Photo by AJ Hawkins
Johanna Warren is a high-concept musician, crafting each of her works around a typically transcendental theme. 2015’s nūmūn was built around the cycles of the moon, and her STONHOLDER project was all about spiritual healing. Her latest project is a twin-album experience inspired by two opposing Tarot cards — The Lovers and The Devil — and how they relate to “the blessing and curse that is romantic love.”
According to a press release, the cards “illustrate two mortals in relationship triangulated by a third, divine presence presiding over them: in The Lovers, an angel extends its hands over the mortals, witnessing and blessing their union; in The Devil, the lovers are chained to the Devil’s throne.”
Gemini I and Gemini II feature nine songs each, with each track mirroring the themes and motifs of a song on the opposing album. In this way, Warren examines “the heavens and hells we are capable of creating, and co-creating with our thoughts and actions.” Gemini I is out September 16th on Warren’s own newly launched Spirit House label, and today she’s shared its latest single, “circlenot astraight”.
“circlenot astraight” is a composition of immense, ethereal beauty. It’s solely a piano ballad, intense chords that pulse and swirl like blood through a heart. Warren’s ever sturdy vocals are severe here, giving an almost corporeal weight to lyrics like, “Don’t act like you don’t love the sting/ I know you’re capable of anything/ You were the most convincing lie I ever told.”
Describing the track as “haunted” is somehow equal parts completely accurate and a vast oversimplification. As Warren explains to Consequence of Sound, she had a little co-writing help from beyond this realm:
“The first time I ever saw a ghost was shortly after he and I co-wrote ‘circlenot astraight.’ I was house-sitting, and the first time I went over to the house I fell into a trance state immediately upon entering. There was a beautiful old piano in the living room, and I felt helplessly magnetized to it–total Sleeping Beauty/ spindle vibe. Without pause, I got completely naked and sat down at the bench, and this song just poured out: all the chords, the melody, many of the words…it emerged more or less fully formed. That’s not usually how songwriting happens for me, and (at least in my conscious mind) I don’t know how to play piano. I made a voice memo on my phone and when I listened back a few days later I got full body chills: my voice didn’t even sound like mine–it was a deep, gutteral, resonant tone I haven’t been able to recreate. Full of anguish.
I had a Tarot card reading over the phone that day, and at three points during the session my reader stopped and said, ‘What? Who was that? I hear a male voice in the room.’ I said, ‘There’s no one here, but I just had a kinda far out experience and I think maybe this place is kinda haunted.’
‘It most certainly is,’ he said.
At around 3am that night I was woken up by loud clattering noises in the house. I thought it was the cats. I sat up to yell at them to be quiet, but they were both sitting perfectly still at the foot of my bed staring at me. That was decidedly unnerving, but I fell back asleep and in the early morning awoke in a state of mild sleep paralysis to the sound of gorgeous, sorrowful classical piano music drifting in from the living room. The open bedroom door perfectly framed a gaunt young man with sandy blond hair and a blue dress shirt hunched over the keys.
So, long story short, I guess you could say I had a ghostwriter… bahahah.”
See how otherworldy Warren’s songwriting really can get by listening to “circlenot astraight” below.
Johanna Warren 2016 Tour Dates:
09/21 – Portland, OR @ Holocene
09/22 – Olympia, WA @ The Welcome House (1208 San Francisco Ave NE)
09/23 – Seattle, WA @ TBA
09/24 – Whidbey Island, WA @ House show (email firstname.lastname@example.org for address)
09/25 – Tacoma, WA @ The Orchard (5002 N 26th St)
09/26 – Cottage Grove, OR @ The Axe & Fiddle
09/27 – Ashland, OR @ The Jackson Wellsprings
09/28 – San Luis Obispo, CA @ The Ranch (House show – email Amelia.Lynn.Marini@gmail.com for address)
09/29 – Santa Barbara, CA @ The Piano Kitchen
09/30 – Los Angeles, CA @ Complex
10/01 – Joshua Tree, CA @ Moondust Grounds
10/05 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Cafe Pergolesi
10/06 – Emeryville, CA @ Scandinavia
10/07 – Santa Rosa, CA @ The Orchard House
10/08 – Chico, CA @ Midtown Local
10/09 – Eugene, OR @ Maitreya
11/11 – Troy, NY @ Ground Zero @ RPI
11/19 – Purchase, NY @ SUNY Purchase
11/20 – Brooklyn, NY @ Catland Books