On Jenny Wilson’s new record, Exorcism, the singer-songwriter sets out on a difficult yet necessary path.

As the title suggests, the album is a document of Wilson ridding herself of negative energy. In this instance, Wilson revisits and liberates herself from an experience of sexual assault and the emotional disturbance which followed. There is no question that the cultural narrative around sexual assault and violence has been opened up, with many artists telling their story and the online #MeToo movement. While most artists have courageously spoken up, Jenny Wilson is shouting out loud with uncompromising honesty about her experience.

Crafted primarily with an impressive-sounding analogue synthesizer and throbbing dancebeats, Wilson addresses her attack from different perspectives; anger, objectivity and enlightenment. She draws a juxtaposition between vibrant dance music and the uncomfortable, often brutal, details which are contained in the lyrics. Wilson explains “It had to be physical. It had to be music for the body, because the music rose out of my most inner core.” Exorcism is an album that is singular in its vision and brave in its content. Andrew Darley spoke to Jenny Wilson about how it was vital to make this record and what she gained from the process.

Exorcism details and deals with your experience of sexual assault. One might assume from the topic that the album would sound sullen or angry but you have created an album that is vibrant and energetic. How did you establish the tone of the music?

I was already experimenting with my new synthesizer, the Prophet 6, before it all happened. I’ve always been very much in love with hard electronic club music, hip hop with fat and fierce beats, and this time I was curious of making an album free from all acoustic elements – completely electronic with harder and less ”complicated” beats than on my earlier albums. But then, when it had happened, the songwriting didn’t come easy at all.

In the first place I was uncertain of if I would be able to tell this horrible story at all. I didn’t want to talk about rape, but I knew I would have to. I spent some time sitting by my piano, just hammering all the anxiety out of me, I sang, or rather whined perhaps, and I did it in Swedish. I knew that I had to work harder to actually capture and defy it, the feeling. Nail it. For real.

It was never an option for me to make another ”sob-album” about something horrendous like this, you know. When I dared to confront it, I immediately knew that I was on the right track musically. It had to be physical. It had to be music for the body, because the music rose out of my most inner core - from my stomach, my sex, my body. It had to be music that you can dance to, run to, move your body to. It simply had to be physical and energetic.

You wrote the music primarily using the Prophet 6 synthesiser. How did writing this synthesizer shape the foundation of the album?

It’s easy to think that I’m a very dogmatic artist when you read about how I used only one instrument, which I primarily did, as you say. It might perhaps be fun to know that I always worked similarly with all of my albums. I kind of use the tool I have in front of me to express myself. It’s 50 % laziness, 50% stubbornness, I guess. This time my tool was this synthesizer. I was very very happy with what kind of sounds and noises I could create with the Prophet. I really thought it contained the full soundscape I needed, together with my drum machine of course.

The music was written and produced before you wrote any lyrics. What was it like to put this experience into words?

This is a normal procedure for me; I always nail the lyrics very late in the process, even if I’m fully aware of what the album will be about. The topic usually comes first, then the music and far behind the lyrics. This time, the bare knowledge of that I would have to write these lyrics was stressing me out. I hadn’t picked the topic - the topic had picked me.

It was scary. I felt very naked in this process, I couldn’t hide anywhere and I had no idea of what kind of language I would use. How much would I tell? How much would I hide? At first, I thought it would be better if I made a very intellectual, political story out of it but I just couldn’t. It was too physical, and therefore the lyrics ended up being very explicit. I had no use for metaphors; the less obscure I wrote, the more brutal, true and vulnerable it became. I didn’t want to write out of anger or telling any statements. I just wanted it to come from that very hurt, confused and shocked version of who I was.

While writing the lyrics, did you remember anything differently about the night or bring up new feelings?

That’s a good question – But no, not about that specific night. The aftermath did reveal itself when I started to write. Half of the album is about what happened to me afterwards. How lost I felt, how my inner compass was completely out of work and how I therefore rushed into a destructive relationship very soon after the trauma. Writing made it easier to understand why it all could happen.

Considering how personal the subject of the album is, did you ever want to stop making this album?

No, not once. This is my life, making music is a way to understand it, to confront it, to go on, to rise. Also, making music is what I enjoy most of everything in life, I have so much fun when I create stuff. I feel ”normal” and secure there.

Was music the only creative medium you used to process what happened?

Yes, it was. I’m actually a bit surprised myself.

You observe on ‘Disrespect Is Universal’ that how the attack and the man are a product of society. When you started to objectively view the assault in this way, did your perspective change?

I never thought of it in another way. I believe that the society kind of allows men to assault, mistreat, misbehave - and the outcome of that is rape, abuse and violence.

In the past year, many musicians and other artists have spoken up about their personal experiences of assault with the #MeToo online movement. Is this something you identify with?

Both yes and no. To read all these women’s messages and statements was horrifying, upsetting and heartbreaking, but sadly enough not at all surprising. The #MeToo movement is crucial for both men and women, and it has been some very interesting months here in Sweden, politically. Anticipated clear-outs amongst powerful, assaulting men has begun. That’s hopeful.

Thanks to my lack of respect for ”men with power”, I’ve been spared that kind of assaults in my profession. I have always worked very independently and therefore never had the reason to ask a man for ”permission” to do what I want. It’s all about who has the power when it comes to these kind of assaults.

Was there any music/films/books that were helpful to you in the months after the attack?

This is so sad, but I didn’t read anything. I didn’t listen to any music that touched the subject, I didn’t have the ability to look for that kind of comfort in art. I just plunged into my own confusion.

Exorcism and Demand The Impossible contain a fighting spirt and an unwillingness to give up. Are you aware of your own resilience?

Yes, I am. I’m like a solution-driven cockroach, and I never rest! I think these two albums are talking very different languages from each other. Demand The Impossible is a raised fist, triumphal and proud, full of answers and hungry for survival. Meanwhile, Exorcism is brutally naked and instead of claiming anything, it asks questions.

Do you see your music as a refusal of letting life experiences putting limits on your life?

As I see it, the combination of my experiences and my music, becomes a magical key that can unlock barriers, strip down limitations and find a meaning in what’s difficult.

The final song ‘Forever Is A Long Time’ you sing that the future is a disappointment, while also closing the album with the repeated line “It’s going to be alright.” How do you feel about the future today?

I’m a little ungenerous when it comes to terms like ’future’ and ’forever’. My future is not much further than a few weeks ahead. I get very easily absorbed in the current now. Perhaps now is the future?

Exorcism is available now. For more information visit her official website here.