Queer and nonbinary singer-songwriter Johanna Warren released her acclaimed fifth album Chaotic Good earlier this year on Wax Nine/Carpark Records. Today she shares the new gender-exploratory music video for her ferocious single “Twisted,” a song of which Pitchfork wrote, “Unusually explosive… these are not the musings of a wide-eyed novice.” Warren plays both roles in the “Twisted” video, as a psychomagic ritual exploration of gender. Watch “Twisted” HERE and read Warren’s statement about the clip below.
A love letter to 90s grunge—and a personal psychomagic ritual about polarity, gender, fame and desire—the concept for this video has been haunting me for a couple years now. Back in March I was excitedly driving up the West Coast to shoot “Twisted” in its spiritual home of Seattle, when the first COVID lockdowns began. It was a tough call, but as the borders started to close I decided to cancel the shoot and hop on a last minute flight to the UK to quarantine with my partner Richey Beckett in rural Wales, where I’ve been ever since.
It was for sure the right decision, but I was heartbroken to have sacrificed the video. Richey and I have spent much of lockdown nerding out about movies, writing, conspiring, dreaming of making films together. When the question came up, “Is the Twisted video ever going to happen?” we realised there was an opportunity to bring the shoot to the UK and make it ourselves, a collaborative filmmaking debut of sorts. Through a series of serendipities, we were able to very quickly pull together a micro crew of super talented BAFTA award-winning geniuses who helped realize this vision in a higher form than I’d ever imagined.
MORE ON CHAOTIC GOOD:
“I’ve been thinking of life as a role-playing game,” Johanna Warren offers when asked why she chose a Dungeons & Dragons reference for the title of her new album. “There’s chance, there’s choice, and then there’s alignment: what forces in the universe am I working for?”
Chaotic Good is Warren’s fifth full-length album and first for Wax Nine/Carpark Records. It represents a moment of rupture in the singer-songwriter’s career as she transitions away from the quiet, folk-adjacent work that defined her early solo albums with a bold statement piece that demonstrates the breadth of her ambition. Here, Warren flits between crushing admissions set to spare piano solos and muscular declarations of independence that have more in common with grunge acts of bygone years than anything we’ve heard from Warren in the past. “The last few years I’ve had an urge to change my name, or create some alter-ego,” she says. “But I realized ‘Johanna’ is already a character. We think we know who we are based on what’s already happened, but we’re always allowed to make new choices.” The oceanic, soothing single “Bed of Nails” illustrates that realization perfectly when Warren sings: “I tried a little bit too hard to be myself/ It turned me into something else.”
“This album is about learning how to be with myself after a lifetime of codependent relationships,” Warren says. You can hear that especially well on “Twisted,” which finds her confronting a former lover, and ultimately, letting them go. “I’m a warrior, but I give up,” Warren howls, the surrounding production warping and distorting as her raw vocal crests to an acidic scream. Though her lyrics are resigned, her delivery is anything but. It is a moment of total abandon, when the multitudinous aspects of a personality coalesce to form something at once dazzling and monstrous. “Chaotic Good is a phoenixing moment,” Warren says. “Everything I’ve done before was just building the funeral pyre.
Recording Chaotic Good was an exercise in self-reinvention. Warren decided to produce the album on her own, borrowing recording equipment from a friend to do much of the preliminary tracking alone in a garage. She enlisted a few key collaborators to fully enliven her vision, most notably former Sticklips bandmates Chris St. Hilaire and Jim Bertini. On the raucously resilient “Part of It,” Warren is joined by her musical brethren as she addresses a noncommittal narcissist and—a trademark of Warren’s work—the narrator’s complicity in her own suffering: “Don’t look at me like I’m the one holding you back/ and I won’t look at you like you have something I lack.” Adding to the album’s dynamism is the fact that it took shape over the course of four years in studios across the United States while Warren was touring her most recent albums Gemini I andII. Warren uses words like “patchwork” and “scrapbook” to describe Chaotic Good; it is a collection of sonic snapshots that transport her to specific places in time with each listen.