Johnossi’s search for inspiration for their new album took them deep into the Amazon jungle.
The Swedish duo, John Englebert and Oskar (Ossi) Bonde, went on a journey of exploration both literal and psychological, imbibing the drug ayahuasca to confront their inner demons.
Drummer, percussionist Oskar tells Matt Catchpole how the experience had a profound effect on the band and their music, helping them deal with their personal battles with depression.
The result was Blood Jungle, the band’s fifth long player, released this week on Polydor in the UK.
“We were definitely nervous when we were heading out to the airport,” says Oskar about that trip to Peru.
“We just looked at each other as if to say: ‘What are we getting into?’. We were really scared, but we knew it was something we really needed to do.”
Oskar says the aim of the expedition was to “explore another part of us and another part of the world”.
“We spent two weeks deep in the Amazon with Shamans discovering the ancient Peruvian culture. We ended up getting a new perspective on nature, the Earth and what keeps it alive.”
Oskar says the Stockholm-based duo’s battles with depression made them determined to face their fears head on.
“Throughout our lives we’ve been dealing with depression, both me and John, so we’ve always tried not to be afraid of finding new ways to deal with ourselves,” he explains.
“Something we really have in common is a willingness to face our fears. That’s the only way to take charge of yourself.”
As the pair researched their trip they became more and more convinced that this was journey they had to make.
“We were just trying to dig really deep into the culture.” Oskar says. “We started to read about ayahuasca and then we started to get into the culture and we just realised that we had to go.”
Over the course of that fortnight, the pair, under the guidance of experienced Shamans, took ayahuasca seven times.
Banned in both the UK and US, the drug, also known as yage, contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine.
Known as the “teacher” or “wisdom” plant, it’s recognised by the Peruvian government “one of the basic pillars of the identity of the Amazon peoples”.
It’s said to offer a gateway to the secrets of the spiritual world.
“It’s very individual about how you respond to it, but of course it had great impact.” says Oskar.
“It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s kind of about dealing with stuff within yourself. You get to see yourself without any filters. You find out a lot about yourself.”
Oskar is very open about the bouts of depression, both he and singer-guitarist John have suffered over the years, and why the trip to Peru was so important to them.
“It’s a condition a lot of people suffer from, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s very common,” he says. “We are thinkers, you know, and if you think too much you get deeper into what matters in your life and that might get you into trouble.
“But, in a way, that’s a good thing as well, because that’s what I guess being human is. I think it’s very dangerous not to talk about these issues, because that will only make things worse.”
The external exploration of the jungle wilderness, coupled with the discoveries the duo made about their inner selves, stayed with the musicians long after their return from Peru.
“This was a very important trip for us,” Oskar explains. “We ended up getting a new perspective on nature, the Earth and what keeps it alive.
“It had a pretty deep impact on our lives when we came back and it just kept growing in our heads. Some of the lyrics on this album are about what we learned during this period and it also affected our music.”
Unusually the duo often worked separately during the writing of the album, although they remained in constant contact.
“We try and surprise each other with ideas, especially for this album,” says Oskar. “We wrote a lot the songs at home, just sending files to each other. We didn’t want to spend too much time in the rehearsal space because that’s what we’ve always been doing.
“We didn’t need to be in the same space as each other all the time so we could be more creative.”
Influenced by what they had learned in Peru, gradually the songs and concept for Blood Jungle began to take shape.
“We were talking about blood pumping and water pumping in the roots of the earth and eventually we put the words Blood and Jungle together,” Oskar remembers. “it was combination of two words that sounded good together but also had a deeper feeling as well.”
Keen to push themselves musically – “We didn’t just want to make another rock album” – the duo enlisted pop-urban specialist producers Astma & Rocwell (aka Tobias Jimson and Michel Flygare).
“It’s still us, it’s still our writing, but we wanted to find a producer, or in this case, two producers that also wanted a challenge and get them to step out of their comfort zone and then we could step out of our comfort zone,” Oskar says.
The result is an album that retains the Scandinavian duo’s trademark alternative-rock sound, but adds a pop sensibility, which could find them a whole new international audience.
“We try always to take different directions, to challenge ourselves and maybe this time we’ve taken a bigger leap than before,” Oskar concludes, “I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction”.
- Blood Jungle is out now, released via Polydor on the UK
- Johnossi are in the middle of a headlining European tour full details available on their website.