To a certain extent, frequency of use of the term ‘wunderkind‘ has to be directly proportional to the age of the writer, right? Though if that hypothesis were indeed true, this writer would certainly use it a lot more. So fuck it.
Sweden’s Carl Garsbo—better known by his stage-/recording name, Kasbo—is kinda young, sure, but that’s a relatively minor fact when set in relief to the vast, atmospheric, cinematic music he crates. His debut full-length, Places We Don’t Know, is due out stateside March 23rd and we wanted to take the opportunity to talk with him about his influences, what it’s like to write with someone else’s voice in mind, and Smeagol, obvs.
raven + crow: Alright, first off, thanks for taking the time to talk. We really like what we’ve heard from you so far and were curious to learn more about you. How long have you been making music?
Carl Garsbo (AKA Kasbo): Of course! Thanks for having me. I’ve been producing since like 2012, I believe. But I’ve played guitar for probably 12 years, and was making 2-note-blink-182-inspired melodies since back then.
Ah—you’ve come a long way then. Influences are tricky to talk about, but since you already kicked it off with the grandfathers of pop-punk, what’s some music that you feel inform your sound? Or who do you admire, musically?
I feel Frank Ocean might be my main one. His album Blonde is such an incredible journey in terms of soundscape. I love songwriting, chords, melodies, but I think what separates artists are mainly soundscapes, and in that, Blonde is masterful (obviously so is the writing). He puts you in so many different moods, places, time periods, without necessarily using conventional samples, like having chirping birds to make the listener feel like they’re in a forest. Like, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s easy. Frank Ocean can put you in places with a synth and a chord progression. To me, that is magic, and it’s definitely something I strive to achieve with my music.
Well-put. Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? Do your songs start with snippets of melody or do you start with beats first usually? What happens when you sit down to write a song?
I usually find samples the most inspiring. Like I said, I feel soundscape is a majority of what sets an artist aside. Like HOW a melody is played or delivered rather than the notes it’s playing. So for me, I find a lot of key parts of a song rely on the samples I use and how I use them, so a lot of the time I start with a sample. That’s how I get something that sounds completely unique to me.
And, technically speaking, what are you using when you do so—do you start with a guitar? Or keys? Or are you looping on an app or in some software you like to work with?
For most of the album it was mostly written on keys and then I added things like guitar. Now I’m writing more with a guitar from the start. It’s fun ’cause it’s easier to find more unconventional and interesting chord progression. A lot of the time spent making chords and melodies, it’s a lot of muscle memory involved, so you end up writing similar things. I like to start every session with a new tuning, so I even if I wanted to play the same thing over again I couldn’t.
Interesting approach. How does the collaborative aspect work with you and vocalists? Are you usually sending scratch tracks for them to build off or something?
Yeah, I usually have songs I think would fit a certain singer and I’ll send them stuff and see if anything inspires them, if it does, they start writing a demo track. After that, there’s usually some going back and forth before there’s a finished product.
And how do you decide who you want to work with on a particular song?
Usually, it’s very apparent to me what I want the song to be and therefore what type of voice/writing/melody’s I’d want to achieve that.
I know you’ve played out a good bit, opening for Glass Animals and the like (which must have been awesome)—what were the challenges in bringing music that’s largely composed electronically—on keys and keyboards—to the live setting? That seems like something that could throw a lot of electronic producers and home-recorders for a loop.
It’s definitely tricky. There’s a balance there. It needs to be fun for me and needs to be fun for the audience. If I’m sitting down playing a keyboard that might be fun for me, but it’s not too interactive, not too interesting to look at someone’s hands (usually at a distance) move slightly. I try to take parts that carry the key role of the specific songs and play them in the best manner, whether it be drums, vocal chops, or guitar parts. It’s definitely tricky when you’re by yourself but it’s a fun challenge.
I’ve talked to other musicians in Scandinavian countries—mainly Iceland—who contribute their country’s musical and creative productivity to long, dark, cold winters when there’s basically nothing else to do other than hang out and create art. Would you say that’s the case in Sweden? You guys have produced some of our favorite musicians.
