At first glance J. Ludvig III appears to be a classical composer or an heir to the Danish throne. But in reality, the artist boasts quite a different career. J. Ludvig III is a musical jack of all trades, with an oeuvre spanning from jazz drummer at the Aarhus Royal Academy of Music to constructing his own heavy neo-emo melodies. His new album Emotan is out now, available for your listening on B4.
From the ethereal melodies of Flawed to the haunting depths of Grey Havens, each track on Emotan serves as a testament to J. Ludvig III's mastery of emotion, rhythm, and storytelling. Amidst the complexities of life on tour with collaborator Erika de Casier, he finds solace in the raw authenticity of his music, channelling his inner turmoil into a symphony of sound and sensation. As well as picking apart the creative process behind this much anticipated album, we spoke about disrupting expectations, music as a form of therapy, and how to tap into the energy of our younger selves.
Hello J. Ludvig, thank you for speaking to us. Where are you answering us from?
Of course, I love METAL mag. Thank you for wanting to chat with me!
Where are you answering us from?
I’m in L.A between Coachella shows on tour with Erika de Casier right now. We’re finishing her North American tour here, then going back to Copenhagen.
I understand that you started off as a jazz drummer before developing your artistic style at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus. Are there elements of this musical precision in your new album Emotan?
Definitely there is. It’s funny, I wanted to make an album without drums at all when I began writing most of these songs, but that didn’t go so well (laughs), I guess I can’t help myself. There’s trace in all of the songs, from the fragmented beat in Lowkey to the cymbal overtones on Grey Havens. It’s probably on clearest display in Relapse and Again. I’ve always loved trying to incorporate complex ideas in a way, where they feel natural, and won’t necessarily make you think that it’s super complex, that’s when I really feel like I’ve succeeded in this.
Tell us about your relationship with Erika de Casier. What was it like touring with her? How has your relationship impacted your musical career?
It’s kinda funny answering this question, as she’s literally behind the glass door, where I’m sitting right now. However, I’m going to tell the story of how we met. A friend I played in a band with, like in 2017, sent me her song; Do My Thing and told me I had to check it out cause it was crazy this was coming out of Denmark. I listened and agreed. The day after, Erika wrote to me, asking if I would play drums for her. She had asked around in Copenhagen who was good at playing drum ‘n bass and my name came up. I cancelled a gig to make all the gigs she was asking for, if I hadn’t I’m not sure we would’ve been playing together today, it’s funny how it goes sometimes.
Aside from becoming close friends over the past 7 years through touring, I’ve learned a lot from how she works and she continues to inspire me every day. I feel lucky to be working with her. Working with her has impacted my taste in music, the people I know in music obviously, in many ways, her attention to detail has impacted me a lot too. And lastly, it has challenged how I play as I had to rethink my playing and to this day, have to rethink how I go about certain ways of playing as I’m almost only playing samples with her, and was used to playing more acoustically.
What sort of music would you listen to when you were younger? How has this been absorbed into your new album Emotan?
When I was a teenager, I listened to Paramore, Escape the Fate, Slipknot, Metallica, System of a Down, Hoobastank, etc. I’ve started to like the music I listened to back then again, which is such a gift, because it can now touch me deeply in a way it did then, I feel like I can reconnect with a past self. Because for many years, I couldn’t really listen to that music without feeling awkward, and almost shameful that I used to listen to it, now it feels like a celebration of my youth and there’s a freshness to it.
I just think it’s that time, the time has come for me to tap back into a certain energy I had back then. So I’ve actually gone there for inspiration sometimes, if you listen to the snare sound on the metal beat that comes in later in the song; Again, it shouldn’t take you long to decode what album I’m referencing, and another certain danish drummer, whose signature aluminium sticks I used back in the day (laughs).
Tell us about the transition to the alias of J. Ludwig III. How did you come up with the name, and how does it capture your artistic mission?
I’m the youngest of 3 brothers so I decided to appoint myself as J. Ludvig III and turn myself into what looks like a classical composer, or a king, I guess. I like irony, and I thought it was funny to appoint myself king and write fragile songs.
And what about the name of the album?
It was hard coming up with a name, I used to call my project tmrw, but it was too vague, and it would get lost in the thousands of other artists that have songs or names of the like. And as it is a solo project, I decided it should be some sort of spin on my own name. I had just made Sadboy Fusion, and had to come up with something for that release. I thought that album had a symphonic sound to it, I guess Emotan does too actually.
The transition from jazz to neo-emo may seem like a significant leap. Can you share any challenges or surprises that you encountered while exploring this new musical territory?
