iamamiwhoami, or Jonna has spent nearly five years as an unidentified artist, spreading her ideas through both her music and striking imagery in her bizarre videos.
Jonna Lee, better known by her peculiarly metaphysical moniker iamamiwhoami, is not your average YouTube star. When the Swedish musician released Prelude 699130082.451322-18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.14.1.12 nearly five years ago watchers were greeted, not with some shaky view of a teen bedroom, but with a tangled mass of tree branches shot in an eerily saturated light. As the short clip plays the branches begin twisting and turning in the wind, revealing themselves to be a mesh of disembodied limbs poking from vast oak trunks.
Over the months that followed the then unidentified artist would go on to release a steady stream of teasers which served only to further shroud the author in mystery. What do the peculiar titles mean? Who is the musician behind them? And did I just see someone just licking semen on a piece of bark!? Now on her fourth album, BLUE, the anonymity may have started to dissipate, but iamamiwhoami’s vast audiovisual narrative is still as perplexingly layered as ever. Wanting to find out more about the latest chapter in her epic, we sat down with the Jonna to find out more about what it’s like crowd-funding an album, how she’s built a quasi-symbiotic relationship to rival Lady Gaga and what’s next for her To Whom It May Concern platform.
In an age where many musicians release their music via Soundcloud and Bandcamp, you chose YouTube. Why?
Our films are our songs visualised. They communicate the message of each song’s story. Each performance engages and enhances the emotions for those viewing both sound and the visuals. We work in a series format. You can follow iamamiwhoami from our first episode in 2009 right up until our current work in 2014 as part of one continuous storyline.
How do you think digital platforms are changing the way artists engage with their audience?
It enables sharing and sharing is a powerful tool. It also gives possibility to shorten the distance between the artist and the audience. In our case even the production itself involves the audience. We have a very strong bond with our followers through direct communication. Aside from the creation itself, I believe it’s our relationship with our audience that matters most.
What’s your mission with To Whom It May Concern? Do you envisage it as a platform for other musicians and creative to express themselves?
The mission of my label is to allow us to be independent – it means we have no creative boundaries. I can do exactly what I want working the way we do. It does mean that we have to work with very little funds, but that’s something we’ve chosen to do since the beginning. If you can make what you wanted happen under these conditions then you know that the work that comes out of it is made because your passion for creating it was there. As of now, every second of our time goes into making our releases but the scope of To Whom It May Concern may well expand. We live for exploring.
Where do you draw inspiration for your music?
Nature. Minds and behaviours. The online world and this project’s own evolution within that sphere. iamamiwhoami is an organic life form that feeds off of the audiences reactions to our music, films and communication. Having been brought up in this raw, boundless nature laid a foundation of fascination with nature that I share with my collaborators.
Is mystery important to you? To maintain some sense of detachment? Does it ever get lonely?
Integrity is important to me – maintaining the passion i feel for what I do. Yes it does sometimes, but i don’t mind that. Relying on yourself gives clarity.
You chose to name the latest album BLUE, why that colour?
BLUE refers to the water theme of the album but it also holds a double meaning. Water is a symbol of the online world. BLUE came from my reflections on being an artist with my feet in the physical world whilst my head is in the digital world.
Whilst they’re by no means mutually exclusive, do you see yourself more as an artist than a musician?
It varies. When writing music I am a musician. When the album is written and I start recording with Claes, I am the artist and executive producer. Once we start making the films I’m more of a visual artist when directing and performing. Being in charge of the label is a side of me I don’t want to know too well. At the core I’ll always be a singer. Music is everything, and expressing it in multiple ways is home for me.
You’ve said that the album stems from emotion and collective relationships between yourself and a group, how would you define your relationship with the audience?
iamamiwhoami was brought to life by our audience in 2009 building a community around the project. We started as an experimental side project on a YouTube account, but their engagement gave us a name and a shape and gave me courage to pursue this and leave my previous life behind. This is all reflected in each chronological episode that iamamiwhoami has released. They are always heard and they’re always represented in our music and films. It’s the most beautiful and complex relationship, still based on mutual beliefs. The community is growing. As long as it does we can carry on.
Words: Thomas Curry.