Monday, May 9, 2011

Exclusive Interview: Johan Agebjörn

Tomorrow Johan Agebjörn, one half of Sally Shapiro, is releasing his new solo album "Casablanca Nights" on Paper Bag Records. We thought it was the perfect timing to make an interview with this talented Swede and hear what his thoughts and ideas behind this album was.

We must also before we get on to the interview let you know about the "Casablanca Nights" online release party tonight May 9 at 9 PM (CET) / 2 PM (EST). You will be able to listen to the album from beginning to the end online, and at the same time chat with Johan Agebjörn and other listeners.

Hello Johan. You're back with a new album " Casablanca Nights" and we're going to focus on the album in this interview but we need some background from you. You've been making music for quite a while now both as solo and with Sally Shapiro, but how did it all start?
It's difficult to say exactly when it started! I started to take piano lessons at age five. I bought my first keyboard at age eleven. When I was seventeen years old I bought an Atari computer and a sampler and started to make techno, drum & bass and ambient music. I played live at some local rave parties in Linköping. Some of the music that has been released on my ambient albums dates back to that period. However, at that time it was too expensive for me to buy the equipment I wanted to make less demo-sounding music, so after my Atari died, I turned to other interests in life. In 2003 (when I was 25), I discovered that the processing power of home computers was so good that you didn't need to buy a lot of synthesizers, mixers, effects etc to make professional music, so in 2004 I bought myself a G4 computer called Jürgen which I still record my music on. I made mostly ambient, electro and italo disco music, and spent a lot of time focusing on developing my sound since I was unemployed at the time. Then in 2006 my first 12" single was released – "I'll Be By Your Side" by Sally Shapiro.

The italo disco has always been a significant trademark of yours and today italo disco is named nu italo, what do you think is the biggest difference from the italo back then comparing to now and what do you think that you have spiced up the genre with?
I think that people in the nu italo scene are very good with replicating the sounds of the synthesizers from the 80s, but I think it's often still quite possible to hear if the song was made in the 80s or not. The sequencers in the 80s were less exact, and the processing of vocals and other sounds was different in some ways, maybe more analogue… There's also often something with the vocals, they were sung in a different way…it's difficult to describe, but listen to Klapto - "Mister Game" or Duke Lake - "Dance Tonight" for example – in those tracks there's a kind of weird but pleasant "staccato" singing by choirs which you don't hear in any nu italo… I have tried to imitate that but without success. As to the question what I have spiced up the genre with – when we launched the Sally Shapiro project in 2006, a lot of people were imitating the mostly instrumental electro italo disco sound of 1983, but nobody had tried to create something in the "dance romantic" style of 1984 (Valerie Dore, Savage etc). "I'll Be By Your Side" was an attempt to do that, but after the initial 12", we let ourselves be influenced by more modern styles of producing electronic music, for example by using sidechain compressing. Since we have our roots in a more poppy, melancholic style of italo disco, we have reached out to a lot of indie pop people with the music, and my new album is also released on a label that would rather count as an indie label than an electronic or disco label.

Sally Shapiro, the project with you as producer along with Sally on the vocals, have been a huge success worldwide. When doing your solo thing as Johan Agebjörn, does it make things easier for you that you're behind Sally Shapiro?
Yes it seems like this new album is going to be recognized in pretty much the same circles as Sally Shapiro was, and the label is focusing a lot on the fact that I'm the producer/songwriter of Sally Shapiro. However, I also make ambient music that I release on Lotuspike, and the ambient project has been pretty separate from the disco project, it's mostly getting played on new age radio shows in USA and only a few people seem to appreciate both projects, though there is some overlap. So I would probably release the albums on Lotuspike even if Sally Shapiro didn't exist.

We got the album for preview listening and we really like the release. The last album as Johan Agebjörn were much more ambient and chill but with this "Casablanca Nights" you move more within several genres. It's both the nu italo and nu disco along with some ambient slower music and one track is very Massive Attack for me. Was this the natural evolvement for you as Johan Agebjörn solo?
I think it's a consequence of different things: A lot of people, both producers and artists, have collaborated with me on the album, so they have had some input in the sound of the tracks, making it more varied. Also, the album collects material from several years, so I have passed through more musical stages during the creation of the album than during the Sally Shapiro albums, which were both made in about one year each. Finally, for some reason I felt quite a lot of freedom with this album, for example to include the intro track which is played on acoustic piano. Maybe that reflects some kind of evolvement.

As mentioned, we really like the album and another thing that we like about the release are all the collaborations with other artists and producers. To mention a few of them; CFCF, Le Prix, Fred Ventura, Legowelt, Wolfram, Friday Bridge, Ercola, Queen of Hearts and Lake Heartbeat. How did you manage to get all of these people to be involved on the album?
Most of them are people I've got to know through the Internet during the process of the Sally Shapiro albums…some of them remixed Sally Shapiro tracks earlier for example, some of them I was asked to make remixes for, some were friends of friends. In some cases I just took a chance and contacted them on MySpace (Fred Ventura and Lake Heartbeat for example).

Also Sally Shapiro is one of the collaborating artists on some of the tracks. Do you think those tracks sounds different now as Johan Agebjörn solo and what they should be and sound like if they were produced as Sally Shapiro?
If they sound different, then I think it's more because of the input from co-producers. Actually we had a plan to release those tracks as a small Sally Shapiro EP, but in the end we decided to include them on this album, because albums work much better than EPs for us and the record labels.

The album is named "Casablanca Nights", any history or story behind the name?
I wanted a name that reflected the sound of tropical urban disco nights…also, the name of the album actually came after the basic creation of the artwork (which is made by Ylva Lindberg of Friday Bridge), and I thought it fit very well to it. It's also a reference to the old italo disco track "Acapulco Nights" by G.J. Lunghi.

We posted the awesome track "Watch The World Go By" a couple of weeks ago that you've made together with Le Prix and Janne Kask from Lake Heartbeat. We really loved the voice of Janne along with your beats and synths, are the any more plans doing more collaborations with him?
We were all three very happy with that track, and we have tried to come up with something new, however so far we're not satisfied…but hopefully one day!

Do you have any special expectations on this release yourself?
Not really, and that's a good thing…a Sally Shapiro album would come with a lot of expectations from people that it would be difficult to live up to. If some people can feel something similar when listening to the music, to what I and the other artists felt when we were creating it, then that's a good accomplishment. But I'm not trying to build a living on the music…I'm a full-time psychology student and a father (getting my second child in June!), so I'm not about to go on a big tour. Maybe some DJing every now and then.

Your favourite track or tracks on the album?
It's difficult to say, it changes. Currently maybe the last minute of the track "Casablanca Nights".

"Casablanca Nights" will be out on Paper Bag Records, you been with them for a couple of years now. I suppose the collaboration are working well?
Yes, I think Trevor (the label boss) and I have exchanged a few thousand e-mails now. He's a big fan of my music. Paper Bag's connections in the North American indie scene also feels like the most stable base for getting the music out there.

That's kind of it for now, we will get back to you when the release hits the charts. I can already reveal now that one of the tracks on the album probably will be on my "Best of 2011" list... So Johan, big thanks and bye!
Thanks for your support…bye!

And to finish off this interview Johan was so kind to let the readers of Tracasseur get their own exclusive 320 kbps mp3 of one of the tracks from the album, we give you:

Johan Agebjörn feat. Sally Shapiro - Le Noir Et Le Blanc Sur Le Piano [Tracasseur exclusive]

And pre-order/order your copy of "Casablanca Nights" here.