Interview with Johan G. Winther
"I Record My Music In A Cabin In The Woods"
Johan G. Winther's album "The Rupturing Sowle" will be released on March 26th. I have arranged an interview with him to get some insights into the record.
Together with his band Scraps of Tape, the Gothenburg based musician has already recorded seven great albums. Many of you will also remember his hardcore group Blessings. He recorded two long players with them. He devoted himself to post-rock last March with his Barrens debut album and landed in numerous best-of lists. With his new solo album, too, he convinces with soulful and diverse songs. The process of its making was a very personal one.
Anne: Hi, Johan! Thanks for taking the time! How are things going? I am sure you're looking forward to the release of "The Rupturing Sowle"?
"I am proud of "The Rupturing Sowle"
Johan: Hello Anne! Thank you for your interest in what I do. Things are perfect, considering the times we find ourselves in. My family and friends are mostly well, and my wife and I have the good fortune to still have our jobs and the possibility to stay safe and still see friends as long as we take precautions. I do miss playing live, touring and being more social, of course, but all in all, nothing to really complain about. I'm indeed very excited to release "The Rupturing Sowle". It is a record I am very proud of and put a lot of work into. It was recorded in 2012 and originally released in a limited cassette edition in 2013 via the excellent small Swedish label Zeon Light Kassett. To now see it released in glorious vinyl format via one of my favourite labels out there. It is simply amazing!
Anne: You've recorded the album in voluntary pre-Corona isolation in a small cabin in the Swedish woods. What was that like? Did you do that before?
"I don't have a lot of silence"
Johan: This cabin is where my family and I spend most of our free time when we're outside of the city. I always record a lot whenever I'm there for all of my various bands and projects. The cabin has especially become the most important place for my solo music: endless inspiration and a sense of being exactly where you're supposed to be.
Anne: That sounds perfect. Does silence motivate you? I can imagine sitting alone in a cabin can be pretty silent – I did that to get some writing done some time ago, too, and it seemed to help me a lot.
Johan: silence is actually something that I don't really have a lot of in my life. There is always sounds going on around me. I have two kids who rarely are silent, I listen to or work on music most of the time, and when I don't, I usually listen to audiobooks or podcasts. I have tinnitus and usually play something when I sleep as well in headphones. When I read, I usually also have music playing. So silence is not something I can say really motivates me, but it does. However, it very much inspires me. Especially at those times when I chance upon it instead of actively seek it out. At those times, it can really put things into focus or make you sit up and seriously take notice.
Anne: What is the concept of "The Rupturing Sowle"? What story does it tell?
"The dichotomy of our being"
Johan: "The Rupturing Sowle" started to come alive when I became a father for the first time back in 2010. I reshaped my life in many ways. It made me think about things in new ways and it acted heavily upon my subconscious, and I started to dream parts of what I perceived as the same dream repeatedly. It kept going for about a year, and I started to take notes whenever I had the chance to do so. Slowly the different parts of the dream solidified into a narrative with several different scenes or tableaus taking shape. I spent a long time interpreting these scenes and trying to figure out what it was I was trying to tell myself/wrap my head around.
As the story slowly took shape in my mind, I also started to visualize certain elements of the story as particular instruments/voices and sounds and how I wanted them to interact. The core concept revolves around our human nature. Good and bad, light and darkness, and how we learn how to deal with this dichotomy of our being throughout our lives, from being children all the way until we die.
I don't want to explain the narrative too much to anyone listening since I don't really want to push anyone into a certain idea of what the songs are about. Each listener should make up his or her own mind for a fuller experience. There is, however, a decent breadcrumb trail to follow in the artwork of the vinyl if one wishes to do so, which lays out the broad strokes of the story I imagined.
Anne: Is the house on the cover of the record the one you were staying at when you recorded it?
"I love working with Pelagic"
Johan: Yes. All images from the artwork are either inside/outside or right near the cabin where the record was recorded.
Anne: Do you enjoy working with Pelagic Records?
Johan: Very much! Pelagic Records is a label run by a group of extremely inspiring people. Total professionals and 100 per cent dedicated to each release and the best way to present it. I have two records coming out this year with different projects via Pelagic, and last year we released our debut album "Penumbra" with Barrens, so it's safe to say I feel pleased with them as a label.
Anne: You said you like mixing ugly with beautiful sounds. How do I have to imagine that?
