Interview: Johan Agebjörn
Johan Agebjörn is living a time warp. Best known for his partnership with disco diva Sally Shapiro, he has made his name creating anachronistic, body-moving tunes. While having released three ambient albums under his own name, "Casablanca nights" marks his first solo trip to the dance floor. Taking his friends along for the ride (including Friday Bridge, Lake Heartbeat, Le Prix and, of course, Ms. Shapiro herself) Agebjörn creates a boogie-worthy wonderland, filled with ethereal voices, sugary sweet-synths, and more 1980s attitude than an entire closet stuffed with spandex.
It's a Trap! caught up with the musician/producer somewhere in the course of a busy day as a father/student/musician to discuss the beauty of the Internet, influencing the next generation, and the fun one might have with time machines.
Your music seems to heavily reference the 1980s -- is there something about the decade you'd prefer we not resurrect?
That would be neo-liberalism I guess. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and all that. Musically it was one of the best decades in history I think. I can feel a sense of freedom when listening to 80s music, much of today's music is so stiff in its attempt to be cool.
A time machine is invented -- what musical event do you go back to witness? (Provided you're not too busy assassinating Hitler along the way.)
I think I'd like to visit some Italian discos around 1983, maybe with Casco DJing. Maybe some Kraftwerk live show in the late 70s or early 80s. Oh, and I'd love to have seen The KLF with Extreme Noise Terror at the Brit Awards in 1992.
Provided the time machine is still working, and you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to yourself as a small-town teenaged dance music fan, what would it be?
I'm starting to really like this time machine! I don't think I would have wanted to give any special advice... but I would love to be able to tell myself that I years later would be working with and doing remixes for artists that I already listened to in the 80s and 90s... like Fred Ventura, Alan Cook, Jam & Spoon. I mean, little me working with those guys.
After writing so many songs about love and loss, do you consider yourself to be a romantic?
Yes, definitely. But I don't think I appear as one. I think people who don't know me so well might view me as a quite unexpressive person.
Your last album with Sally Shapiro was called "My guilty pleasure". Do you personally believe in guilty pleasures? Are you okay with people calling your new album "Casablanca nights" a guilty pleasure?
Hey that's OK with me. I think we chose the title "My guilty pleasure" because it was a time when both Sally and I reflected a lot about guilty pleasures and revealed them for others and ourselves. I think today some Eurovision song contest stuff can count as my guilty pleasures.
With the Internet as your primary form of communication, can you imagine life without it? Would a project with so many people in so many countries even be feasible?
No, I think an album like this would have been extremely costly to put together without the Internet. Just think about all the traveling. During the recording process I only traveled once to Stockholm and once to Helsinki, and made most of the music on my home computer Jürgen with frequent emailing to a lot of people (the working title for the album was "Reply to all").
How do you choose your musical collaborators? With so many guest artists on the new album was there anyone you had to turn down?
Yes, both people I turned down, and people I didn't even ask. Today I can wonder, "Why didn't I at least ask him/her to sing on some track?" I think the reason for the latter was just that I never had a proper plan to make an album with collaborators... I just made a bunch of tracks with people I were already in contact with, producers I admire (many of them Sally Shapiro remixers), and in some cases I asked some people to sing that I thought would fit. Then I realized most of the tracks actually fit pretty well together as an album. I'm happy so many skilled people wanted to take part in it and that they were all into the idea of the album!
As a father/accountant/student/musician do you have a special time management secret for getting it all accomplished? Or is it just the ability to go without sleep?
Actually I need to sleep about nine hours per night. I think I'm quite effective once I'm in the studio -- on late evenings and on holidays -- and I can think about what I want to do at the same time as I'm cycling to school, for example. Then I don't tour like most artists do, only some occasional DJing. I prefer to spend the weekends with my family. I feel lonely on airports.
How did you react to your parents' favorite music growing up? Now that you're a parent, what will your daughter think of your music one day?
My mum mostly listened to classical music, and my dad to blues. I wasn't so much into it, and I'm still not, except some classical impressionist composers like Debussy and Satie (there's a tribute to Satie on the album). I played a lot of classical music on the piano, thanks to the piano lessons my mum sent me to -- that probably triggered my musical development. But I went my own way from the day a classmate of mine recorded an Italo disco mixtape for me when I was 10 years old. Then I started to save money for a keyboard.
My daughter (four years old) is of course getting to hear a lot of disco music at home, but what really gets her going is watching Eurovision song contest shows on YouTube. Especially female singers in fancy dresses. But she also likes watching the animated Sally Shapiro music videos ("Time to let go" and "Love in July"). If she hears "Love in July" she says "this is the whale song." We have a lot of fun, I like playing around with the sampler together with her. Actually, I sampled her voice in my remix for Wolfram feat. Hercules And Love Affair.
The million-dollar question: Is there another Sally Shapiro album in the works? (And if not, can I beg for one?)
There's no one in the works, we were planning to do a short EP but instead we decided to include those songs on "Casablanca nights". Albums work much better for this type of music than EPs, and also Sally doesn't like promoting the music anyway, so she likes to hand that over to me. But I don't really have many pop star qualities either, I don't perform live, so why not make a new Sally Shapiro album? But I'm getting my second child in June, so whatever form my/our music will take in the future, it will take some time.
Interview by Laura Studarus