Jˇhann Jˇhannsson

Jˇhann Jˇhannsson

interview by Matteo Meda
I want to start with a curious question: during the last year, you've been working a lot with soundtrack music. Well, it can seem silly, but what's your relationship with cinema, also outside your work as a composer?
I’m a cinephile and very serious about films. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with some great directors as a composer.

What is, instead, the link you see between music and cinema? How do you consider the relationship between film's images, scenes, dialogues, stories and the music you write for them?
The role of film music can very much depend on the film, but it is primarily to serve the needs of the film. A film is the sum of its parts and music can be one of the most important.

How did you get interested in composing for cinema?
I have always been interested in cinema and I became interested in film music when I discovered the music of Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone. I think those were my earliest influences in film music.

Let's talk a bit about “The Theory Of Everything”, your last OST: how has its project seen the life?
James Marsh, the film’s director contacted me about writing the score. I was immediately very interested mainly because of the subject, Stephen Hawking, who I have always been fascinated by, and also because I am a fan of James’s films, "Man On Wire" for example.

That's quite a different film from “Prisoners”, the one you've worked on last year...
The two films show two different facets of what I do - “The Theory Of Everything” is much lighter and more accessible than "Prisoners", which is a dark, brooding and melancholy score. The music of "Prisoners" is closer to my solo albums, while "The Theory of Everything is more accessible and lighter than what I usually do. "The Theory Of Everything" needed a score that is warm and emotional and full of life, while "Prisoners" is a much darker film. One of the things I enjoy about writing film music is that you get to play with different moods and colours. I also felt that it was important not to do another dark thriller right after Prisoners, but to do something which showed more of my range as a composer.

What each OST represents for your musical path? Do you see every new work as a new chapter of the same path, or do you consider it more as tile of a non-defined and evolving puzzle?
I don’t like to repeat myself and I like to challenge myself with things I haven’t tried doing before. I think it’s too easy to just do the same thing with slight variations over and over. But I feel that my work has a very strictly defined spectrum and that works fall on different parts of that spectrum. I think there is an overarching logic and thematic unity to what I do.

How much different your approach with ost usually is, compare to the way you work on solo albums separated from cinema or commissions?
Fundamentally it’s the same way of working for both things. Film music of course has very defined parameters that you have to work within. You could say that you’re not a composer anymore when you write a film score, but a filmmaker. Your main duty is towards the film. But the trick is to keep your individuality and identity as a composer while still working within these strict parameters. When I do my own work, I have a blank slate and I create my own parameters and restrictions, so in this sense it’s very different. But the main process of writing is the same in both cases.

Did you also change the way you write music? And how much important are, in your composition's execution, the collaborators you often gather to play in albums?

I write alone, but I always bring in people to record the music and this is often my favourite part of the process, when you gather some amazingly talented people in a room to play together – there’s no feeling like it.

You've been quite famous for your OSTs, but you've raised as one of the most active “promoters” of Icelandic music. Now that Iceland is often represented as a musical paradise, and a lot of artists have gained success all over Europe, how do you feel about this?

Iceland is a really good place to create music, there are great musicians there and the scene is very active and vibrant. So I’m not surprised that there are still some very good artists emerging from Iceland.

What about your new LP on Ash with BJ Nilsen? I'm really curious about it!
It is another film score, which I wrote in collaboration with Benny. It was a very close collaboration; we sent stuff back and forth and really tried to forge a hybrid of our different styles. It was a great experience and I hope to do more work with Benny soon.

And what do you think about live performing? Do you feel better playing alone, with other musicians or with some collaborators/instrumentalist? Are you planning any live show for the next months? Any chance to can have you playing in Italy?
I love playing concerts, but I don’t have time so much these days as I’m pretty busy in the studio. I hope to do more shows next year and I love Italy so I definitely hope to come play there soon.



Daisy Hill Puppy Farm (7", Lakeland, 1988)


Spraycan (7", Lakeland, 1989)


(Arnar Geir Ómarsson, Óttarr Proppé, Jóhann Jóhannsson, S. Björn Blöndal, Sigurjón Kjartansson)

 Saga Rokksins 1988-1993 (raccolta, Nordisk Musik DISK, 1993)
 Dauður Hestur (Skifan, 1995)
(Jóhann Jóhannsson & Sigurjón Kjartansson)
 Universal (Smekkleysa, 1995)
(Jóhann Jóhannsson, Pétur Hallgrímsson, Sara Marti Guðmundsdóttir)
 Lhooq (Echo, 1998)
(Jóhann Jóhannsson & Siggi Baldursson)
 Hi-Camp Meets Lo-Fi - Explosion Picture Score (Smekkleysa, 1999)
 CD & LP
Englabörn (Touch, 2002)
 Dís (OST, 12 Tónar, 2004/NTOV, 2005)
 Virðulegu Forsetar (Touch, 2004)
IBM 1401, A User's Manual (4AD, 2006)
Fordlandia (4AD, 2008)
 And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees (OST, NTOV, 2009)
 The Miners' Hymns (OST, 12 Tónar/130701, 2011)
 Copenaghen Dreams (OST, NTOV, 2012)
 Free The Mind (OST, NTOV, 2012)
Prisoners (OST, NTOV, 2013)
 McCanick (OST, Milan, 2014)
The Theory Of Everything (OST, Backlot, 2014)
 I Am Here(OST, with BJ Nilsen, Ash International, 2014)
 Sicario (OST, Varèse Sarabande, 2015)
Orphée (Deutsche Grammophon, 2016) 
 Arrival (OST, Deutsche Grammophon, 2016)
 The Mercy (OST, Deutsche Grammophon, 2018)
 Englabörn & Variations (Deutsche Grammophon, 2018)
 Mary Magdalene (OST, Milan, 2018)
 Mandy (OST, Lakeshore, 2018)
12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann (Deutsche Grammophon, 2019)
 Drone Mass (Deutsche Grammophon, 2019)
 EP, 12", CD-R
 The Sun's Gone Dim And The Sky's Turned Black (EP, 4AD, 2006)
 _Live Recordings (ltd, CD-R, NTOV, 2010)
Transcendentalism EP (EP, with Haushka & Dustin O' Halloran, 130701, 2012)
(Arnar Geir Ómarsson, Úlfur Eldjárn, Hörður Bragason, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sighvatur Ómar Kristinsson)
 Apparat Organ Quartet (TMT Entertainment, 2002)
Pólýfónía (12 Tónar, 2010 / Crunchy Frog, 2011)
(BJ Nilsen, Helgi Thorsson, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Pétur Eyvindsson, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson)
 Demon Jukebox (12 Tónar, 2006)
 Demoni Paradiso (12 Tónar, 2008)
Café Chicago (Ultra Eczema, 2010)
Super Great Love (Editions Mego, 2011)
milestone of OndaRock
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