Having grown up in Bangkok, Phom Penh and Kathmandu, Kim Janssen was exposed to an eclectic mix of cultures from an early age. On his fresh new pop album, Cousins, the singer/songwriter unveils the resulting sounds and—the sound of—memories. Glamcult caught up with the young globetrotter and learnt all about his obsessions, spirituality and fighting off loneliness.
Your new album was just released! Tell us about it.
To me it’s a pop album—I wanted to make an album that I would actually like to listen to. It swings in tone from dark to blinding Technicolor, with glossy synths, huge orchestral arrangements and my vocal—at times a Bill Callahan-esque croon, at times a soaring falsetto. Dark strings and steel swells surround hushed ballads and bursts of maximalist pop. I sing about memories of Loi Krathong nights, earthquake drills and political turbulence into a domestic landscape of front yards, birthday parties and Chinese restaurants.
How did growing up in Asia influence the creative direction of your music?
The shimmer and fuzz of synthesizers and the grandness of strings and horns remind me of those cities—of which I have fond memories. I guess you create your own version of every place you’ve been in your memory; I like to explore this idea with music. Growing up over there also has an influence on my lyrics, especially on this record. I thought it was interesting to reach back to memories of endless earthquake drills, for example, and use it as a metaphor of a subconscious expectation of impending doom.
We understand this album was influenced by “spiritual doubt, dedication and obsession”. That sounds intriguing, to say the least.
I was a very fundamentalist Christian in my teenage years. I was much more concerned with the spiritual world than with the physical world. On this album there are little surrealistic signs that appear here and there—Blackwood trees in a living room, a swarm of Gouldian Finches. A suggestion of some other realm that clashes with this one, that nagging thought that what you do has some influence on some other realm and vice versa—the other realm perhaps being a spiritual one or life after death. Consciously or subconsciously I think it is something that occupies all of us in some way and has an influence on how we live. Dedication and obsession, it’s something I wish I had more of. I often struggle with wondering if I tried hard enough. Would you be able to make something truly great if you sacrificed enough and worked hard enough?
What’s your (guilty) obsession?
The question I mentioned above is something I obsess over; I obsess over trying to make a perfect song, whatever that means.
Huge orchestral arrangements are featured a lot on your new record, which aren’t typically associated with pop music. What prompted you to use an orchestra?
There is something so majestic and epic about orchestral instruments, I love using this in pop music. I find it exhilarating, having such massive sound concentrated in a short burst of music, for example a pop song or chorus.
In Take Shelter you sing, “Because the silence really scares me”. What do you mean by this?
That song is partly about how preparing and anticipating for a storm can create a storm in itself. Sometimes you can catch yourself being suspicious about how problem-free everything is going. “Something really awful must happen now at any moment”, you think. The silence—that anticipation can take on a dark form.
“I put on a shirt and tie, sometimes when I feel alone, and go to strangers’ funerals.” Can you elaborate on the story behind these lyrics?
I love this image of someone who is so desperate for just a bit of company, he attends random funerals. We are certainly capable of doing the craziest things to fight off loneliness.