Interview: Johanna Burnheart

Having played multiple instruments since early childhood, it was kind of inevitable that Johanna Burnheart would end up following music as a career path.

The German violinist and composer has since become a fully fledged presence in the international jazz community, and in 2020 released her first ever full length studio album, Burnheart.

This year we got to see Johanna connect with a number of great electronic producers for a remix EP of said album, with edits coming from names like Acid Pauli, Beth Lydi, Pilo Adami, and Nesa Azadikhah.

We recent had a chat with her, where we got to ask all about the album, how she came to choose the different remixers, her experience with jazz music, and more. Get the full discussion with Johanna Burnheart below.

Hey Johanna, we hope you’re doing well right now! Tell our readers what you have been up to recently?

I’m all good, thank you! Most recently I played at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg with Christian Löffler which was amazing. Such a great space to play, and Christian’s music always makes everyone get up and dance at some point despite restrictions technically forbidding dancing in Germany.

You’re an all-round jazz fanatic, what is it about jazz music that attracts you to the style so much?

Simply put, to me it’s the most versatile and soulful genre. Harmonically & rhythmically a never ending source of inspiration and I find I’m never done learning about it. That’s beside the fact that from the first time I heard/saw some of the jazz greats perform it immediately drew me in and inspired my own playing and musical taste immensely.

2020 saw you release your debut studio album “Burnheart”, what made you decide to finally write and release an entire album?

Within the jazz world, jazz violin is still fairly rare. The most notable jazz violinist who shaped a genre within jazz was Stepháne Grappelli who played with Django Reinhardt to great success. Their style of playing was called Manouche or gypsy jazz and mostly people assume that’s the style you play as a jazz violinist, that is if they have ever heard of jazz violin in the first place.

My style and approach has always been inspired by trumpet and saxophone players as their sounds have always been more appealing to me within the jazz genre. Besides this, to achieve the sounds I’m aiming for, the violin has to be amplified. For me that changed my technical approach to the instrument and also opened up electronic possibilities of sound exploration.

After moving to London, I became active in the jazz scene while studying at music college but I found myself mostly playing swing manouche gigs which just wasn’t my focus. I therefore decided to write for a band of my own and record myself the way I would like to sound and hope that it would show people other ways of including me in their music. So essentially I just wanted to get gigs that suited my style more but it just kicked off a whole avalanche of possibilities and grew much bigger than I had anticipated.

And you’ve now teamed up with a bunch of electronic producers to put together a remix EP for the album, what inspired that idea?

I was living in Berlin before I moved to London and I spent a lot of time in the clubs there. The Berlin techno world completely swallowed me up and it is to this day the only other genre I actively listen to besides jazz. It is therefore an undeniable influence in my music and I had quite a few songs on my album that I was curious to hear as a remix.

Did you learn anything new about your own approach to writing music when listening back to the remixes, and how each remixer made it work with their own twist?

I don’t think I learnt anything about my own approach to writing music but rather to producing music. The possibilities of production are endless and will be an ever growing adventure so hearing how the remixers mixed my recordings and reshaped them/enriched them with more electronic sounds is fascinating to me and very inspiring.

You put together remixes with Acid Pauli, Beth Lydi, Pilo Adami, and Nesa Azadikhah, how did you decide who should be on the project?

I’ve always admired Acid Pauli as a DJ and musician. He was one of the first electronic artists I ever actively listened to. We had a few friends in common so I contacted him through a friend and asked if he would be interested in doing a remix for me. He happens to be an extremely nice person through and through and said he would try and get something done for me. And as you can all see he did and it’s brilliant!

Beth Lydi again was a friend of a friend. I hadn’t heard her stuff before but immediately loved it so we talked and she came through with her remix super quickly. And I think she delivered a banger!

Pilo Adami is a friend of mine from the London scene who is also a brilliant percussionist and singer. I think you can tell he is a percussionist from all the excellent grooves he added to his remix. He approached me about doing a remix of Silence is Golden as he wanted to analyse the song and really dig into it. I love that he took that song on and the way he remixed it really reminds me more of UK electronic music which is great to have in the mix with the others.

Lastly I found Nesa Azadikhah through a video that my cousin posted on my Facebook wall. It was a music video by Berlin based Iranian singer Mentrix and I saw that Nesa did the production on the track. I really loved it and checked her out more which is how I found Deep House Tehran and everything else she’s done. Again, she also turned out to be a super nice person and agreed to do a remix for me without ever really meeting each other. In the end she actually came through with two remixes which was just infuriating because I couldn’t choose, so I chose them both.

You’re German, but have spent an enormous amount of time travelling and playing in cities like London, Berlin, and Paris, what’s something being on the road has taught you about music?

All these cities have specific styles in music that find traction, if that makes sense? In Berlin the electronic world is booming and the stuff coming out of it is admired around the entire world. Berlin of course also has a jazz scene but I always struggled to see myself succeeding there with my approach.

Paris has that really strong Manouche swing background which has built an entire scene full of insanely talented players playing these compositions and composing in this style themselves. When I took lessons there I was considering studying there full time as I was suddenly surrounded by jazz violinists so surely that should have been the place for me and my instrument. But again I saw a very specific path ahead in Paris and I just felt I had nothing new to add.

London on the other hand has been experiencing a jazz boom over the last 6 years specifically so I found myself, almost accidentally, right where I needed to be with my approach to jazz. I think it’s so successful currently because the scene is experimental and reshaping jazz again and again. The people shape the scenes and it can all move somewhere else in a year when economic factors destroy the possibility of an artistic life with a smaller income but the music luckily never dies. It just moves.

And about life in general?

Well I think we all know what life in general is at the moment but I really can’t complain. Work-wise, 2021 was much better already than 2020. On a personal level 2021 was definitely much worse and it seems like we’re definitely not done for a while but I do feel I’m at least slowly freeing myself from restrictions and fears that have been built up which have ultimately blocked a lot of joy.

Thanks for answering our questions, is there anything you would like to mention before we go?

Thanks for having me and I think the only thing I could add is be kind to yourself and others and make sure to treat yourself. And support artists via Bandcamp or their personal websites because streaming has still not been fixed.

Johanna Burnheart – Burnheart Remixed is out now.