Love can revolve around many things — another person, a city or a creative expression. When pop singer-songwriter Jonathan Johansson writes music, he uses his own feelings to express himself, because he knows it’s the only way to make us feel the way he does
Over the course of the 11 tracks of his album Love & Devotion, the Swedish singer Jonathan Johansson explores the topics of affection and relationships. The love that is spoken of is between himself and the person he lives with, but I also find other meanings in the record and its title. You may perhaps hear traces of Johansson’s love/hate relationship with Stockholm, the place that has made his career in music a reality and the city he has lived in for the past 17 years after moving from Malmö. You may also hear his passionate devotion for the music he makes, partly because he has put everything else aside to make it. Another interesting relationship is the one between the artist Johansson and the private person Johansson.
“I use myself quite sincerely, so the artist self and Jonathan Johansson are not that far apart, but they are absolutely not the same person,” he says. “Music that I love, that I get struck by, is mostly written by people who wring out their own hearts. I am perhaps not as emotional in private as I am on my records, but if I feel something powerful I can remember it, write about it and mediate on it. If I am true to myself when I write, true to my feelings and experiences, you will feel it. As soon as I start faking it, as soon as I don’t do the work properly, you will feel it.”
Every new album of his is different from the previous one. The topic can differ significantly, but the way he delivers his inimitable lyrics is consistent. He moves forward by challenging himself, and making an entire album about love can be challenging enough.
“It has been done a thousand times before, so what do I have to add? Probably nothing. I don’t think there is anything on this album that hasn’t been said already. That was the biggest challenge – taking a worn-out subject and making it mine, doing it without feeling like I am burping out one-liners that others have already done countless times. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I am incredibly pleased with the album.”
Johansson’s will to develop himself defines him and pushes his creativity to new limits. At times, such as before the release of Love & Devotion, it can be painful to open one’s heart to strangers, but the pain is a necessary factor in the process of creation. Johansson’s growth as an artist is conscious and he sees it as natural for any creative person.
“For me it is odd not to demand development, not to challenge oneself by doing something you don’t know how to do and mastering it. That is nothing new, but it’s an attempt not to die from boredom. When you have mastered an expression and refined it, I think it is your duty to do something else. It’s a professional pride – you can’t just copy yourself.”
Under a classy black coat, Johansson is wearing a tight-fitting denim jacket and a brightly coloured sweater. We dive into the topic of style, since he strikes me as a person with knowledge of fashion. His dress sense is not extravagant but always on point, which leads to an assumption of an interest in the subject. Apparently, looks can be deceiving and assumptions can be incorrect.
“I don’t have a talent for fashion – I’ve always felt like I am one year behind. When I walk into a store to choose something to wear I always take the cowardly way out and I don’t see what would work for me. In that sense, I have felt disturbed by fashion, because I’ve had my eye on those who have talent. I am provoked by the power that clothes impart. There is a psychological and aesthetic ascendency that provokes me, and of course that it is shallow. I know that many people use clothes as a language to express their identity. I have an ambivalent view of that, but I have also used it myself. From when I was 13 to when I was 20 I went through 700 subcultural styles, but that depended mostly on the music I was listening to.”
Considering his complicated relationship with fashion I ask him if he changes his look from album to album, to match the variation of topics and the artistic development. “I have, but it is very subtle. Of course, you must make adjustments. I certainly take it seriously. I’m annoyed when I see a band that doesn’t look like the music they’re playing, I think it’s sloppy. It’s an art – I know that because it’s so difficult and respect that it is.”
Johansson deserves respect for the way he relates to himself as a performer. He evolves naturally, honouring his craft by refusing to remain in one place for too long. And as he stated: if his feelings are true, you will feel them, too. Just like if his self-respect is true, it will echo in you.
Love & Devotion is out now on Sony. Lee have a long history of supporting music, such as the Lee Jeans Living Rock Concert of 1969, at which The Byrds recorded a live album. From its launch in 1889, Lee has changed rapidly and always walked side by side with the great musicians of the time.
Special Thanks to Lee
1: Gilet by Lee
2: Button-Down Shirt by Lee
3: Top and Luke Jeans by Lee
4: Rider Jacket by Lee
5: Rider Jacket and Blake Jeans by Lee