Swedish DJ and producer Johan ‘HNNY’ Cederberg was cast into the electronic music scene back in 2011 when he released his critically acclaimed edit of Mariah Carey’s ‘I want to know what love is’. Celebrated for his unique and hypnotic sampling techniques, HNNY has since released 4 EPs, along with his latest album Sunday, the ideal soundtrack to a hazy weekend.
The range of different sounds that have worked it’s way into his tracks are evident in both his music and this interview. His influences span over an array of genres and musicians, including hip hop acts like De La Soul, electronic music artist Caribou, and minimalist composer Steve Reich.
HNNY’s newer records portray his development from mainly house music, displayed in earlier releases such as Tears, to tracks that illustrate his extensive musical knowledge and ability by meandering between moments of ambient house and downtempo jazz.
This laid back, easy listening vibe very much correlates with his personality. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to talk to him about the experimental elements of his music, the disjunction between producing in the city and countryside, and the story behind his trademark Winnie the Pooh artwork. Read on.
Hi HNNY, how are you doing?
Where are you calling from today?
I’m in Vienna.
Oh right, are you playing some shows out there?
No I live here. At least for now, it’s not permanent, just for now.
So what have you been up to recently, have you been playing many shows?
Yeah, now it was a while ago, not playing very much now… In the Spring yeah, but I played New Years – that was the last time I played. I’m playing in the UK actually – Manchester and London.
Do you enjoy playing in the UK? How do you think it compares to other countries?
Yeah, I like it more and more… Like, I always kind of hated it actually. [Laughs] Not for playing or anything, just like I don’t like it, it’s so damp and grey!
Haha, yeah I would agree with that to be fair. But it has it’s own special quirks doesn’t it, like every place has it’s own unique personality.
Yeah, I gotta say I really like playing over in the UK, especially in London. I have fun playing in Ireland also recently, I like playing over there cause It’s a big city with all kinds of dance music… or music is just very big in the UK, like in Sweden music is a big part of things. It’s not like here in Austria people don’t care about music really, I don’t know, they just listen to Mozart or something! But, um… yeah people just seem to be interested in music and they’re interested in really niche things because there are so many people in London that some people are into something weird or different so it’s nice.
I’ve heard that you’re working on the Future Disco Vol 9 – A Disco Love Affair, due for release on the 14th of February, what’s your involvement in this?
I did a track quite a while ago and I never really had any place to put it but I liked it and they asked for some tracks, because they had some kind of compilation. And I said ‘yeah, this one is one I like’ and now I think it’s on another one as well.
And this album is based on the relationship between electronic music and disco right?
Yeah I guess so, that’s their thing.
Have you found in your own music that these are two genres that merge well together or do you feel like there are other genres you’ve experimented with that work more naturally for you?
I guess it kind of depends on my mood and what track but especially for that one the one that’s on there, that’s very much like that. I think they can pin point what they were looking for there with disco. But I guess it’s also about disco today, because there are still a lot of people that do re-edits and re-issues of all disco things. You know, a lot of DJs, if they’re disco DJs, they only play old disco, and that’s really nice. I love that music, but I think you can still do stuff with the genre and take it someplace where it hasn’t been before. And that’s something they do, just making disco in 2016 instead of doing it in the 70s. Or doing it now but just trying to make it sound like an old record, or you just sample old records.
Your work often features looping samples from different genres too. How does this process work? Do you incorporate aspects of songs you love or do you pick up on sections from songs that stand out as you listen?
Well it’s different pretty much every time. The basis of it is that I listen to a lot of music, like a lot. And yeah, sometimes I’m really looking for something, sometimes I’m just sitting with a stack of records and just skipping through them trying to find some sound that I like, and sometimes it’s just like I have a record on in the background and all of a sudden I hear something that I like or sometimes I hear something on the radio. I don’t know, there’s not really a recipe for it.
So listening to a lot of music is an important aspect of your work, is that the kind of advice you would give to an upcoming DJ or producer?
Hmm… I don’t know, I don’t think I’m in the position to give advice. [Laughs] For me, at least, I think it means a lot to listen to a lot of music. And listen to different kinds of music and keep on being interested in listening to new things, or new to me anyway. It doesn’t have to be new in the way that it was made yesterday, just kind of listening to a bunch of different music. I make not like a specific genre of music, it’s a bit of a mixture of different things. And I think for me that’s why I’m doing it, because I listen to all kinds of music. It just becomes more and more interesting when you listen to more and more stuff because if I just make dance music and just listen to dance music for me it’s not very fun and I don’t think it’s very good. You don’t really get very much inspiration.
