What is Patientness? Even Johanne Swanson, who performs as Yohuna, asks this question on her forthcoming debut, a collection of careful, synth and vocal driven meditations on this very word. Patientness is a culmination of sorts, like an emotional scrapbook pulled together over years of movement and loss, beginnings and endings, flying away from old homes, searching for new ones.
Swanson is a songwriter at heart, who tells stories with words as much as she does with sound: the swells of ambient guitar work, slow builds of white noise, melodies hidden amid melodies. The duality makes her work all the more intimate, like a friend showing you their dream diary, pouring through past lives, remembering who you were and who you are.
“I started writing these songs as a healing, coping mechanism,” Swanson says, candidly. “We tell stories of loss so people don’t feel alone. It’s important to talk about distress, and sadness, because no one is isolated from those feelings.”
Patientness is an ode to patience: taking things slowly, enduring through difficulty, finding strength within yourself when what’s familiar feels so far away. Taking time in a world that wants everything to happen so quickly. It’s light and then dark, heavy and then weightless, with Swanson’s haunting words and pulsing dimlit beats stringing the stories together, often hanging atop swatches of ambient electronics. A current New York resident, Swanson grew up between the woods and churches of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, a testament to her penchant for self-harmonizing and artful images of nature: the moon, the birds, the lake. She also spent her Wisconsin upbring enmeshed in the nearby Eau Claire music community. After leaving home, she spent the past handful of years in motion, living in Albuquerque, Los Angeles, back to Eau Claire, Boston, and Berlin, all times and places on this album.Yohuna, as a project, was born out of disorientation and isolation, a way to find clarity and community in an unfamiliar new town. Swanson began the project in 2010 after moving to New Mexico, a place where she knew no one. But the quiet served her creativity well. Before moving to the desert, Swanson bought an old Casio, and started a music blog. She swapped mp3s with new friends she met through Tumblr, a community of disparate musicians and artists and writers who were doing things on their own terms, connected by an ethos as much as shared tastes; there was an empowering DIY spirit to all of it that suggested, “you can do this too”. Inspired, she self-released her first EP, Revery.
After a short stint living in LA in 2011, Swanson returned to Eau Claire, where she was active in the local grassroots arts and music communities, helping book community festivals and house shows, and experimenting with drone projects. Later, living in Berlin, an experience she describes as equally inspiring as lonely, she bought a real synthesizer for the first time there; learned about hardware, and synthesis, and sound; and carved out a space for herself within a certain weirdo synth pop scene. “I learned a lot in Berlin,” she reflects. “I learned how to build a couple of different types of oscillators, and went to a meeting for women making electronic music, and did some other hardware workshops. But I didn’t see anyone play guitar for like 14 months.”
That dynamic only made Swanson more eager to incorporate guitar into the project further, an element that was realized when her close friend Adelyn Strei (who also performs as Adelyn Rose) moved to Berlin for nine months, joined the project as guitarist, and co-wrote the song “Golden Foil”.
Patientness features Strei’s guitar work and vocals throughout, as well as contributions from multi-instrumentalist Owen Pallett, plus Felix Walworth (Told Slant, Bellows, Eskimeaux) on drums and Emily Sprague (Florist) contributing mellotron. Pallett also co-produced and engineered the album at his studio in Montreal.
“I’m not a patient person,” Swanson says. “That’s why I never put out a record, and hate recording. But Patientness became this mantra to me when I was in Berlin. To describe how I felt with needing to express patience, but being unable to do it. It was more like something to remind me to slow down and to reflect and be deliberate. The non-word of it came from living in this place where words were starting to mean less and less.”
What is Patientness? By the title track, the last track, the answer starts to come into focus. “Through train windows my eyes / do the same thing / as strangers,” Swanson sings over bare picking at a guitar. “What is patientness / patience is / patientness / mornings without you,” Swanson and Strei sing in unison, drawing strength out of a broken situation, musing on dreams of forgiveness, little beams of light. It sounds solemn, but cathartic, but right.