Jenno Bjornkjaer and Katherine Mills Rymer, aka OOFJ, create an intense and chilling soundscape.
OOFJ create the kind of soundscape that conjures up thoughts of driving through a strange deserted town at night, with an eerie sense of not quite being alone despite no other sign of human existence, as blurry shadows dance in the moonlight, then fade like ghosts.
Their explorative electronica effortlessly merges symphonic synaesthesia and seductive vocals, beautifully crafted to awaken the spirit and hypnotise the restless mind.
Climaxing into a vibrant and haunting sonic tapestry, it’s like a dark cinematic journey into a slightly sinister hyper-reality, a trip so addictive you can’t wait to experience it over and over again.
We spoke with the Danish / South African duo about falling in love with fish, the allure of James Bond themes and their latest mood unsettling new track, “You’re Always Good”, which features some pretty frenetic jungle-esque percussion from Trentemoller’s Jakob Høyer.
So who are OOFJ and what do the initials stand for?
OOFJ is Jenno Bjornkjaer and Katherine Mills Rymer. It stands for Orchestra of Jenno (which was Jenno’s solo moniker) but then we formed the band and it became OOFJ. We liked how it looked and because it can be pronounced any way you want. We say ‘OOFJ’ as in “Smooch” and also we say O.O.F.J or some people say ‘O Of J’. It’s a very democratic name and also we realise a bit strange.
Describe your sound to anyone who hasn’t heard it yet?
Jenno: Heavy bass lines and an angelic voice with orchestral movements in a synth environment.
Katherine: Almost like a very shiny metallic surface that bends, shatters and wraps around.
It’s a sound which really creates an atmosphere and moment – where does your inspiration come from and how does that translate into the music?
Jenno: For me it comes from growing up with a classical training (I studied violin as a child) and my brother is the Concert Master of the Royal Danish Opera, so the atmosphere I know very well is that 20th Century big, grand heartbreak of strings. The synthy electronica is my break from that. I think maybe the atmosphere comes from the two sides having an argument and then making up.
Katherine: There is something to be said of nostalgia. I talk about it a lot and think about it a lot. Nostalgia is a “hurt so good” feeling. Thinking back on gorgeous things is even worse sometimes than something presently awful. That’s how I get to our sound, having that direct feeling of trying to make something feel like it is the last time and the best time, floating between memory and terror.
And your debut album “Disco to Die To” was very much a mix of all of that – I’m thinking the theme you started with was, ‘something to dance to while having an inner emotional breakdown’. Am I close?
Katherine: Haha. Yes! That’s close. We sound like very cheerful people.
Jenno: Yes. I think Katherine described it well once, she said that it was like music to listen to before going out when you’re really unhappy but you have a drink, smoke a lot and kind of have your own party. You look like a million bucks but you’re flirting between melancholia and manic ego.
And Katherine, your Mum’s parrot also made its musical debut on that album, is that right?
Katherine: YES! On a track called “Death Teeth,” you’ll hear it. It sounds almost like a very pretty sounding Hadeda (a South African bird). Its funny the parrot, (who is called Squawky) is on that track since its quite a scary song. And I am quite afraid of birds. They have this ancient, pre-historic, little mini-dinosaur thing. They make me feel weird.
Talking of all things weird, the video for your new single (“You’re Always Good”), follows your signature dark visual narrative – but this one is particularly odd in a David Lynch meets Wes Anderson meets a really ugly fish kind of way! Can you describe what it’s all about?
Jenno: Just as you described it is what we love! It’s also about intimacy and loneliness on a meta level. We tried to imagine what it would be like to fall in love with a girl who is actually a fish. Someone you love but there is no way the relationship is ever gonna last.
Katherine: A friend of mine told me this Freudian joke – would you have sex with a girl with a fish face or a fish body? And supposedly the punchline is, you should choose a fish body, because you can still get the sex part to some degree, without having to make out with a fish. That was the germination of the idea for the video. It’s the same thing with fish as with birds. They are very “primordial soup,” and it’s weird because we see them all the time and we eat them etc. But as soon as you present them in a way that is unusual (holding onto the fish like a dog with your teeth, licking the back of a slimy fish), it becomes horrifying
The song itself has that brilliantly unnerving and immersive feel, building into something explosive – Jenno, you created some of the tracks for Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia’”- how did that come about?
I played all the jazz which is the only music in the film besides the incredibly beautiful overture from Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde which I, unfortunately did not make.