What kind of early influences have shaped the way for what your music is today? You must have a variety of different people that have really inspired you.
Yeah definitely, in the beginning it was mostly a lot of Hip Hop producers but a little bit later a lot of people became more into electronica. So not really very much dance music actually. Because… well, I don’t know why. I didn’t really know about dance music till very late. Like when I was younger I listened to a lot of hip hop and then I got really interested in electronic music. But then I never really liked electronic dance music I just listened to electronic music, like you know artists like Aphex Twin and there were a bunch of people who later came into it like Four Tet and Caribou, who was Manitoba back then. And they didn’t make dance music, it was just music for listening really, and it was electronic and experimental. And that was the stuff I was really into and why I got into electronic music.
You talk about this experimental aspect of making music. In an episode of Lost and Found with noisey you were taking samples from your surroundings and the natural environment. Is that a process you do often?
Yeah sometimes, that was I guess more than I usually do, but I carry a recorder quite a lot and just sample a bunch of stuff from everywhere. I haven’t done it as much recently but the last few years I’ve been recording a lot of ambient sounds, I’ve got really into that and I have a lot of recordings of airports. I don’t know why. [Laughs] I guess you’re always so bored in airports.
Haha that’s funny, other than airports are there any other places you record that we would often find ourselves?
I think airports are mostly out of boredom and otherwise I mostly sample nature I think because it’s pleasant sounding.
I suppose it’s more of an organic sound isn’t it?
Yeah and when I listen to a sound I’ve recorded in a city I almost get stressed, there’s always the sound of a car or a cell phone somewhere and it just messes with your mind I think. If you have a sound of some birds or something and a nice stream it’s much more pleasant and calm.
I think you can hear that effect listening to your latest album Sunday, it kind of feels like you’re in a natural, calm, surrounding. Do you feel that landscapes inspire you, or have you visited anywhere that you’ve felt inspired by musically?
Yeah definitely, all the time. Well, not really for my own music because I’ve always made it in cities but I’ve been producing an album for another artist, for the last 2 years actually, and it’s just finished which is great! We haven’t been working on it every day for 2 years, it’s been a couple of sessions and then we do stuff in between and we both do other music. Every time we went to record we went away to somewhere in the countryside, and I hadn’t really done that before but it was super nice. I think you can even hear it in the music a little bit. It was just a very calm place to be in and you really get in that place that you want to be when you want to create something. It’s just different I think, in the city. Also, you kind of have to be with someone, like when I just make my own music I’m by myself and if I were in the countryside by myself I would probably go bananas.
I’ve heard you’re quite the man for film scores and composers, if you could re-score any film of your choice which one would you choose?
Hmm… That’s really tricky! I don’t know if I would want to! It’s hard because either it’s because the music in the film is shitty so I want to make it better, but that’s not really a good reason. I think most of the good movies I know have good music also so it would be tricky. And also for a movie that already has music…
Why don’t we change the question, what’s your favorite film soundtrack that you’ve encountered?
Hmm… That’s also really tricky…! [Laughs][Laughs] Okay then, would you ever consider scoring a film?
Yeah, I think so, definitely. That would be really fun to try. I think it’s really difficult, but it would be really cool! Now a lot of movies chose a bunch of nice music, they have like a music supervisor I guess it’s called, and they put it together and they have a really well thought out soundtrack but it’s still music from different people. A lot of the time that can be really cool but I like this old French movie, it’s called La Planet Sauvage, I don’t know what it’s called in English, but it’s like an old French cartoon for grownups – it’s a very weird movie. The music is amazing, by this French guy Alain Goraguer. The cool thing is that it’s just like this great theme that keeps coming back all the time, it’s crazy! It’s a pretty short melody, or two melodies, and they come back but in different versions – sometimes played on the flute sometimes played on something else. A bunch of older movies have that going on but I think that’s a really cool way of doing it and I think it’s so hard because you would think you’d just go insane from hearing the same fucking music all the time but if you just do it like he’s done it it’s really cool. I have the album and you can listen to the album and it’s great even though you’re listening to the same melody for an hour. It’s just all different versions.
That sounds really cool, I’ll have to check it out. Have you ever considered collaborating with composers, or artists from different genres?
