MUSICNIGHTS talks w/ Axel Thesleff

Photo credits: Atte Tolonen

MN: Hey Axel, we’re really excited to have you back in our country. It’s your first time in Bucharest and the first time we’re having a talk so let’s start with an icebreaker to get us in the talking mood. Share with us what you’re doing in this moment, what you see, what type of music you’re listening to right now, your general mood.

Axel: I’m seeing a dark, black Finnish winter view in my studio window, I’m drinking some herbal tea and getting ready to hop on a plane to Bucharest after two days from now. Sleepy but excited 🙂

MUSICNIGHTS talks w/ Axel Thesleff

MN:  Let’s talk about your home. How is the Finnish music scene and by comparison, how do you see the Romanian one?

Axel: The Finnish music scene is growing fast, at least in terms of electronic music, but I think the Romanian scene might be more open to experimental and eclectic styles, but I’m not an expert.

MN:  Let’s talk about music genres. You started listening to progressive rock at about the same time as you started playing the piano and you still play in a prog band. So how important do you think it is for an artist to experience with of all sorts music and how did it help/influence you?

Axel: I think it is absolutely important to experience as many different styles and genres as possible, because you can learn so much from them to help you build your own sound and style. For me, I’ve been a long time fan of progressive rock, post-rock, IDM, EDM, jazz, classical, ambient, you name it… each of the genres have their own essence, and getting to know them has helped me find my own voice as an artist.

MN: Let’s talk about your younger self. You described yourself as ”being a slightly nerdish type growing up”. How did this shape the Axel you are now?

Axel: Well, I’ve spent countless hours in front of my computer and my keyboard. I was completely fascinated with Ableton and everything related to audio production and music, so I read all the manuals from cover to cover and tried to learn everything. Being an electronic musician requires not only being able to write up a great song, you also have to be able to make it sound as sweet as possible, that’s the other 50% of it. I also found the soundcloud community really supportive and inspiring right from the beginning, so being around the PC and the internet has had a pretty big influence on me.

MN: Let’s talk about your rise. People started noticing you once Soundcloud featured your album. But we’re wondering what was the moment when you said to yourself with all confidence: ”this is it, this is my moment and it’s going to change my life”?

Axel: That’s a good question, it never occurred to me like that. This whole journey has been life changing, but the change is so gradual that you don’t really stop to think about it that much when it’s happening in front of you. But now that I look at my life two years backwards, I can definitely say that my life has changed faster than ever, and it has a lot to do with my song Bad Karma exploding.

MN: Let’s talk about your style. Most people feel the need to put artists in a certain category (dubstep, dnb, techno, minimal, house etc). But you’ve said that for you, music has never been about genres. So tell us: how would you describe your music, how would you want it to be perceived?

Axel: Yes, but I’m not one of those people who think that genres are useless, they are useful for listeners when discussing music, and they’re useful for DJs for example. But for an artist it’s not that useful because artists are the ones who should define the genres. My style or genre depends much on the song, and the mood I’m in when I’m making it. So I guess I use and combine genres as a way of self-expression. I often borrow from hip-hop, trap, techno, house, future garage, post-rock, dubstep, glitch hop, and ambient.

MN: Let’s talk about influences. Every artist has other artists that he admires. Tell us your favorite ones and also the last release from one of them, that you enjoyed the most.

Axel: It really depends on the genre what’s my favorite because it’s like comparing apples and oranges, you can’t judge ambient in terms of groove and you can’t judge techno based on melody… But I really admire artists like Burial, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mr. Carmack and Yes because they all broke the boundaries of what I thought was possible in terms of musical expression. I think Burial’s Truant / Sleeper is absolutely beautiful.

MN: Let’s talk about T.S. Eliot. You have a concept album inspired by him. When did you first get in contact with his poetry and what is it about how he wrote that drives you to create? It would be great if you could share with us your favorite song inspired by him.

