(Sort Of) Unmasking jj

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Published April 8, 2010

“This is our coming out party,” declared Joakim Benon, referring to his band’s recent emergence from the shadows after nearly a year of orchestrated mystery. jj–a much-lauded Swedish electronica duo consisting of Joakim and vocalist Elin Kastlander–first revealed their comely mugs a few weeks back in the stylish black-and-white video for “Let Go” (above). The release was followed by a series of performances at South by Southwest–their first-ever US appearances.

jj doesn’t do much press, and had never been interviewed on camera until I sat down with them for what was, at times, a very awkward conversation (the video will be available at Noisevox later this month). Facing three HD cameras made the shy Swedes palpably uncomfortable, though they were expressive when it came to certain topics, like the aforementioned South by Southwest, a “circus” which they “hated” and vowed to never play again. It wasn’t so much Austin, Joakim said, but “The people. They are all hysterical chasing after something–I don’t know what they’re trying to find.” The feeling was somewhat mutual, with avowed admirers from Pitchfork to Perez reporting tepid reactions to jj’s stage performances. Of course, the band doesn’t read reviews–good or bad. Joakim explained: “Why would I? Why do you care what someone writes in a paper or online?  I don’t understand why bands want to read that. It must be important to them. But seeing us in the press makes my mom happy, so I guess that’s good.” Of their current tour with the equally laconic xx, Elin said, “They asked us, and at first we said no. But we like their record and they’re very nice people.”

They were less responsive when it came to explaining their affection for Lil’ Wayne, who they have sampled and covered several times. Their albums, last year’s jj no.2 and the new jj no.3, were written and recorded in Costa del Sol during the same period in 2008, when Weezy songs, “Just seemed like a good idea.” They were also quiet when I inquired about the cannabis leaf on the cover of their first album, their woozy re-working of Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” (their version is called “Ecstasy”), and the opening line of “Let Go” (“Take me away like I overdosed heroin”). Why are drugs a recurring theme in their music? After a very lengthy pause, Joakim offered only, “Well, life is a recurring theme.”

While they probably can’t go back into hiding, don’t be surprised if they decline future interview opportunities. They’ve done enough, they told me, to know they don’t like it. “Everyone feels that when you are making music that you have this obligation to go on stage or do interviews,” said Joakim. “And I don’t really know where that feeling comes from, you know? We want to make music, you know, that’s what we’re here for.”

jj’s first North American tour continues on the West Coast through April 18th.