If you drive about an hour west of Oslo, Norway, you’ll reach a small, postcard-pretty town called Hokksund. There’s not much there – it’s mainly forest and rivers, with about 8000 residents dotted around in flat, white houses. But there is a high school, a skatepark and one kiosk that opens during busier seasons. Sometimes, people drive up there to visit the local glass factory. Mainly though, it’s just a beautiful place, where nothing ever happens.
Jimi Somewhere – real name Benjamin Schandy – spent the first 16 years of his life in Hokksund. He enjoyed it, but was also bored out of his mind. So as is usual with kids in small towns, Jimi found refuge elsewhere. He learned guitar. Filmed his mates skateboarding. Became obsessed with American pop punk at first, like Blink 182, Greenday, My Chemical Romance. Then later discovered newer hip hop, like Odd Future, Brockhampton, Joey Badass, Mac Miller. He started writing raps. Got into Spike Jonze, the Coppola canon, Wes Anderson. “I’ve taken all these things and combined them to make… me,” he says, now 20.
We’re sitting in a cafe just off Brick Lane, east London. Jimi is drinking a bright green juice the same colour as his homemade t shirt, the back of which reads: “Life was better when I was 17” – lyrics to his most well-known song, “1st Place”. His girlfriend is sitting beside him in a puffa jacket, scrolling through her iPhone and occasionally looking up to laugh at something one of us has said. Her hair is long and purpley violet, while his is faded red. Next to each other, the two of them look especially young and colourful, like teenagers who might be cast in a movie as “teenagers.” “I only got here last night, but I leave tomorrow,” Jimi says, blinking at the sun, making small talk.
Jimi played in a few pop punk bands back in Hokksund. But it wasn’t until he left for boarding school two hours away – along with his childhood best friend Milo Orchis – that he started experimenting and trying out different styles. Milo is a natural producer – he can make clean, atmospheric sounds with rudimentary materials – so he would produce in their dorm, while Jimi would write and sing. “Kevin Abstract put out MTV1987 and I was like, ‘this is the best thing ever’,” Jimi says, looking back. “He made it with his best friend in their bedroom, and it sounded so professional. I was like ‘woah, we can do this.’ He’s probably my biggest influence.”
Clicking through Jimi’s Soundcloud, it can be easy to hear these influences. His 2016 debut EP, Memoria, is full of jangling electric guitar and honey-sweet falsetto, interspersed with the odd rap feature and heavy instrumental breakdown. Like many of the contemporaries he namechecks, Jimi’s sound is loosely defined and cinematic, a product of being online and waywardly soaking up culture. Sometimes it sounds emo or pop punk, other times like hip hop, but often it’s just a mesh of everything, more to do with feeling than any particular style. In “1st Place,” for example, you can hear a conversation between lovers, ocean waves in the background, like a brief snapshot of a bigger story.
In recent years, his music has gotten tighter. His lyrics are more poetic. His voice glossier, more expressive. His beats smoother. “I Shot My Dog,” a new song premiering on Noisey today at the top of this page alongside a new video, which is spliced up with “1st Place”, sounds like a golden-tinged coming-of-age movie, compressed into five and a half minutes. “I shot my dog, they burned the church / I left my home, to my find worth / I miss the friends, I grew up with / They’re all in jobs, or they’ve got kids,” he sings, frustrated, his voice a mixture of Tom Delonge and Matt Champion with a Norwegian twang. It’s a song just as much about growing up as it is wishing you didn’t have to.
Jimi loves movies. While we’re chatting, he takes out his phone and shows me this app called Letterboxd, where users can log and rate everything they’ve watched. It’s basically a social network for cinema nerds. “Here are all my top rated,” he says, flicking past Lost in Translation, Stand By Me, American Beauty, The Favourite. I notice that right at the top is the Spike Jonze movie Her, but confess I haven’t seen it yet. Jimi nearly drops his phone, incredulous. “You haven’t seen it?!” he says, suddenly enthusiastic. “That film is the best! Whenever I watch it I go through all kinds of emotions. It’s funny. It’s heartfelt. It’s… everything.”
The name of his upcoming EP, a 7-track collection called PONYBOY, is a movie reference. It’s named after a character in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 classic The Outsiders. Unlike previous releases, though, PONYBOY was written and recorded in LA. Jimi explains how him and Milo pooled all their money together after high school and flew over for three months, just to see what might happen. While out there, they met another producer, Bearson, who also worked on PONYBOY. They got signed to a label, Next Wave. They even hung out with Kevin Abstract. “We care a lot about projects, we treat everything with an album mentality,” Jimi says. “I’m so happy with how it turned out.”
Jimi is a product of his generation. What's weird, is that it doesn’t feel like so long ago that Odd Future were releasing their own mixtapes as free downloads. And it’s been much less time since Brockhampton formed on a Kanye West forum and built their own cult following. Kevin Abstact’s American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story came out in 2016. But Jimi belongs to a even newer era of kids who grew up listening to this stuff, and seeing these people as their idols. And the result is music that fits within the world they created, even though, this time, it's coming from a boy in a small suburban town in Norway, surrounded by trees and lake.
I wonder how Jimi and his girlfriend are going to spend the rest of the day. It’s sunny outside despite being February, so they tell me they might take a walk, maybe look around some cheap thrift stores. They ask if I have any recommendations because I’m wearing an Adidas sweatshirt and stonewashed denim. I tell them it’s so expensive round here, but good luck anyway, and point to the strip of vintage shops down the road. We shake hands and say goodbye, and I leave them finishing off their juices and chatting closely.
Later that night I can’t sleep, so I decide to stick on the Spike Jonze movie Her. Jimi’s right. It does make you feel all kinds of emotions. It’s funny. It’s heartbreaking. It’s everything. Then at five in the morning, I rewatch Lost in Translation. The day had begun with me trying to understand the world of Jimi Somewhere, but he had inadvertently pushed me into other worlds, and then other worlds after that. Which maybe is exactly what he’s about anyway.
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