Jonathan Johansson

Tomorrow will bring the release of Johan Eckeborn’s and Jonathan Johansson’s Ett språk för dom dömda, an album originating from the soundtrack to last year’s acclaimed adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula at Uppsala Stadsteater. We met with Jonathan Johansson to talk about clichés, creative collaborations, and the need to stay at home and do absolutely nothing. 

We are sitting in Jonathan Johansson’s kitchen, him fresh from a badminton match, making scrambled eggs and sipping tea, talking about a book written a hundred and fifteen years ago in England.

What was your entry into Bram Stoker’s book and the play in Uppsala?
– They approached me to do a soundtrack and I ended up playing one of the parts, Jonathan says. Smart of them presenting it that way, I suppose. I’ve never had the slightest interest in vampires, but the driector Martin Lyngbo had a different take on the story. He wanted to explore the relationships. I spent a couple of days at home with the book and entered the project with few expectations.

– It’s so easy to enter the realm of clichés within this story, but Martin wanted to see Dracula as “the other”. The tyrannical despot, if you like. The one people agitate against. It might not be a sensational interpretation, but the history is full of examples. I suppose the war in Iraq is the obvious parallel. The righteous ones declare war against the despot, and end up destroyed.

Why is the album released now?
– First I’d like to point out that this is our record, Johan Eckeborn’s and mine. It’s almost more of his baby than mine. But we’ve been busy with other stuff. Switching record label, for instance. We met with pretty much all of them, which was a time consuming process. None of us were eager to shut ourselves in a bunker in Stockholm to record it either.

– It was when we were given the opportunity to go to a mansion in Italy with the whole band that something happened. It was the first time we actually worked with the band in the studio, which brought a certain nerve to the songs, making them something more than just a soundtrack. After that, Johan wanted to experiment a lot with strings and arrangements, which also took its time.

jonathan_johansson_f_jana_eriksson_5
Jonathan Johansson. Photo by Jana Eriksson.

You have also said that you were pretty much exhausted after the tenure at the theatre?
– And the touring, yes. I’ve seen television interviews from that time, and I look ill. Which I also was. Initially I ignored it, but I ended up taking antibiotics. Eventually, I reached a point where I had no choice but to take a break. I took a trip to New York and saw a friend in Berlin, but other than that I was just staying at home, sleeping in, taking long walks, resting, and reading. It took me the whole spring to recover, really, even if I did do a bit of writing. That’s how it is to be a musician, it’s very cyclical.

We were talking about the strings… This album sounds heavier, denser than your earlier stuff. I almost hesitate to use the word… goth?
– Well yes, goth. A goth record. You can still make a goth record nowadays, can’t you? Johan worked with it a bit on his own, so I was also a bit surprised when I heard the result.

That’s how it is to be a musician,
it’s very cyclical

What’s the difference between using someone else’s storytelling as a starting point, compared to your own?
– This project has to a great extent been about the craft of songwriting. I mean, it has still been a creative process, but it doesn’t emanate from me in quite the same way, as I was instructed to write music for certain scenes and moods.

– Martin would send his instructions from Denmark, and then Johan and I worked on it separately, Johan being at home with his first child. That’s pretty much how the songs came about, through long distance communication. Travelling ideas. The next to last track for instance, Ett annat ljus, is about a couple eagerly awaiting their first-born child, knowing that it might be the dark prince himself, so I tried to write it from their perspective.

Jonathan Johansson. Photo by Jana Eriksson.
Jonathan Johansson. Photo by Jana Eriksson.

You and Johan Eckeborn, how to you work together?
– I’d like to believe that we share the same goals, but at the same time we’re both strong-willed characters. The difference might be that I am the only one with a temper, which saves us a lot of arguing. I mean, there’s no point arguing with someone that doesn’t get angry, is it? We also have different responsibilities. He is mainly responsible for the production, the technical aspects of the recordings. I deal more with the presentation.

The hymn Härlig är jorden, how did it find its place in this context?
– The instruction was to write a funeral hymn. I sat down with You Tube, and naturally that was the first one to come up. I felt that I could do pretty much what I wanted with it, so it became a hymn that expresses both mourning and a longing for death. That hymn is one of my favourite songs in the entire universe.

The video for Den brända jorden, could you explain the idea behind it?
– We wanted to step outside the Dracula context. It is an attempt to convey that great European story we talked about earlier, the righteous ones who go to war and end up being destroyed. Light suggestion is how I would describe it.

You will do a short tour this February, will it be Ett språk för dom dömda exclusively or will you revisit your earlier records as well?
– We haven’t quite come around to how to do it yet, but it will be something spectacular. Financially it will be a catastrophe, but it would be somewhat undignified not to do it that way.

I know you won’t tell me, but that third pop record?
– There’s not much to tell yet, but it will be a reaction against everything I have done up until this point. I want to juxtapose all those slow songs with some pop. I had that half-year at home, which gave me some space to start anew. New themes, new tone.

Ett språk för dom dömda will be released on October 23. Jonathan Johansson and Johan Eckeborn will play Malmö February 5, Göteborg February 6 and Stockholm February 7.   

Photos by Jana Eriksson. The video for Den brända jorden is directed by Slobodan Zivic.