Artists Alain Johannes
Much like a breath, a song forms in the ether and exerts a push.
The exhale purges pain, anxieties, doubts, and darkness, leaving clarity in its wake. Born out of a period of tragic loss, extreme illness, and ultimately rebirth, Alain Johannes reaches a place of peace and purpose on his 2020 third full-length solo offering, Hum. Following a three-decade career highlighted by collaboration and often translating the stories of those close to him, the critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer turns his gaze inward on these ten tracks.
“It’s more about me than probably any album I’ve ever done,” he affirms. “It was something I was striving for and needed to communicate. Coming out of a difficult period, I was liberated. I had lost people who were very close to me. I went through struggles with my own health. There’s a personal energy behind the way it was recorded and the feel of the songs. It’s a document of my life right now.”
Alain quietly inched towards the openness on display throughout Hum. His creative union with his late wife, Natasha Shneider, thrived in the highly influential ‘90s alternative band Eleven alongside drummer Jack Irons [ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam]. It also fueled Chris Cornell’s celebrated 1999 solo debut, Euphoria Morning—which the couple co-wrote, co-produced, and toured in support of. They also lent their talents to Queens of the Stone Age’s chart-topping 2005 Lullabies To Paralyze and the subsequent two-year touring cycle that followed its release.
Along the way, Alain either wrote, produced, or engineered projects for No Doubt, Mark Lanegan, Jimmy Eat World, Brody Dalle, and Arctic Monkeys, to name a few. Not to mention, he performed in PJ Harvey’s live band as well as Them Crooked Vultures where he shared stages worldwide with Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, and John Paul Jones. A sought-after composer for film, television, and video games, he penned music for HBO’s Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) as well as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Breakpoint. Plus, Grohl enlisted him as part of the Sound City Players, co-writing and performing various cuts on the soundtrack for Sound City. Following Natasha’s passing, he unveiled his first solo effort, Spark, in 2010 before delivering the follow-up Fragments and Wholes, Vol. 1 three years later. 2018 saw him share the debut single from the Alain Johannes Trio “Luna a Sol” [feat. Mike Patton]. During November 2019, he fell ill. Stuck in bed for two months with pneumonia, acute bronchitis, and a high fever, fluid flooded Alain’s lungs. Breathing treatments and bedrest eventually brought him back to his feet.
At the same time, aftershocks from Cornell’s death and memories of Natasha weighed heavy on him.
“I missed Chris, I missed Natasha, I missed our times together, and I missed all of the other dear people in my life who really affected and inspired me,” he sighs. “As more time passes, they almost become part of the background and part of my inspiration and dreams as they disappear into the mythical realm of music. I knew it was time to make a record, but I was waiting for it to talk to me and tell me. I was feeling lonely and missing those beautiful moments of the past. Being sick, scared, and lying in bed unable to do anything for two months, I had a lot of time to think about my life, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do with the time that’s left. All of that went into the album.”
On the mend, he wrote and recorded Hum in what would become its final track order over the course of 12 days total with one song per day and two intermittent breaks. In the morning, he would meditate and ask himself, “What’s next in the story?” Performing every instrument, producing, and tracking out of his Los Angeles home, every song informed and incited the next.
“On Spark, I let the energy reach this insane boiling point and—without overthinking, preparing demos, or spending too much time on it—I learned to let it come out as raw as possible,” he recalls. “When I made Fragments, all of the songs were based off little snippets I would improvise on Instagram six years ago. This was a little different, because it all happened at once in succession. I’ve never really written in first-person like this. Each day, it was being invented, and it kept changing.”
“You can think of Hum a few ways,” he goes on. “Of course, there’s a musical hum. There’s an electrical hum. To me, it suggests a sense of mystery. When you stop and listen to silence in nature, the hum is underneath the threshold of hearing. It’s a mysterious and magical sense of something existing, beautiful, and alive. It’s a blanket word for the sound of the ether—something that’s always been there, always will be there, and everything comes from it. It’s the common connection to everything.”
Meanwhile, “If Morning Comes” constructs a heartbeat-style thump from shamanic percussion drums made out of wood and skins and sourced around the globe. A buzz of psychedelic guitar brushes up against Alain’s promise, “I’ll try again.”
“I’m talking to the ones who support me and believe in me—or just myself,” he admits. “I had a few nights where I couldn’t breathe and I remember thinking, ‘God, let me make it past this night. When the morning comes, I’m going to do everything I can. I’m not going to sweat the little things. I’m going to try to stay connected.’ It’s meant to be a grateful song.”
From the graceful strumming and intoxicating moan of “Mermaid’s Scream” to the dreamy picking of “Free,” Hum illuminates Alain’s deft musicality and dynamic vocals. The journey culminates on “Finis.” Sustainer guitar in hand, the denouement sends a touching message to the love of his life.
“It’s an ode to Natasha and her strength,” he continues. “I’m pledging to finish what we started. I’m singing directly to her. I’m still here. I’m carrying on.”
In the end, Alain welcomes everyone to feel the same peace on Hum.
“Music is such a sacred thing,” he leaves off. “If it speaks to listeners in any way and inspires, there is nothing better. Hum liberated me. It’s given me the will and focus to create as many records as I can. It’s a realignment of the energies. Making it here, I’ve realized there’s no reason not to do music. Take a day off here and there to reset, but otherwise, make music all the time.”