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Premiere: Finn Johansson Shares Heartfelt Video 'Love Bomb' + Interview

Premiere: Finn Johansson Shares Heartfelt Video 'Love Bomb' + Interview

Interview by Kiki Van Newtown / Photo by Kenny Charlton / Wednesday 18th July, 2018 10:54AM

Hex's Kiki Van Newtown caught up with Wellington songwriter Finn Johansson on the eve of his ‘Love Bomb’ single release, for a reflective discussion of Johansson’s musical history and emotional midwifery.

Finn Johansson writes self-described “feelings music” akin to the colour of the back of your eyelids when you’re kissing or breathing in an exhale or the pinching feeling of hope just before you have your heart broken. His songs are full of curiosity; ambitious arrangements with frayed edges, lo-fi bedroom recordings with the incisive precision of an astute musical ear. Overarchingly they are natural, full of the non-sequiturs associated with raw love and pain. Johansson has a skill for parsing back experiences to their most potent elements, and gently handing them over with his lilting falsetto.

Love Bomb’ is Finn Johansson’s latest multimedia release which includes a digital track, video directed and filmed by Ezra Simons and Will Agnew, signature scent, and glamour shots which are “in everybody’s bathroom in Wellington.” The scent is a collaboration with Wellington perfumer Nathan Taare (of E.N.T.) and contains ambroxan and jasmine pheromone, as well as Finn’s own tears. Fittingly, ’Love Bomb’ itself is a tear-stained gaze into the discomfort of connection. The opening line “where did your heart come from, where is it going?” reads like a ‘leaning in’ to a love that feels at once singular and fragile.


So Finn, you’ve had quite an unusual release history under your own moniker. Your first release was the one you wrote when you were overseas and living on a boat in Liverpool, and doing all this weird shit because you were young and that’s what young people do, because they don’t know, because they don’t have any risk assessment. I dunno, maybe you did?

I slept on a dog grave.

Yeah that doesn’t sound like great risk assessment.

Nah.

Why did you do that?

I missed my ride home and the flight that I got into Galway was late. And so I didn’t know anybody in town.

Literally the only place you could find to sleep was on a dog grave?

Well that’s where the youthfulness is, cuz I didn’t think about going to a B&B or something. I was just like “well I guess that’s my ride gone! Guess I’m sleeping by the river!” But then it got too cold so I found this place in the bush that was like a mound of earth with all these coins and flowers on it and I thought well, probably not a human grave, probably a dog grave.

You were travelling around, living in a boat, sleeping on dog graves, and you wrote the album Two Thousand and Fourteen over the course of a year?

Yeah, I released an EP every month for a while, and then took them offline and then turned the best of the EP’s into the album. I did a thing where I wrote a song every day and recorded it, for stickk.com - y’know that website where you set a goal and if you don’t get the goal an amount of money goes to a charity you hate? So if I didn't record a song every day $100 would go to the Westboro Baptist Church.

Oh my god that’s a terrible idea for a website!

I’m doing one right now.

But how many people give up on their dreams?!

Well psychologically you’ll work harder to avoid losing money then you will to get your goal.


It seems like a weird way to incentivise your goals.

It does eh. But it works. Cuz if you hate a charity you’re going to try really hard to not get your money to go to them. So it worked, and I wrote like forty songs. And some of them are pretty good. I was a bit like "urgh" about the album for the last few years, so it took me ages to do a follow-up. I was just a bit nervous about making other stuff.

Two Thousand and Fourteen had quite hard out instrumentation. Did you write all the arrangements yourself? Did you play all the instruments?

Yeah that was all me except say, over the course of the album there are maybe five instances of somebody else playing something, like guests. So yeah, friends I just met along the way. The boat I was living on had lots of people coming and going on it because it was like a WWHOOFing boat, so I’d jam with them and they’d play bass on a track or something. It was a weird boat man! It was a christian boat. It was run by this woman Vicky who bought it - this tall ship. A sixty foot, double mast pirate boat because God came to her in a dream and said "Vicky, you’ve got to do missionary work in Papua New Guinea, and you’ve got to buy a boat to do it." So she sold her house and her husband ended up divorcing her because she was so into this boat idea. And then she ran out of money. Cuz I don’t know if you know how much money wooden boats take to upkeep.

Nah.

It’s not like a Fiat Panda! It’s not like a Dihatsu Charade! It’s like they rot! And she didn’t know much about boats either, but she was really adventurous. And so she ended up in Liverpool, run out of money, just in the marina, taking people on board to work and stay and I was one of them. I used to busk for board, and that’s how I got the time to record the album.


Your next release after that was the two singles ‘Bad Heart, Feeling / Dying’ in October 2017.

Yeah yeah yeah. I had a few attempts to release things before that, but nothing ever came of it. And then Chris Wratt [of T.A.B.] was amazing in helping me out. They produced it. It took me ages to feel like I could work with people on a good level. My old band Johnsonville City Nights - which is pretty much Finn Johansson by another name - had Abe [Hollingsworth] from Mermaidens in it. And like, he got really frustrated at me because it was a benevolent dictatorship but I wouldn’t admit it. There was a thing where I didn’t communicate about it very well.

Yeah like, this is my band, I am the band leader, what I say goes?

Yeah. That was really difficult for me to give up but I think I’ve nailed the collaborative vibe now.


Really?

I think what I’ve done actually is I haven’t nailed the collaborative vibe but I manage to be a lot more communicative about how much control I want [laughing].


Then you work with people who are okay with working around that.

Yes. And getting into all of the crannies they can creatively. But you get to curate it in the end.


Okay. So this release was way more… well it’s just keys and guitar.

