Interview – Navigating Friction: A Deep Dive into the Creative Journey of Asbjørn from DIY Labels to Genre-Bending Sounds

by the partae

Can you share a bit about your journey in the music industry so far, from starting your own label at a young age to where you are now with your fourth studio album?

This is gonna be a deep dive, huh? Let’s do it. Basically, I started my own label at 19 to have complete creative control and freedom. Despite all the attention I was receiving, every label I talked to wanted to change something about me, whether it was my sequined wardrobe, my weirdo dancing or the sound of my sampled breathe-snares. Luckily, I am stubborn as fuck and following a mere possibility of quick success has never really been an option in my head.

Establishing my own record label enabled me to “license” my music to other international labels, while still being in creative control. I did that on Pseudo VisionsBoyology and also had my very brief major-label-crash-and-burn-moment with ‘Nothing 2 Lose’ and ‘We & I’ in 2018. I worked with brilliant people along the way and appreciate their hard work – but with this forthcoming album, I needed a reset, to explore pop music completely freely again, without my own or anybody else’s commercial awareness = your boy is completely independent, yet again.

‘He’s Dancing So Well (I’m Better)’ is a captivating track with a unique blend of sounds. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind the song and its production process?

I am obsessed with juxtapositions, how lyrical and musical elements can create confusion to a point where you have to stop trying to “figure it out” but just go with your body and your immediate emotional response. I love to write on the guitar because I suck at it and that pushes me to be less analytical and more intuitive. For some reason, I also hate my own voice on top of a guitar, so after writing ‘He’s Dancing So Well (I’m Better)’, I immediately made the string arrangement. I’ve always dreamt of doing a string-based dance song, like ‘Cloudbusting’ (Kate Bush), ‘Be Mine’ (Robyn), ‘Viva La Vida’ (Coldplay) or ‘Hyperballad’ (Björk) and this song seemed like the right fit. I took the song and string-arrangement to Steffen Lundtoft, he accidentally pushed a shuffle button on his drum machine and suddenly the loneliness and melancholy of the lyric and strings had a freaky, out-of-control and uplifting counterpart. It suddenly provided a possibility to dance with the sadness of losing him.

Your upcoming fourth studio album is highly anticipated. What can listeners expect from this new project, especially in terms of its sound and themes?

This album is a body! A body that dances, protects itself, goes WILD, rests, moves forward, injures and gets back up again. First and foremost, I’ve always strived for a kind of bodily presence in my music but this time I made it my whole approach; instead of producing the songs so I could dance to them, I danced my way to the productions, translating the movements my body made into sounds.

Thematically, I guess there’s a lot of liminality, which in many ways has been a constant in my life. Being an artist and being gay is a pretty intense combo and though I’ve accepted long ago that I can’t follow many pre-paved paths, I think I’ve dared to look into my doubts about belonging, both to places, people and in the world on this album.

Collaborating with Steffen Lundtoft from Lowly for your new album sounds intriguing. How did this collaboration come about, and how has it influenced the direction of your music?

MASSIVELY, oh my god. On Boyology I challenged myself to give in to the sonics of mainstream pop music that I grew up with, while juxtaposing it with almost unpleasantly direct and diary-like lyrics. I worked on that album for 5 years and I had a hard time coming out of the more structured and controlled approach to production that I’d practiced on that album. Steffen, on the other hand… he’s a firework of freedom, playfulness and never really knows what he wants to create, before it’s suddenly there. I was deeply provoked by that in the beginning of our collaboration but I knew that he was what I needed; a friend who could bring me out of control in a way that felt safe (Steffen has been my drummer for 12 years, since I started my career).

You’ve been announced as a performer at Roskilde Festival, which is a significant milestone. How does it feel to be part of such a renowned event, and what are you looking forward to the most about the experience?

Yeah, it’s a bucket list moment, for sure. Somehow I am really happy that it took 12 years to get that slot, cos I got to find myself as performer before standing that test. I can’t wait to give back to the audience what I, myself, have received from my heroes on that festival.

Your music has been described as genre-busting and unconventional. What drives you to push the boundaries of pop music, and how do you balance experimentation with accessibility in your sound?

