Schweden ist bekannt dafür, erstklassige Musikexporte mit der Welt zu teilen. Einer davon ist die in Stockholm ansässige Band Johnossi. Die beiden Bandmitglieder John Engelbert und Oskar „Ossi“ Bonde sind spätestens seit ihrem Hit „Man Must Dance“ nicht mehr vom Indie-Radar wegzudenken. Dass die beiden auch ihre dunklen Seiten haben, wie sie trotz fast 20-jähriger Bandgeschichte noch immer in erster Linie Freunde sind und über die Story hinter ihrem aktuellen Album „Mad Gone Wild“ hat uns John im Interview erzählt.
You released your single “Late Night Rider” in September. But it’s been done for quite a while before it came out. Why haven’t you released it until now?
The song was recorded in the same session as our album “Torch // Thing”, which came out in 2020. We didn’t really feel that “Late Night Rider” fit this record, and we had so many good songs already, so we decided to keep that one as a single for the future. In the song it says “Born in ’98 / Mother your girl was so innocent / A 20-year deception”, which means that, when I wrote this song, it was 2018. I felt like now is the perfect time to release it. For me, it’s a pretty classic Johnossi song.
What’s the story behind the song?
It’s a story about a guy who is out at night with a girl, and she shouldn’t be there because he’s not good company. I’m not saying he’s a bad person or anything, but he’s risky. A lot of times when I write songs, I get pictures in my head. Almost like a movie. And I just try to come up with the right soundtrack to the pictures. This time I saw something like the movie “Drive” with Ryan Gosling. When he escapes the cops in the middle of the night on his motorbike. Yeah, that’s about it. I love the song. It’s a fun one.
Johnossi – Late Night Rider
“Late Night Rider” can also be seen as an epilogue to your recent album “Mad Gone Wild”. The album continues the story of the character Roscoe from the album „Mavericks“. What is appealing about making an album with such a concept behind it?
“Mad Gone Wild” is a “Mavericks” 2.0 almost. When I write songs, I just sing whatever comes to my mind until the song is pretty much done. Once everything is there, I just listen to what I have subconsciously been singing. I write down those lines, and then I fill in the gaps. After a while, everything just happens to make sense. This time I realized this is actually the continuation of Roscoe. Sort of where we left off with “Mavericks”, when Roscoe was a young teenager.
What were the biggest influences for the album?
I think I was highly influenced by the pandemic. During the pandemic, so many people on the planet were isolated at home, just being occupied in their own head – which is a scary thing. If you really analyze yourself, it’s easy to go mad. And we saw a lot of madness during the pandemic. I was really influenced by that and also my own sort of madness. I was fed up with how we treat each other. Also, the film “The Joker” was an inspiration. There’s a person who goes from being a normal guy having a job to losing it, and then one thing leads to another and suddenly he goes completely insane without even realizing it himself.
I also really enjoy psychedelics like magic mushrooms and stuff like that. And I meditate every day on a regular basis. I really try to explore the reality that I live in. I could talk about this forever, but there were a lot of inspirations regarding this matter.
So, obviously, you also incorporate personal experiences into your music?
In a lot of ways, we also sing about ourselves. It’s a mixture between our own lives, fantasies, what we see happening around us, and just pure imagination. There is no structure, but it makes sense to us. When we make a record, we always want it to be framed by something. Like we did with “Blood Jungle”. Ossi and I had been to Peru for several weeks, living in the jungle. And we’ve been doing a bunch of Ayahuasca with Shamans. “Blood Jungle” was the result of that time. It ended up being our most polished record and, in some way, also our most positive and happiest one. The song “Air Is Free” is a good example: it’s about liberation and the feeling, that you belong in the world and that we are all one.
Air Is Free
You once said that you and Ossi both had to struggle with your own demons for a long time. What lies behind that?
I think everybody has demons in some way. Ossi and I both struggle a lot with periods of depression and anxiety. There have been times where both of us felt like shit. But we’re artists, and it’s part of our job to talk about what we feel because what we feel is connected to our art. The best way for us to cure our mental issues is to write songs about it. Because then we create something good from horrible experiences. So, we get to be almost grateful for those horrible experiences because if you hadn’t had those, you wouldn’t be inspired to move forward.
You and Ossi often emphasize that you are of one mind on most issues. What do you disagree about?
We’re very similar in certain ways. But as persons, we’re pretty different. I’m way more outgoing. Ossi is taking it much slower. But we complement each other extremely well. We don’t really have the same taste in music, though. There’s a lot of music that I love that Ossi doesn’t like at all. He hates listening to Metal, and that’s pretty much all I listen to. So yes, we have our differences.
As best friends and bandmates – how do you make sure you never strain your relationship to each other?
When it comes to creating as a band, we’re always on the same line. I don’t think we’ve ever had any fights regarding songwriting or making music in general. I guess we’re both very keen on maintaining our friendship. In the end, our friendship is more important than the band.
Johnossi – Mad Gone Wild
With all the bad stuff going on in the world recently – do you want to address socially critical topics in your songs?
Those topics always sneak in the lyrics. For example, in the song “Mad Gone Wild” there are phrases like “Stinky dirty bodies all get washed up on the shore” that are referring to the Syrian war. You remember those pictures of children in the Mediterranean Sea and people dying on the boats in Greece. Of course, I‘m influenced by those things. But I never want to address it directly in the songs. I want people to discover it themselves in the lyrics. I don’t think I would ever write a political song because I feel that I’m not that educated enough in the matter.
You already mentioned the pandemic earlier. There’s still a lot of uncertainty around this matter, especially for artists. How do you deal with it as a band?
As touring artist for us, everything is still really fucked up. Every band in the world is out touring again right now, so the competition is fierce. Also, the pay you get has been going down a lot because everybody wants a bigger piece of the pie. We’re playing a lot in Sweden because this is pretty much the only place we can make money right now. Before the pandemic, it used to go really well for us in Germany, and we can still go and play there, but it’s pretty hard to sell out shows because there are so many concerts right now. I hope we can start touring regularly again after the winter.
But for now, we are aiming at Sweden. I’m part of a big Swedish TV show called “Så mycket bättre” where we live together as a group of artists playing each other’s songs. That’s what I am working on pretty much right now. So, we are busy, even though it’s hard to tour outside Sweden right now.
Thank you for your time!