Diane Theunissen

9 May

Joanna: “Society Doesn’t Teach Us to Take a Hard Look in the Mirror”

Back in January, she was featured as one of 2021’s most promising artists in our “On Our Radar” series. Well, it looks like we got it right: last week, Paris-based artist Joanna returned with her debut album ‘Sérotonine’, an introspective 14-track project putting the spotlight on love and self-discovery while confirming the artist’s singular sonic identity. We caught up with Joanna to chat about her creative process, poetry, and the symbolism of her latest project.

Your debut album Sérotonine will be out in a couple of weeks. How do you feel about the release?

I’m looking forward to it! I’m so looking forward to it that I have dreams about being pregnant and giving birth; (laughs) I look forward to dropping the album because it’s been around for a while now—I want to defend it and move onto something else—yet I can’t wait for people to discover it.

Can you tell us more about the symbolism behind this project? What does it mean to you?

It’s an album that translates a love story from A to Z. It’s a classical schema, or at least it’s the one I’m familiar with.

Love, sex, jealousy, seduction, and rebirth seem to be chore elements of your project. Does this album serve as some sort of therapy?

It helped me better understand things: “Why did I experience that?”, “How come I reacted this way?”, etc. At the same time, I wanted to share what I had learned with my audience. I may be naive, perhaps people know what love is and how to take it, but I’m from the countryside, a middle-class environment educated by TV and buried in stereotypes like, “Women belong in the kitchen!” There is a gap between today and the way we used to perceive love, it’s by having long relationships that I understood that.

I’ve always held back, put myself in the background for “love”, but when you think about it, it’s not for love at all. It’s just because I’m a girl, I follow the codes, and I don’t understand anything about love. I don’t know who I am, I don’t even know where I’m going. By making this album, I discovered that love is not necessarily like we think, and that there are a lot of things that we have to settle before getting into a relationship. I got into long relationships very early. I didn’t develop myself, I just let myself be influenced by my adventures.

What does your creative process look like?

It depends. I usually need to have the prod ready so that I can feel the vibe of the track, the melody, and see what it inspires me. Then I start writing the lyrics, often in a one-shot. I correct words if there are things that bother me, but most of the time I listen to the prod and I write everything at once. It’s different when I go to the studio because we spend hours working on the music. After days like these, I need more time to come up with lyrics because the prod is always on my mind, and I can’t think straight anymore. (laughs)

Then there are simpler moments. “Goût de fraise”, for example, it’s a very ordinary moment of my life where I was in my living room with someone I love, and he inspired me so much that I took my notebook and started writing, “Assise dans mon rocking chair, je te regarde doucement,” without having the production. A week later I went to the studio and pasted the text I had done, and it became the intro of the project. When I think about it, I realize it’s all about spontaneity: if there’s a prod I like, I have to go straight into it, otherwise, it doesn’t work. (laughs) I can’t spend hours and hours looking for words.

Do you want to teach your audience something with the album?

Now I want to address the young people—no matter how old they are—who don’t understand love and who only have failures. All I want to say is that it’s important to communicate and listen to each other. As soon as there is a hint of frustration or non-communication, it goes to shit and it ends. Most people end their relationship at the wrong time, although it’s actually a good step to take. You shouldn’t be afraid to choose whether you want to leave, stay, or if you want to face your own demons and look at yourself in the mirror. Society doesn’t teach us to take a hard look in the mirror.

There is a poetic, narrative aspect to this album. It almost looks like a book with several chapters. Does poetry serve as an extra way to express yourself? Where does this fascination come from?

I honestly don’t know. I was neither raised reading poetry nor literature. I discovered literature quite late, and the books I read are usually essays, technical and theoretical works. I started reading poetry fairly recently because I realized it was something I was doing, but I’m not sure where this interest comes from. I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming and trying to translate things that you can’t quite put into words. It’s a way of expressing myself and understanding life, what’s happening to me, and what’s happening to my friends.

