Three years ago, Johanne Swanson released her first album as Yohuna, Patientness. Its title was a mantra — a reminder to stay calm during a period of upheaval that took Swanson from her native Wisconsin to New Mexico and Berlin, before landing in New York City, where she’s been ever since.
The title of her new album, Mirroring, is also a kind of benchmark — a reflection of the stability that comes with staying in one place, and how that stasis can lead to becoming more centered. Mirroring is an album that examines the choices we make and the history that leads us to make them, and what effect those choices have on those around you.
Instead of the synth-bred work that populated Patientness, Swanson gravitated towards writing songs on the guitar, because it felt like more of a direct line of communication between her emotions and the art that was pouring out. As a result, the songs feel more textural and immediate, building outward instead of remain interior.
As she was demoing the record in her bedroom, her roommate Eric Littmann — who produced Julie Byrne’s most recent album and puts out music of his own as Steve Sobs — heard Swanson working on them and asked to co-produce it alongside her. The album was then put together in their apartment, with collaborators cycling through, including Emily Yacina, Adelyn Strei, Foxes In Fiction’s Warren Hildebrand, LVL UP’s Mike Caridi and Greg Rutkin, and Told Slant’s Felix Walworth. There’s a communal intimacy to the album, one of friends coming together to execute a precise vision.
There’s a cleaner and crisper sound to Mirroring, one that evokes crystal-clear water and watching yourself reflected back in it. “What’s you? What do you see? And choose not to?” Swanson asks in the opening line of the album’s title track and first single. It’s a series of questions whose answers stretch to the infinitesimal. With Mirroring, Swanson allows herself the space to start to sift through some of the potentials.
Listen to “Mirroring” below and read on for an interview with Yohuna.
STEREOGUM: Patientness was mostly about how you were moving around all the time. Now that you’ve been in Brooklyn for a few years, how did your approach to songwriting change by staying in one place?
JOHANNE SWANSON: I’ve been really only surrounding myself with people that I want to be surrounding myself with. So much of the album is about relationships and being in a relationship with the people around you. Loss, change, and what it means to be close and how disorienting your own sense can get in that.
Everyone that plays on the record and that plays in my band right now is my best friend. I feel like this album and so much of my songwriting process in general is such a reflection of how I’m living. This record really feels that way.
STEREOGUM: The whole concept of mirrors is pretty prevalent — seeing yourself and seeing other people through reflections. Where did that come from? Why do you think you honed in on that?
SWANSON: For the first time in my life, I’ve spent a lot of time in a therapy process. And I think my own understanding of boundaries has really transformed through that. I grew up with really poor boundaries, and I always had a really hard time in a close relationship: distinguishing what’s my shit, what’s their shit, and what’s actually in the relationship. I feel like this record is a lot of that discovery process. Me being frustrated with not knowing, and sitting with the unknowing, and growing from that. Mirroring is basically a metaphor for psychological projection.
STEREOGUM: I like that both of your album titles are built around these sort of made-up concepts, and then you throw everything that the album is about into that one phrase.
SWANSON: I’m really glad that “Mirroring” is the first single because I feel like it’s really introducing the whole record.
STEREOGUM: In terms of that self-reflective process, do you think being able to stay in one place for as long as you have now was part of having the energy to dedicate to looking at yourself more closely?
SWANSON: I feel like so much of my moving around for so long was like, me escape routing from one thing to another. I move really fast and get uncomfortable siting with things that don’t feel right, and my strategy for that was always to move on to the next thing. Finally taking time, slowing down, and staying in one place — I have so much more stability. I have a deeper understanding and awareness of what’s going to benefit me in the long-term. I think one of the hardest lessons in that was that being stable, or being more stable, isn’t necessarily fun. Because you lose all the high highs with the low lows. But it’s so fruitful.
STEREOGUM: I think that’s part of growing up. There’s a line on the album I really love: “I wish I wasn’t blacked out during our first kiss.” I feel like that’s very indicative of a certain attitude you have when you’re younger, where you’re just not as sentimental about relationships because they just come and go, but as you get older you wish you were more fully present for some of the moments that were probably important.
SWANSON: I’m really glad you like that line, because I feel like I was a little self-conscious about including it at the time, because it sort of sounds like I’m just being… a fucko, party, whatever … I want people to see that there’s a story there.
STEREOGUM: Did you have any reservations about including some of the more specific lines or scenes that are in these songs?
SWANSON: I’m a really fast worker. Everything was first impulse, best impulse, run with it, that’s how I feel now and that’s true to me. So… no?
I wanted to be direct. I wrote a lot of the songs at a time when I felt that I was withholding so much. I think a lot of the record could also be about what’s said and what isn’t said. I just wasn’t trying to hide anything from my own personal experience. These songs were for me to say what I needed to say.
01 “Knowing U”
02 “Fades To Blue”
03 “Rain & Prairie Snow”
04 “See Me”
06 “Dead To Me”
07 “Find A Quiet Place”
10 “So Free”
03/09 New York, NY @ Pianos Upstairs (New Colossus Festival)
03/10 New York, NY @ Coney Island Baby (New Colossus Festival)
04/05 Brooklyn, NY @ Park Church Co-Op (w/ Spencer Radcliffe)
Mirroring is out 6/7 via Orchid Tapes (US) / Fear Of Missing Out Records (UK). Pre-order it here.