Erik Hassle on Losing His ‘Innocence,’ Prince and David Bowie: Interview
It's difficult not to feel the weight of the world resting on our shoulders in 2017. And it's almost impossible, if not somewhat irresponsible on a grander scale, to pretend as though the incredible issues we currently face exist in a vacuum of politics, pundits and protests. Despite everything, music continues to provide an escape—even when art imitates life. On his hypnotic Innocence Lost, released January 27, Swedish songwriting virtuoso Erik Hassle grapples with uncertainty, heartbreak and even death, finding catharsis—or at least something close to it—in the process.
Upon first listen, the album reads as typical (albeit expertly crafted and infectious) pop fare, all post-disco sheen and soaring, soulful choruses and moody, rhythmic production. But look a little closer and you'll find that this dance floor is stained with tears.
"I've been working on letting go / Set my mind on the new phase / Sometimes it just takes control / All the darkness / I see the sky about to rain," Hassle half-raps, half-croons on album closer "Missing You," a melodic, melancholy song about dealing with loss. And though the record is peppered with moments of pure joy as well, the artist is at his most poignant and affecting when he's feeling just a little bit "Pathetic"... Not that he's prone to wallow: At its core, Innocence Lost is a celebration of what it means to overcome all odds.
Below, Hassle opens up about losing his innocence (get your mind out of the gutter!), collaborating with R&B princess Tinashe, the profound impact of losing pop icons Prince and David Bowie in 2016, and which iconic Motown songs he really, really wishes he had written.
Innocence Lost denotes a strong message about coming to terms with growing up. When did you lose your innocence? At what moment in your life did you feel you had been thrust out of the fantasy of youth?)
I think started feeling the weight of the world kind of early in my life, the music took me abroad pretty early. I moved to London when I was 18. I had to start making decisions and kind of try to grow up pretty fast. A real milestone for me as a person was when I decided to move to Los Angeles about four years ago, when I also started to work with this record. I met this big metropolis of a city and I had to try my own wings there. That was probably when the innocence became lost.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition between dark and bright in your music—it treads the line between joyful and dancey, and sad and moody. Do you find it easier to write music when you’re feeling happy or sad?
I think that good things comes with bad things, and bad things comes with good things. It’s just the way it works, and musically I love when you can get both of those elements into one feeling. Where the lyrics can tell one story but the music shows you that there were happy times as well, or the other way around. But I think that music is such a good stream to get your emotions out and music for me is really therapeutic; subconsciously you write about the stuff you walk around and think about. I think that being in an emotional state, whether you are happy or sad, definitely helps. I like both of those emotions.
There’s so much soul on this record. Growing up on the rural outskirts of Stockholm, how were you first introduced to the sound?
Thank you! I have always been into soul. My first meeting with soul was when I was nine years old. Me and my best friend pretended to play instruments in his dad’s rehearsal room and found a Wilson Pickett vinyl that had the song "Mustang Sally" on it. And that was when my fascination for soul music began, there was so much emotion. Then that followed me and I’ve listened to soul all my life. But I think that when I was in high school I was in my deepest soul period, that was when Youtube started growing and you could just search and then one artist lead to another through the "recommendation" function and so on. So that was my deepest soul period.
“Innocence Lost” features this incredible vocal tension and chemistry between you and Tinashe. What informed the (genius) decision to feature a female vocalist on the track and make it a duet?
Thank you again! Tinashe and I are both signed to RCA and we had a session together once before and did another day together in the studio. I think it was in the Capitol Studios in Hollywood and I was kind of hoping to get her to sing on Innocence Lost because it felt like a natural duet. We spent that day singing on each other’s songs and made a duet of one of her songs that didn’t come out. But we were just doing some vocals and I am really happy for that because I really, really love her and her music. I am so happy for her success.
“Missing You” is so instantly relatable upon listen, on a human level. Was it difficult to write something so intimate? I find it to be cathartic—can you share the story behind it?
I did "Missing You" together with Daniel Ledinsky and Gustav Jonsson, who also goes under the producer name Grizzly. It was the first time that all of us were coming to LA together with the Swedish crew. I think it was that feeling of being in a new place, in a new time and starting a new chapter contributed to an extremely emotional session. But it felt like a new time and it was appropriate to send a postcard to the past and honor [it]. And then hopefully it can be relatable to many different things about missing someone.
“Pathetic” has a distinctly Prince-esque quality to it, from the funky bassline to hints in the vocal delivery. Was the late icon someone who inspired you, as a pop artist?
I wrote that song together with Sohn, an amazing artist, producer and songwriter and another amazing songwriter and producer called Nick Ruth and it was just one of those songs that came really naturally. I think that we spent 20 minutes writing the song on an acoustic guitar. And then Sohn had an idea of his to bring in an analog synth and analog drum machine to the studio wherever he went. That was so good for the song because it naturally made the production so minimal and progressive; it's always amazing when you can keep it like that and not have to add to many elements. When it comes to Prince, he is one of my biggest musical inspirations. But I was pretty late on discovering him, for real. I think I discovered him when I was 18 or 19 years old when I saw Purple Rain for the first time and I thought, "How can I not have appreciated this more?" After that I listened to him a lot. So if that comes through in my music I am really happy because he has for sure been a huge inspiration.
Speaking of, we lost many male pop icons last year: Prince, Bowie, George Michael… How did that impact you, as a pop artist?
David Bowie was a really big inspiration as just a creator and an artist. I was actually in London the night he passed away, and I had a really, really weird vibe about everything that night. I was out of my game. And I don’t know if it was something in the air, but I remember that my dad called me the next day and told me that Bowie had passed away and I felt in a weird way that it made sense how the universe was weird that night because he seemed to be such a beautiful human being. When Prince passed I was really sad and really felt it a lot. Just a couple of weeks before a friend of mine sent me a song of his that he wrote for another artist, it was just a demo with his vocals and it was so much “Prince” for me, that song. I started to think about that song the day he passed. That was a really emotional day. And a crazy year to see so many legends pass away at the same time.
Who are some contemporaries whose music you admire? Is there anyone you’d love to collaborate or work with?
I feel like it all has been coming out recently and right now — so much good music in the urban, hip-hop, R&B, soul style. Kendrick Lamar is a genius, Drake is really amazing to see and follow for that genre. One really secret pioneer for me and an album that I was obsessed about is British artist Jai Paul’s debut album. Sadly it leaked before he was finished with it, and he's so mystical and has disappeared from that. But I think I listened pretty intensely to that album for about a year. I recommend everyone to listen to that album if you can find it, because legally it’s not out yet. And a collaboration with him would be a dream.
You’ve written some great songs for other artists, but I don’t want to ask you about that. Instead, are there any iconic songs you love that you wish you had written?
The soul music, the Motown music when it was at its biggest — I feel like there was so many different ways to write music which hadn’t been done before. Some of them are so right on the spot relatable for everybody that has gone through a hard time, a heartbreak, so I am always so fascinated by those old lyrics. Sam Cooke, for example: "A Change Is Gonna Come." I can’t believe that someone could’ve written that song. Sly and the Family Stone is a really big inspiration for me, too. My favorite song by them is "Family Affair." Otis Redding's "(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of Bay," Aretha Franklin… They were the first ones to do it and it still works, and it’s always gonna work because it’s something genuine and beautiful.
If you could only express one thing about yourself as a person on this album, what would you like to convey most to listeners?
Love can conquer anything and there’s always a new day. Even in tough times, it’s always gonna work itself out.
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