A formally anonymous project, Erin Kastlander and Joakim Benon, a.k.a. jj, finally revealed their names and faces this year, before releasing their second album jj n°3.
And really, did it tell you that much about them? Not nearly as much as their music does – like their idol Lil Wayne, jj keep it real, and do so through making some of the most open, honest pop music around, built on tragic lyrics and sunshine-saturated arrangements.
Lil Wayne, Drake and Kanye West’s policy of giving all of themselves to listeners, sometimes to painful effect, seems to be causing a sea change in mainstream hip-hop, while the reason Ikonika’s debut album rose above efforts from many of her peers in UK dance music was because of the sheer amount of her personality she put into every synth note. Wiley’s lack of quality control – the way his Tunnel Vision series of mixtapes seem to contain lyrics about every thought that runs through his mind, however trivial, immature or irrelevant – is what makes him such a compelling artist, likeable in the face of adversity.
jj are an odd case, but fit into this spectrum of incredibly honest pop music. They debuted with a single for Sincerely Yours (‘my life, my swag’), the label run by Swedish pair The Tough Alliance, a group who would go on to nurture and support jj, eventually leading to the group “coming out”. The digital only ‘From Africa, to Malaga’ followed, a sun-blushed, three minute pop diamond with lyrics like “that thought that you found / takes you to town / smashes your face / burns at your heart / then you go home and turn it to art.”
It would be easy to talk about jj thriving on a simple juxtaposition between cold lyrics and warm music, but the two albums since ‘Malaga’, jj n°2 and jj n°3, prove that the pair are more complex than that. Their songs are heavy on nostalgia, for summer, summer flings and first love, and it’s a nostalgia that reflects the sadness of the present rather than the joy of the past. Memorably ‘My Life’, the opening track of jj n°3, ends on a refrain of the chorus from ATC’s ‘Around the World’, but vocalist Elin never once sounds like the song is tapping into great memories; it’s just a retreat to childhood – any memory of childhood – because the present is too tragic to bear. It’s this context that renders all of jj’s music sad: even the most sunburst melodies seem temporary, and even Elin’s most joyful lyrics (“I’ll never be alone again / ‘cause I’ve got a friend”) are sung with a voice resigned to eventual regret.
jj are still in their chrysalis stage as a band, and emails we exchanged, despite representing the most open “interview” they’ve given to date, were far from in-depth. But they do provide insight, into the band’s background, the role sincerity plays in their music, and the status of their live show (they recently played their first gigs, supporting the xx at the latter band’s request). We also talked about football, Salem and Lil Wayne.
How did jj meet, and where are you from?
“They met at Kvarnbadet, in the pool. They’re from Switzerland.”
What made you start recording music with each other?
Lyrically, your music features references to early love and to summer, and there’s the end of ‘My Life’ where you sing ATC’s ’90s hit ‘Around the World’. Nostalgia, from my perspective at least, seems to play a big role in your music. Is that fair to say?
“Yes. But still everything is everything.”
On the surface, the music you make is very pure and uninhibited, but is it correct to say that underneath that, there’s a lot of pain and sadness to jj’s songs? I often think that the ‘Around the World’ moment sounds like someone singing to comfort, or distract themselves – like silence would be too much to bear.
“That is too correct for me to even understand myself. One of the most intimate things we have ever heard from someone who does not know us. Thank you for being real.”
Pages: 1 2