Swedish singer, songwriter, producer and filmmaker, Jonna Lee, brings the evolution of her ten-year creative career to a new peak with the release of her maiden ionnalee offering, EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN on 16th February 2018 on To whom it may concern and Kobalt Music. An album spanning fifteen songs and, in due order, a stand- alone filmic counterpart (co-created with cinematographer, John Strandh, in alliance with fashion and art trail-blazers, COMME des GARÇONS), this is the most ambitious project which the Stockholm-based master of audiovisual artistry has embarked on.
Two years and two albums into a solo endeavour as a guitar- wielding folk’n’roller, 2009 saw Jonna Lee beginning a seminal metamorphosis which would lead her to join forces with best friend and long-term producer, Barbelle a.k.a Claes Bjorklund, in creating the organically viral, electronic pop phenomenon that is iamamiwhoami.
A mystery and a riddle, iamamiwhoami’s visuals-backed clue trail of short, sharp, gratifying musical shockwaves stumped fans and the media alike. It formed a gripping guessing game, which enticed audiences to explore its dark, elusory storyline. Moreover, as an entity still in its nappy days, iamamiwhoami’s real-time work process also meant that its cast of creatives’ initial decision to remain anonymous unintentionally caused a frenzy around the question of who was behind the surprise releases (Christina Aguilera and Karin Dreijer were but two of many suspects). The group’s three ground-breaking audiovisual works [bounty (2010, digital); kin (2011); and BLUE (2014)] served as Jonna Lee’s vehicle for change, through which she has kept challenging limitations and untethering inhibitions in favour of development and innovation.
The iamamiwhoami Youtube channel has, since its inception, garnered over 42,300,000 views and in 2011, even before its first physical release, the group was awarded Innovator Of the Year Award at the prestigious Swedish Grammis. In the three-act play of Jonna Lee’s creative voyage to date, whereby her late-noughties solo albums planted the inciting incident and iamamiwhoami provided a riveting plot twist, the artist’s debut as ionnalee ushers in the exhilarating climax, letting all that’s gone before culminate in an opus that honours the past, whilst simultaneously devising a recalibrated, fresh future. EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN evokes thoughts about what drives an artist to create in a milieu brimful with people fighting to be seen and heard and to express themselves in ways that would single them out from others. With its eyes fixed firmly on the state of the world right now, this is a collection that concerns itself with what is the artist’s residual footprint, paralleled with people’s fear of oblivion.
As our generation pores over and pours into social media with a desire to leave as much of ourselves and our legacy out in the world – like a self-edited epitaph, to ensure that we are remembered and control how such remembrance is preserved – EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN explores the different fears and struggles we, as human beings, contend with. ionnalee has hers but, importantly, the songs are intelligently crafted so as to allow for the listener’s personal meaning to coexist.
Reflecting on her own perspective, ionnalee says: “I’ve been evaluating the role that’s cut out for me by society in general and the music business in particular, as to how I should look and behave, both as a woman and as an artist.” In shaping the record, ionnalee has been preoccupied with the experience of societal pressures on women, such as the inescapable normative push to become a mother, pitted against the professional pull of meeting the audience’s expectations of her as an artist.
A further premise underlining EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN is the theme of perception vs misconception when it comes to an artist’s work. “We live in a time where anyone can do anything”, ionnalee says, reflecting on the ever-growing prevalence of the audiovisual format. “It can be beautiful, when it’s done purely in pursuit of creative motifs, but in many situations it is only really done because of the current perception that just being a musician is no longer enough and the music has to be dressed to the nines in order to be heard. My visuals have always been part of my creation and, yet – frustratingly – they are still often being perceived strictly as a promotional tool.”
Fulfilling and transformative as it was, the hectic and exhausting, non-stop cycle of work since the inception of iamamiwhoami has, cumulatively, taken its toll on the musician, resulting in significant stress and periods of depression. “I’ve been burnt out”, she admits, ruminating on an invariably stringent schedule, exacerbated by the pressures of running her own independent record label. “The independence I have has enabled me to be bold and innovative as an artist but, by default, it also often makes the workload overwhelming.” Never one to go for the easy option, however, ionnalee made a defiant choice: “I wanted to bring out my insecurities instead of my strengths.”
