When iamamiwhoami (that's: i am - am i - who am i) first started chucking bonkers videos upon an otherwise unsuspecting YouTube population in December 2009, nobody - and that includes the Swedish group themselves - imagined they'd become an obsession for an electro-pop generation, racking up nearly 23 million YouTube views for their releases and playing to a standing ovation at London's Southbank Centre.
Previously operating exclusively online, iamamiwhoami's debut physical release last year, kin, paved the way for the bundling of their early series of works, bounty, as a tangible commodity. The new-of-sorts album comes out here next month and gives founder, Jonna Lee, and her fellow members of this troupe of audio-visual magnificence an excuse to return to London for a special show at Electric in Brixton. Here we talk to Lee about bounty, her relationship with her fans and performing live in London.
The show at Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall last year was your first non-festival gig. You and the band seemed a bit taken aback by the overwhelming response from the audience. What was that experience like for you?
It was quite emotional and, yes, overwhelming, to be honest, being so close to the audience. And, yes, it was different to the other shows we had performed so it was quite amazing and it felt like a rare and unique moment.
Were you surprised by the standing ovation you got?
Yes but also relieved because we have never played to a sitting-down audience before.
And were you aware that the venue would be a seated one?
We wanted to try and do that because it is always interesting to challenge yourself with different venues and I hadn't really thought too much about it becoming a big change and it was only once I stood there that I realised: yeah, this is something else.
Similarly, while your other European dates are festival shows this summer, we're getting a headlining performance here. Do you feel that you have a particular connection with the London audience which warrants this special treatment?
[laughs] We have roots in England. There is a sense of home about London, to me. You folks are a lot like us so I guess, yeah, that's why we are coming back. I enjoyed our performance there.
You previously said that kin was inspired by your first encounter with your audience at iamamiwhoami's Way Out West festival appearance in 2011. Have subsequent live experiences such as your Queen Elizabeth Hall gig had any effect on your current songwriting?
Well, I don't know yet because I haven't come to the process of letting all of that go and working on new material, because we are doing the bounty delivery, the release of it. So I'm sure it definitely will have an effect on me because this whole release has been a big difference, for me and for the project. You know, playing concerts and being so close to... seeing the reactions of people, not having that distance. So it will definitely show.
For your first London gig you opened the set by inviting one of your most prominent YouTube tribute artists, Unplugged70, to perform. There's always been a strong link between iamamiwhoami and its fans. Have you considered involving fans in some way in any of the forthcoming gigs?
I have not thought... well, how to say it... there must be a purpose for everything, as I always say in interviews manically [laughs]. There was... it felt so natural having him there because he's English, first of all. Or, Scottish. And I just wanted him to open it. I couldn't see it any other way. What will happen at this show I can't say at this point [after our interview it transpires that Rex The Dog will be opening for the band at Electric]. But fans will always be involved in one way or another. And I like seeing them in real life.
How did you approach plotting the live shows for the bounty release era?
Well, when we started the tour preparations for kin we had this in mind already because I had already decided that I wanted to release bounty the way that we are now doing so it's been in the works for some time, to be honest. So, yes, it's prepared for. They belong together, both of them. bounty has existed prior to kin and it's our history and right from the start it was clear to me how to perform these songs.
With the emergence of bounty on CD/DVD format three years after its individual 'chapters' first came out, does it feel strange revisiting what was, essentially, the inception of iamamiwhoami?
It feels good to give bounty the weight and attention that kin got because they are equally important to us. So, it feels natural in a way. It's also good to focus on it in the physical world. It was different working on it when it first came to life because the songs were all created in real time and everything went very fast in the beginning, to be honest. And now everything has sunk in a bit more and I am really enjoying playing these songs now.
We think we can guess what the answer to this question is going to be but... when you first started working on this project in 2009, did you imagine that four years down the line you'll be, effectively, releasing your second album and touring extensively as a group?
