Early December, 2009, a mysterious video, less than a minute long and with the title “Prelude 699130082.451322-22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.14.1.12”, started the fire of iamamiwhoami, the most arty multimedia project the YouTube generation had ever seen.
For a few months, there was nothing but questions on the net. At the time, nobody knew who was behind the tiny visual gems, or what their intentions were. The videos (chapters, according to their makers) continued to surface, but the questions remained. However, when ‘b’ appeared, in March 2010, the sharpest minds pointed at Jonna Lee, a Swedish singer-songwriter who had so far released two albums under her own name. From being an anonymous pop-folk artist, our heroine mutated into one of the queens of synthetic pop, taking the cyber-baton from the also mysterious Karin Dreijer Andersson (half of The Knife, who went solo under the name of Fever Ray).
With the mystery resolved, curiosity led us to follow her next steps with religious attention. Nevertheless, what made use throw ourselves at her feet forever happened on 16th November, 2010. Under the title “To Whom It May Concern: In Concert”, iamamiwhoami offered an hour-long online concert that was so presumptuous, sick, and visually devastating, that we don't think anyone will even dare to rival it in a long time (though they deleted the video from their official YouTube account, it's still available).
With the foundations for their audio-visual project more than laid, especially after that iconic highlight of “; john” / “clump” and the toilet paper bed, the group started to upload the tracks that would form their first studio full-length, “kin”, released on 3rd September via Cooperative Music on CD+DVD. This is why we sent Jonna Lee a list of questions. Of course, you won't find the typical answers every artist, confronted with the same questions over and over, gives out of inertia. As cryptic as in her videos, Lee keeps us at bay, gives us answers we don't really know what to think about, and raises more questions about her already complex multimedia framework. Maybe it's for the best: if she would actually say what we want hear, the mystery would be gone, now wouldn't it?
You’ve been one of the biggest pioneers of viral promotion. Who had the idea of pushing this idea of viral promotion?
I gave birth to and executed the idea of producing and sharing our chronological episodes in real time. During the first months, before “b”, everyone was wondering who was behind iamamiwhoami.
There were rumours that maybe it was Goldfrapp, The Knife, or even Christina Aguilera. When you read all of these rumours, what were you thinking? Did you expect all of these crazy reactions?
I needed to focus on creating for iamamiwhoami to continue. It was too soon to tell what it would grow into. Eventually the noise would settle for the essential to be in focus which is the work we have done.
How did iamamiwhoami really start? Maybe Jonna Lee wasn’t satisfied with her own career and needed a change?
It was sprung from experiencing convention in its purest form. There was a foundation of songs that had to be able to grow freely. I tore the formerly by its roots and started over. To physically visualize the songs has been an aim since long. I began experimenting with our visual collaborators.
Does the numbering of the first videos have any occult meaning?
They serve their purpose in both clarity and in the abstract. Articulating ours limits the audience interpretations. I'm confident in their capability.
Was your objective to release a whole album from the start, or did the idea come after the success of the viral videos?
All our work is made in real time, sonically and visually. Each series have been planned for soon before the process of making, but each episode is completed just before sharing.
What’s the main recording process of one of your songs?
They all vary from each other. The voice is a useful tool of communication. Setting moods to words is another. Blending different emotions in sound and imagery is fascinating for us.
When you recor ded the tracks in the studio did you have a clear idea of how it had to sound, or did it come with the studio process?
The idea of “kin” started growing at our first live show in 2011 as is reflected in “; john” and “clump”. Its sound was the first to develop when the creative process began. It was created chronologically. “bounty” was created as it was shared, episode by episode.
How many people have collaborated on the album, across the whole process, apart from Jonna?
For all sounds it is me and Claes Björklund and for all visuals it is our visual collaborators and I.
"Creating chronologically allows you to time travel when looking back"
How do you feel your songs have evolved since “b” until today?
It is a constant evolution but the core is solid. Creating chronologically allows you to time travel when looking back.
Why haven’t you included any tracks prior to “sever” (for example “; john” and “clump”) on “kin”? Is there a possibility they might be released on a physical format in the future?
They are not a part of “kin”. They are the epilogue of the “bounty” and have a relevance in their own time.
Do you think you made a big step with “; john” and “clump”?
A lot of people consider them two of the best tracks/videos. I feel equal warmth for all our work. It is what it is: sprung from necessity.
In November 2010, we had the opportunity to enjoy “In Concert”. How long did it take to record it? And what was the most difficult aspect of the process?
“In Concert” was 1 hour and 4 minutes long. We prepared carefully for that night and our forest showed its better sides. Time was of an essence. Sometimes a good worker has to be willing to lose it all. And so he did.
With the “kin” era, the lead characters of your videos are mainly hairy monsters. Lots of things have been said about it, but I would like to know your reasons behind this idea?
They represent a part of me and most others. Life with it is very much a delight. I have experienced the consequences of living without it.
Your only live concert was at the Way Out Festival. Could you tell us more about the rumours of your first European tour in the coming months? What would be the concept of the whole tour?
I'm looking forward to displaying our “kin” to my significant others while delivering it to its next of kin.The concerts will continue the on-going conversation and “kin” will show its different sides.
Is it difficult to transfer the imagery of your videos to the stage?
They are two different occurrences. But yes, all our work is challenging. Each episodes' purpose will decide its setting and way of communication.
Lady Gaga has ‘House of Gaga’; what is the creative team behind all your videos? Who are they and how many people are involved?
iamamiwhoami has worked with the same visual collaborators since the beginning as per below. There is an undeniable chemistry.
Do you have a big budget or are your ideas limited to a specific, smaller budget?
During the first years of running To Whom It May Concern there was none at all. Now the work we have done has made it possible to continue even though it means working with limited means. The motives to why you are creating become very clear and that is something we value.
Which are the bands you are influenced by?
The bubble we've built around us is now self-sufficient. Continuing the story I feed off of it.
Do you have any relationships with other pop electronic bands from Scandinavia? (For example, The Knife, Royksopp or even Robyn?) Or do you prefer to go on your own?
iamamiwhoami have so far kept within our bubble. In a year, if there are no apocalypses going on, which are your future plans? I exist in the now. And who knows what comes next.