Well, I did that record with my friend who’s more of a pop singer or R&B pop kind of thing. He’s sings and writes and he came to me with songs he’d written, played them on the guitar, and we made it into something more produced. That’s been really fun. I think it’s difficult to work with someone. I like it, if it works, but it is very difficult because there are two things to it. First of all, I found it very difficult the few times I’ve tried because it hasn’t worked at all. Someone’s just like ‘Oh yeah we don’t know each other but we should make music so let’s meet in the studio and make something’ and it never works, I think. At least not for me because first I want to get to know the person personally, know what kind of music they like and how they make music. That takes a long time and you don’t really have time for that you just have to take a chance I guess to be like ‘Oh in a year we can make good music’. That just makes no sense. So it’s that, and also I think you need to find someone that does something completely different than you do. It doesn’t have to be that you make a different kind of music – it’s what you do when you make music. Like when I produced for this guy, he’s a singer, he writes great lyrics, melodies and chords and stuff. And all that is stuff I don’t really know and I’m not super interested in it either, I’m more interested in the sound of a hi-hat or something stupid like that. He doesn’t really know how to use a computer so it’s kind of great. I can do my thing and he totally trusts me on that and I totally trust him on his part. A lot of the time you think ‘I wanna make music with this guy or girl because I really like his/her music’ but then maybe you just do exactly the same thing, you’re both house producers or whatever, and then you sit there and you’re like ‘now we’re gonna make some music’ and you’re basically just making music with yourself it just doesn’t make sense I think.
So you’re saying it’s not always just about your musical preferences or experience but about circumstantial issues as well?
I’ve got one last question for you today, something I’ve been curious to know more about. Where was your Winnie the Pooh trademark born from? Is it from any artistic or literary influences or do you just really like the character?
[Laughs] Well I kind of stopped using it. Well, I didn’t stop really but I just haven’t been using it that much. I got a little tired of using it a lot but it started out really randomly. A lot of things I’ve done are pretty random which I kind of enjoy in a way because it comes kind of naturally instead of searching for things. When I started making my own music I was making a lot of music with a friend of mine and I made one track just by myself, and it was very sample-based and we were kind of scared because back then we didn’t know anything about sample clearance or anything. I wanted to release the track and we were just gonna upload it online but we were scared about the whole thing so I didn’t want to put my name or the groups name. We just wanted to come up with a name and that was H-N-N-Y. It was my friend who came up with it because he always calls me, my name is Johan, Johnny. If you remove the J and the O, H-N-N-Y is left. So that was the name. And then I just kept it and I released another song and by then the Winnie the Pooh movie came out, this was a few years ago. On a billboard at a bus stop outside my apartment there was the poster of it and it said ‘HUNNY’ on his honey pot. And I just stood there and held my hand in front of the U and was like ‘hey, that says HNNY, nice!’ So I thought ‘yeah I’ll use this’. It was a funny picture, and I liked Winnie the Pooh. Also the first stuff I put out was super house-y and it was released on a label called Local Talk, where everything was kind of in that box and I don’t know how to say it really but everything was very the same, it felt like. The pictures of the DJs were mostly guys in black t-shirts, DJing or just standing like super seriously in black and white staring at a camera. I just thought it was kind of funny to have a picture of Winnie the Pooh instead because it’s just a bit weird. [Laughs] And then it was also good because after a few months I was a bit fed up of using the name H-N-N-Y. It was just so much nicer to say it like ‘honey’. So yeah, everything just kind of worked by chance really. Then I got obsessed with it and bought a bunch of Winnie the Pooh stuff and I bought many many Winnie the Pooh records, which was a record with a big book and you read the book while you listened to the record and they had all these beautiful pictures.
Was the record a narration of the book?
Yeah yeah, like when I was a kid those were on tape, but I guess before cassettes existed they were on records. The good thing about those was that because the vinyl was so big the book is really big too. The pictures are so nice, and I used a bunch of those for stuff and I kind of just built up this little world with everything. It just kind of happened and after a while I thought I’ve been doing this for a really long time and I just kind of did everything I could come up with it, turning it over and doing different things with it, and I thought i just won’t do it anymore. But a lot of places where I play still use a picture of Winnie the Pooh for the poster and stuff like that because I guess it kind of hangs around.
Oh that’s a shame, I think it suits your music really well. Anyway, that’s all the questions I have for you today. It’s been really great chatting to you, thanks for speaking to us!
You too, thanks bye!
You can download HNNY’s next release on Future Disco Vol 9 – ‘A Disco Love Affair’ here on the 14th February, or listen to the minimix now: