20 Apr 2015 — Andrew Darley
Reading the history of how OOFJ came together, it almost seems as if the realm of film was pushing them together. The classically-trained saxophone player, Jenno Bjørnkjær, was attending a New York conservatory before becoming disillusioned with the structures of jazz standards that he had to follow. He decided to leave the school in his third year and began composing his own instrumental pieces. One evening he saw a production of Twelfth Night, which featured the South African vocalist, Katherine Mills Rymer. The two hit it off and bonded over their shared love of their favourite directors: Bergman, Carax, Kubrick and Roman Polanski. By this time, Jenno was working with electronic music and creating Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia film score. The two not only fell in love and married – they formed a band. Performing as OOFJ (abbreviation of Orchestra of Jenno), they made an album of idiosyncratic electronica, strings and soaring vocals. OOFJ are now about to release their second album, Acute Feast, which pushes their established sound into new territories. Staff writer Andrew Darley chatted with Katherine and Jenno about their determined desire to add something new to the art world and how cinema has both formed and guided their unique bond.
Read the interview after the break.
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How does this album’s energy compare to your debut, Disco To Die To?
Katherine: Looking back now it feels like Disco To Die To, the first album I ever made, was more icy in energy. In an emotional sense, I look back and see some of the grief and the distance I was feeling because my father had just died. I mean it was kind of like you have a numb heart and then you make sounds through ice cubes.
Jenno: Disco To Die To was more a question of feeling around in the dark for the sound, whereas this album's energy is almost like taking the sound we found and opening it up. It sounds like its reverbing around the universe.
Katherine: But also its underwater, both places are similar. And there is a warmth, even if the warmth comes from strange places – it's more nourishing.
Jenno: Hence the name Acute Feast.
So that’s where the album’s title comes from?
Jenno: When I first heard Katherine's suggestion, it sounded like "a cute feast". I'm Danish so this word ‘acute’ was a bit strange to me.
Katherine: At the time, I was revisiting my Peter Greenaway love affair which I developed while I was a lonely teen. The thing is that I was thinking graphically when I thought of the name. I like the idea of ‘terrible pleasures’. Extremities of the best and the worst kind interest me. So I suppose Acute Feast is the sumptuous, the warm, the tasty, the sexual and loving with the flipside of gluttony, the rot, the smell and the disaster of a heavy meal.
Jenno: It’s the extremes of things that are the most interesting, the most destructive.
Were there any plans made about how the band’s sound should progress after Disco To Die To?
Jenno: We never set out with anything definitive musically as to how we should sound on this record. We knew we found a sound together on our debut, so it was more a question of how to progress past ourselves.
Katherine: Without trying to be like other people or try to become a reggae band or something! This time around we made more than 40 songs and the process of throwing stuff away and sitting on songs for a year definitely carved out what we actually ended up pursuing versus what we thought we wanted. As much as we are into classics and a ton of stuff that is influential, we think it’s important to make music that you can hopefully listen to 10 years later and it still sounds fresh.
Jenno: Not to become a reference of a reference.
What was your initial intention for OOFJ to become?
Katherine: I had no clue. I just blindly did things without really thinking about it, besides from giving my opinion to what sounds I liked. I think as we began to be like "Okay we’re in a real project", we just wanted to try make OOFJ a complete world.
Jenno: Before I met Katherine I was making instrumental music under this name so our partnership definitely changed my musical aspirations. We have similar taste but my sound before meeting her was slightly different. Katherine was born with a darkness that I tap into. More and more, we realize our controlling streak. From press images to videos to making music, we like to make everything ourselves. I think we just want to contribute to music and art – by creating something new.
It’s no secret that you're both creative and romantic partners. Making this album, did you feel that you knew much more about how each other worked?
Jenno: We are very, very close. We make our music wherever we are living so there is no break between things. Honestly there is nothing I didn't know about how she works. I think we just established more of a work flow. But making music like we do also gets into the details of things. Minute idiosyncrasies, ways of hearing and such. Since it was Katherine's first time doing all of this she had to work out what she was trying to say as an artist. As did I, but from a vantage point of experience. I think this time around both of us were more prolific.
Katherine: I knew more of the process of making something. I think I had more conviction in myself this time around. But honestly Jenno and I work in a very compatible way. I wish we could say we fight like Fleetwood Mac – that would make for a better novel!
Can writing lyrics be sometimes awkward or difficult, given that you could be referring to each other in the words?
Katherine: I write about life. The heaviness of it, I guess, is where it all comes from. Jenno will suggest changes once we lay stuff down. I like the feel of words more than concrete meaning. Words have different timbres. Jenno and I both feel like there is something very affecting in repetition.
