Artist Info: sebastianhvass.com
Last summer, I stumbled upon a rather talented young musical artist. What stood out to me, as I sat in a smokey bar speaking with Sebastian Hvass, was how his process for making music didn’t follow the standard rules of songwriting. His methods felt more reminiscent of those found in visual and performing arts. For Sebastian Hvass’ new album ‘Nightlife,’ I wanted to reconnect to see if those processes remained.
His debut album ‘Flowers of Edo’ was constructed entirely by his hands. Jump forward one year, and the making of Sebastian Hvass new album takes a considerable shift in its dynamic. What was once the backroom studio project of one man is now the collective dynamic of a group of musicians. In other words, they’re more like a traditional band.
However, I must note that I use that word “tradition” very lightly because there is nothing traditional about Sebastian Hvass’ new album. Even though the dynamic of the songwriting process has evolved, the retention of his artistic process and conceptual composition are still there.
There is a concept to the record, and everything from composition, to photography and presentation, follows it.
Sebastian Hvass’ new album ‘Nightlife’, pulls inspiration from the dark and seedy moods of the witching hour and beyond, but as a metaphor for the dark side within ourselves–musically and lyrically exploring the carnal nature that exists within us all.
So much of the composure and the dynamic of the “band” have changed so much since we last spoke. As a result, I reconnected with Sebastian to get a better understanding of how the process and evolution have been for him.
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You mentioned that this album was constructed more as a collaborative “band” effort, in contrast to the previous ‘Flowers of Edo’ album. How was that process for you?
Well, it was a choice made to ground the project and develop a foundation to build upon. Inspired by our live concerts in 2016, I changed the sound drastically to a more dark & improvised rock sound.
Compared to Flowers of Edo, it turned out to be driven mostly by instincts rather than precise composing. Therefore, supporting the thematics on the album in a better way.
Do you feel the dynamic of the project changed, now that it contains the input of other musicians?
Definitely, even though I do all the final cuts, there is still a lot of roles and themes that just appeared randomly from Perry’s guitar or Magnus’ bowed bass.
We made a lot of the sounds on the album by feeding other instrument signals live through my guitar effects. It created a fascinating dynamic where two people would work on the same sound simultaneously. It created unsettling loops and big and monstrous alien howls.
Is ‘Nightlife’ working from a deeper conceptual idea like Flowers of Edo? Or is it more constructed like a traditional “band” album made up of a collection of individual tracks?
Hmm, though there doesn’t seem to be a binary timeline in the album, it does revolve around a particular idea of transformation.
Where ‘Flowers of Edo’ seemed to find solutions for personal affairs, a sort of self-healing strategy. Nightlife does the opposite. It looks into the dark corners of the soul and embraces the chaos. It wants to unfold the dirtiest version of the self and explore the skeletons in the deepest closets.
I recently found sides of myself that seemed more cruel and instinctive than my usual appearance. Though these newly found shadows of the mind rarely see the light of day. They still use a lot of the space in my reflections of the self.
Nightlife is the first attempt to use these shadows to create something. The shadows want to purge through the night, becoming increasingly potent and sexual.
Maybe it’s some hidden side of me that has become an extremely subdued part of my personality. Now, for the first time, it has scratched the surface and become visible to my eye.
So to answer the question, well yes, the idea behind the album is to investigate the idea of me transforming into this new purging self. The new album is set mostly through the eyes of a new self during the initial stages of transformation.
Were there any musical influences that you drew from for this particular album?
Not in the beginning, I was mostly trying to leave behind some old influences. I started this abandonment by adding drum machines. That didn’t pan out so well for me, so the drum machine tracks didn’t make the cut.
At some point, I started finding some inspiration in some of the most crooked Tom Waits songs. The ones where he would swing between a deep croon and screaming falsetto.
I also tried to get some voodoo vibes going. It was essential to me that the album sounded occult and mystic. So, I decided to find a bit of inspiration for this in African and Cuban music. However, it became quite challenging to find anything that sounded as dark as I wanted it too.
When we last spoke, during the time of the ‘Flowers’ album, you mentioned that when you play live, you and the band would often mix up different sections of the different songs to create a unique composition at each show. Is this still something you practice or are the songs more “set” now?
I think we still do this a bit, but not as much as back then. We are a bit more confident in the original structure of the songs now, mainly because a lot of the new songs are more trance-like. This process fits the whole band better. Everything is a bit liquid, so we build the songs around intuition.
On a more personal note, you also experiment with photography as a visual medium of creative expression. Do you bring these other mediums into the band?
I guess I do a lot, actually. But not in an obvious way. I usually create my music as a mood rather than a traditional song. The process will often start by making some artwork, cover or photo. Then I recreate the visual as music if that makes sense. It is not a specific obstruction in the band. It’s just the way my mind works.
Do you still work with elements of light and sculpture installation in collaboration with the live performances? If so, can you tell me about that?
I do, from time to time. I would never exclude it from the shows, but it’s become a bit more subtle. Hopefully, I will get the chance to play around with it more in the future.
Now that ‘Nightlife’ is out, what are you looking towards experimenting with?
My mind and my ideas change a bit too fast right now, so I can’t really make up my mind. Yet currently, I’m mostly interested in two things.
First, I want to dive deeper into this new found corner of my persona and be brave enough to let it take over my musical ideas. I want to create some musical composition that is not just a reflection of this shadow of the mind but is the shadow itself.
Second, I’ve been thinking a lot about making a catalogue-ish project of experimental instrumental collaborations with a network of people. I would release them as tapes and make strange pop-up style performances around the hidden corners of the city.
It would be a type of record label that doesn’t release any traditional records, doesn’t think in bands or concerts, but focus on ever-shifting collisions between individuals.
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