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Interview: Seven Questions For Joanne Robertson

Interview: Seven Questions For Joanne Robertson

Interview by Flo Wilson / Monday 10th December, 2018 3:25PM

UK folk experimentalist and visual artist Joanne Robertson is visiting Aotearoa this week, for headline shows at Auckland's Audio Foundation and Wellington's Pyramid Club, playing both events with her husband and frequent collaborator Kool Music. Robertson is well-known to open-eared listeners worldwide for her work with genre-defier Dean Blunt (Hype Williams) on his albums The Redeemer, Black Metal, Stone Island, Skin Fade and 2017's Wahalla, and via her own solo albums The Lighter, Black Moon Days and Wildflower (co-written by Kool Music). Local audio-visual artist Flo Wilson caught up with Robertson via email for a short chat about her wide ranging artistic practice and more, grip the tour details here and read their illuminating conversation below...

Joanne Robertson w/ Kool Music (UK)
Wednesday 12th December - Audio Foundation, Auckland
Saturday 15th December - Pyramid Cub, Wellington

Tickets available HERE via UTR

1. Kia ora Joanne, warm greetings from the Aotearoa! For those of us who have yet to hear you, how would you describe your sound?

Voice and guitar are the main components live, my songs usually just come out via improvisations or bursts. Byron Coley is a good friend and he wrote this about my work, “Her poetry, painting and music all have the same binary quality — they pour sugar directly onto raw wounds in a way that is healing and transformative. Alchemical, I guess.”

2. An integral part of your practice seems to be collaboration, as seen in your tracks 'Imperial Gold' with Dean Blunt, and 'Wildflower' with Kool Music - could you talk about what draws you to collaborating and how this differs / is the same as your solo practice?

Collaboration seems to be an extension of deep friendship. Dean and I like similar things, art and stuff. Kool Music is my husband, so that was natural and easy, although we both very much make music as solo artists. I often just improvise and catch the sound whether it is solo or if I’m collaborating. I like the intimacy and secret nature of collaboration. Some of my best memories are of writing music with collaborators, and just being in our bedrooms, sitting on the floor, thinking where is this going to lead. Solo is similar, I enjoy the process of not knowing where things can go, but trusting in the feeling.

3. As well as writing music, you have a visual arts practice; you recently collaborated with Kool Music on an art show in Berlin, can you tell us a bit about this work?

Painting and making art is something I have also always done since I was a teenager. Painting and making music has its crossovers, I feel the attitude I described earlier, just starting and seeing where things lead, as in improvisation and spontaneity are central in the way I approach making things, I think music is good for the art world, the two go well together, if handled in the right way. The show we did in Berlin was at a gallery called Carlier Gebauer, it was a trio show, artist and musician Max Brand also showed, I have worked with him on a few projects now, and we also opened a project space in my studio in Glasgow called 'Jo Brand'.

4. How does your visual practice inform your music, if it does at all?

Yeah the two are very linked, often when I paint I go into a sort of lyrical fervour inside ha! I get all heated up by painting, I run about and dance and scream, cry, hate and love, long and push out dreams, past lives, anxiety, vulnerability, all that stuff, I try to be as un-together as possible, I try to let it all hang out, almost in a disgusting way, I am interested in challenging the idea of how one represents the self in the world, so to push away societies rules, I want to be free, always in both mediums, but I also want the works to almost fail, I struggle with conceived notions of beauty. I try to channel old trauma all that stuff that makes music more than just a load of commercial crap and scrape away the superficial and look at the thing in itself.

5. Are you involved in any other artistic projects currently?

Right now I am making a new body of work for a duo show with artist and musician Chloe Maratta from Odwalla1221, I am super excited about the show and it’s going to be at Bonnington Gallery in Nottingham next April-May. Byron Coley and I collaborate and make poetry books, the most recent one is called 1971 published by Tenderbooks London, we are working on a new one right now called 1979. I recently bought a Bentley piano from the ’70s, I am working on a bunch of records, a new solo one too which should be finished pretty soon.

6. When you compose, what conditions are crucial for you in order to write, or create?

Being alone is the only condition when solo. Collaboratively I have learned to work in lots of different conditions. I feel like I am being creative, or developing ideas, even when I am not physically making things, I am most of the time thinking about the work, and searching for the highs and inspiration, looking out, it’s good to have a notebook to draw in and write lyrics, so not to forget this kind of stuff. Some songs just come out, and others take more craft, I need the notebook sometimes.

7. As an established artist with several albums under her belt, is there something you wish you had known earlier in your career as an artist, and what that might be?

I wish I had discovered Jandek earlier. Don’t throw away recordings unless you have to.


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Joanne Robertson (UK) w/ Kool Music (UK)
Wed 12th Dec 8:00pm
Audio Foundation, Auckland
Joanne Robertson (UK) w/ Kool Music (UK)
Sat 15th Dec 8:00pm
Pyramid Club, Wellington