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Cedie Janson interview: “I wanted to bring this illusory and abstract feeling into my music”

We talk to the Los Angeles-based Australia composer about his debut LP.

In continuation of an already bustling body of intriguing boundary collapsing electronic music, Cedie Janson is an Australian film composer and musician currently plying his trade in Los Angeles.

He follows up his two impressive EPs 2015’s Light Curve and 2018’s Stillness with his debut album, Thoughts on the Top Floor.

For the unacquainted, if you’re that way inclined by the likes of Andy Stott with a bit of The Field thrown in there this release is definitely something you don’t want to miss. In an attempt to abandon all forms of influence, Janson attempts to be the architect of his own design – whilst his sound isn’t particularly shape-shifting itself towards any particular genre or trend, there’s a fierce sense of scope and belief in what’s being produced here.

Collaborating with local L.A. visual artist and poet Dillon Howl, it helps TotTF live and exist in its own world. It ebbs it flows it disrupts it unites, it finesses and shimmers.

Janson and I share a history, so whilst attempting to take a look into the psyche of the artist himself, Sun 13 gets candid with questions.

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Sun 13: Can you give us a bit of a history on Cedie Janson and how it all began for you?

Cedie Janson: “Recently my Mum sent me some photos of me as a kid. There’s one when I’m about three sitting on an island with headphones on, clasping onto my Walkman. Apparently I’d entertain myself listening to the cassettes over and over until they wore out. 

“My first memories of being drawn to playing music however, is when I was a percussionist in the school band at age nine. As a middle-of-the-road student this felt like a huge accomplishment for me and this was probably the birth of an obsession with music and rhythm ever since. Through high school, I wrote and played in bands, which is of course how you and I met. I don’t think I really had a solid voice or musical identity at this point though – I did love jamming out to Tool, though!

“A few years later I made the move to Brisbane and formed the band, Naked Maja, with four of my closest friends – we released four EPs together. When that band came to an end in 2014, I began making electronic music on my own. This is also when I began collaborating with some directors on short films.” 

S13: Before diving into your new album I want to make mention of the track Miasma, I feel from my point of view that it’s the centre piece of the record and to be quite frank with you I think it’s stunning. Did the origin of this track come from the times we’re living in or is that too shallow of an observation?

CJ: “Thank you! It definitely feels like the climactic moment of the album and it’s a moment I intentionally let linger longer. The song is about insomnia, but the album was written during the pandemic – so it was inevitable for some of those feelings to creep in. In this case, the title came to me very late in the process and theories of Miasma – a 19th century concept by which the night air was the cause of diseases –  just seemed to feel fitting for both the album and the times we are living in.”

S13: Thoughts on the Top Floor is your debut full length LP, can you give us a brief summary of how it came to be and how long the process was to get to the final version that you put out into the world? Is there a particular song or moment on your new record that you would like to make mention of that you’re intensely proud of?

CJ: “It started relatively unplanned mid 2020 – I was experimenting with some different synths and drum machines, recording onto a four track Tascam – it was refreshing to escape from the computer for a little while. In the end, I probably tracked about four or five 45min cassettes but I would say the basis for the album came mostly from the very first tape – it must have been somewhat of a purging! I would then continue to overdub onto tape – trying to keep the creative process as much on tape as I could – before transitioning over to the digital domain, where I edited the album in Ableton Live.” 

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S13: As an Australian Expat plying their trade over in the United States, and basing themselves in Los Angeles to be specific – was there a distinct difference on creating, crafting your music in such a different environment then to your home town of Brisbane?

CJ: “Inevitably, these cities must have an impact on my music but it’s hard for me to pinpoint explicitly what those differences are. Most of the album was actually written in the Mojave desert – which is interesting because I don’t think the album sounds like “desert music”, per se, but there is definitely a freedom and openness out there which fosters creativity.

“As for Los Angeles, probably the biggest influence is this city’s relationship with film and my love of film has been a big influence on my work. It is a very complex city, which for me is part of its charm – I’m not sure if I will ever really understand it but there is something very exciting about that.”

S13: In some of the brief posts you made in anticipation of the release you made mention of filmmaker and auteur Ingmar Bergman – can you speak to how his work influenced your work?

