[on] vinyl that we would listen and sing to over and over. We would stand on our fireplace and use that as our stage! But, on the other spectrum, I grew up in a very Catholic household, so traditional choral and hymnal music was also something totally ingrained in my psyche.
When did that interest in music evolve into writing?
As a child I would always make up my own little songs and melodies and always sang in choir. So I think I always had the inclination to write. It wasn’t until my college years, when I started playing in a band with my close friends and then eventually doing my own original projects that I learned to develop my own writing style.
In person, you seem very down-to-earth, sweet, dare I say…Midwestern (I say this as a Minnesotan). Do you have a persona you put on when you perform?
That’s so very nice of you to say – we Midwestern girls have to stick together! I feel really lucky that I did grow up in the suburbs of Michigan. It definitely has an inherent grounding effect that has stayed with me as I’ve grown up. I have not performed live in quite a while, so I’m not sure who will actually come out of me when the time comes. I’m a bit of a control freak (it’s the Aries in me), so if anything, I just want to be able to make a connection with the audience and have a story they can relate to.
Even in your recordings there’s an ethereal confidence, a driving force behind your voice that I might not have expected meeting you at a coffee shop, let’s say.
In all honesty, I think confidence has always been my Achilles heel, but also something I’ve worked so hard to strengthen. I grew up as a middle child – there were three girls in our family – and in many ways always felt sort of invisible. I think the confidence you hear in the songs is something that was brought out by the mood of the music Johan created. It was something I was very cognizant of when writing the lyrics and also when recording the vocals.
I really wanted to approach writing these songs from a highly intuitive place, because our process was so different than what traditionally happens when working with a bandmate. We were on two different continents, so I thought I lot of it was like reading energy. Not to sound too metaphysical or anything.
Never too metaphysical. I know that you and Johan were pen pals back in the day, but how did you first meet?
Johan and I had always stayed in touch over the years, on life stuff and the million other projects he’s involved with. He owns/runs Labrador Records so there is always something exciting happening over there. Under my other project, Invisible Twin, we had actually done several remixes for Acid House Kings and Red Sleeping Beauty. So we had it in the back of our minds to actually do something together someday.
In September 2015, he reached out and asked if I’d want to collaborate with him on a new project. He would produce the music and melodies, and he needed me to write all the lyrics and perform the vocals. There were so many moving parts to it, but I saw it as a much-needed challenge and jumped on board right away.
Shortly after that, my sister and her husband planned a trip to visit Copenhagen and Stockholm and asked if we wanted to meet up. We had planned the trip for the end of October, so I let Johan know I was headed over to Stockholm and we arranged to meet for the first time in our lives.
Was it strange meeting in person?
It was far from strange!!! I always say it felt like having a reunion with a friend I had in kindergarten. It was very natural and easy, like we had just picked up a conversation where it was left last. I sometimes have a bit of social anxiety when it comes to meeting new people, but he really did feel like someone I had known my whole life, and also over many lifetimes.
Basic question alert. Where did the name Djustin come from?
It’s funny – for months, Johan and I discussed lots of different names. I thought I had some really great ones! But when it came down to it, we really wanted something simple that sounded good, looked good visually, and didn’t really have inherent meaning. To us, we felt there was more mystery to that and that people could make of it what they wanted. BTW, it is pronounced liked “Justin” – no fancy Swedish pronunciation. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble on that.
I’m so glad you said that. I was definitely going Swedish.
I wanted it to be pronounced “YOU-STIN” but Johan wouldn’t have it.
“DJUSTIN’s existence seemed to crystallize due to the forces of quantum entanglement, a pull of energies which was always inevitable.” Your press release is pretty badass. Can you tell me about the storytelling aspect of this project? When I listen to your music I feel like I’m in a club scene inside Blade Runner.
I think Johan and I sometimes come from two schools of thought. He is very straight-forward, honest, logical and assertive. He tells me these are typical Swedish characteristics. I’ve always, always had a very vivid imagination. I’m always observing – people, animals, nature, situations in the grocery store – whatever it is.
I’m a very curious person and always want to know about the backstory. When Johan sent me the music tracks, it was really my responsibility to listen to the music and the melody – like, really listen – and kind of sense what the song wanted to be about. I would actually ask the track out loud “Ok, what do you want me to say?” I also didn’t want to over-complicate it, so I kind of went with the flow of how I was feeling when I heard the music and the words sort of wrote themselves. I sort of wanted the songs to be like conversations. I also just wanted these songs to be danceable, songs you could feel. You really don’t want to have to concentrate on these super elaborate words while you’re moving along to it.
Has the intention or mood behind the music shifted at all from 2016’s EP Tryst to 2017’s Voyagers?
I don’t think it was anything we consciously decided, but I think Tryst has a little bit of a darker undercurrent. I think Voyagers takes listeners through more of a range of emotions that aren’t so dark – we have some really upbeat tracks like “Dancing” and “Voyagers,” but also some really existential tracks like “Advance” and “Birthday” that touch on more depressing ideas.
“New Preset” definitely has a sexy, dance vibe to it.
Thank you! I hope it’s the type of song that makes you want to dance in your underwear with a good glass of sparkling rose!
You’re giving me weekend plans.
You and Johan both have outside projects (Invisible Twin and Club 8). How does the writing process differ in your collaboration with Johan vs Mario?
Like night and day! Johan’s process is very methodical and structured. When he sends me the music demo tracks, it also has his idea for the melody line down to the exact syllables he wants. So, as I said before, it’s sort of like a puzzle. I not only have to come up with lyrics that fit syllable-wise, but they also have to make sense, sound pleasant, and tell some sort of meaningful story. It’s challenging, nonetheless, but it’s so rewarding when we get it right!
For Invisible Twin, the entire process is a wholly shared experience in real time. For one, we are both in the same room when we are working on arranging and producing the music. The creation process is more immediate and also, perhaps, a bit freer. I write the lyrics for Invisible Twin as well, so I’m able to work out ideas and melody lines as placeholders, and then refine as we go along. I don’t think either method is better than the other – they are just two different thinking processes.
Do you have any plans for a Djustin tour?
We don’t have any plans as of this minute, but on a personal level, performing as Djustin is something we both want to share and experience. We will be working towards this, and in the meantime there are a ton of logistical details to contend with. So for us, it would really need to be the right venue. We are both very much opposed to doing random shows just for the sake of selling some records and making numbers. It’s not about that for us. We want our performance to be deliberate and meaningful. We do have a thing for exotic places, so we’re all up for that!
What advice would you give to a young Midwestern girl looking to make music?
My advice would be to never, ever let yourself think for one minute that you don’t matter, that what you have to say doesn’t matter. Everyone has voice and a story to tell, and you have every right to let that voice be heard. It might not reach millions of people, it might not impact millions of people, but to that one person, your story might mean everything to them, and that’s really what matters in the end.
Djustin’s full-length debut album is out today via Labrador Records.