Under the name 10th Letter, Atlanta-based musician and visual artist Jeremi Johnson creates techno-mystic audiovisual worlds informed by Afrofuturism, drum and bass, jazz, and surrealism. Over the past six years, he’s released 12 albums of heavily textured sonic landscapes that use both live and electronic instrumentation to create genre-devoid expressions of cyber-age psychedelia. With his performances, Johnson uses sound and video to transport audiences to a post-human era where sentient machines and nature commune.
MERCURY: You’ve already released two back-to-back albums this year, Nature in Singularity and Reloaded. Can you elaborate on your process and inspirations?
JOHNSON: I’m the type of person that if I’m not working on creative things I get really depressed... I get a real thrill out of bringing people into my brain—it almost feels like my most natural form of communication. My process varies. I usually like to build off of a concept... I have a lot of stories in my head, and right now music is the medium in which I choose to express. When I have a scene, an atmosphere, or a certain character in my head, it kind of propels me. I’m also very inspired by popular science and the usual geek stuff like video games and cartoons. Right now the thing that’s inspiring my work is my connection to my ancestors. Being Black in America, you are automatically born with the knowledge of your lineage stripped away from you. The current project I’m working on is about that connection.
You create visual elements for your albums, most notably with Nature of Singularity’s artificial intelligence-focused video accompaniment, and your work is very cinematic. When you create these narratives, does the music come first or do you see both components as equals in your storytelling process?
I am definitely focusing on visual art more these days and how I can make it work with my music. Nature in Singularity was a lot of fun to make—I even got to screen it in an actual theater at a local indie film festival. That event was really encouraging. Usually when I’m working on a conceptual piece the idea is first, then the music. Then I start building the visuals. I’ll probably try inverting that process one day, but that’s how its been happening so far. I think there’s a direct connection with the way musicians and filmmakers/visual artists express their ideas, and I intend to keep exploring that.
How does performance fit into your multidisciplinary approach?
It’s when I can bring it all together in real life. I make my own visuals for my live shows, so it’s like instant gratification to see people’s faces when they’re feeling the music and the visuals sync with the rhythm—it’s no longer really about me being up there, they just get taken to another place... As conceptual as the albums can get, my live shows are more about the energy, the fun of it all. I just like to reverse engineer my works, do live remixes of songs I like, play hip-hop tracks into techno and drum and bass then break it down to some ambient thing. It’s like playing the dopest video game in front of a live audience.