No... ummm... no. I didn't expect any of it. But it's all been a blessing in that sense because I was prepared for a change and, obviously, I wouldn't have started this otherwise. It was a leap [laughs] - a giant leap. But I didn't have any thoughts of where it was going. I tried to stay in 'the now'. I'm still trying to do that. Yeah, it's the way to go forward, really, to just keep in the moment.
You’ve chosen 'y' as the single to promote the release of bounty. Why this particular song?
It's a good representation of the bounty series and what the project stands for, for me. And as iamamiwhoami has sprung from necessity and all of the parts of what it has become today have come from that, so that song fits that in a good way.
Before the individual songs from bounty first started coming out in March 2010, iamamiwhoami released prelude tracks that built up towards the series itself. They each contributed hints in terms of the storyline behind the series and its eventual name. Why are they not being included on the physical release?
For me, the start of that series [of preludes] before bounty came to life is its own chapter. And it does not belong in bounty because bounty started with 'b' and it was different from that. That's a chapter and a source of inspiration from where we started and I want to keep that untouched. Not everything needs to be categorised or... no, that's not the right word. Let me see... sometimes I need to think a little bit longer about English. Well, I guess, the short of it is that it is its own thing and it belongs where it is right now and who knows what might happen in the future. But it's not a part of bounty.
How did your remixes of the Moby and The Irrepressibles tracks come about?
We share the same management with Moby and we have the same publisher as The Irrepressibles. The songs... they were requests for remixes and we listened and where there is room for creating something interesting and artistic it's always fun to experiment. With both those songs there was room for it. And they are very different and the artists are completely different from each other. But we love creating like this.
What do you make of the various remixes of your own songs?
I like hearing other people's versions of our songs. bounty had a remix for each song while it was being released at first, digitally, and the remixes we did then were more like alternate versions rather than remixes. I think you'll see more and more remixes of our songs in the future. [A few days after our interview a Moby remix as well as a Joe Goddard remix of 'y' were unveiled].
Do you have any plans to release music and footage from past and/or future live concerts?
No. [pause] But I won't say no to anything because anything is possible but a concert, for me, is this very rare particular moment that I want the audience to be able to keep and not revisit because also for us it's something that just happens then and there and that's magical so... who knows. But I am not planning on doing so.
And what about doing another online gig like the one you streamed back in 2010?
I think having that time to just experiment and invent and communicate with the audience... as soon as the time comes about then it's always happening in some form. That concert took about six months to do, I mean to prepare for. And I'm sure that equal events to that will happen in the future. As long as there is a want and an urge for creating. As of now, there is.
Speaking of that online concert, you ended it with an unreleased song titled '.' which we, your Queen Elizabeth Hall audience, caught a studio version of playing innocently in the auditorium just before you came on stage last year. Are you likely to ever release it?
Yes, you noticed that... well, that song, it was the start of this whole project for me and for Claes [Bjorklund, fellow iamamiwhoami creative] and also for our visual collaborators. That was the first song that then became this project. It keeps coming back to us, it's a good description of the project. And I don't know if I will be releasing it - there are plenty of versions of it both in my head and in reality. But... you know, working in real time as we do is a specific way of recording and writing - everything has its time and when you've written something and it's there you know if you want to release it. And if you don't want to at that point then the time passes and the moment might be gone... but it might come again, as well.
Is there a possibility that you might play it live?
I might do it, yes.
What about shows outside of Europe? Is that part of your plan?
Yes! As soon as possible, I really want to meet the audience in other territories. We have sort of left that out but touring is a big production and we are still quite new in the concerts arena so it's not the easiest thing to travel with the whole production. That has been the reason why there haven't been concerts outside of Europe, yet.
Finally, what - to you - is the most enjoyable element of touring?
Well, hearing the music and feeling it come to life - it's so different from creating it. It is an equal love, both, but doing it live is just such a grand experience. And also meeting with the audience is equally overwhelming each time and that's the biggest thing, definitely, seeing the response coming to you once it's actually happening. It's amazing.