The most significant source of insecurity and fear has, ultimately, proved to hinge on ionnalee’s health, as a cancer scare, numerous medical screenings and a subsequent diagnosis of a thyroid disorder exposed a serious possibility of permanent damage to the singer’s vocal chords. Facing that real risk of not being able to sing in the future and the fear of losing her most important way of self-expression, there arose in ionnalee an even greater drive to produce something special and perdurable with EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN. “The thought of not being able to sing had never occurred to me. That would be like losing my gut”, she says. For ionnalee this record not only had to be made, but it had to be made now and it had to bring in elements of her history in order to open a door to a hopeful thereafter. “I wanted to see who am I in the present, as a solo artist. I want a lifespan career and, for that, I need to make sure I’m clear about who I am as an artist now.” To do this, she decided that, along with the album’s brand new compositions, she would hark back to older sounds and song-elements that, despite never previously being released, stand as pivotal stepping stones in her career. “I wanted to connect with the beginning of iamamiwhoami and the evolution I’ve gone through since”, she says.
An instance in point is new single, ‘GONE’, which keen- eared followers will recognise as a reconfiguration of the fourth, so-called (by fans) ‘PAPACHOO’ prelude, put out by iamamiwhoami in February 2010, as a minute-long taster for what eventually became their audiovisual album, bounty. Epitomising the evolutionary process of ionnalee, ‘GONE’ adopts one of the foundation stones of her previous incarnation and transforms it into a bustling and infectious full song, whose lyrics tap directly into the core of EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN and its resounding themes: “the songs that you sung / and the words that you meant / will be here when you are gone”, she prophesies on the chorus, as the verses gesture at the initial media circus concerning her identity (“the wonder who I am”) and the turmoil surrounding her health (“this mouth on me /and this voice against time”; “this weakening noise /will fade softly to silence”).
The track begins by establishing the prelude’s signature bottle percussion as an underlying rhythmic device and the synth-led, dramatic Baroque nuance beautifully complements ionnalee’s vulnerable voice in creating dark Renaissance electronica. The majestic, sweeping chorus quickly lodges itself in the mind’s ear with an instant grab, whilst the middle 8 showcases a soaring vocal performance.
The videos for ‘GONE’ & iamamiwhoami’s remix of ‘GONE’ are both directed by ionnalee together with John Strandh and are a key chapter in the longer visual narrative arc supporting EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN. The album’s first taster came in February 2017 with ‘SAMARITAN’, a blunt eschewing of other people’s demands and presumptions, over which the artist has no control. Boasting a big and immediate pop chorus, ’SAMARITAN’ feels tailor-made for an album that is often conscious of and rebels against what is expected.
“I don’t think people should feel secure in their expectations of me”, ionnalee says. This is, for example, why effervescent sophistidisco, ‘NOT HUMAN’ (which was co-written with Com Truise), comes to an abrupt, surprising end as if it’s inadvertently paused and also why recent, contemplative single, ‘SIMMER DOWN’, doesn’t have a video (previously, every iamamiwhoami track had its own visual counterpart, collectively amounting to an all-encompassing series dating back to 2009, which follows one evolving storyline from beginning to end). As a lover of rhythm, bass and drums, ionnalee’s favourite part of producing her own material has been making up the rhythm sections, thinking outside of her own comfort zone. “I’ve had to push myself to learn how to not only be a good creative mind, but also a good technical producer, to be able to make things sound like they sounded in my head”, she says. In terms of the arrangements and the record’s sonic direction, ionnalee was fascinated and influenced by baroque composition, which fits in with the sense of it being something of a requiem: “I drew from my background in sacral choir singing and merged it with my other great loves, industrial and spectral synths and old school hip hop beats”, she says. “I wanted it to be an album to grieve to but there is a fairness and innocence to the sound, which makes it hopeful in midst of the darkness. Producing this work is a proud moment for me as a musician.”
Offering solace in grief, EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN is a labour of love emanating from introspection as well as self- awareness. As with every one of her endeavours, ionnalee again seeks to find and make something that is different. “The album format is regarded by many as a thing of the past”, she says, “with tracks being the primary way of consuming music.” Her vision, instead, is to make a sustainable and epic album that will endure, rather than something that is easily digested and spat out shortly afterwards. “An imprint that will stand with time”, as she describes it.
“I would like to view this as the beginning of the rest of my career. I want to grow my audience in my way, without compromising and without having to turn myself inside out. There’s a bigger, more personal weight for me with this record and much, much more at stake.”
ionnalee – EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN
1. WATCHES WATCHES
4. LIKE HELL
5. NOT HUMAN
8. DUNES OF SAND – with jamie irrepressible
10. SIMMER DOWN
11. HERE IS A WARNING
13. MEMENTO – with Barbelle
14. HARVEST – with TR/ST
EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN is released 16th February 2018 via To Whom It May Concern / Kobalt music.