Johanna Warren’s ‘Gemini II’ Is Cosmic Folk Music About Healing And Surrender

02.16.18 10 months ago

Marlee Meghan Banta

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When I hop on the phone with Johanna Warren, we’re both sitting in our cars – our “space pods,” she quips. She’s just emerged from a healing session, which is, on top of making music, another one of the crafts Warren is keen on. During these sessions, she says that her job is to reconnect people with the healing current that flows through the universe. Love, she describes, is a vibration that makes healing possible, and nature houses the process.

The Portland folk musician isn’t new to the scene – she’s offered her voice in collaboration with the likes of Iron & Wine and Julie Byrne, and sprung up on the radar with her 2015 sophomore album, nūmūn, a self-reflective recount of spiritual transformation and revelation aligned with the cycles of the moon.

Already, you can probably get a sense of the type of music Warren creates. One of the trite descriptions that feels most fitting is that her songs sound the way incense smells: some parts leering and enigmatic, other parts comfortingly sedative. That mysticism isn’t lost on Gemini II, the newest body of work that Johanna is introducing to the world on February 16 through Warren’s own Spirit House Records. The album comes in tandem with her 2016 release, Gemini I; every tune has a twin on their respective tracklists.

Duality is the crux of Gemini II, and it’s discoverable on several planes. Inspired primarily by Johanna’s relationship with a Gemini man, the album is a crystallization of the experiences they shared, both the transcendent and the tragic. It’s not a chronological retelling, but takes shape as more of a spiral, metaphorizing how Warren and her lover acted as reiterations of dark and light dancing together, moving in and out of each other’s shadows.

“He was very open to that kind of thing too and it was really this portal opening where we both experienced the most beautiful, mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting stuff together, and the worst human suffering, off-the-charts abuse,” Warren explained. “It was a lot of everything. But I got a couple albums out of it.”

Gemini II is the first album of Warren’s that includes contributions from musicians other than Bella Blasko, her best friend and longtime co-producer. The two had access to a legitimate recording studio this time around (a step up from their previous makeshift ones), allowing them the opportunity to diversify their range of instruments, and the result is a more visceral, full-sounding production.

Another dichotomy exists here, too, as Gemini II features some of Warren’s most uncomplicated and confessional lyricism yet. It’s not lacking in profundity, though. Many of the songs on the album contain a palpable sense of sacrificial yearning, particularly on “Boundaries,” which Warren describes as an offering to the earth on behalf of humanity for transgressing the sacred code of living in right balance with nature.

“Mother, forgive me, I’m lost / But I’ll find my way home, whatever the cost / I’ll lay down my weapons and crawl my way back / Over all the boundaries I’ve crossed.”

As Johanna heads out on her Plant Medicine Tour this month, bringing Gemini II to listeners, her goal is to nurture that balance by focusing less on the technicality of the music and rather turning inward, relaxing her internal approach.

“I’m going on this medicine tour that I’ve dreamed up, and it is my commitment to myself to embody and live the medicine,” Warren said. “It’s a challenge for me to sign that dotted line and say, ‘I am available for bliss.’”

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