Nina Jukić (vocals, piano, synthesizer) and Alexander Forstner (drums, guitar), aka DON’T GO, have played many concerts already, but only released their debut album “Jasmine” (Seayou Records) in May 2021. Definitely worth the wait, though: “Jasmine” combines experimental electro-pop sounds, Nina’s atmospheric voice and her intense lyrics that revolve around the great questions of humanity. Itta Francesca Ivellio-Vellin spoke with the duo.
Your last interview with mica was more or less a year ago. What has happened in the year since then, what has changed?
Nina Jukić: Yeah, if I remember correctly, it was the week before the first lockdown. Well, our daughter was born in December 2019, and when you’ve just had a baby, you don’t sleep much, and you’re home a lot. In March 2020, we were slowly becoming ready to come out of the cave again, we were even supposed to attend a concert, I had some gigs planned with my swing band, but then nothing went the way we thought it would. In that sense, the year was weird and intense. We’ve been spending a lot of time at home, just the three of us, which is lovely, of course, but also really exhausting. It’s easier when you have grandparents’ help with a baby, but Alex’s parents are in Styria, mine are in Croatia.
Of course, and since you’re not allowed to have much contact to friends, either, it’s bound to be even more difficult with a baby.
Nina Jukić: Exactly. So, on the one hand, we have this routine with our daughter, and every day kinda feels the same and nothing changes, but, at the same time, she is actually changing so much! She’s walking and talking now! No wonder our perception of time is blurred.
But you still managed to produce an album!
Nina Jukić: Yes, it’s a miracle! It’s quite an accomplishment, and we’re proud of it.
Where did you record the album?
Nina Jukić: Sophie [Lindinger] and Marco [Kleebauer] have their own studio in the 15th district, which is where we recorded most of the things. We spent a lot of time with Sophie there, which was fantastic.
Who took care of your daughter during the recording sessions?
Alexander Forstner: When one of us had to record, the other one took care of her, basically. Then, when the person taking care of her came back to the studio, we listened to the recordings together to check whether they were okay and at this point, we’d always had to worry, because she would get bored or hungry [laughs]. There was no time for procrastination. We knew we had like three hours and that meant we had to really focus during these three hours.
Time management was really essential for you, then! Nina, you mentioned your swing band earlier.
Nina Jukić: Yes, it’s called The Juke Swing Band. The last time we performed together was in summer 2019, though. We also recorded an EP with Sophie [Lindinger] in December 2019, two weeks before I gave birth [laughs]. We have a gig planned in July in Vöcklabruck – let’s see how it goes!
Does either of you have other music projects?
Alexander Forstner: Yes, I play the drums for MELA at live performances. Don’t Go is our main project, though.
Nina, you’re from Croatia originally, and Alex, you’re from Styria – why did you decide to settle in Vienna?
Alexander Forstner: Up until 9 years ago, we were in a long-distance-relationship, and we came to a point where we had to decide to either take it a step further – or not. We were deciding between moving to Vienna or to Graz and we chose Vienna. I haven’t regretted it for a single day. It is by far the best city on the planet.
Nina Jukić: Yes, we live in Meidling – shout out to Meidling! We love it here!
The both of you have performed in Croatia as well as in Austria – which differences do you see in the music industry in the two countries?
Nina Jukić: Interesting question! We do talk about this quite often, actually. When I was still living in Zagreb, I had a low-fi, minimalistic pop project with a friend, called ChocoJazz. When we started, there weren’t that many indie acts and there wasn’t really much of an infrastructure that could support these musicians. After I’ve left in 2012, I noticed there were more and more – especially female – acts, first more singer/songwriters, but then also more electronic musicians. It started blooming. Austria is way ahead in that regard; the music scene is more diverse. The standards are also higher when it comes to recording and producing, which means there is also more money involved. Indie musicians have a lot of support here. There’s media, there’s mica, of course! [laughs] I can tell from social media that things are changing in Croatia for the better, as well. However, I haven’t lived there in a while now, so it is hard to make a real comparison.
Alexander Forstner: I’ve been making music for a really long time – not just because I started young, but also because I’m really old [laughs] – and the point at which I saw a huge change was when Bilderbuch and Wanda exploded. Everything got bigger then. Now we have this huge array of bands and projects that are crazy good and really raise the level of what you should bring to the table as a band. The bar just gets higher and higher.
I have to agree with you – I think the quality of music has improved immensely. I’m constantly amazed by how good and talented musicians in Austria are.
Alexander Forstner: And also really professional! Not just on the music level, but also when it comes to the promotion of their music. Sometimes I stumble across bands from Austria on Instagram that I’ve never heard of and their appearance is just brilliant.
Nina Jukić: Yeah, I think social media makes everything easier and harder at the same time.
What do your concerts usually look like? Do people dance to your music?
