On The Radar: Jenny Wilson
The Swedish singer-songwriter confronts horrific experiences through her music. Written by Sam Willis.
Jenny Wilson is used to conjuring beautiful art from the dark moments in her life. After achieving domestic cult status with Swedish band First Floor Power – one of the few acts signed to The Knife’s Rabid Records imprint – Wilson went on to release her triple-Swedish Grammi-winning album Demand The Impossible! in 2013 while undergoing treatment for cancer. She returns now with Exorcism; an eviscerating, bleak and candid reflection on her own harrowing experiences of sexual assault.
As the title suggests, the record captures Wilson’s efforts to jettison the trauma of the attack. It’s an incredibly personal, uncompromising and disturbing listen, which tackles her experiences head on and without euphemism.
“It was something very dark and tremendously scary that I knew I had to take care of in a creative way, because that’s how I live my life, through my art and my music,” Jenny says. “I think that’s something I feel comfortable with, taking the shit and making something beautiful out of it.”
Now, two years after the attack, Jenny feels she’s in a “bright place”, but the first year was filled with anxiety and sorrow. “It was so scary to dig that deep into it,” she says. It took six months of isolation from the creative process to let go of some of her anxiety and begin making sense of how she felt.
“It was so difficult to actually find the language for this topic, because I didn’t choose this topic, the topic actually kind of picked me,” Jenny explains. “At first, when I started to think about how I would confront the subject, I thought, ‘maybe I should make it really intellectual – about women of the world – or make it more political, like a statement’, but I couldn’t because it was such a physical experience.
“I had a feeling that I had this story that didn’t belong to my intellect, it didn’t belong to my mind or brain, it was there in my stomach, in my body.”
That thought process resulted in an astoundingly frank album. The lead track Rapin* deals with her experience in no uncertain terms: “Beam me up, take me down/ Did you pick me because there’s no one else around?/ Up, another round, come on and pick me/ Because you wanna drag me down.”
Although Wilson felt “naked, very lonely and scared” writing this way, she knew it was the only way she could address her trauma. This style of writing, and the use of her Prophet-6 analogue synth, creates a brutal, uncomfortable listen… but unquestionably adds to the subject matter.
Although Jenny insists she’d have made this record regardless of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, she feels the attention that sexual-assault scandals are getting in the media has made things easier. “It was like a god sent a gift that the #MeToo movement came when it came,” she says. “I was so relieved, because I was almost ready with my album. I was finished doing the last details and I had already nailed all of the lyrics, and when the #MeToo movement happened, I felt much more secure to have this very delicate material to share. I was so scared to be forced to be some kind of spokesperson about rape and being a victim and all that, and I did not wish at all to talk about it in that way. I just wanted to tell my own very super-personal, private story.”
Bringing dark and disturbing experiences to light not only permeates the album’s content; it also adorns the artwork and format: “I was very clear that I wanted a cover with a lot of strong colours and I wanted the eye, because it’s like the witness,” says Jenny. “The guy who made the design, he just asked me if I also wanted a glow-in-the-dark print. I immediately said: ‘Yes’, because it looks so delicious, but it also makes sense. I think it’s like turning the darkness to something glowing. Take something dark and turn it to something that glows.”