Wonderland.

NEW NOISE: JOHAN LENOX

The artist bringing classical music into the mainstream debuts his genre-defying EP, “Everybody’s Cool But Me”.

Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox bench

All clothing Bode.

Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox bench
All clothing Bode.

There aren’t many artists whose discography boasts collaborations with Kanye West, Travis Scott and Vic Mensa. And even more unexpected are the classical music roots at the heart of these collabs.

Introducing Johan Lenox, the Boston-born musician, classical composer and producer, who did exactly that, after making waves as the composer of Yeethoven, the concert that merges the compositions of Kanye West and Beethoven. A bold vision, but it’s one that paid off, and led to johan not only contributing to a Travis Scott track, but composing an orchestral section for West’s “We Got Love”, which the rapper debuted on Saturday Night Live.

“My dream is to make classical music relevant in pop culture, through immersive and all-encompassing experiences”, says Lenox. With his debut EP, “Everybody’s Cool But Me”, the singer pairs orchestral strings with slick hip-hop beats, joining the two genres to create an undeniably original sound.

“I want to capture the feeling of my era”, Lenox explains. “I want to capture what it’s like to be growing up in America right now”.

We speak to the innovative artist below…

Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox box
Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox park

(LEFT) All clothing John Elliott.
(RIGHT) All clothing Bode.

Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox box
All clothing John Elliott.
Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox park
All clothing Bode.

What experiences or emotions do you draw on the most for your lyrics?
I try to write about just feeling disconnected from other people, especially coming of age in America right now. Relying on community and friends to avoid loneliness, but not actually having constructive relationships with people.

What was the music scene like growing up in Boston?
I wasn’t really involved in this type of music at all when I was growing up in Boston, I was pretty much living under a rock as far as pop culture. But I was extremely involved in classical music there, and Boston was a great place for that. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the best in the world, and I also was able to study classical composition on weekends at New England Conservatory. More recently I’ve become a fan of other Boston artists like Cousin Stizz, whose new album I worked on this year.

You’ve collaborated with Alessia Cara, 070 Shake, Nas and more. Who would be your dream artist to work with, dead or alive?
I think Bon Iver would be up there for sure. Technically I helped out with his last album but that was very minimal and I never met him or anything. I already met and worked with Kanye very briefly, but doing more of that would be awesome if it happens, since his music was such a huge part of how I got where I am now.

How did it feel to hear your music – your collaboration with Kanye – on Saturday Night Live during his performance?
That shit was absolutely crazy. I woke up to a ton of notifications on twitter because Mike Dean had tagged me in a post about it to make sure I got recognition. I didn’t just arrange the parts on that one, I wrote the entire melody and harmony, so basically the entirety of the music that plays at the end of the song (“We Got Love”). And it’s not just in the background, it’s like this entire moment where Kanye and Teyana are just standing on the stage while my music is playing. That was wild.

What inspired you to merge classical music with hip-hop, as you did in Yeethoven, which you composed?
My friend Yuga Cohler had been appointed as the conductor of this orchestra run by the Young Musicians Foundation of LA. He wanted to do something crazy with one of the concerts, and he knew he wanted Kanye music to be a part of it somehow. He approached me with that general idea and ended up really trying to answer the question, “why do we and so many of our classical friends think Kanye’s music has gotten so interesting in the past few years?”. So we identified some musical examples of that, and decided to present them as classical music. Adding Beethoven into it just was to offer a reference point to show how, from our perspective, Kanye’s music was veering in this more composer-ish direction.

Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox trees
Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox white background

All clothing Bode.

Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox trees
All clothing Bode.
Wonderland new noise Johan Lenox white background

Do you think this blending of genres is something that’s lacking in the music industry at the moment?
It was never really about blending or combining genres for us. It was really just trying to make an argument about the things that we think classical music stands for, and who we as the classical community think is most embodying those ideas currently.

How did the success of Yeethoven affect your career trajectory?
Pretty much completely! I connected with Mike Dean because of it, which is what led to everything with Kanye and Travis Scott. I also met David Appleton through a mutual friend who came to the show and connected us, and David connected me to Vic Mensa. Vic was the first artist I ever did strings for, and the artist I’ve worked with most closely of anyone. Through Vic I met No I.D. (who later intro’d me to Big Sean and Alessia), as well as Travis Barker and a ton of other people who I’ve since worked with. Without those two initial connections, I don’t think any of what I’ve done since would’ve happened like this. I also got to start building a relationship with Lincoln Center, a major classical music organization in NYC, where I’ve since done a couple orchestra shows, including one focused on K-pop, and where I have plans for many more.

You’ve said you “want to capture what it’s like to be growing up America right now”. What are some of the issues that you think are affecting younger generations today?
As I’m sure you know, our generation is on track to be the first generation to make less money than their parents. In a lot of ways I think the world is obviously improving. But from a psychological perspective I think there’s this sense that a lot of what American culture was about, and especially the idea of an American Dream, have been revealed to be a total lie… or have been so completely sold out by the boomer generation that we’re kind of lost as to where to go now. There’s a lot more uncertainty, which can be a good thing but it’s still uncertainty.

What’s next for you?
Finishing my next EP and working on my album for next year! I’m super excited. And I’m continuing to work on a bunch of other people’s albums as always, doing more projects in the classical world, as well as working on writing a couple movies. It’s always crazy.

Photography
Brian Overend
Fashion
Trevor Boyd
Words
Hannah Holway
Production
Federica Barletta
Grooming
Lauren Mackellar at Exclusive Artists Management
NEW NOISE: JOHAN LENOX

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