Jenno: We never put out the lyrics Katherine writes and a lot of the time we're not letting it be very clear. But if you actually had to listen and hear what she writes, she is very clear about something secret. She likes this meta data thing which I think is great. You are affected on your own terms in your own life, without knowing why hopefully.
How do you agree or decide when a song or record is done?
Jenno: That's a good question. You can fiddle away on small things forever if you want to. The biggest fear for me is if I hear something we have released that I’m not satisfied with. I never want to have regrets, like maybe I should have changed the mix, or I don't like that synth completely. The list can go on on and on.
Katherine: Jenno is very detailed, so he can deal with the intricacies of things for a long time. Also he has the patience of Job. We listen and keep the record for a long time and see how a song can still be liked by us after that. Even if we are hearing it and rehearsing it like a 1000 times – from the beginning stages to the geeky mastering side.
Cinema and film are clearly important to you. The obvious giveaway is that you met during the making of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Were there any films in particular which inspired the mood of this record?
Jenno: I think the films we watched at that time were very Russian. One film called Come and See was a big thing for me. It’s a horrible nightmarish but beautiful war film from 1985 – full colour horror.
Katherine: When we first met we went to see a film called Krystaliov My Car! which I suppose in some way was very influential. And as always and forever, we were both heavily interested in Polanski. Chinatown I would say threads through everything in Jenno.
Also, reading reviews of your music to date, one of the most common words that comes up is 'cinematic'. Do you hear your music in this way?
Jenno: Yeah, I understand it. If you have symphony music like we do in our music, of course you are going to hear that. But actually what is strange is that only the older films have really special composed scores that have a definite personality – composers like Morricone, Komeda or John Barry. Today a lot of films are sparse atmospheric so the cinema people hear in our music is there, but it's almost like an echo.
Katherine: I hear it in this way but more like you score your own soundtrack. Somebody said the other day that listening to us while driving to Tesco's made it a much more glamorous experience. This is what its about. I think we want to put you in another world, which is like cinema. Maybe we should come up with a new term: Aural Cinema.
Are there any songs on the album that you are particularly fond of or mean something to you?
Jenno: It changes, radically. But as of today. I would say "Cherry". It is really beautiful from the composition work, to Katherine's melody.
Katherine: I think we both have that as a favourite right now, because we are in rehearsal and we are finally working out how this song should work live. I enjoy singing it. It’s delicate with adult themes. Personally for me, its nice to sing on a track that is so refined and sing the word 'sweat'. Its the meta thing again.
The video for "I Forgive You" pulls on both beautiful and disturbing elements and leaves a lot to the viewer’s imagination. How did its concept come about?
Katherine: Banal things are terrifying but also comforting. As I said earlier, there is something to this life, at least to me, where everyone is shut inside their minds. Language can only do so much. How we function with all this unsaid stuff and hidden dark thoughts are very interesting but it’s also about how we manage not to lose our minds. I like images that are a bit strange. A lot of the times we work off the idea of making something normal become expectational in some way like the close-up scene of the man cutting his toenails.
Do you think visuals, both in music and film, can be too explanatory or literal in the time we live?
Katherine: I think the problem in this age is maybe we are all iconizing ourselves. I mean it's weird that everyone is connected to technology. Creating a simulacra of themselves, which if you're in a band involved in this process is something very odd and interesting. I think the problems comes in when people become too perfect in this realm. Everything is a calculation. There is a danger of explaining yourself into the ether.
"Sailor" features a saxophone which Jenno is classically trained in. What was it like playing that instrument, especially in a completely different context?
Jenno: I like playing saxophone in environments that are not strictly jazzy. I prefer making the instrument new. I don't really dig 'shredding' on a saxophone playing the classics like I did for years. Its seems pointless to me. I like the sound of the saxophone – the voice, not the jazz association of it. Even though I love jazz, our live set has a lot of improvisation built in, as a jazz band could have. However, we are doing it with electronic music instead which in some way is our take on what jazz can be nowadays.
You’ve said previously regarding your background in jazz and classical music, that the idea of making an album that doesn’t exist already is what’s most interesting to you. Do you feel you’ve done that with Acute Feast?
Jenno: As egomaniacial as this sounds, I think we have come pretty close. The trick I think is using all the influences we have together – jazz, classical music, modern progressive music, pop music, dance music, bossanova – and swirl them into something that hasn't existed. I think our sound is pretty special, obviously otherwise it would be very depressing right now here for us. Luckily we are in a position to make stuff we like and are not constrained by making things to fit within a specific time or sound that is happening at the moment.
Katherine: At best we hope that Acute Feast sounds like the 'past-future'. We are not into nostalgia and glorifying analogue or digital moods or sounds. We like to jumble it up and almost squeeze it through our filtering system. We make what we think is honest and uncalculated and that comes from us. So I think in that respect we have done that.