And a little bit of deluge. I mean real subtly. The reason I got those two tracks out is I got offered a couple of mix tapes that I could get featured on. Mimicry and Home Alone both had these mixtapes so I was like okay. I work well with a deadline.


Can you tell me about your relationship to guitar solos?

You know when you get into a flow state with music? Guitar solos are the thing that bring me the most of that joy in music. Improvising lead guitar is… is the biggest thrill that I have in life. More than putting my feelings into songs and singing them. Playing electric guitar and playing solos is like… woah. It’s the thing I’m the best at.

You’re really good at it.

Thanks. I just mean compared to my other stuff, not compared to anybody else!

No! [laughing] Like objectively, in the world oeuvre of guitar solos, your guitar solos are really solid and really good! There was a big gap between those two releases, a couple of years. And you were obviously still playing and writing. Were you doing other projects?

F: I didn’t have the confidence to finish something off. I did up-skill though. I learned how to play bass with my feet and I learned how to play piano. And I didn’t write that many songs. I think getting the production going… I think it’s proof that I needed somebody to work with production wise that the last two releases - the Jono Nott [of Onono] one and the Chris Wratt one - were the ones that actually got released. It’s so cool hanging out with someone like Jono because it’s not very heavy. It’s light but there are really focused things happening, and I think that was a really good influence for me.


In May you released ‘I Know Exactly How Big My Heart Is’ which has this stupid line in it…

Is it the social media line?


No, but I love that. I love how in your songwriting you incorporate these really everyday images - like someone scrolling on their phone, or that song you have complaining about eating too much food - but all of these everyday images are just like placeholders for existential angst.

Yeah totally. I’m really into Frankie Cosmos who I think does that really well. Like in my teens I was really into Neil Young, then Ryan Adams, and I don’t think I’ve loved an artist as much as that until last year when I discovered Frankie Cosmos. She’s real good at the existential minutiae, and being a young internet age person. All of the feelings are the same, but it seems a bit jarring since technology and social media has moved so fast, it feels jarring to talk about those things, about internet feelings.


Do you feel like it limits your song to a temporal location?

I mean it does as much as pretending to have written a letter to someone does nowadays. But yes. It also feels a bit like trying to be contemporary. But in the end if I think about it it’s like well, I am feeling these feelings and this is exactly how I’m feeling them - through the medium of Instagram [laughing]. So it’s real enough for me to get over myself and still sing it. But what was the line that you thought was stupid?


The line… no I LOVE it! The line “if you feel like crying why don't you just cry / I don’t mind seeing you fighting”.

I had something going on in my life that I wanted to talk about at the time. I went through my Evernote which has all my lyrics in it from the last five years or so, and I found blocks and like curated it like that. So there's no order to it, except what tells a story within itself. So you’ve got the story of the song, but then if you went behind the scenes of every line it would be two years ago, right now, one year ago. But I think I can step back and see that someone listening to it would appreciate it as a narrative.


My next question is more of a statement. The theme I got from this song is an interrogation of masculinity in relationships, and I get that from a number of your songs, like 'Bad Heart'. And I’ve had these conversations with you before, and I feel like you’re in a conversation with yourself, and me, and probably other people, about masculinity as a social construct. Do you intend for that to come out in your music.

Yeah, it’s a weird thing being a dude who writes songs about relationships, because that [masculinity as a social construct] is inherent. I feel like you’d be missing out on a lot of things to talk about if you didn’t talk about that. Plus it’s the stuff that’s interesting to me, and it’s important to talk about. But hopefully it can be a way of addressing when I’ve fucked up, and when I’ve hurt people. Yeah, and it’s cathartic, because you feel like a total piece of shit sometimes.


I feel like it’s a particularly difficult time for everyone just being humans. I think we’ve all sort of been taught foundational levels of disrespect for each other, just through existing in the world. Do you sort of use music to investigate those weird fucked up situations that happen?

I think if somebody said that about my music I’d be like “sure!” but I don’t think that if somebody said “describe your music” that I’d be like “I investigate the fucked up aspects of masculinity.”

[laughing] How would you describe your music?

I’d say I just try to sing about things I’m actually feeling. But I think it would be true if you said the other thing, it just wouldn't feel that comfortable to sell it as that.


Right.

So if people wanna feel that afterwards, yeah. And you’re right, there’s a lot of unlearning to do. Maybe it’s part of the process of unlearning, to acknowledge certain things. I’m not saying this is necessarily successful in my songwriting, it’s just partly what I aim for I guess.

Your live shows are very, very upbeat. They’re super upbeat! From seeing you arriving at soundcheck literally carrying in an organ - and you’re quite a low-key seeming person - then you get up on stage and you’re like "okay audience, we are going on a journey. I am going to midwife you through this painful, emotional experience." You do that and you are so charming! It’s interesting hearing all this behind the scenes stuff and then seeing your live show which is so captivating and so positive.

Positive’s funny eh. I think I learnt how to do banter from the first band I toured with. It was a band full of people twice my age - they were 35, I was 17. They were in Narcotics Anonymous, I was just starting out with narcotics [laughing]. And I think they realised I was keen to talk a bit of shit on stage and so that’s where I learnt how. And now I can’t separate that. When I get on stage the floodgates open. I think, I have heard the songs so much and played them so much that I don’t feel willing or able to access those emotions all the time. I can forget what the audience goes through when I sing them those songs. So it doesn’t feel like a chaperone or midwife thing, but I believe you that it is.

So the audience is having this emotional experience of the songs even if you’re not. But then there’s the relief of when you’ve finished a song and you start with the banter, and at times it’s almost like you’re interviewing the audience during a performance.

[laughing] Yeah I do talk to the audience a lot.


You can catch Finn Johansson touring throughout New Zealand in July - for tickets and more info head along here.

Links
facebook.com/FinnJohanssonMusic/

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