That’s exactly the case—haha. Whenever it comes up in a discussion when I’m with other Swedish musicians we always half-joke about how it’s so dark and depressing outside, so it inspires us to sit inside and write emotional melodies. I find it easier working here than in LA for example.
Yeah, Lykke Li literally lives up the street from us in sunny Los Angeles and I’m like “I’m jazzed you’re here and loving life…but you were kinda a lot more productive when you lived in Sweden and I really miss all that music, so.”
Haha—yep. I think also ’cause Sweden can be more boring; like in LA it’s like, “Hey do you wanna go to this rooftop bungee jump party that George Clooney invited me to, also Salt Bae is in charge of the BBQ”, there’s a lot of distractions. In Sweden, it’s easier to stay focused and lose yourself in your work, for better and for worse. It’s also easier to kind of separate myself from the “scene” and do my own thing when I’m here in Gothenburg cause literally no one here is doing the type of music I do.
SALT BAE! You’re ruining LA’s music and arts scene! And, to be fair, I do think Ms. Li has a new album coming out soon.
After all of these singles, we finally got an album announcement from you a few weeks back—congrats, that’s so exciting. What compelled you to work towards the more traditional wholistic release of a full-length than, say, doing singles whenever the mode strikes?
Thank you! I think the idea of not having every song sounding like a single. With an album, you have more freedom to move along the whole creative spectrum. If I were to release a 40-second song of ambient noise and some distant pad playing as a single people would be like “What the fuck?” but in an album, I can do that.
Totally true. Can you talk about the album cover at all (below)? What’s going on there? We’re intrigued.
It’s a cover I made together with Anders Brasch Willumsen, an incredible designer. We wanted to achieve the sense of wonders of the world, and surrealism from within a safe, somewhat sterile place. Which is why there’s a cloud randomly floating in this room. It’s supposed to mirror the album concept, which is about romanticising the naiveté of youth and beauty of it.
Likewise, the visuals for “Bleed It Out”—the single you released with Nea a little while back—are very cool. Who did those and what’s going on there?
This guy Andreas Barden made them. When briefing him, there wasn’t really a specific direction I wanted to take, I wanted to keep the hyperrealism vibe of my artwork and felt he’d do a great job. The goal was to have a visual that matched the energy and fit the aesthetic to further the idea of the song. I think he nailed it.
Yeah, totally agree. It’s very much a visual realization of the music in a way. Switching topics a bit, I’m wondering if you ever get annoyed at people focusing on your age in the media? I feel like every time I hear someone introducing, like, Declan McKenna, for instance, it’s always about how young he is and how much he’s done so far, which I get, but he’s also just a really great musician regardless of his age. I feel like, if I were him…or you, that’d get under my skin sometimes.
I honestly don’t really think about it. I feel like there are so many super young producers out there that are doing bigger things than I am so I feel a lot of people are getting used to the fact that there’s no age tied to ideas and creativity.
Fair enough. I know you played stateside a decent amount last fall, but looks like you’re touring here again this spring and summer—are you excited to come back?
Extremely. Especially cause I’ll be playing my entire album out for the first time. That’s gonna be really cool.
Yeah, we’d love to see you when you’re in LA—the Teragram’s a great space. The name, Kasbo—some kind of rough combination of the phonetics of your first and last names or does that come from somewhere else?
Yeah kind of, it’s more from my last name only. In school people called me Garsbo, which kind of got more and more extreme, kind of like how Smeagol slowly morphed into Gollum over time, Garsbo morphed into Kasbo (apologies for the reference, I just finished rewatching The Lord Of The Rings trilogy).
Oh, sir, you never have to apologize to me for a Lord of the Rings reference. Ever. Thanks for taking the time to talk, and take off that ring for god’s sake!
You can pre-order Kasbo’s debut full-length via iTunes, listen to tracks from it on his site, and hear that and more (like a shit-ton of awesome remixes he did, many with free downloads) on SoundCloud; find tour information on his site and Facebook page.