The German underground scene has already recognized Jan Blomqvist for the avant-garde artist he is and the rest of the world is soon to follow. The Berlin-based artist worked long and hard toward the release of his debut album and it has finally emerged, supported by a global tour. Read on as Jan Blomqvist sheds some light on the roots of his sound, career, and the album itself: ‘Remote Control’…
Welcome Jan, thanks for sitting down with us to share your story. For starters, could you explain where it all started for you?
Musically, I guess I was educated by these fascinating Brit-pop bands in the ‘90s like Radiohead Blur, Suede, Pulp, The Verve. Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Kurt Cobain impressed me a lot over the years with their text writing skills as well. When I moved to Berlin, I was 19 and just fascinated by electronic music. James Holden and Stephan Bodzin were my heroes. I had the idea to combine electronic club sounds with those melodic and thoughtful Brit-Pop styles. And I really wanted to bring piano into the clubs without sounding cheesy.
I wanted to create a new mixture of digital and powerful minimal-techno sounds with handmade analog organic sounds, just to give it some poetic feelings of rebellion and melancholic happiness. I was young and I only wanted to create something epic. So I was dancing in the clubs at least twice a week, obsessed with studying the music. Later, I was working as a barkeeper in a club to make my living. So I was really absorbing the Berlin music sound before I produced my own typical Blomqvist sound.
‘Remote Control’ comprises over two years of hard work, twelve magical songs, and undoubtedly a lot of sweat and tears in the studio. What were the difficulties and the ups and downs that you encountered while creating this album?
My biggest enemy in the studio is always time. I hate to be stressed out while working creatively. It is really difficult to get into that special flow of working where I can work for days and to have it seem like mere minutes. In general, I have too many ideas. So it can be very difficult to stay focused on the main idea of a song and to not lose the silver lining by switching to too many new parts.
Especially for an album, it doesn’t make sense to work on 15 or even more new tracks simultaneously. I had to keep my focus on a big master plan for about 2 or 3 years. Sometimes I had to start anew completely or just from the original kernel of the idea; the latter usually starts as a recording on my phone of me playing a riff on my guitar and humming a melody.
Another interesting aspect of working on a whole album is that you cannot focus on one special moment. It wouldn’t be enough. An album needs a whole concept. There must be a certain structure and a certain harmonious sound design, even though the tracks included shouldn’t sound the same. A bit like a symphony or storytelling. You cannot start working and then see what happens in the end. Well you could, but I like the idea that an album is composed in mind long before. I think there is an old tribal tradition somewhere where people don’t celebrate the actual birth day. Instead, they celebrate the day when the thought of getting a child came to mind. I like this perspective and it was similar with my album.
Why did you choose ‘Remote Control’ as the name of your album?
I wanted to give it a name that fits the music of course. But even more, it should fit the lyrics. I was writing a lot about the kind of world my generation grew up in and how they now suffer from this media overload. Sometimes we don’t even realize how much we are affected and even manipulated by the stories of others instead of following our own lives.
A strong theme in the album is about how commercials and companies try to tell us what makes us happy just to buy more of their shiny unnecessary things. Companies make money selling us strange chemicals and tell us it is good for our health. Some newspapers write about such unimportant stuff, while nobody cares to write about how some of us get filthy rich from selling weapons. Or that our drinking water is already poisoned by unbelievably huge meat production factories. Fukushima – for example – is still destroying the Pacific Ocean, but it completely disappeared from the news…
Sometimes I think the best idea would be to not only quit television, but to also quit Facebook and internet completely. Just to stay smart and free of all of this stupidity that we are fed every day. But as a musician I also have the opportunity to write critically about this modern tragedy. So the album is called ‘Remote Control‘ because we live in danger today. We are at risk of losing our minds, our hearts, our humanity, our sympathy, and our opinions. At risk of losing it to a kind of distant corporate control from the people who want to sell us fear, poison, hate, war and death. Only to make even more money themselves.
We should at least be aware of this. But even more so, we should think critically about it, reject it when its harmful to us or others and stop believing all of their bullshit. I didn’t want to get too political here, but yeah, that is the essence of the album and the title. But the name ’Remote Control’ is even more fitting because of its other meaning. In my music, I control about sixty instruments in each track. So in a way, the instruments and orchestras in this album are actually remote controlled by me.
‘More’ feat. Elena Pitoulis was the first single of your album to hit the world. Why was this the ideal single to get people hyped for the rest of the album?
When you search for a lead single for any album, you want to find something upbeat, catchy and strong. I guess ‘More’ has those qualities. I have been playing it in my live sets often last year and people were really into it. They gave such nice feedback that it was clear that this track could easily be the first single.
Also, it has the feeling of a first single when compared to the other tracks on the album, The other ones are sometimes darker or more clubby, maybe even radio-unfriendly. The lyrics of the track also give a good indication of the themes of the album, “…it’s never enough”. Then we realized that the title ‘More’ fits pretty perfectly because it’s the first thing I’ve put out after months without any release appearing. Funny. It wasn’t planned like this.
The music video for ‘More’ features one of the best ballet dancers in the world, Shoko Nakamura. Where did someone like Shoko Nakamura fit in when tied to music like yours?
