This was a busy and exciting year for Chippewa Valley native Yohuna (Johanne Swanson by day). It marked the release of her excellent debut Patientness, a nine track album of ethereal indie pop songs. The album–which you can listen to in full via the Bandcamp embed at the bottom of the page–has gone on to receive lots of positive attention and national acclaim. It’s certainly exciting to see an artist with major roots in the Eau Claire music scene go on to garner such a wide audience and so much meaningful, positive buzz. Blugold Radio was lucky enough to get to catch up with Yohuna for a retrospective Q&A about her 2016.
It’s been a big year for you! Lots of great press from the likes of Stereogum, NPR, Pitchfork, and most recently your song “The Moon Hangs In The Sky Like Nothing Hangs In The Sky” was selected by none other than Rolling Stone as one of 2016’s top 50 tracks! …what are the thoughts or feelings that come to mind for you as you reflect back on 2016 and all that’s happened for you artistically?
When I think about 2016 it still comes back to the record in the first place. One of the last nights up in Montreal recording last winter Adelyn Strei (from EC band Adelyn Rose) and I stayed up late and had this heart-to-heart where we both expressed some variation of “whatever happens with this record, if people listen or not, like it or not, whatever, I’m proud of the work we did here this week.” The whole experience really made me grow as a person first, musician second. The press is flattering and I’m grateful people are listening, but I still just feel the most excited about finally putting an album of songs I’ve been writing for so long out…especially with such a supportive team of friends at Orchid Tapes.
You’re politically active and outspoken for progressive causes. As such, has it felt like a juxtaposition to have such an exciting year artistically while so much of the last 12 months have been so full of upheaval and tension nationally?
Oh yeah. I’ve been feeling a lot of “what’s the point?” since the election. I’ve been talking to a lot of artists that feel that way too. I was actually canvassing for Clinton/Feingold in Wisconsin after my tour ended there… And then the recent tragedy in Oakland hit all too close to home. It was devastating. It’s not that I’m politically active or outspoken, it’s that the people I love are queer, they’re brown, they’re mentally ill, they’re poor, and they’ve been completely failed over and over again. Artists have worked and lived in places that aren’t safe because they can’t afford space that is safer for a very, very long time. The crackdown on DIY spaces following what happened in Oakland was a shameful and misguided reaction. This is a wakeup call. We need our local governments to make space for and support – and support means funding – the arts. It’s the difference between people living and dying.
“To anyone feeling discouraged now: I know it seems really stupid and selfish to be making music and going to shows after reading the news every day. But please don’t stop. We need you! Making art is an expression of freedom and adventure that challenges and supports growth in society. Hate, anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, scarcity, all those things win when we stop making art.”
One thing folks in Eau Claire know very well is that music-writers sure love having a narrative around albums to talk about—we’ve been hearing a lot about a certain cabin for many years now. In regards to your debut much of what’s been written about “Patientness” talks a lot about your moving around from different locales both in the US and abroad. Pitchfork even referred to you as a “nomadic singer-songwriter” and your music as “wandering indie songs”. Do you feel this accurately represents you and speaks to what informed the record?
I identify with that even though I’ve still lived in Chippewa or Eau Claire for most of my life. I graduated from high school in Chippewa in 2009 and started immediately at UWEC. I did National Student Exchange (highly recommended program for anyone at UWEC reading) for the 2010-2011 academic year in Albuquerque followed by a summer internship in LA, then went back to EC to finish school in 2013. After graduating I went to Boston to save some money to travel, then backpacked in Europe before settling in Berlin for about two years. Now I’ve been in Brooklyn for over a year, I came to do an artist residency at The Silent Barn. I felt really displaced when I moved back to the US, so a lot of my time in NY was about finding more stability and building a home for myself. My writing surrounds that feeling of loss and disorientation, longing for the calmness that comes with security.
What’re your plans/hopes for 2017?
I’m really psyched to write another album on a personal level. I’ll be staying in NY, hopefully doing a little more touring, but also I’m really hopeful to nest and get even more involved in Brooklyn.
What are YOUR favorite songs of 2016?
…those were the songs I listened to the most this year. That Florist album is perfect. I was in tears the first time I listened the whole way through! Track 5 – “Thank You” is what got me… but you have to listen to it from the start!
***All photos and album art by Brian Vu, used with permission***