Northern Transmissions’ writer Julia Abramson catches up with UK atmospheric singer/songwriter Johanna Glaza. Following the release of two EPs, her latest single “Paper Widow” was just released via All Kinds Records.
Northern Transmissions: It seems like a lot of your inspiration comes from your personal life. How do you translate those experiences into your music?
Johanna Glaza: I guess intense thoughts and emotions can work as a strong impulse to write a song. You can almost choke on them if you hold them within you, so you give them a voice instead. Sometimes it’s like a dream, you don’t really control a dream, it just flows and takes you to the places you were not consciously aware of.
NT: Is it sometimes difficult to collaborate with others on something so personal?
JG: Not at all. By the time I finish writing the song, I’m already outside that emotion, so I can reflect it from outside. There is a point at which the song becomes an independent creature with its own life. Even if I forget the actual emotion, the song will continue to live. And this is how I know that the song is complete, when I can’t control it anymore. I can still gently guide it, but not control it. To write a song I need total solitude. Later, I look for textures and fabrics to dress that creature of mine. I’m happy to see how other people fall in love with that creature too, how they start caring for it.
NT: What would you say is the biggest difference between Silence is Kind and Letter to New York?
JG: That’s a tough question, because I don’t think I have ever listened to them one after the other. I guess they are two different stories of the same book. They were written within short period of time. Maybe Letter to New York has a more glass-like transparency; it feels more fragile to me. In that sense it’s more dangerous. There’s a bigger risk it will cut you to pieces if it breaks…
NT: Since the release of the new single, in what direction do you see your music heading?
JG: There is no direction. I wish there was one, I would feel more safe then. But it feels like sleepwalking with your eyes closed, bumping into things, trying things, falling. Maybe the next thing will be – me waking up, or seeing how the glass breaks and cuts. “Paper Widow” already has more flesh, if you listen to the bass line. It’s not a ghost anymore. I would love to explore more meat and bones.
NT: What inspired you to film the video for “Paper Widow” in Moscow?
JG: To be honest, it was very difficult to choose because I had a few different video proposals this time. But then I saw the work of this young Russian director, Vasily Ovchinnikov, and it touched me how he portrayed a woman’s world in his videos. We had less than a week to make a video and with all the distance it seemed impossible to achieve. But, I do like working under a lot of pressure. It makes the process more memorable. The results are for others to enjoy. I must enjoy the process of making it, that’s my adventure.
NT: Although you are based in London and have expressed your love for New York City, your music has a very ethereal, earthy quality to it. Are you equally inspired by nature as you are by the cities you love?
JG: The relationship with those cities is almost a love-hate relationship. I guess I have threatened to abandon London at least thousand times, yet I keep coming back. With nature it is different, it is the place where I feel most of all myself, and it is a great playground for my imagination too. I feel comfortable in the company of crows and trees.
NT: What is your creative process for making music videos?
JG: Well it always feels like a crazy jump into the waters with eyes closed. It feels great. Normally I don’t start looking for a video director until the song is recorded, mixed, done! Even when I’m pretty sure this song is going to be the leading one, some sort of silly superstition stops me from moving ahead with the video planning. So normally by the time song is ready to see the world, there’s like 2 weeks left before the release. This is when it hits me- God! Video! Who’s going to make it?! Then I start searching for a person whose work I admire and give them total creative freedom. That’s the only time where my control freak persona takes a holiday 🙂
If people fall in love with your work, you can trust them 100%. They might have a different vision to yours, but it will always be true. My first stop motion animation video was done by the amazing Chloe Rodham, who decided to make a doll of me. “Letter to New York” was almost a shamanic experience running barefoot at temperatures of +2 C. It was made by Lithuanian director Arunas Eimulis. When Arunas asked me if I had a concept I was scared to tell him, “Look there is no concept, I only have the location, we just get there and something will happen.” And it did.
NT: What are your five favorite albums at the moment?
Grouper – Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill
Wild Beasts – Smother
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen
Tibetan Monks Chanting
Weyes Blood – The Innocents