CJ: “I made an effort to introduce myself to the filmmaker while visiting Sweden at the beginning of 2020 – one of my introductory choices was The Seventh Seal – which prophetically became the theme of 2020. During the pandemic I became obsessed with his work, particularly his ̕’60s output. There is something very illusory or abstract about his films during this time but this stream-of-consciousness feeling is executed mostly in a very subtle way. Many of the themes he was exploring during this time would reoccur between films – it felt as though all of the works existed in a similar space, sometimes themes, symbols and occasionally even scenes would carry between films. 

 “I wanted to bring this illusory and abstract feeling into my music. I wanted it to flow seamlessly from one theme to another but rarely allow it to make sense by conventional standards of structure. Sometimes I would let the pieces fall apart early, other times I would allow off-kilter rhythms to stand out a little further the comfortable, then other times I would embrace repetition. 

S13: I know you’ve also composed a number of scores for short films and documentaries in the last few years – how have those experiences helped shape your this project?

CJ: “For this project, I worked mostly in one Ableton session – which is a little unusual for an album but is generally how I score short films. It’s a small detail but it kept me focused on the cohesion of the album and I was really able to finesse the transitions between tracks, which is a skill I am always flexing during scoring – connecting one mood or concept to another – finding creative ways to do this. It was also important for me to create a journey on this release – which to me is a very ‘filmic’ concept in and of itself.” 

S13: COVID has no doubt changed the template of music and especially live music. Has the current climate of things had any positive or negative impact on your ability to create music?

CJ: “I think it created a catalyst in me, collectively I know a lot of people have experienced this. With such drastic changes to our way of life we can’t help but question what it is that’s important to us. Even though this process unfolded quite naturally – I think there was something buried within my subconscious saying I need to finish this work and put it out – maybe it’s partly what gave me the confidence to reintroduce my vocals into this project as well.” 

Cedie Janson - Thoughts on the Top Floor

S13: I feel as though with the genre you’re currently working in – collaboration is a huge part of the process – film scoring as well. Is there anyone from the industry that you’ve met, worked with that inspired you and helped you on your journey?

CJ: “Last year working with Mount Kimbie on the short film Diddly Squat was such a wonderful experience. I was in the studio with Dom [Maker] and the speed at which he works is impressive. I usually get stuck with an idea or the opposite happens and I fall in love with the idea; but both roads lead to me obsessing over it for far too long. With Dom we really were throwing paint at the wall constantly. He was also a massive help as a sounding board during the end phase of Thoughts on the Top Floor as well.” 

S13: Leading on from the last question about collaboration you worked with the incredible Dillon Howl on this project– could you talk us through the process of how it came to be and what it was like working with her?

CJ: “Dillon is a really close friend who I thought would be perfect to contribute some spoken word for the album – she is always very enlightening to chat to and very considered with her words. Her parts were improvised in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way. Originally, I only had planned for her words to be in a couple of spots on the album, but after we finished recording – I wanted to use it everywhere I could. Dillon became another character in the story.” 

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S13: What have been the highlights of your career thus far? And Is there anything you would tell your younger self from 10 years ago with what you know now?

CJ: “Releasing my debut album is definitely a personal highlight – I think I had built it up as something I wasn’t ready for, for a long time. I guess making it to this point in my life and still being able to make music is a highlight?

 “I would tell the past version of myself to foster gratitude and that’s something I am still reminding myself now.”

S13: What albums have you been spinning the most in 2021? And is there any artists working today that just flaw you with each release? Any recommendations you think we should know about?

CJ: “I’ve really been enjoying Colleen’s latest album, The Tunnel and the Clearing. Jenny Hval is someone who is consistently releasing incredible music.”

S13: To finish with something light – what was the last book you read, film you watched and T.V. show you enjoyed?

CJ: “I finally finished Paolo Sorrentino’s TV series, The New Pope,  and loved it even more then The Young Pope – he’s one of my favourite directors working right now. 

S13: What’s next for Cedie Janson, Can we expect you to be hitting the road in 2022 to showcase the record? and any last words?

CJ: “I’ve started to experiment on new work – not exactly sure what my next release will be but I’m planning on making some solid steps over the holiday break. I also have a couple of films/scores to come out in the new year which I’m quite proud of. Apart from that, who knows what 2022 might have in store!”

Thoughts on the Top Floor is out now. Purchase from Bandcamp.

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