From Gothenburg to the US, MTV Iggy's Artist of the Week is Poised to Steal Hearts Around the World
Sebastian Mikael fought long and hard for our Artist of the Week slot, and the honor is beyond deserved. The Swede, who moved to the states for music school and is already dropping prolific mixtapes and singles on the Epic Records label. Armed with a heartmelting voice, production and acoustic skills, the singer/model has been conquering multiple continents with his intimate video for “Beautiful Life,” and more recently, his cover of Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” and a new single called “Take Me Higher.”
We spoke to Sebastian about Sweden, Ethiopia (where his mother is from), his skyrocketing future, upcoming album, and why he loves playing on the street.
Congratulations on the MTV Iggy artist of the week win! Did you learn about any new bands you like?
I checked out some of them. I liked Colour Bomb.
The video for Beautiful Life is so fun to watch. There’s something insanely intimate about it.. Tell me about being in that moment, and having people surround you.
We started doing outside street performances a little over a year ago in Boston, and then eventually started doing it in different cities we visited. I got the idea from a video I saw with Jessie J. In the video, she performed in a subway station. It was the shock factor that got me interested, the way people reacted as they stopped and listened. I felt like that concept was perfect for “Beautiful Life” when I made it, but instead of performing in a subway station, I chose the street instead. We just wanted to make it pure and natural by just standing on the street singing, the intimacy is what I love. When performing on the street I feel connected to the crowd in a different way, because there are no barriers or stage to separate me from the audience, and they’re not prepared for it, so it’s fun seeing people’s reactions.
Watch Sebastian Mikael’s video for “Beautiful Life.”
Also, the first thing i thought about was, you’d totally be arrested in New York for something like that. Did you need a permit in Boston? The cops hassle you at all?
Yes I can see that in New York! We actually got away with it, but we moved from place to place so I think that’s how we got away w it.
Miami seems to be an important spot in your life right now. What’s there? We hear you’re writing a song about it?
Yea I’ve been down there now for over 2 months recording, and it’s been a very inspirational place. I like traveling and recording in various places because I always find inspiration in visiting a new city or country.
Your new single “Take Me Higher” has much more production on it than the Stripped Down “Beautiful Life.” Is there pressure as an artist to stay in a particular sound, and what inspires you to go toward one or the other?
I’m into a lot of different sounds and production, so using that style and production for that song felt natural, as it felt for “Beautiful Life,” to keep it stripped down. I actually haven’t been pressured by the label to do a certain sound. I like variety in music because I easily get bored by albums. It can start to feel like you’re listening to the same song over again, so I enjoy doing both rhythmic and slower records.
Stream “Take Me Higher.”
Americans have this idea of Scandinavia being a utopia — Everyone is happy and has health care and education and there aren’t any homeless people and everyone is safe and sound, maybe a little bored and cold, but good overall. It makes people scratch their heads when anyone chooses to relocate, especially to a place as unforgiving toward artists, divisive and violent as the states. So, how far off the mark are we, and why on earth WOULD you relocate?
No matter the country, there’s always going to be a stereotype associated with it; and with every country, there’s always positive and negative things to about it too. As it is with Sweden; there are a lot of great qualities about Sweden like the ones you mentioned, but there’s also things that can work against you, especially in the fields of art and entertainment. There weren’t a lot of opportunities over there making music, and I saw a pattern of so many musicians giving up or not making any moves forward in their careers as artists, because there really isn’t much of a music scene in Sweden, so it’s hard to make a living doing music there, unless you make it overseas. Also, after I was done with high school I felt like I wanted to get away. Fortunately I was granted with the opportunity to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, which also served as a big help for my music career, so ultimately i think it was a good move. That’s a great question by the way!
What are some of the differences you see, culturally, for better or for worse? How has it affected you personally, and as a musician?
I think that culturally it’s not too big of a difference, Sweden and Europe in general are so influenced by the states and vice versa, we all pretty much work the same. The only time I can feel it, is when some people ask if there’s polar bears and penguins over there! But I think you just learn more about yourself being around different people. You get influenced by the people around you, so I just always try to make sure I’m surrounded by positive people, no matter where they’re from.
You’ve mentioned your diverse upbringing in informing your tastes. How does the Ethiopian element play in? Have you ever been?
Learning two different cultures growing up was natural for me, so I never looked at it as being a diverse household. my mom’s side which is Ethiopian, shaped me just as much as my fathers side did. I’ve been to Ethiopia twice and I always want to go back, I love it over there.
What is next for Sebastian Mikael?
I’m working on my album right now that we’re shooting for late 2013, and also releasing some new music and videos coming out at the beginning of the year. I’m really excited to share the new music and show what I’ve been working on for this album. A lot more shows too coming 2013.
Stream Sebastian Mikael’s cover of Adele’s “Chasing Pavements”