[Cover photo credit to John Cowhie]
Badlands is the Sweden-based project of Catharina Jaunviksna, who is also a Producer and sound designer who operates her own label, RITE. Steeped in Electronica, but exploring low-fi sound traditions from the past to create new combinations, Badlands has recently released new album Call To Love, which builds on the energy and experimentation of 2021’s album, Djinn. Both are albums with conceptual cores, and Call To Love, as the title suggests, deals with relationships. But the kind of discussion that Jaunviksna prefers to have is about the raw, unpredictable, and intuitive side of love rather than the polished, clean, and controlled image that seems to be the most acceptable form in society and on social media.
The songs on Call to Love each take on a different mood or snapshot in the emotional climate of a relationship and those moods are recognizable in the human experience. There’s possessiveness, anxiety, paranoia, regret, and overall, a vulnerability that rings very true and challenges assumptions about what modern relationships should look like or feel like. I spoke with Catharina Jaunviksna shortly before the album release about performance plans for the new music, her intuitive way of working on new tracks, and why combining grittier Techno-influenced sound with such a delicate subject like love most appealed to her.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I’m familiar with your previous album Djinn, and was really interested to see how you would follow up with things. I see you’ve got some performances coming up, too.
Catharina Jaunviksna: We are doing small shows around Europe, here at home, then Dublin and Paris, and we’re hoping to do the same thing in the States in the Spring. It’s very DIY, but it’s very special, because we’re trying to strip things down and make different versions of the songs.
HMS: You have so much material now, it makes sense to do a lot of shows. Have you been working on the songs on Call To Love since before Djinn, or was it soon after?
CJ: Djinn was finished about a year before it was released, so I think I was about half-way through the songs, in my mind at least, by the time it happened. Definitely by around Spring of 2021, I was starting to dig into this. It was a nice process. When I had a few good sketches that I knew were keepers, in 2022, I said, “I definitely am going to release these next Fall.” It was a quick process. I think I got a lot of energy from Djinn that I could put into this album. It’s never easy to make an album, but I think it would have been more of a struggle if it wasn’t for the energy that came with Djinn.
HMS: I recall that there were a lot of new elements and experiments on Djinn, which made it adventurous. But when I look at Call to Love, I see a big leap forward again in terms of sound developments, too. Were you aware that was happening again?
CJ: I know what you mean, but like I tell everybody, with me, it’s never calculated. I don’t come up with a sound beforehand, and I never make a decision. I know that Call to Love and Djinn are conceptual albums, but I never come up with the concept before starting. It’s about half-way through the process that I even start thinking about things. Then I ask, “How am I going to present this? What is this really about?” It’s the same with the sound. It’s like I’m channeling things. I don’t think, “I want to try out this thing or that.” I just look for things that excite me, and this time, it turned out to be these particular things.
When I was making the album, I listened a lot to 90s Rave music, like warehouse Dub and Techno. Things with really shitty reverb and harsh, big, crushed sounds! [Laughs] That inspired me. At the same time, I was going through the motions and channeling my emotions, as per usual. Instead of acting on my emotions, I make tracks. I wondered how I could mix those things, this dirty, gritty, Techno, with something like love and make a new sound. This is the result. I think I got the message across. I’m excited! It’s nice to show that side of me, since for me, these things are not new.
I work as a sound designer and I constantly listen to records and sample stuff. I make a living with music and sound design in a bunch of different ways, so to me, what I’m doing is not that adventurous. I’m just the messenger. In a way, it’s never about me. I’m just a freak who wants to create, whatever comes out. [Laughs] Does that make sense?
HMS: Yes, for sure. Sometimes the people who have been working in music the longest see the widest array of things that are available to use to make music. It’s like going into the grocery store and picking out ingredients. I had wondered if the other stuff that you work on, in terms of documentaries and theater, impacts your Badlands work.
CJ: I’ve worked on a lot of different projects the last couple of years. In 2021 and 2022, I’ve had two albums, two theater plays, one documentary, and the sound design and mixing for a drama series. I’ve been working a lot, but at the same time finishing an album. I think you can definitely hear in my music and my sound designs that it’s all Catharina, but they are very different things. You hear it more on projects where my hands are more free, though. But the Rave elements on this album, for instance, I don’t think you can hear that on my sound design. But if you know me, you can hear my sound. Badlands is my sanctuary and I want to be able to do whatever I want there!
HMS: It’s great to hear the full scope of what you work on. It makes sense that some of this will depend how much freedom you’re able to have in your sound design. This album, however, also brings in a lot if strings. You worked with Felisia Westberg here. Was that a development for you to bring in more orchestration?
CJ: I have done that before. For me, because of theater and things like that, there’s no difference between bringing a cello or a double bass into the mix and bringing in an electric guitar. I think of the result and then we just go there. Like with Djinn, I invited others to play on the record. But that was earlier in the process. With Felisia, this record was almost finished and I had a sudden impulse to put strings into it, thinking it would really lift the record. Sometimes that’s the way life works, that you just have a thought, and if you keep your eyes open.
