StereoTYP, the latest album from Canadian DJ & Multi-Instrumentalist JHNN, is full of highly creative dark electronic music that defies more specific categorization. Embracing his various influences and letting them come together organically, JHNN has truly created his own unique sound. In an email interview, he discussed the creative process behind StereoTYP.
Could you describe your musical background?
I was in a concert band back in junior high, played tenor saxophone, and baritone. I tried to teach myself the piano, which was alright. I got a little bit far, but mostly it was basic level 1 piano pieces. I also tried the guitar. That one I still want to pick up for live because my whole goal is to translate all my electronic music into acoustic one day.
Did you always see yourself as a musician and DJ, or did one lead to the other? To what degree might they influence each other?
Well, when I first started, I believed you could be both. Then the more I started DJing, people viewed me as a DJ, and I got better as a DJ, but I still wanted to get better as a live musician. So to answer the first question, I did, but I also didn’t see the difference when I first started. Djing has actually helped me understand the energy level of a song. One with high levels and one with low levels and DJing also taught me about the importance of moments in songs. Some songs don’t need to have a ‘drop,’ some songs don’t even need to end all neatly. Production only taught me the importance of levels on DJing. That’s about it other than that it’s song selection, in my opinion.
Stylistically, the songs on “StereoTYP” blend many genres of electronic music. When you create, do you feel that you consciously strive to be different, or does it come organically based on your interests and influences?
When I first became a producer, I wanted to create something that just sounded like me. I listened to a lot of The Presets, Cut Copy, MSTRKRFT, and all those acts in dance music that didn’t go for the typical house, drum n bass, techno sound. They had the elements, but they weren’t trying to be that music. But also, I learned you are supposed to take from what influenced you in the past. So I liked Trance a lot, indie rock a lot, new wave a ton, industrial a ton, shoegaze, and synthpop. I just wanted to use them to create my own sound somehow, and sometimes taking from a lot of things does that. I didn’t want to follow a structure like all my friends did in house music. I wanted to just create something I could feel. so, in a way, it came organically, but it came from many different genres
Is it generally obvious to you whether a track will have vocals or not?
It is mainly a mood. Earlier tracks I had done when I first started didn’t have vocals because I hated the sound of my voice, AND I wanted to get better at production. On this album, I felt like I needed to challenge myself to put some vocals in there. It all came naturally, but I don’t want to force vocals because we can all tell when it’s being forced.
Is see that the album was made over four years. Was the material conceived as an album, or had you recorded a larger number of tracks that you selected/shaped into ‘StereoTYP’?
I recorded a bunch of songs. I wanted it to be hip-hop influenced to be a play on stereoTYPs, but it just wasn’t coming out. I was going to a lot of goth clubs and I was listening to a lot more industrial, dark wave and at the time deep house/techno. I felt like I just needed to go by my instinct and make a synthpop-type album. So after going through so many songs and noticing similarities between darkwave and the music I was making, I just decided to go with songs that came a little easier instead of spending five months on a song I only think is okay. The early songs are definitely the first 4; I had those down back in 2017. The sound REALLY came into picture in 2019 after really digging deeper into synthpop and new wave. It was done around 2020 when I got deeper into darkwave.
What are your primary tools in creating music? Are there any particular pieces of equipment or software that you feel are key to your creative process or sound?
I just use FL studio. The goal was to stick to one piece of equipment and try and make something beautiful out of it. At the time I started, every single person I knew bashed FL Studio and said you can’t really do anything with it unless you use Ableton. It kind of made me mad because I was watching producers like Deadmau5 and a lot of hip hop producers turn FL Studio into such a magical, beautiful thing. Yes, Maybe they were using hardware to make music, but I felt that if someone can make music off of FL studio that sounds trappy but sells millions for some odd reason why wouldn’t I be able to make something sophisticated off of FL Studio?
Beyond DJing, do you perform your music live? If so, what is your approach?
Right now, I’m figuring out the live show. I have just been using Traktor as a backing track and Maschine as an instrument to produce my live music. But I am still working on it. I DJ with whatever I can, but I bought Traktor because I knew there was a way of playing live on it, and I can’t wait to perfect that. I feel like people underestimate what you can do with Traktor midi controllers.