The lyrics of the track are about that we will never be satisfied with our beautiful lives as long as commercials, media, society or even stupid friends keep on telling us what we lack and still need to get or become to be really happy. So for the music video, I really liked the idea to work with a professional ballet dancer. These are the people who suffer most from an idea of perfection beyond reach, working so hard for perfection and beauty and almost always never quite getting it. And I really liked the contrast between ballet and electronic music as well. I am very happy that Michal a friend of mine introduced me to Shoko. Even more so that she was interested in this idea, in Berlin and available.
You are one of the few Electronic Music artists that performs alongside an entire live band now and then. Heck, you even provide the vocals yourself fairly often, a unique trait that is hard to find in today’s scene. Do you consider this to be the main reason for you storming onto the scene so quickly or do you think there is more to it than a trademark style or two?
Well, I feel much more like a live musician than a DJ. When I play in clubs or at festivals, I do not play as a DJ; I play live, often with my band. Nowadays, most artists booked in clubs and festivals are usually DJs. So this might be a reason why I stand out. My live vocals are a characteristic trait of my music, but I don’t see it as the main part. More just like another instrument layered into the whole concept of each track.
What makes my music different from others more likely lies in the deep melodic layered basses. I love to keep an organic warm background pad unchanged on one tone while the layered basses sneak to the perfect harmonic chord. It leaves you in the dark with an undefined feeling of happiness somehow. I use this technique in almost all of my productions, so you could call it a trademark of my tracks, yeah. The main point is that I don’t get tired of it and it works really well live.
The idea of combining styles to develop something new might have contributed to people noticing my music as well. It was clear that many genres had reached some sort of dead end. They could not go further without combining elements of other genres. It became the only interesting way for me to go forward in music. I just know that my way took ages. I’ve been working on this project constantly for almost 10 years now. I needed lots of patience and effort to reach this point. There was no certain lucky punch or any real break-through. I build it up brick by brick.
What does music mean to you?
Music is definitely not an outlet of what I experience. I don’t want to dilute my music with all this trivial bullshit from reality, especially the fleeting emotions and boring drama of every-day life. The search for the perfect tone is a mission enough. I am so fascinated by my music always being smarter than me – even if I created it myself. I guess Physics professors deal with the same philosophical problems whenever they discover something new only to find that 100 other questions appear because of it.
Music to me is kind of like love and hate. It keeps me young by forcing me to use my brain so much, but it makes me old by stealing my time. Without music, I would not have met all these nice people all over the world. On the other hand, I spend so much time in the studio that music really prevents me from meeting with my friends. So it is tricky… Music, art and culture in general make us different from animals. Humans were dancing and partying long before they had language, so music is maybe the oldest language on earth.
You cannot really hurt people with music, but sometimes music can stop people from feeling hurt. Music also brings people together instead of pushing them apart. Maybe if we would spend more time teaching music to our children, they could be smarter and less aggressive. You can actually teach math or physics to children through the processes of electronic music production.
What do you reckon are the traits an artist should possess in order to ‘make it’?
I think the most important thing for an artist is to have a certain idea of what they want to do creatively and stay real. Just do what you like and don’t listen to what people want to tell you. If these people were right they would do it themselves. Create a new, unique, and authentic concept and follow it with passion. Make it your personal mission and be patient. Don’t forget to care about your family and best friends because you won’t see them often anymore.
With over 300 gigs in three years, surely there have been a few moments where you were so exhausted that you could barely stand up straight. How do you cope with these moments and how do you make sure that you’re always at your very best, both on-stage and in the studio?
Yes, that’s true unfortunately. The fact of missing sleep can do funny things to your mind. In 2012, when I started touring all over Europe, I really had some problems with sleeping. The solution is simple but boring. Stop being a punk and act at least a bit disciplined. Less alcohol and less partying always helps to improve the situation. I would try to take two weeks off every now and then and go to the mountains where there is nothing and nobody to distract me. This really prevents me from losing myself in this absurd, but beautiful music world. Back home in Berlin I always find my honest mirror. Berliners don’t take you too serious if you are a professional musician, because everybody is one. Of course 😉
Your iconic rooftop sessions have become somewhat of a recurring theme for you. Could you tell us something about the origin of the concept itself and why it suits you and your music so well?
Me and my band wanted to play live on festival stages, so we needed a nice promo video to show promoters. After trying to film many live gigs in dark clubs, we realized it would be easier to film outside in daylight. So I organized this rooftop gig just to have a nice promo video. I guess it worked and somehow became a YouTube hit with millions of views. The effect was surprising and also a bit funny; suddenly I was getting all these requests to play on rooftops with average sound systems and variable weather conditions when the intention was to play on massive sound systems on a professional festival stage.
Now that you’ve finally released ‘Remote Control’, what’s next for you?
I am already preparing my album tour with my band. Lots of rehearsals and organizing right now. I will start with 3 solo gigs in the USA, then I will meet my band for 2 gigs in Bangkok and Singapore before starting a big tour through Germany together which will take up most of April. After that, I am looking forward to the European festival season of course. It would be great to play at Burning Man at the end of the summer.
During all this, we will make a whole remix album of ‘Remote Control’ with several artists, me included. After so much time in the studio I am really excited to take the next months and tour and make some hiking trips. I had also planned to move to New York for a few funny months after my album release, but I think it won’t work this year. Next year maybe!
And finally, any words of wisdom you would like to impart?
Be young, have fun, drink Spezi!