I’ve thought about whether there could be an anthropological explanation, having to do with queerness and the whole ‘belonging’ theme… The genre-thing and unconventionality are not things I strive to do, I simply just can’t conform. And just as that can be frustrating on a personal level, so has it in my career, you know… sometimes wishing to be more “normal”, whatever that means. Ultimately it comes down to self acceptance and music has been THE place I could find that, always.

“Friction is freedom” is a powerful statement you’ve made about your music. Could you elaborate on what this means to you personally and how it manifests in your creative process?

On Boyology I had to repeat this sentence over and over again. In continuation of your last question, that album was at times pretty uncomfortable to make, cos I chose to explore conformity in the sound as an artistic approach. The only way I could do it was to create a friction, a counterpart in the lyrical approach. In other words, knowing that friction is always where I’m heading, I can “forgive myself” for going 100% Backstreet Boys in one part of the process, cos I know I’m gonna create other nuances at a later point.

As someone who interacts with teenagers through your high school concerts, why is it important for you to discuss topics like sexuality and identity freedom with young audiences?

Well, I’m just trying to make things a little bit better than when I was a teen, so I’ve played around 200 concerts and high schools the past years. The teens often start out pointing at me, laughing and whispering to each other, some yell “gayyyy” and try to bully me off stage. I am confronting my own school-trauma and overcoming it every time, though it can be intense. By the end of the show it has opened up a dialogue, some of them become huge fans and others have just met a different type of man (me) and they experience that I’m not dangerous. My hope is just that it creates a fundament of understanding and acceptance between them.

Your music videos have garnered millions of views and have been praised for their visionary quality. How do you approach the visual aspect of your music, and how does it tie into the overall storytelling of your work?

I mean, you can’t take the MTV out of a 90s kid! Every time I visited my grand parents, who had the channel, I’d stay up all night watching videos. MadonnaMichael JacksonBritneyDestiny’s ChildGeorge MichaelDavid Bowie and the list goes on. I didn’t even understand English but I understood what they wanted to express through those videos. The music video can be such a powerful tool to expand the universe of an album, which is what I’ve attempted to do on all my albums. The current consumer-climate has put the format in a difficult spot though and I’ve heard many business peeps claim that the THE MUSICVIDEO IS DEAD. I don’t believe that but I do believe we all, as consumers, need to choose patience, focus and poetry very actively, cos we’re so affected by the high pace of things online.

With your diverse musical influences ranging from classical to pop, how do you incorporate these varied elements into your songs while maintaining your own unique style?

Friction is freedom, baby! Music is just a playground, a laboratory, a bathtub full of plastic stuff to shove up your butt and try how it feels; it most likely won’t hurt you but sometimes it just doesn’t work and that’s cool. Then you try a different combination and suddenly it feels like you opened a new door in yourself.

Collaborating with artists like Tessa and Danny L Harle in the past, how do these collaborations shape your approach to music-making, and are there any dream collaborations you’d like to pursue in the future?

I find myself in a really interesting position career wise. The fact that I’m hard to place for people mixed with my curiosity for music experiments, enables me to navigate pretty freely and collaborate with both mainstream superstars like Tessa, left-pop-pioneers like Danny and Planningtorock and of course making the album with Steffen, two old friends in a dark studio in my hometown. They all inspire me so much. And when it comes to dream collaborations… well, let’s just say you won’t have to wait long.

Looking back on your previous album, Boyology, and considering your evolution as an artist, how do you feel you’ve grown creatively since then, and what lessons have you learned along the way?

I learned to measure success in new ways. Boyology was a commercial FLOP, none of the songs or videos gained the numbers I’d been so lucky to experience from the beginning of my career – and honestly, that was a tough blow – but an important one too. That’s when I checked my “popstar values” and realized that I needed to create healthier and more sustainable criteria of success for myself. I initiated the school concerts to try and make a direct difference, that I could see in a room, instead of looking at streaming counts. I began working mainly with close friends again to make sure every aspect of my career creates long-lasting memories and relations, that makes me happy when I listen to the music, watch the videos or play shows. In that way, the music can flop all it wants but it will still be meaningful.


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