Johan: I like to work with uncomfortable sounds just as much as with beautiful sounds, and pairing these types of sounds together makes the most wonderful things happen. I have always been very interested in the Musique Concrete movement and the composers associated with GRMC. This has fuelled a lot of my solo music. I've released many experimental records where sound manipulation and found sounds or field recordings are a big part. My favourite thing is to combine sounds that might feel very apart from each other, to create new soundscapes and moods.
On The Rupturing Sowle, I tried to subtly use this technique by, for example dubbing several melodies and harmonies with one "beautiful" and one "ugly" sound, or having two voices of a certain part is very opposed, perhaps in actual sound but also sometimes in recording technique or editing.
Anne: Did you play all instruments on "The Rupturing Sowle" yourself?
"We are all working on new ways"
Johan: I recorded and played everything on "The Rupturing Sowle" myself, except for the cello, which my dear friend Emelie Molin from Audrey and Mire Kay played. It was the one instrument I knew I really wanted to use on the record that I couldn't play, and luckily Emelie agreed to help me and lend me some of her magic.
Anne: Did the Corona crisis affect your work as a musician?
Johan: For the other projects that I am focusing on, it has definitely had a huge impact. Many of the bands I'm in were writing for new albums, and since I don't live in the same city as most of the other members, this has slowed or, in some cases, completely halted the creative process. We're all working on new ways to deal with the pandemic as groups, and we're getting there. The main trouble, as I mentioned, is distance. It's not super smart to travel too much between cities, even if we're not doing the lockdown here in Sweden.
"Field recordings fascinate me"
Anne: I would like to come back to field recordings. For "The Rupturing Sowle", you did some of them: the open fireplace in the living room of your cabin and some bird song, for example. You've done a lot of that before, haven't you?
Johan: Yes, I've had a long interest in field recordings and found sounds, as I mentioned before. The way you can transform a sound that might be very common to you into something completely alien through simple methods as pitch shifting or reversing never ceases to amaze me. To combine field recordings of sounds that never really meet in real life into compositions are also something I quite enjoy.
Anne: What's your favourite song on "The Rupturing Sowle"?
"The song 'The Drifting Boat/Drunk On Blood' has my son's sound on it"
Johan: Oh, that's a tough one. I perceive it as a whole, or a play where each piece is informed by the preceding or following one, and have actually found it somewhat strange to hear the various tracks disjointed from each other. However, the track "The Drifting Boat/Drunk On Blood", which has my firstborn son's sounds on it together with the cabin's open fire, always transports me straight to the cabin wherever I am.
When we recorded the cello parts of "As Above, So Below", it's also a very dear memory for me, it just came together in such an organic way and helped me define many of the cello's voice gonna represent throughout the record.
Anne: You said your dreams played an important part in the creative process, leading to "The Rupturing Sowle". Which was that?
Johan: I think I already answered this quite thoroughly above (smiles).
Anne: You've been and are part of many musical projects – all with different styles and backgrounds. Who would you say are your most important influences? Where are your roots?
Sonic Youth and black metal
Johan: My strongest influences from a young age were black metal, Sonic Youth and experimental music/musique concrete. During the end of the 1990s into the early 2000s, I was very involved in the Swedish DIY scene and inspired by punk/hardcore ethics. We started touring in the early 2000s with Scraps Of Tape and have continued up until right before the pandemic, and I must say that all the people and attitudes I've come across in the DIY Punk scene have been the most consistent and inspiring thing to make me keep making and releasing music.
Anne: What's up next for you? Which projects are you working on at the moment?
Johan: At the moment, quite a few exciting projects are going on! We're working on the follow up to "Penumbra" with Barrens and on a new record with Blessings. I have two as yet secret projects nearing completion and release hopefully during 2021, as well as some solo material in the works, but my solo stuff needs to take a back seat at the moment, or I'll burn out, I think. I still have a family and a full-time job that needs my attention. And I'm working on a lot of art as well, both for my own use and other bands. But hopefully, the pandemic will be dealt with soon, and we can get back on the road with some bands and start seeing each other again.
Anne: Thank you very much for this very sympathetic interview! It was a pleasure getting to know you! I wish you all the best with your album! Much success!
Johan: Thank you very much for asking me these questions! It has been an absolute pleasure! Stay well and safe out there, and see you in the future!