Gothenburg-based hip-hop electronic musician sir Was is launching his debut EP, ‘Says Hi’, with a London show on 1 June at The Old Blue Last.
Tickets are available now.
“It took me 15 fucking years to feel brave enough to do this,” admits Joel Wästberg, the Swedish producer behind the sir Was alias. “To reach the point where I could let myself do this was a long struggle. But once I felt less scared, it was kind of easy. It just came out, like: ‘This is the sound!’”
Wästberg began playing music as a child.
“I started with the cello, but I was too young,” he explains. “It was boring, and I think my teacher was depressed. So I quit, and at the age of 10 I started to play sax. My other brothers also played instruments, so we had a piano, a bass, a guitar and even a drum kit for a couple of years. I played along to records on all of them.”
At the age of 18, Wästberg left his family home in the village of Frillesås, an hour or so outside Gothenburg, and studied jazz saxophone in a “folkhögskola” in the Swedish countryside. Initially inspired by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, he was soon performing with a variety of ensembles around the world.
But time spent at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa and travels through Mozambique and Zimbabwe caused him to question his musical identity. Suddenly more interested in pan-African rhythms and the work of post-modern composers like John Cage, he left his saxophone in Durban and returned to Gothenburg with a new mindset.
“I’d learned I’d rather play a beat that makes people dance, than play a fancy solo.”
So, after spending time playing with other local musicians like Jose Gonzalez, he decided to go it alone.
“I’ve been interviewing myself in the shower for years,” he jokes, “secretly dreaming about daring to put out my own music. But I finally felt ready to give myself the opportunity. I didn’t have a clear intellectual idea, but I had a gut feeling, an imagination of a sound.
“A lot was going on – big changes, breakups – and life felt shitty, but also open. I was broke, but I was starting to feel some kind of new feeling of… let’s call it freedom. I realised that I needed to make an album or I’d become bitter and angry. I thought: ‘If I don’t take myself seriously, I can’t take anyone else seriously either’. I don’t care if 5 or 5000 people hear it, as long as it comes out of my studio.”
‘Says Hi’ is set for release on 3 June.