Born in Malmö, but moved to Stockholm at the young age of 4, Johan Cederberg has lived in the kingdom's capital all of his life. It's unclear if the harsh arctic environment, the monarchal statute or the viking cultural legacy has had any impact on the young producer, but one thing's for sure: he is like no other music makers out there.
Most of you might know Johan by his HNNY moniker under which he single-handedly revived more than a dozen 90's pop idols through his outstanding one-of-a-kind edits. He debuted in 2011 on Studio Barnhus and has quickly caught the attention of Local Talk and Let's Play House who hosted his following releases. Since spring 2013 he released all of his work on the mysterious Puss label which he co-founded with his friend Kornél Kovács.
Last week I've had the pleasure of talking with him via skype and this is the interview that ensued. Enjoy!
Hello Johan, how are you?
Hello. I'm good, thank you! I just had someone come over to pick up my sofa, I needed the space as I just moved my studio. I had a separate studio for 11 years but now I moved everything to my apartment.
So how are you accommodating with having all the gear in your house?
I don't have that much actually, so it's pretty ok. Now I just have a computer, my speakers, a record player and 2 synthesizers. I don't really need that much at all.
Speaking of gear, what came first to you: dj-ing or producing? How did it all start?
I started producing when I was about 12 years old making hip hop beats and then I started to experiment making all kinds of music. When you are a very young schoolboy you just do everything, it doesn't matter, it’s all about the different sounds and melodies. After a while it it became more and more serious and I did all kinds of different music styles which I still do.
So playing music came long after that, I was about 16 when I learned how to DJ, did it with no connection to the music I made. I played mostly for friends’ parties and small bars so a lot of the time I had to play the kind of music that was expected for the occasion and I got really tired of that. I never really liked that part of the trade, but fortunately it all changed when I started playing as HNNY so playing music actually started being really fun after that.
Which music style stayed with you throughout the time?
I’m not a big fan of labeling myself to different genres simply because I like all kinds of music. I just do different stuff that I like, I do what comes to mind, I do what I feel. For a while I was thinking I had to be strictly into one music genre because that's what most people do, but then I felt it's better to take advantage of being interested in all kinds of music rather than try to do something that is not really me.
How was the scene then compared to how it is now?
I wasn’t really a part of the scene before, but I see that for the style of music that I make it has been thriving for the last few years here in Stockholm and all around Sweden. There are really good producers coming out, many great DJs emerging and a few nice clubs also. Before, the people who did techno and house were mostly into more boring, very deep and very hard music. It was very underground and they wanted to stay underground. But now much has changed, it's a lot more eclectic, you can listen to people playing anything from disco to happy house to techno. There’s a lot more happening and the people are the one who benefit the most from this.
How do you approach making new sounds, new beats. What is your workflow?
It depends a lot, but most of time it all starts out with some kind of sample. All my music is almost exclusively sample based, so most of the time I am doing something else like listening to a record and all of a sudden I hear a sound or a little bar that just stands out from the rest of the song and I feel like I can do something with it. So I sample that and start working on it right away, experimenting a lot just to see what happens. After that I start applying all these small tricks that I know so well because I’ve done them so many times like arranging, mixing and playing with different parameters. So just to mix it up a little bit and make it more fun I always try to do something different each time.
Since you do so much sampling, do you have hardware sampler that you use?
No, I just use a computer. Sometimes I start working right away on the track, but a lot of the time I just sample the sounds into my computer even if I don't really know what I’m going to use it for. So I made a folder that currently has around 4000 samples from records, so it's almost like buying a sample library online, the only difference is that I did it myself. It's more fun because most of the time I don't use the same sounds as everyone else and I end up using stuff I gathered throughout the years. It's very hard to find what I’m looking though, because I don't really have an organizational system so most of the time I have to rely on memory, but there are times that I find something else simply by coincidence.
You mentioned sampling a lot from records. Do you still buy vinyl, do you still play it on your sets?
