Anyone trying to discover what an individual seeking to meaningfully incorporate their personal into their artistic narrative sounds like, look no further than Justin Swinburne’s first solo mixtape, jj’s prayer. The LA-born, Berlin-based musician (part of the duo alongside Samia Mirza) has spent the past five years transmuting his residence’s energy into its own specific blend, which has led him to a new career trajectory as a solo artist, “branching off from previous stuff.” We caught up with Swinburne to discuss the void of the other, talking to oneself and the realities of being alone.
Is jj’s prayer a breakup from 18+?
There has never been a conversation about that, but it’s not like it used to be anymore. We used to be equally ambitious about the project, but relationships are diverging and different lifestyle choices are being made.
Why did you choose to release the mixtape on 18+ channels?
18+ is the platform; we never thought about 18+ as a band. This format was sort of forced upon us. To us, the project could go into any direction, and for me using the online presence of 18+ is just natural. This is what I expect Samia to do as well. Better yet, I want her to!
Is this your sad boy album?
It’s pretty sad I guess, and pretty melancholic, but I’m not saying its my sad boy album.
If the album were an emoji, which one would it be?
The head exploding.
Is jj18 an avatar?
Definitely. Every time when you make a work, it’s a fictional version of yourself—to some degree. I think jj18 is closer to who I am, but only because it’s just me; I’m not in conversation anymore. I am not being agitated by another person to tone down a part. So yes, it is definitely a persona. When releasing the mixtape, I actually considered using my government name, but it didn’t seem right—yet. Perhaps eventually. For now I enjoy the creation of a new avatar. Making a new avatar is incredibly liberating, you can do anything you want. It’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself.
Why not reinvent 18+ then?
18+ is two people, plus collaborators. But one of those people is not as active anymore—don’t get me wrong, 18+ is still active. If people want to book our shows we are open to it. We recently did a show in Madrid, playing before Sophie. But Samia lives in the US, and I live in Berlin, so it’s rather expensive to have an 18+ show.
So is it a respect thing?
Yeah i guess so.
Like a new marriage perhaps?
A marriage to myself! (Laughs)
How many avatars do you have at the moment?
Just the one, but there’s a multitude in that one for sure. A couple of modes perhaps. There has always been this idea of various modes within 18+ in the past. We always tried to make a song in one way, and because the song was that way, the next one had to be completely different. That was a thing we actually talked about, whereas most of the stuff we didn’t talk about. A simple approach for making a confounding experience.
What are better days?
It could go either way. Either I’m looking for the better days, or I’m referring to them. That’s kind of the mood of that song. It’s like I’m not really committed to what I am talking about. In the track I am stuck in sort of an introspective self-indulgence.
In the video you use a layering effect to describe multiple realities. Does your online presence coincide with the ‘real’ you?
A year ago I was going through a lot of shit, which led me to delete all my social media accounts. I even deleted my personal Instagram account (I thought I put it on hold, but it was just gone). It was a valuable account for many reasons, but whatever, it’s gone now. It was like a cleanse that accidentally became permanent. However, I did start using Facebook again. Honestly, I don’t really know what my online persona is anymore. What I initially wanted to do when making this video was to take all the stuff I would normally put on social media, and use it for this video. This way, the video would be the thing how people could access my intimate personal life.
There is conversational aspect of multiple voices on the mixtape, can you elaborate on those?
These are multiple voices from me, but also samples taken from radio and weird internet videos. Manipulation of voices is a thing I have been thinking about a lot, to look for a progression of voices. I listen to a lot of podcasts. There is something about hearing people talk.
What about the void of the instrumental tracks on the mixtape?
One particular thing that is interesting in this project in comparison to 18+, is that I’m writing to someone, but I’m not sending it. I’m not expecting a response. It’s a whole different way to communicate—basically like talking to myself. I mean, I am talking to myself, but usually it was the format of a dialogue with someone else, but there’s no one there now. There’s an absence of a person. Like very concretely there are no sung vocals on there (there are samples though) but that would be the space that someone else would’ve filled in my life.
So is this is your epistolary album then?
You could say that. I think this is also where the notion of “prayer” felt valid. There is something about that, that will always stick with me.