JHL Interview

In this exclusive Music Mondays article we sat down with New Zealand based artist JHL. We discussed everything from their recent endeavors and releases along with the early roots to their work.


Rei: What was the process like writing the new EP, Swansong?

JHL: There were a lot of influences. Obviously I wrote it with my mate Jett. We just traded different pieces and ideas together. We both decided, “Hey we should have a collab.” I said, “Hey, we should make an EP. That would be crazy.” So we started working on it. Something just emerged from that. I was listening to alot of contemporary classical, and you can definitely hear it in the song Shafts of Flame. I really delved deep into the experimental school of singing and orchestration: Gerard Grisey and European electroacoustic music. 

Rei: Are you a formally trained singer? How did you gain that elasticity in your voice?

JHL: I grew up in a singing environment. There’s a country called the Philippines, and we have a massive singing culture: lots of karaoke… I grew up listening to alot of great singers Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Connie Francis, those types of singers: divas. There was a stint of professional training- could be called professional- in a private school. But other than that I haven’t been trained not in the school system. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time- just making shit up. Current influences on singing: Caroline Polachek obviously, and that yodeling kid from Walmart.

Rei: Excuse me? What?

JHL: The yodeling kid from Walmart is a big inspiration: weird music and, very good singer. 

Rei: Caroline Polachek is someone I pinned as an inspiration for you. What are some of your go-to Caroline Polachek songs?

JHL: I really like the cover she did of a song called Coma. The vocal solo that she did near the end was really good. Another Caroline Polachek song that I really like is Spring Is Coming With a Strawberry in the Mouth. I think those two are constantly in rotation. 

Rei: I wanted to go back to that point you made about classical music. Are you composing any music right now? I’ve seen you post visuals of sheet music on your social media. 

JHL: I have been alot. I want to take long breaks from Ableton, and it’s very laborious. It’s not the same thing as Ableton when you put a loop in and you have a song. I have to carve away at it. It’s also been for school, which I’ve been taking slightly too seriously- as if it’s going to be played live. I hope it will in the future, but maybe not now. 

Rei: Are you in music school right now?

JHL: Yeah, I’m in school for composition. 

Rei: How much did you produce on Swansong, if any?

JHL: The first, Resentment, that’s all Jett. Time- most of that is Jett. Pollution, Shafts of Flame, and Tar, we all had an equal balance of production. 

Rei: What can you tell me about Jett Mucicca?

JHL: She’s really cool. We’ve been friends for a while. She’s very enigmatic, but she has a great relatable personality once you get to meet her. She’s got very good music. I expected it to be completely done in a short amount of time. It took a lot longer due to my negligence and forgetting about it. Most of the demos were finished in about two months, then there was all this waiting time for obsessing over what I had. It took a moment for us to get out of that time, resting on our laurels. We were in completely different times and sounds, but it came out well. 

Rei: How did y’all initially meet and connect?

JHL: We met online because she is from Portland, Oregon. We met on a- oh god I can’t remember how. But, something like PC Music, something something SOPHIE. As most of my connections are. 

Rei: What significance do SOPHIE and PC Music have on your sound right now?

JHL: Oh, I like everything. The origin point of my music is trying to rip off PC Music and SOPHIE. I feel like my old stuff is a melange of attempts. For the last couple of years, I’ve strayed away from the original PC Music and SOPHIE I was initially wanting to go for, but the principles of experimentation and hyper-genre blending remain innate in my sound. That comes from them. 

Rei: One thing I’ve noticed about your music is your doing the particular Hypey-genre well. It’s not the typical autotune, 100 gecs. It’s these ballads that are deconstructed and repurposed into something else. What are you reading right now? Anything interesting?

JHL: I finished The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s very interesting, horrifying. I’m reading The Color Purple. I want to see the original movie.

Rei: What’s your process for writing lyrics?

JHL: When I write lyrics, I write to the vibe. I write the melody. Sometimes I do mumble tracks and write rhymes down. I try to piece them together. Usually, it all falls together into some cohesive narrative. Back to the reading thing, I’ve also been reading Sylvia Plath. 

Rei: I can’t imagine you put a lot of effects on your voice, but what is the patented JHL vocal chain?

JHL: The patented JHL vocal chain is EQ with a bit of treble and a bit of correcting for a boxy mic, compressor, and then an EQ, then another compressor. 

Rei: The Shafts of Fire track was impactful and very forward-thinking. What’s the story with that track? You said you sampled some classical artists.

JHL: It’s from a concerto by Unsuk Chin, Su- the Sheng Concerto. I consider it a masterpiece. 

Rei: How has your foray into performance gone?

JHL: I’ve had a few. The first was pretty good. It’s a fun story. Imagine a bunch of sweaty teenage ravers, and I was singing sad songs. I cleared the room. Very funny but some people stayed. Be mindful of why you were invited to the section essentially. Then there was the one with the piano. It wasn’t bad, but I’m never releasing the recordings. It wasn’t bad though.

Rei: Are you playing keys and singing at the same time?

JHL: There was one when I did that, yeah. It was cool. 

Rei: That’s super cool. Are you working on anything new?

JHL: I need to take a break. There are a lot of people I want to collaborate with though. But yeah, I need to take a break. 

Rei: Who are some contemporary artists you want to work with who inspire you?

JHL: I’m gonna pick a variety for no reason. 23wa is a French rapper who’s really cool. Also, Blue Noise, one of my friends, just dropped. Also…let's say Bjork. 

Rei: Well that’s all I’ve prepared, is there anything I missed?

JHL: [Laughs] Listen to my EP. Out everywhere.

Stream swansong: katharsis-label.bandcamp.com/album/swansong 

Follow JHL: x.com/jhlofficixl?s=21&t=mmhC6k2p6rWYy5Q7KPmNzQ 

Written By Rei Low: x.com/_rocktimist