How would you describe the sonic identity of Sérotonine?

It took me some time to be able to answer this question, but now that I have thought about it, I would say that my music is a blend of pop, hip-hop, and R&B. Pop music is ingrained in my musical DNA—all I’ve listened to since I was little is Mylène Farmer, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Beyoncé: nothing niche really. I started listening to niche stuff when I got to high school, I discovered SoundCloud, and I went mad, digging weird stuff all the time. (laughs)

Actually, my music could also be defined as R&B, as this genre integrates all those influences. We could even call it poetic R&B, it might sound a little weird, but there I said it. (laughs)

You did a feature with rapper Laylow on your track “Démons”. Would you like to keep on collaborating with other artists?

Absolutely. There’s actually another one coming out soon, it’s a 100% female feat. I really wanted to work with women, yet unfortunately, with covid and everything, I couldn’t find people to do a feat with in a coherent way, that’s why there is only one on the album. But yeah, I discovered the studio with other women, and it’s so good. I feel good, and I want to continue to do lots of collaborations and meet lots of people. It’s also important to decentralize.

What were your biggest inspirations for the conception of this album?

I had a lot of references for this project. For example, the title Sérotonine came to me by listening to a track of 070 Shake, “Microdosing”, yet the result is closer to Mylène Farmer. (laughs) I have references mostly in prods and effects on voice, I don’t have references in flows or vocals. It was very feminine, though. I really like what Travis Scott and Mike Dean—one of his producers—are doing. They’re people I strongly admire, and I think you can feel that throughout the album. What I like about this artist is that he does rap and hip-hop, but really there are songs that you can take individually that have nothing to do with that. That’s what I’m fond of: hybrid storytelling.

If you could take the Sérotonine era on stage, what would the general vibe be like?

I would love to perform everything following the order of the tracklist and having both a dancer and a drummer with me on stage. Maybe some videos too. And what I would love to do is to put the music video of “Sur ton corps” in the background, but I don’t think I can do that. (laughs) I would like it to be a total immersion in the album. But it doesn’t work like that, my team would probably tell me to perform some old tracks and make people dance. (laughs)

Your album cover is utterly beautiful, which message does it convey?

It’s all about symbols. Serotonin is a molecule that balances moods, and I believe that love gave me the balance I needed not to go in a spin, while seriously helping me to evolve. So that’s the basic symbol. The color blue is what the album evokes to me: it’s both light and dark. In my opinion, blue is a little in-between, it can be very bright and at the same time very dark. Then there is a part of my hand that hides my face, I wanted to represent the duality of being strong and crying, for example, I’m not saying I cry every day (laughs), but it’s a process. Just because you’re a fighter doesn’t mean you’re not vulnerable.

Then there is a kind of glass plate, it’s not really visible, but I have my hand on it, and I push the codes that don’t suit me, a kind of glass ceiling where they make you believe that you are free when you are not. Last but not least, the tear on my face shows that crying is okay and that if you don’t cry it’s almost worse. So it’s kind of like a rebus. (laughs) That being said, I let people have their own reading grid, of course, like for the lyrics.


Album cover of SÉROTONINE

Which tracks do you love the most?

It’s funny because a year has passed since I finished the album, and I told myself, “Anyway, after two months I’ll just be sick of it, and I’ll want to change everything.” In fact, I’ve always accepted it as it is, and every month I have a different favorite track. It’s amazing, it’s never happened to me. Well, I haven’t done that many projects either, but usually at some point the tracks get boring. So here at first, it was “Désamour”, then I really liked “Alerte rouge”, then “Sur ton corps”—and still today: I’m addicted to the production—and right now it’s “Goût de fraise”. Otherwise “Nymphe solitaire” too, more in the meaning than the music itself, but I like this song a lot.

‘Sérotonine’ is available on all platforms

Pictures by Emma Panchot.

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