All of the sudden she moved into a studio space that was near mine. We happened to have a chat in the kitchen. She’s a great bass player who tours a lot with major artists and folk musicians. She can pick up anything and make it sound awesome. She had only just started playing cello. We had one long, long day, a ten-hour session where she did all the hooks and things. When someone plays on one of my records, it’s almost like I’m collecting samples at the same time. I tweak it, and pitch it, and edit it. That process is very experimental. I’m so happy that she did it. It turned out even better than what I imagined, but very much like that I had hoped for.
HMS: I think it brings differences to the mood of the album. Also, it has a core organic quality, so whenever it comes up, it forms an interesting contrast to whatever else is around it. The album looks at different relationship situations, right? By bringing in the grittier elements, I think you suggest elements of relationships that people don’t talk about as much or explore as much, particularly in music.
CJ: It was very much my focus. It’s so nice to hear that you’ve listened in this way to the instrumentation. When making this album, I really had a longing for the raw and not so flattering sides of being human. It sounds like a cliché, but everything is supposed to be so perfect these days, and there’s so much self-love and showing off. We show a perfect image, but it’s bullshit! If you want to experience intuitive love, it’s going to hurt. You’re going to get embarrassed and it’s going to be weird. Everyone experiences jealousy, and wants to get revenge, and fantasizes about little things being the most important things, but that’s not so much talked about these days.
There’s another level that’s almost political, but about 150 years ago, being romantic was in fashion. To be manly was to be romantic. Today, it’s the complete opposite. 150 years ago, being a romantic was respected, but it’s not anymore. Some of the reasons for that are good reasons and I don’t think the past was better than now. But it has made it less cool to expose yourself in that way and express those feelings. That makes the world, and love, and dating, boring! So this album is a bit of a comment on that as well.
HMS: Romanticism would be seen as a sign of weakness right now.
CJ: Right! And this record is saying, “No, it’s not! You can turn jealousy, and you can turn anger, and you can turn unrequited love into something that you own.”
HMS: Some of this might relate to the over-emphasis on rationality in modern culture, only expressing accepted emotions in accepted ways. That’s where the boring part comes in that you were talking about. Dating becomes like going shopping, carrying a check list. Does this person meet these qualifications?
CJ: Yes, and it has to be a mirror of yourself. But love doesn’t work like that, that’s the difference between intuitive love and this criteria-based love. Intuitive love is something that you can’t control. You can ask someone, “Why did you marry her?” They’ll say, “Because she had a cute nose? I don’t know.” [Laughs] But in some cases, that doesn’t work out either. But I think that we can all agree that life and society becomes more fun when emotions are involved and we feel things.
HMS: The thing about these songs is that they don’t suggest that it’s safe or cozy, or a clear, smooth path if you take these roads. It’s exciting, but it’s also bumpy and confusing. That’s a responsible, balanced picture, I think.
CJ: These are just observations of the world that we live in today. They are not even comments on the world, really. Each song is not a love story, but each song is an emotion or a snapshot of a situation that I am trying to express.
HMS: They are each quite different from each other, too, in that way. Having so many options gives the audience a chance to connect with their own experiences.
CJ: Yes, you don’t want to say everything. They become their songs, not mine anymore. When they fill in the gaps with their experiences, that’s where we meet. I really want to leave that space.
HMS: There are some experiments on this album that suggest that there’s more than one way to look at these songs. There’s the song “Doubts”, which is a sample from “See You Get Hurt”, which has evolved. Then you have another instrumental piece, too. When you were working on these songs, was it all kind of one soup that you were working with, and drawing elements out of?
CJ: With everything, it was me channeling things, again, but you’re very right about the soup! That’s how I look at it, especially this time around. It was a big Techno-soup! If people only knew the ups and downs of each track, where I was picking stuff up, putting it down, throwing things away. With “Doubts”, I wanted to make a continuation of “See You Get Hurt”. I wasn’t ready to leave that as it was. It was a conscious choice to make that into more of a club beat or a Techno beat so that it could continue into “Doubt”.
Then, I was also playing with the typical feeling of being sure of something and trying to convince someone that you won’t hurt them. But once you get what you want, the doubt comes knocking. It’s a bit of a wink at that, but it can mean different things.
HMS: That’s funny because those two songs become a little bit opposite to each other, even though they are closely related. How about the song “Don’t Walk” where you let yourself develop a full, quite long song? Are your songs usually long before you edit them?
CJ: It’s back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth. Some songs are written on the piano, like “Bury You Whole”, which is a ballad. You can easily play that on the piano. Then we have “Doubt”, and “Don’t Walk” was a mix of those two approaches. I think I started with a hook that I really wanted on “Don’t Walk”, but there was a different verse originally. I made up some other synth loops which I thought were cooler and used that as the verse instead. Then Felisia’s cello on that was so awesome.
I remember when we were recording the cello at the very end, I said, “I want you to play like Cinderella, but like Cinderella with a knife through your head.” This is what’s so cool about meeting other creative people. Instead of saying, “What? You freak!”, she said, “Oh cool! I get what you mean!” You develop this weird language to paint pictures with words. And it turned out great. In the end, I let the sound decide where that song was going.