Interview: Gabriel Gassi

With a handful of remixes scattered across social media, Stockholm-based singer-songwriter/producer Gabriel Gassi has quietly built himself a solid reputation. Working around his studies, Gassi’s intelligent ear has allowed him to enhance some of his favourite tracks with some intriguing embellishments. Take Julia Vero’s crashing electro ballad ‘How Does It Feel?’; Gassi translates the track for revellers and dusky dancefloors, sweetening the record with influences from calypso and dancehall as well as a walloping retro bass line that recalls The 1975 of all acts. But even with all of these influences on show, Gassi’s reimagining works.

But last October, Gassi treated us to his debut track ‘Street Phone’- a song that he wrote and produced himself. The track obviously has aspirations for chart success, with Gassi continuing to administer light touches of dancehall, R&B and dance. Gassi’s pacey, slightly slurred delivery draws comparisons to Drake (which is not a bad thing for an artist aspiring to topple charts). ‘Street Phone’ is still currently the only track of Gassi’s on Spotify, but that hasn’t hampered the song’s success; it’s just passed the 1 million mark for streams. ‘Street Phone’s’ inescapable hook is potential realised, with Gassi proving undeniably that he can step out on his own and flourish.

Scandinavia is among the most fertile cultural hotbeds in the world, and despite the constant competition, Gassi’s work thus far stands out. Gassi has the mark for future pop stardom, so before he jets off into the pop stratosphere, Vendor managed to have a chat with the Swedish singer-songwriter about his influences, plans and journey so far.

How did you get into music in the first place? Was there anything specifically, like a song or a concert, which inspired you to become a musician?
Everything started when I was ten years old and my parents hid a music program in my Easter egg. In Hip Hop eJay 2 I playfully built my first beats influenced by – at that time my favorite artists – Addis Black Widow and Gorillaz. Later on I got Propellerheads Reason 2, in which I could advance my beat making to a more unique level. To this day I still make my music in Reason.

Like a lot of musicians in this current musical climate, you hold complete autonomy in handling production, writing and vocals. What do you enjoy about being in complete control of the music you make? Are there any downsides to that?
As a musician I’ve always been part of a group or a band, where you constantly juggle ideas with other people. When something’s good you high-five each other. When something’s bad someone else in the group has another idea and then you move on with that one. Eventually you’ll get a good song, but is it the best one you’ve made? Maybe, maybe not.
As a solo artist I more or less juggle with myself, and as a perfectionist it’s both one of the hardest and easiest t
hings I’ve done in my music career.

Your track ‘Street Phone’ is getting a lot of buzz at the moment. What has it been like having your music recognised on a much larger scale?
Its cool. Im used to singing for myself in the shower so its great to get attention from the outside world.

What is ‘Street Phone’ about?
Its about orange summer night skies and desolate streets in a city quietly resting in industrial vacation. Companies send automatic out-of-office e-mails. Your last pennies were spent on a brand new cell phone which now is malfunctioning and you cant call your friends but its okay cause you can go out and make new ones.

I got a ‘Hotline Bling’ vibe from ‘Street Phone’ especially with the opening beat and the chorus. Does hip-hop figure as an influence in your music?
Are you sure its not because both songs are about cell phones? Haha, just kidding. As I mentioned earlier, I started out making hip-hop, so the genre is definitely still there somewhere in the periphery.

You’ve also gained some notice for your remixes for other artists. What does your work with remixes offer you that your own original music doesn’t?
Making a remix is basically a collaboration, except someone else puts down a base that I finish with my own tools. It’s like you have a complete body but no face, arms or legs, and I have to put everything together. When I make my own music I design the entire body!

Does your process for producing original music and remixes differ quite a lot?
Not that much, but in terms of my own songs I tend to find a common thread much faster. When I make remixes the process tends to sprawl lots more.

Who would be your dream artist for a collaboration and why?
Addis Black Widow. I would love to make a song with them built in Hip Hop eJay 2.

Is there anything outside of music that provides a source of inspiration for your songs? Does your personal life ever work its way into your lyrics?
Sometimes I need a break from reality. My way of tuning out is watching The O.C. and playing the video game Spyro the Dragon. During these kind of pauses, my personal life and these fictional worlds meet and stories and lyrics come to life.

What’s the best album or track that you’ve heard this year and why?
Id rather make a list, but if a had to choose One Dance by Drake.

Which musicians have inspired your sound and musical style? Do you feel like music from your homeland has been particular influential?
Finally I get to make my artist list! And also it’s based on my favourite Swedish musicians. These are my – at the moment – most influential Swedish musicians:
Name the Pet, Ji Nilsson, Julia Spada, Yemi, AmberValent, Lorentz, Marlene, Madi Banja, Tella Viv, Cherrie, Dolores Haze.

Even though your music has quite a danceable quality about it, there seems to be quite a lot of different genres at play. How would you best describe your music to a complete stranger?
A playful mix of pop, hip-hop and dancehall.

There are a lot of successful musicians coming out of Scandinavia at the moment. Is that encouraging for you as a Swedish musician?
That’s great! Obviously I’m thankful for all the great musicians that have put Scandinavian pop music on the map. Yet I really hope that my music stands and speaks for itself, and that it’s not likable just because it’s associated with the “Scandinavian pop music phenomenon”.

Do you think the Swedish music scene differs a lot from the rest of the world?
My impression is that a lot of Swedish musicians try to find their musical inspiration in international artists and I think that opens up for blends of musical styles and genres, collaborations and new sounds.

What have you got planned for the rest of 2016 and 2017? A full-length album perhaps?
Im just focused at the moment, writing music and playing video games. We are building something and there will be much more music coming out in the near future. Dont really want to give away too much right now but will have some real bangers for you soon. Or maybe just a bunch of selfies.

Photo credit: Giannina Panfichi

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