Claes [Björklund], my collaborator); he has a very sci-fi, space look to him, so that made sense, but then Ghost just wanted to be there as well, so he was allowed to join. [Laughs]
BYT: Well they seem very natural in front of the camera. I don’t know if it took a lot of takes to get them to behave, because I know some dogs just know it as soon as they’re being filmed and stop doing what they’re supposed to, but hopefully it was easy!
JL: Are you a dog person?
BYT: Oh, totally.
JL: Because some people aren’t!
BYT: I know, it’s so weird!
JL: I know! I’m like, “What’s wrong with you?”
BYT: Who’s watching your dogs while you’re gone, then?
JL: There’s actually a lady who has the same breed as Ghost, who’s kind of hard to be with and so I can’t usually leave him with just anyone. But this lady is a professional, she has a husky-akita mix, so that worked out well.
BYT: Amazing! Alright, I promise to stop asking you about dogs. Back to the album! What was the moment that you had the idea that this body of work would be what it is?
JL: After the tour I was in the studio wondering, “What’s going to happen next? Do I need to take a break?” And I recorded some stuff, but then one of my friends got really, really ill, which was really hard. I started to write just to have something to look forward to, and it became this collection of songs. I told someone, “I’m not going to do an album, it’s just going to be a few songs.” But then eventually I realized I had a lot to write about after being on tour, because I hadn’t toured a lot; you can feel people’s support over the internet, but when you see it for yourself in front of you, it actually becomes real. So it became an album, and I didn’t plan it out that way; releasing an album is so much work, but it just came so quickly. It wasn’t a forced, three-year process or anything like that, it was just natural.
BYT: What was your workflow like, then? I know you said the songs just came naturally, but did you have any sort of daily routine while you were working?
JL: Well, I was alone for a lot of the writing process, because a lot of my close friends were away. But that’s always kind of a good thing, when you feel like you need to fill the empty space with something.
BYT: Right. And speaking of empty spaces, it must be a very stark contrast, going on tour and then coming back to such a quiet (at least by comparison) environment. How do you deal with that transition?
JL: I actually do quite well with being alone. For me, it’s actually more about the shock of being in these situations where you do have to be on stage in front of a lot of people. The first show, I just didn’t sleep at all. It’s so strange, you get all this energy, and it’s this amazing feeling, but then when you come home later that night it’s just so quiet. So I struggled with that a bit.
BYT: Yeah, it’s these two extremes that just happen within hours of one another. I think a lot of people struggle with that. And when you’re on stage, how much do you feel like you’re becoming a character? How much do you stay yourself?
JL: I feel like it’s more that there are different sides of my personality. So there’s the dominant side of my personality that will come out in my work and how I perform my work on stage; it’s more sensual, exploratory, and that’s the person who I’ll bring out on stage. Then I’m more of a brittle person just laying in my bed, staying at home. So it’s these different pieces. I feel like I force myself to take myself further on stage.
BYT: Do you find that people expect you to be a certain way based on the sides of yourself that you do express performatively, which are maybe less visible in your daily life?
JL: People see things and project them to their own wishes of what they want you to be. So yeah, some people will see the show and say, “Okay, so it’s not as dramatic as I expected.” It depends on what parts of my work they’ve seen. But I think you get personality in there, and I think there’s still a connection. I can see on people’s faces sometimes that they have specific ideas about me based on the work that I’ve done, though, and I’ll realize, “Okay, so you expect this from me now.”
BYT: Did you have much fan interaction on tour? Or did anybody recognize you out and about?
JL: I kind of stay away from it. But also, in cities like New York, you don’t really get noticed. I did have a few moments around the venues, and I also did some signings and meetings, and that’s always super amazing. It gives you so much energy to hear people tell you how they discovered your music. You go home and you say, “Okay, they actually do exist.” [Laughs]
BYT: So on the flip side of that, what are your feelings about the online interactions? You obviously do have a social media presence, so you’re not completely removed, but how do you feel about it as something you use in your daily life?
JL: I think just as I struggle with social interaction in physical life, it’s really hard online as well. I want to share what I do, and I think a lot of the times I end up just not doing it. So it’s a battle. I’m also a little older, you know? So if I was in my early twenties, I’d probably be so much more open about it. I’m just kind of guarded and not there with giving my life away. But I do love the internet as a source of information! [Laughs]
BYT: Semi-similarly, let’s talk about some of the overarching themes on this record; I know you’ve said a focus is on this sort of bizarre contrast between our perseverance for progress in spite of the fact that the planet is dying. Can you tell me more about that?
JL: I constantly feel this hopelessness about the state of the world. I think everyone does. But then at the same time, a lot of us are thinking about what we can do to contribute. Just in reference to my own personal space where I’ve been, I’m like, “Okay, we need to move forward.” I remember as a kid I felt like there was so much hope for the future, and I don’t feel like that now. I don’t think anyone does. Looking back at the space age of the sixties, we were sort of looking out into the future, and there was this feeling of hope and exploration. Now, instead, it’s like, “Where are we going to live when this planet is consumed?” So I’ve been thinking about that more, wrapping my head around it and seeing where it takes my sound and my visuals.
BYT: To me, it’s such a strange almost paradox right now when people continue to create even though so much is being destroyed. In terms of your own personal sources of inspiration and ideas, where do those generally come from? Dreams? The world around you? Everything?
JL: I think there’s a foundation of influence from childhood, like the basic layer of the things I grew up with, but then there’s also where we’ve come with iamamiwhoami, because before I did that I was in a completely different space. I was very lost; I hadn’t found my identity. Then when we got to this project, the dynamic that gave birth to iam sort of made me…I don’t know, I felt the story, and it just happened. I don’t dream. I think I’m just thinking all the time about what I want to do, what attracts me visually. And then there are the things I consume, which I try to keep to a minimum, because everything you digest is going to come out in what you do.
BYT: Right. Okay, and finally, we’ve got about three-fourths of the year left. What do you hope the rest of 2019 brings, either for you or for the world or for both?
JL: I think for myself, I’d like 2019 to be a year of balance. I’ve been working like a crazy person for ten years, and I’ve been trying to feel good and healthy in the process. Then in general, I’d say I’d like us all to find some insight into the seriousness of our current situation. I feel like I’m walking around and everyone’s just kind of looking down at their phones, continuing about their business, but I think big changes need to be made.
Don’t forget to grab Remember the Future here.
Featured photo by John Strandh