When it comes to visual albums, Beyonce’s got nothing on iamamiwhoami. The Swedish electronic group, consisting of singer-songwriter Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund, have hinged their career on producing stunning audiovisual representations of their nostalgia-tinged synthpop, and new album BLUE is no exception. As well as directing individual videos for each of the album’s ten tracks as part of the Swedish arts collective WAVE, Lee designed an immersive complementary online experience entitled the BLUE island. Featuring exclusive audio, video and streaming options, along with methods of legally sharing the album, the BLUE island represents a new frontier in artist-fan interaction. We spoke with Lee about creating valuable digital experiences, crowdfunding the album, and fashion as function.
The album is very visually influenced by the sea and water. What does the image of the island mean?
The water is a metaphor for the digital world that iamamiwhoami works and exists in. An island is what can be created out of connecting with others in the fluid digital world that is otherwise infinite and indefinite.
As with every album, you created videos for every song. How did you go about creating a visual narrative to match the audio?
The lyrics are in center, describing the birth and evolution of iamamiwhoami as a project, continuously running from the start until now. What started as a YouTube account in 2009 grew us into what we are now with followers’ engagement, sharing and interacting. A band/artist/project or what you choose to call it. Basically the foundation is I’m creating what we are living in real time. The layers above this and our aim is to make a visual counterparts of our music and make soundscapes to the visual story.
This album marks your directorial debut as part of WAVE. How did the collective form?
WAVE was something that came to life in creation of iamamiwhoami still series in 2013. When the first songs for BLUE was written I felt the next natural step for us was to let WAVE direct the series, as the concept of the album was already crystallised. It has been new and much more work doing it this way but we are really proud of what we’re creating.
You also released the album as password protected website- the BLUE island. Was creating a digital space for fans to interact with the album important to you?
My label To whom it may concern. has built the BLUE island together with our independent fan site iambountyfan to create a home for followers throughout this release and beyond. The island is a way to experience our releases as we intended for them to be experienced, where you get all parts we create and not just one or the other. As the traditional music industry does not always support our audiovisual format, I created my own output for it. We wanted to see if I could lift the digital edition to be perceived as more valuable than a physical edition, as the digital music format is useless to own. So TWIMC has released a physical limited edition collectors item and the BLUE island as a digital edition, for people to choose where their value lies. BLUE evolves around the fact that the digital world’s greatest value in my opinion holds a value that cannot be materialised and owned according to old traditional standards. The value in the digital world is the audience sharing.
You used a donation service to finance the album independently. Did you finance the album entirely based on fan contributions?
We opened the GENERATE donation page on our website for a few months to allow followers to support our making of BLUE. It was an experiment to see if there was a want for something new, then we would continue with the series. The followers funded the videos of “hunting for pearls” and “vista” so we kept making. We did not want to use crowdfunding sites as they demand a transparency and requires selling of your idea. We don’t need to explain ourselves to our followers which is a wonderful thing I cherish.
You’ve mentioned that the album is inspired by the fight to maintain creative freedom. Tell me about that struggle.
Being an artist creating in a world where artists and media have become numb before commercialism is hard. It is the only way to find funding and it makes sense why this has happened, but I’m not sure what that does to the creative motif. I want to know that each note and frame I present as an artist were not compromised by selling tactics, analytics or ads. This is why I started the label. iamamiwhoami is beautifully sprung from wanting to create freely without limitations and it will always remain that way. It has required all the time and funds I have but it’s worth it.
So far you’ve only released your own music through To whom it may concern. Would you be interested in enabling other artists to have that creative control by signing them?
If there was time and funds. Right now that is not possible.
You worked with Mathieu Mirano on costume design for the project. How did you decide upon the fashion elements of BLUE?
I don’t view my clothing as fashion but as function. Each item has a relevance in the storyline. The materials as well as the colour or non colours. Mathieu Mirano got in contact and wanted to collaborate. He’s a very talented, young designer. He came to visit and we then noticed we have mutual creative beliefs, so we created a collection for the series together from the narrative.
You’ve also produced clothing and jewelry for the album. How does that tie into iamamiwhoami as a brand?
Our shop items are all items from the BLUE series for our followers to support us whilst keeping within the concept of BLUE. It’s important that all things coming from us have a creative relevance. The message in a bottle necklaces you refer to are a representation of that sharing is a forceful tool, as our followers know, being the makers of iamamiwhoami.