Interview: Dear John & The Lab Machines
To start with, I'm glad you accepted this invitation and there's no need to say I'm a fan of 'Dear John and the Lab Machines' since the very beginning.
Please tell me, what is the origin of the band's name?
Thank you Spyros, this is such an honor for me! And the feeling is mutual: as soon as I got into the indie music artist world through social media, I instantly became a FAN of ‘Korfian’!
The name ‘Dear John and the Lab Machines’ is a confluence of two stories: my longtime boyfriend Marcos co-creates this project with me, and we have a mutual friend that kept calling me “Dear John”, as John is the English version of Juan. So we liked how it sounded and kept it, haha.
On the other hand, I was finishing my PhD in Molecular Biology at the time, working at a research laboratory. Therefore, I spent quite a few years surrounded by “lab machines” every single day. That’s how Dear John and the Lab Machines name originated.
I like it because I feel it encompasses the duality of our sounds and aesthetic, mixing the organic with the synthetic/electronic world.
How did it feel to release your first music back in 2018 and what does Rubicon mean to you?
Releasing our first EP Rubicon was the best feeling in the world. We actually had no plans, no expectations, nothing. We just felt we had created beautiful songs that deserved to live beyond our computers, even if nobody ever heard them. We never expected them to receive so much love and travel across the world the way they did. October 1st was one of the happiest days of my life.
As for the Rubicon concept, it is an ancient river related to the phrase “to cross the Rubicon”, referring to a revolutionary action, an epic point of no return.
I found the idea super inspiring because that’s exactly what I feel our music represents. A journey filled with obstacles, where bold decisions have to be made in order to grow and come through. We all have our own private “Rubicons” to cross. My hope is that our music is a companion for people as they cross their Rubicons
What triggered you to start creating music and which needs of yours are being fulfilled through this creative process?
Music was always a big thing in our families, and therefore in our lives. I’ve written songs since I was five years old, haha!
Throughout my childhood it was just a fun game, then came the teenage years where it started to become my safe space to pour all my worries, all those questions that kept me up at night.
It’s definitely a cathartic exercise for me. I cannot choose when it will happen, but when it does, it is my way of taking the darkness of life and trying to turn it into something beautiful. And hopefully something that might help others too.
Why do we have Rubicon and Rubicon II? Is it a story unfolding in two parts or is there some other connection between them?
After the awesome response to Rubicon, we had kept unreleased songs which we felt really resonated with the Rubicon narrative. That led us to release Rubicon Vol. II. I think of it as Rubicon’s more cohesive, synth-driven brother J.
Our interpretation is that Rubicon Vol. I is about making the bold decision “to cross one’s Rubicon”, and then Rubicon Vol. II is about actually crossing it (this is also represented by the aesthetic and the many references to water throughout Rubicon Vol. II).
'Hospital Lights' and 'The Time of our Lives' are among my very favorites. For what reason did you bring each of them to life?
They are amongst my favorites as well, although of course each song is like a baby and you learn to love them all in their own special way. They both came to life extremely fast, which is a sign of a really special song.
‘Hospital Lights’ is inspired by losing a very special someone. Processing the grief. It’s about the questions we ask ourselves in these situations: Is there an afterlife? Where does all the love go after we pass away? Will our story continue somewhere? I still have not come to an answer to these questions, and I don’t think I ever will.
Then there’s ‘The Time of our Lives’, which is my idea of a love song. Loving through adversity, finding strength and happiness in each other, even in the hardest of times. As a member of the LGBTQ community, my journey to love has had some difficult moments, and this song is a message of hope and gratitude to the one I love, who also happens to be the other half of ‘Dear John and the Lab Machines’.
The way I've received it, the themes in your music revolve around love and relationships, expressed in a nostalgic, almost dreamy manner. What are you mostly writing about?
I love that. I am always captivated about how everyone resonates with our music in different ways.
I think of my songs as “introspective experiments” where I try to decode what is going on in my brain.
Most of them have autobiographical elements, but that’s not always the case. I write about coping with a sadness that sometimes has unknown origins. I write about angst, anxiety about the future. The pieces of us we lose as time flies by. There are a lot of references to death as well, which is a topic that has always fascinated me.
If you ask me, 'Some Things' and 'The Light' have great potential as radio hits. Does your creative process involve following what is consumed in the current commercial music scene or do you create in your own terms, regardless?
I agree with you on those. We love a Pop song when it manifests. However, I am inclined to think my creative process does not respond to any terms, not even mine.
When I’m writing a song, I never think about which music genre it should belong to, neither I’m thinking of potential hooks or catchy parts, I really don’t care if it will be radio-friendly or not. I just make sure there are no boundaries whatsoever.
As a result, we come up with songs that might belong to very different universes. We draw upon anything that inspires us, and that leads to unexpected outcomes. I never write with a “commercial” mindset, I just want to convey what the song is asking me to convey.
If you were to become internationally recognized for 3 of your songs, which ones would you choose and why?
This is a tough one! If we think of an international audience, funnily enough I think I might choose three songs you mentioned throughout this interview, because I feel they represent the essence of DJTLM very well: ‘Some Things (Never Really Change)’, ‘Hospital Lights’, and ‘The Time of our Lives’.
Is it too intrusive to ask what does Juan fear the most and what makes him feel most powerful?
I love this question. I am a very obsessive person, so I’m always overthinking EVERYTHING: life slipping away, losing my loved ones, losing myself in the whirlwind of life. Those are big fears of mine, and they have their place in our songs.
I hardly ever feel powerful to be honest. Maybe the word for me is ‘purposeful’. The greatest gift music has given me is having complete strangers tell me our songs helped them cope/overcome their life situations in some way. That really makes it all worth it. Music is one of the most powerful elements we have as human beings.
The pandemic we are going through has deeply challenged, not only our personal lives, but our artistic expression too. How did Covid affect you as a person and as an artist?
It has definitely forced me to recognize what really matters in life. To appreciate my loved ones, to stop nurturing so many social constructs that are actually prisons we build for ourselves. It taught me not to take hugs for granted. I miss hugging a lot. A LOT.
As an artist, I couldn’t help but expressing my anxiety about it when quarantine began: that’s how one of our singles, ‘Tierra Del Fuego’, was born in March 2020.
We also had big plans for live shows. We gathered a group of very talented musicians to join us and then COVID hit. I still haven’t been able to meet them in person and I am looking forward to, when it’s safe to do so. These trying times have only fueled my plans to take ‘Dear John and the Lab Machines’ to the next level.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
This used to be the scariest question ever for me, but this pandemic actually helped me see the future as a fluid entity that we can mold with every single step we take, where there are no wrong choices, and we can always change our course.
I choose to see myself writing songs in a lovely house by the sea. I choose to see myself travelling to some cool festival where you will also be playing, and we will share fun times backstage. I choose to see myself being true to this internal compass of mine.