ionnalee press photo series 1.jpg
Just the Beginning Episode 2 - Kickstarter
publishing date February 7, 2019
interviewer Nick Yulman
publisher Kickstarter


Ionnalee: Everyone Afraid to be Forgotten

NY: Zakiya, does the name Iamamiwhoami mean anything to you?

ZG: I am who i am i….

NY: I am am i who am i?

ZG: I have no clue what that is… who or what is that?

NY: Well, for a while, that was the big question. At the end of 2009, a YouTube account with that name started putting out these compellingly weird music videos featuring a singer who never showed her face. People loved her voice but no one knew who she was. There was a lot of speculation — was it Lady Gaga? Bjork? Robyn? Christina Aguilera?

ZG: Wait, so who was it?

NY: Well, It turned out to be a Swedish singer named Jonna Lee. Jonna already had a career as a kind of poppy singer-songwriter but used the mystery surrounding iamamiwhoami to reinvent herself as an artist.

And when her recent world tour, which she launched on Kickstarter, brought her to Brooklyn, we invited her to stop by and talk. She starts by telling the story behind one of her most personal videos, “Dunes of Sand,” and how it took her back to the place where she first found her voice as a singer.


Jonna Lee (JL): I was very young when I started singing at age four or five. And I became the soloist in this choir full of old ladies in a church. It’s in the middle of the nowhere. Basically, there’s just a church and two houses and that’s it. I had to ride my bike three kilometers to get there. And on Sundays at 3:00, I would perform and sing different hymns.

JL: That’s when I found out that I could sing and eventually I started writing songs.

[Music: Ionnalee “Dunes of Sand live in Fivelstad”]

“Dunes of Sand” is about being in a very dark, low place and trying to get over this enormous emotional hill. I filmed a live video for it in the church where I started singing as a kid.


I hadn’t been there since I was like 13. It was a powerful thing to stand there and sing for the janitor and my dad.

I think I’m using my vocal more now, the way I did when I was a kid than in my previous solo career.

[Music: Jonna Lee “And your Love”]

I was told sometime when I was 19 I remember that I had a good voice for being a backing vocalist and that for many years was like something that I had in my head like “ok I’m a good kind of plain voice.”

[Music: Iamamiwhoami “Goods”]

It was like with “iamamiwhoami” that I found my edge. Now I can connect that to when I began singing. That voice that I sort of had but then I erased some of the characteristics in it to sort of be accepted.

NY: With her true voice no longer muted, Jonna found a new sense of freedom in the work she was making with iamamiwhoami. Then, she got some frightening news.

JL: I found a lump on my throat and I went through a couple of years of trying to figure this out and what it was. First couple of months there was a cancer scare. And umm… finding out that it wasn’t cancer obviously was a big relief. But there is a risk that I will lose my voice permanently.

[Music: Ionnalee “Dunes of Sand live in Fivelstad”]

NY: Jonna is still facing this uncertainty about her voice. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen. And the name of her latest album speaks to the anxiety that comes with that. It’s called: Everyone Afraid to be Forgotten. Like losing her voice would somehow erase everything she’s done.

JL: This album here is more of the honest truth about what this does to a person when you do a lot of things on your own and the solitude that comes with that as well. Because that’s what the Internet does, there’s a distance. It’s a safety in the distance, but there’s also a kind of loneliness in that.

NY: That distance and anonymity of the internet is something Jonna has explored from the start She almost uses her online community as a creative medium. Like, one time she decided to perform a concert for a single person — and let her fans decide who that would be. She drove him out to a remote forest in Sweden, performed for just him, and then appeared to sacrifice him at a burning altar. And she live streamed the whole thing for other fans to watch.

But with all the elaborate creative projects she’s done to connect with her audience, there’s one kind of obvious thing she hasn’t done much.

JL: We haven’t been able to tour a lot. It was hard to translate an online project to a live stage. And so I was a little bit afraid of that physical meeting. But now, with this album, it felt extremely important, because I know that there are fans who really want to see a show — especially when we we went to Brazil for the first time. It’s one of the shows that I will remember as one of the best.

We came to São Paulo and our luggage went missing. The gear that we have is extremely important to make the show happen.

So I felt, “Okay, this is not gonna work. “ we had so little time and we were so tired. We borrowed things and I made costumes on site, and as the show went on, it was such a highlight because it became something totally different.

We had this moment where one person from the audience do a dance-off. And it was part of the Kickstarter that you could dance with me for one song.

[Concert ambience] Jonna : Let’s dance! Crowd: Let’s dance!

JL: This really sweet boy was going to dance with me and I took him up on stage and we did that song and that was the end of the concert. Then we went offstage and he said, “Jonna, can I ask you a favor? I want to propose to my boyfriend. He’s out there.” And I thought, “I can’t say no to that,”

[concert ambience] Jonna : Hi. So, we have a little special thing that you would like to say to your dearest one.

[crowd cheers]

Felipe Leite: Gabriel, You are not like anyone I ever know…

JL: And it was amazing, just that was a big moment. It’s never happened to me before. It was very tearful.

NY: And by the way, he said yes. This may have been the first on-stage proposal she’s inspired, but browsing fan sites, you see that Jonna has had incredible interactions with her fans everywhere she goes. They dance with her, make art for her, come to her concerts dressed in elaborate costumes. And so, by finding her voice, she’s kind of helped many other people all around the world find theirs too.

JL: When you’re touring, all of a sudden, you see that these people are there for real. You feel a lot of appreciation and love and then I almost feel silly for feeling frustrated at times.

[Music: Iamamiwhoami “Play”]

NY: Ionnalee’s newest single “Open Sea” is out now. To see the video for it and find out about her upcoming album and tour, head to ionnalee.com.

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