Nina Jukić: Well, some move [laughs] – some don’t. There’s a groove, there’s a beat, there’s looping and repetition, so you can move to it, but it also works to just sit and go inside of yourself.
While listening to the album, I was trying to picture it at a live concert. For me, however, your music is the music I’d like to listen to at 6am, while going home after a night of clubbing. The sun is rising and it’s so quiet and there’s this special atmosphere that only exists at 6 in the morning. When you need to calm down after dancing the whole night – your music is the perfect soundtrack for this.
Alexander Forstner: Too bad we’ve already finished our press texts – that’s a pretty good description! [laughs] I thought about something similar quite recently, actually. Back when clubbing was possible, I had a couple of albums that I really loved listening to after coming home from a club and sitting on the sofa drinking water.
Nina Jukić: We should organise a concert at 6 in the morning for people who just went clubbing!
Alexander Forstner: Talking about dancing, there’s this song, “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”, which I feel is what people should do during our concerts [laughs].
After having finished the album and listening to it now, do you still connect to your songs the way you did while creating and recording them?
Nina Jukić: Most of the songs have been written quite some time ago, especially the lyrics. So, there’s some melancholy in there, some darkness, some stuff I was going through back then. On the other hand, we’ve worked on those songs for such a long time, and discussed every detail of them. Now, after a little bit of distance, and even though my life is different now, I can definitely say that I can still connect to this music. I like listening to this album.
What would you say are the central themes on the album? How are the songs connected?
Nina Jukić: What I think a lot about is time, and the passing of time. The very fact of life that we’re all on this planet at the same time, floating around in space – around us is this enormous universe about which we know nothing. This is so crazy! Sometimes I ask myself why we don’t talk about this every day, because it’s so insane. I tried to deal with this and tried to find some answers that go beyond religion. How to deal with the fact that your life is going to end at some point and not to be depressed about it, how not to be careless about it, how to make the best of it. I did some research on Buddhist philosophy, which is very concerned about these topics, as well as on the scientifically proven aspects of mindfulness and meditation. This, together with my yoga practice, I find really helpful in dealing with all these big topics.
The balance of it all.
Nina Jukić: Yes. I think that’s what the song “Jasmine” is all about, it’s meditating; it deals with the unpredictability, uncertainty and impermanence of life, but it is also about seeing beauty in that as well. That’s also why we made it the album title. “Think Less”, “Future Present Past”, and “Maybe We’re Just Getting Younger” all deal with this topic. And since you mentioned balance, I think the whole album balances between melancholia and hopefulness, anxiety and self-empowerment, the songs often containing both opposing elements at the same time. One track that sticks out as different, one that we wrote just a few months ago, is the short interlude, a kind of an ode to interruptions, with the lyrics that go “Interruptions / Little fragments of time / Like pearls on a string / One at a time”. All young parents will know what this is about.
A song that resonates with me is “Flow”. It contains the line “Like the sea, never standing still, yet not going anywhere” which I find to be a beautiful metaphor for life. In life, there’s this constant movement forward, like water that always flows, but sometimes it seems as if it stands still – although it never does.
Nina Jukić: That’s a beautiful way of putting it! Yeah, it’s exactly like you mentioned earlier – it’s about the balance. About finding the stillness and steadiness, and, at the same time, you have to let go in order to let the water carry you.
Alexander Forstner: I think “Flow” is a song that makes a lot of sense. When we play it, or when I listen to it, I always feel like the whole package just makes sense. How the song feels, what it is about and how it sounds – it’s just very well rounded.
Nina Jukić: With this song, we actually didn’t have much to do – this is how we’ve been playing it live for years and we just recorded it like that, we didn’t really change much. I am glad that you like it so much, because I thought that this would be a song that people maybe wouldn’t have patience for and would just skip to the next one.
I feel that your music has to be listened to when you really have the time to enjoy it, though. Otherwise, you can’t appreciate it.
Nina Jukić: Thanks for saying this! Our music isn’t really a good background music [laughs]. A good time might be when you travel, and you sit on a bus or on a train, and you have the time and can really immerse yourself in the music.
What about the instruments on the album, did you record all of them yourself?
Alexander Forstner: We had a friend of ours, Navid Djawadi, play bass on “Think Less”, because we wanted a bass guitar for this song, and it needed to be funky.
Nina Jukić: And Mathias Mayrbäurl played these virtuosic free jazz saxophone and flute solos at the end of “Think Less”. And, actually, Alma, our daughter is a guest musician as well. There’s an acoustic guitar in the prelude of the album, it was the first time she played the guitar – she was four months old back then. I made a voice memo, and it sounds like some cool avant-garde stuff, but it’s just our baby playing the guitar [laughs]. Everything else, the piano, the drums, the guitars, we played ourselves.
Thanks for the interview!
Itta Francesca Ivellio-Vellin