I was living in New York at the time and one day I got the call to go to Sweden and record the songs. I worked on it, on and off, for about six months. We were trying to create a different slightly odd sound of jazz with cheesy electric piano and old-school saxophone, that fitted the wedding scenes it was used for.
And if you could choose a film you would’ve loved to have scored, what would it be?
Jenno: There are so many great scores, but something that is just unbelievably amazing is of course James Bond. I would have loved to have come up with John Barry’s orchestral sound. It’s very, very special, timeless and so big and sexy. It’s like, everybody loves it again and again, it never grows old.
Twin Peaks also returns in 2016 to play with our minds again – how about creating the soundtrack for that? I think your soundscape would be perfect!
Katherine: From your lips to God’s ears!
Jenno: Yeah! Wow. Imagine, pretty hard to come up against the original scores… But hey you only live once.
And was it that life philosophy which brought you both together musically then?
Jenno: It came about after Katherine’s Dad had died suddenly. And it was this whirlwind of immediately flying from the US to South Africa. I was still, up until that point, only doing instrumental stuff. And I had an idea that Katherine should just sing a little soft thing on one track (I heard her humming sometimes so I thought, ‘why not, lets try’). She was reluctant and thought it was embarrassing. But that’s how it happened. Upstairs in her brother’s room, while her Mum was vacuuming downstairs!
Katherine: Yeah and then Jenno left to go to Europe and suddenly started sending me tracks to sing over and compose. I had nothing to do, I was just hanging out in my childhood room, so I sucked up my embarrassment and did it.
So for anyone who doesn’t know, you’re a real-life couple and are engaged, but not yet married (as some press have reported) – how does that romantic chemistry present itself in your musical output then?
Jenno: Our chemistry in romantic terms means we make things very intimately, we can create in a very safe space. But also a very real honest place where each of us can tell the other, I think that’s shit or, that’s boring etc. The romance in the music is maybe a by-product of our romance and very interwoven life, but we never feel like we’re inspired directly by our relationship otherwise I think people would yawn.
So is it easy to live and work together creatively – do you ever have days when you think, oh no, not you again!?
Jenno: I think that only happens in rehearsal. It’s more like before playing we might both have anxiety and that blocks being creative and it affects each of us by creating a tension. Not towards each other but towards the entity of the music.
Katherine: Yes, but we never go that deep with the feeling.
So you’re based in LA now, which has a really diverse music scene where the old school lives in harmony with the new school – does that musical psyche fit in with your vision?
Jenno: Yes definitely. We want to create something that can mix classical, progressive electronic, dance music etc.
Katherine: And make something completely on its own. I think we’re looking at it like, you might not like it, but you can hopefully tell it is well made and unique.
And everyone also drives everywhere in LA – so what are you listening to while driving?
Jenno: I don’t listen to music unless I am obsessed with how they got to their sound. I very rarely listen to music in the car, unless I am trying out a new master version of something we do, to check on the different speakers.
Katherine: I used to listen to more music when I drove. Now with making music, there is a different part of the brain that gives me a tension or anxiety. I am a Granny, basically I like listening to BBC history podcasts like Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time.” I listen to music when I walk though.
Ok, so you don’t listen to music that much, but you must have other creatives / artists you admire – if you could collaborate with someone, who would it be?
Jenno: I love Spike Jonze’s work. That would be ridiculous and awesome to do something with him.
Katherine: Yeah, we have been digging into Leo Carax more and more and that would also be mind-blowing.
And what about the live version of OOFJ, are you planning to tour soon and what can we expect?
Jenno: Hopefully we’ll do some shows and tour in the spring next year around the album release… nothing is set in stone yet.
The live show is remix versions of the songs with everything cut up in the computer so you can put it together in new ways every night. No show is the same twice.
Finally, just to whet our appetites, what else can we look forward to from you release-wise, and will there be more surreal and oddball videos?
Jenno: Our new album “Acute Feast” comes out in March next year. We have some other videos also coming in the new year. And some remixes are in the works too.
Katherine: Yeah we’re throwing around ideas for the new videos. I keep trying to make my life easier and not do something like swimming in the freezing Danish ocean with a dead fish in my mouth, like I did in the last video!
Jenno: You’ll probably do something equally laborious.
“You’re Always Good” is out now and the follow-up LP “Acute Feast” is set for release in Spring next year.
For more info http://oofj.net/
Words: Kate Lawson