It’s been interesting to see the expectations from Athletic Progression (my former band) fans, not being met, and comments on YouTube, theorising the reason the band split up is because “the drummer lost his mind”. I try not to let it get to me and just follow the path that feels right. It’s been challenging, because sometimes I’ve felt I’ve had to convince myself that what I do is good, has value, and that it will find its audience.
The audience that I had around me came from my previous projects that only revolved around my abilities on drums and I used to hate that everyone was just waiting for me to do something crazy on drums that would make people scream. I feel this is a venture into writing music where I also show other aspects of my musicality and personality, that in fact, feels more true to who I am, than any other project I’ve taken part in.
And also, if people expect me to play in a certain way or make a certain type of music, I tend to stop wanting to do that.
Your previous album, Sadboy Fusion, explored the interplay between technical drumming and emotive songwriting. Would you say Emotan builds upon or diverges from themes explored in that album?
Emotan also builds on relationships, so in a way it touches on some of the same themes but this is just a different story, and more forthright. I worked a lot on being more articulate, to really make myself clear. I’ve worked way more on my vocal performance and songwriting. I feel like Sadboy Fusion was an experiment and my first time writing my own songs, Emotan had a different vision.
It’s been more about trying to capture the song and doing what I can to serve the song. On this album I’ve also tried to take a step back from drums and be more focused on other parts of the process, and prove that I can make music that isn’t being carried by my abilities on drums.
The cover art that accompanies the song is visually striking. What was the creative concept behind it? How do you believe it complements the music?
It was actually a press photo shoot I did with Paakow Tawiah, and wasn’t intended to be used as an album cover at first. We shot it at a ruin centred in Copenhagen, it’s actually Copenhagen’s old city wall, and I wanted it to look scary and mystical, like a Theodor Kittelsen painting.
I was already putting wings on my stands at the time, and liked to wear all black and leather. I’ve always liked things shot on film because it holds a sentiment, it’s just very clear that it’s something that happened in the past, and the album is very sentimental. Photos shot on film, the grain and texture, can also almost make it look like a painting sometimes, which essentially added an atmosphere that resonates with the album.
Flawed can be described as a song of two opposites, the delicate guitar that develops into an explosive electronic outpouring. Could you walk us through the creative process behind the song’s construction?
This is one of the oldest songs on the album. I almost put it on the previous album. So it’s been through a lot of changes since then. But back then I loved writing linear songs, where you have very little repetition, where the song feels like it’s going into infinity, and it keeps surprising. So it was written in a way, where I would start with the first bit, then write the next, and the next, like a journey, simply just writing a new section based on what I feel like the previous section calls for, not worrying too much about the full picture. When I would feel like I had what I needed, I would just work on transitions and try to learn how to work and strengthen the contrasts to make each section have as much momentum as possible. I feel like Lecx Stacy’s verse elevates and really ties the beginning and ending together beautifully, so shout out to him for joining me on that!
The album has been described as being “painted in inky blacks and oily browns”. Could you elaborate on this? What visual and emotional pallet were you drawing on during the construction of this piece?
My emotional pallet was very much influenced by how I felt in that period, and it was a dark time of my life, where I had parted ways with some really important people in my life, and some of it didn’t all go down in a nice way, so I was angry and filled with grief, and I found solace in writing songs about it, and was actually using the studio as therapy.
Through that period I think I started romanticising my sadness as I feel you do in emo too. It felt like a superpower, which is a dangerous thing, and something I’ve made myself very aware of since finishing the album. There’s a line to be drawn there. There was a time where I felt like I made my best music if I was feeling really shitty, and that’s just not a sustainable work ethic, and not something I would wish on anyone. I was very inspired by metal aesthetics and washed out colours, different shades of black, and saw a lot of Playboi Carti live shows on YouTube too.
Looking ahead, do you see yourself continuing to experiment with genre blending and pushing the boundaries of your sound? Or have you settled into a more defined musical niche?
I don’t think I’ll ever feel settled in a certain genre, I’m always onto something new, there’s always a new combination of ideas and people, elements I feel like I have to experiment with, so I definitely will keep pushing the boundaries of my sound, I wouldn’t know how else to work.
When I start feeling like I’m just following a recipe and writing the same songs, I have to switch up my process, because it feels too comfortable. I’ve noticed with both albums now, that when you finish it, you go into this period where you listen to music that’s almost the exact opposite of what you’ve been making, I guess as a sort of protest or just a profound need for something different.