Johanna Warren – “Hungry Ghost”
We named Johanna Warren’s last offering, n?m?n, one of the best albums of 2015, and it’s still one that I turn to religiously a little over a year after its release. Warren’s songwriting is dexterous, and the stories she tells on n?m?n lack specificity, which allows them to fit into so many different pockets of thought and systems of belief. Warren is spiritual without being preachy, enlightened without sounding condescending, and she doesn’t lend her listeners advice so much as she presents her own personal truths.
All of Warren’s releases hinge on a concept, and that last album focused on the cleansing power of a new moon. Her forthcoming LP, Gemini I, is the first of twin albums based on two Geminis who’ve nurtured her. Warren structured the albums around two tarot cards — the Devil and the Lovers — which she says “illustrate two mortals in relationships triangulated by a third, divine presence presiding over them: in the Lovers, an angel extends its hands over the mortals, witnessing and blessing their union; in the Devil, the lovers are chained to the Devil’s throne.” Each song on Gemini I will correspond with its “twin” on Gemini II, linked by lyrical content, musical motifs and/or production choices. The first album will be out next month on Warren’s newly-minted label Spirit House, which she’s running independently. Here’s an introduction to the label:
I’m releasing Gemini I on my own record label, Spirit House, a radically artist-friendly business focusing on empowering independent female and non-binary voices who don’t fit into the male-dominated, capitalist industry. I started Spirit House because I was tired of seeing myself and my badass magical friends feeling disempowered over not getting signed to some big label. Music industry executives don’t get what we’re doing, maybe because we’re making music that sounds different. Most labels want to sign artists that sound like ten other artists who are already selling records. What might make an artist “unmarketable” to a businessman is, to me, what makes an artist exciting.
“Hungry Ghost” is Gemini I’s debut single, and it’s a bit more up-tempo than some of Warren’s earlier releases. The song features drumming by Jim Bertini, a collaborator from Warren’s band Sticklips, and it’s the first song she’s ever released under her own name that includes contributions from anyone other than her longtime co-producer and engineer Bella Blasko. In some ways, “Hungry Ghost” reminds me of something off of Laura Marling’s 2013 release Once I Was An Eagle; it’s a propulsive, beat-driven exploration of a haunting. This particular haunting is based on a Chinese Buddhist demon spirit caught between two worlds. “And I’m sick of everybody leaving me for dead/ All I hear is people grieving (even in my head),” Warren sings. “They say that what you give is what you get/ I gave you everything and all I got is a lot of regret.” Listen below and read our Q&A with Warren here.
Gemini I is out 9/16 via Spirit House.