About 95% of the times I sample vinyl records so almost all of my sampling comes from vinyl. When I play house sets I only play digital files because it easier, I don't have to carry all the gear when I’m traveling. I also really like the fact that you can loop beats, you you can only do on a CD player, not on a turntable. But there are exceptions, mostly for when I play in bars here in Stockholm I bring a lot of records, mostly other kind of music like disco, soul or even weird library music :)
So I gather you have an impressive record collection...
Well I don't really have that much records, but I've got a few.
Did you watch a lot of Winnie The Pooh when you were a young kid? What's the story behind your name?
Yeah I watched quite a lot of Winnie The Pooh. It's actually a weird story: a friend of mine who I was making a lot of music with gave me the name. The first track that I was going to release was 'I Want To Know What Love Is', an edit of Foreigner’s 1984 hit record and I didn’t have a name under which to release it. So me and my friend got together to brainstorm different names and since he always calls me Johnny, he thought it should be related so he removed the J and the O and all that was left was HNNY.
I took the name and just when I was going to release the record, Disney did a remake of Winnie The Pooh so they had all these posters all over town and one of them was the picture of Winnie holding the ‘’hunny’ jar. That’s when it struck me: it was so much easier to say honey instead of HNNY. And I also thought that it fits quite nicely with the music being soft and sweet and sexy so it all worked together perfectly. After that I started using that particular picture and it all went overboard, and I became obsessed with old Disney movies.
The concept behind your new label Puss is very fresh and unique. How did you and Kornél Kovács come up with it?
We were talking one day over a beer and Kornél had the idea to kiss the records for some time. Even though we liked the idea, it seemed so much work to kiss every record individually, but we thought why not try it at least for one release and even if it took one week and even if it was the worst time of our lives, at least we tried it. So we did it.
So how do two guys manage to kiss hundreds of records or did you make a stamp for it?
No, not at all. We were 3 people doing it: 2 guys and a girl so it didn’t actually take that much time at all, maybe about 4 hours in total. It is a very messy job though: you apply paint on your lips and start kissing the records. It’s a very weird and silly situation.
Tell us one of your favourite tracks that you constantly play in your sets?
I have a few favourites that I play every time, but right now I am really into this german producer called Moomin. I really love his music, especially a track called 'You neva know' which I play all the time. It's very jazzy. If you just listen to it at home you wonder if this might work in a club and it really does, especially if you play it at the right moment it works superbly.
Now moving onto some fun and silly questions: What is your favourite flavour of honey?
There are a lot of good swedish honey flavours, but the one I always eat is a very good one called "natur honung".
Do you know any good food or drink recipes made with honey?
[Laughs] I'm not a very good cook. I do ok, but most of the time I eat pizza so I'm not the right guy to ask about any kind of recipes.
Tell us one thing people don't know about Stockholm?
We have awesome records stores in Stockholm. For a city this size, we have a few very good stores so if you’re a big record collector, you should come to Stockholm. There are great stores for vintage records: rare soul, disco, funk. Also the city is not too big so you can visit all the good record stores in just one shopping sessions.
What are your plans for the future?
The main project I am working right now is an album coming out on Studio Barnhus next summer, maybe autumn. I've been working on it since summer, but I took a little break to get a little perspective on life and music. It's going to be very different from what i've released so far, it's a lot more downtempo. This is a big project for me, I want to do something really pleasant to listen to. It's going to be a sort of sound collage, very similar to my ‘Music For Listening’ mixes I do for my soundcloud page. Right now I have over 100 tracks for the album which I have to put together and mix.
Also there’s a new puss release is coming out next week. It is a single sided record feature one track by me called 'No'.
Do you have anything special going on for the holidays?
I love christmas, it's the best time of the year, so i'm going to spend it with the family: sit by the fireplace, listen to christmas music, live the good life and just have a really good time.
That sounds great! Thank you very much Johan for the pleasant chat!
Yeah, it was very nice to talk to you. Have a good day!