Axel: I actually have two concept albums inspired by him, The Waste Land and The Hollow Men. I stumbled into his poetry first sometime in 2010 I think, and his powerful and epic style was instantly very appealing to me. He had a very unique style in the sense that his metre was very free and he combined different emotions and mental images very creatively. It’s complex in a very fragmental and intertextual way, like a mosaic, it’s really genius. I get inspired by his ability to put so much weight and emotion in his words. My personal favorite of my songs that were inspired by his work, if I have to name one, is probably III, from The Hollow Men.

MN: Let’s talk about hits. Bad Karma is the track that got you gigs in other countries and it’s a big hit in Romania as well. Did you think it would have such a great success? How was life after releasing it?

Axel: I had no idea it would become this big. I mean I really was feeling it when I made it but I never thought that the reception would be so overwhelmingly positive, it’s great. At first things started moving very slowly but now that it’s been played over 100 million times, things are really beginning to take off.

MN: Let’s talk about bass. We believe that it is the heartbeat of any song, that it gives it life. And it can be felt in each and every piece that you work on, be it more filthy or low. Give us an example of the most amazing filled with bass song you encountered in your musical journey.

Axel: I really fell in love with bass when I discovered dnb and dubstep in 2008. Guys like Spor, Noisia, Datsik, Emalkay, Doctor P… When I first heard the bass drop in Mala’s Changes at a club in Helsinki at the age of 18, I new I was hooked for life.

MN: Let’s talk about now. Artists are always working on something or have an idea of what they want to do next. So what keeps your mind busy these days?

Axel: I’ve been really busy lately planning my live performance. Playing for a crowd has always been a puzzle for me, because I’m not really a DJ, i don’t use turntables or CDJs. So I’ve built my own setup in Ableton that lets me perform with more freedom and flexibility. In addition I’m constantly working on new song ideas. I feel like doing another concept album at some point, something that really takes the listener to another world. Not with Mr. Eliot this time though.

MN: Let’s talk about the future. Are there any collabs on the wishlist or something else about your music that you can share with us when it comes to what 2017 is going to bring?

Axel: I think I can’t announce any collaboration projects at this time but I have some going on. I’ve got a couple of songs though that are almost ready and I’m releasing them in the beginning of next year, if not sooner. I’m also very interested in working with singers more next year.

MN: Let’s talk about the 25th of November: All of the artists who came in Bucharest left with a really great impression about the audience, saying that the vibe is amazing. What are your expectations when it comes to us and are you planning to take us on a certain „trip” of emotions?

Axel: Haha it’s definetely going to be a trip of emotions! The crowds I’ve experienced in Romania this far have been nothing short of amazing, so I expect nothing less from Bucharest.

MN: Lets’s talk about the line-up. You most surely know about the other artists from the Bucharest party line up. Are you excited to play alongside Mazde, Nick Hook, ViLLAGE and the local support and do you know any of them personally?

Axel: I don’t know any of them personally, but they’re all amazing in they’re own way. Mazde’s production is top notch. Nick Hook is raw and original. Love all of them, everyone’s doing their own thing, it’s beautiful.

MUSICNIGHTS talks w/ Axel Thesleff

MN: Let’s play a game. If music wouldn’t have been invented by now and you would get chosen to show people what music is by playing them a song, what would the song be? 

Axel: I would play Close to the Edge, by Yes, if they can handle it.

MN:  It has been a great talk and we’re sorry we have to put an end to it. But not before we satisfy a curiosity, so please tell us what you would have liked to be asked in the interview and wasn’t covered by the questions (we would appreciate to know the answer as well). 

Axel: Maybe we could have talked about the music industry? I think it’s fantastic that you can be a successful independent artist nowadays with the help of social media and the internet, and the fact that I can have a professional electronic music production studio in my apartment is pretty crazy if you think about it. It’s an amazing time we live in!

MN:  Yeah, we truly live in amazing times. Thank you so much  and we hope you’ll have a blast when in Bucharest 🙂 

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