Interview: Mikhael Paskalev
For Fans Of: Sondre Lerche, Daughter, Here We Go Magic, Joywave, TEEN,
Norwegian singer/songwriter Mikhael Paskalev whose U.S. debut EP, Sayonara Saigon, arrived recently on Mom+Pop. Paskalev has been on the road since the 16th, largely supporting Courtney Barnett and San Fermin. After studying in Liverpool at the Institute of Performing Arts, Paskalev has spent the past two years touring the world, relentlessly, releasing a debut LP in Europe and Australia, that spawned the single, “I Spy”, whose video has become a YouTube sensation with over 1.7 million views and over 5.5 million plays on Spotify. The four-song Sayonara Saigon EP is filled with entrancing tales from the bewitching Paskalev. Shamelessly catchy and utterly winsome; from the raw, acoustic openings of “I Spy” to the cinematic goodbye of closer “Sayonara Saigon”, inspired by watching Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken in ‘The Deer Hunter’, the Sayonara Saigon EP is both intelligent and irresistible. On stage Paskalev is a natural, all charismatic hips and electric energy – “Swaying from smooth, enchanting delicacy to a howling croon in a heartbeat,” raves The Line O fBest Fit.
Mikhael Paskalev is pop music with roots in indie and alternative country rock. Inspired by names such as Paul Simon, The Shins, Edward Sharpe, The Mamas and the Papas and the Everly Brothers. Paskalev’s set is dynamic and varies from songs accompanied only by his nylon-strung guitar, to a six-piece band with the occasional trumpet and a circus of energy. The songs are mainly recognised by the instrumentation and the strong melodies, at times shamelessly catchy, but never leaves a lovely and raw soundscape.
Our staff writer, Molly Mollotova had the chance to catch up with Mikhael in between tour dates, check out the interview below.
So how’s the tour going?
It’s going great. We just left Dallas and are on our way to Nashville. We’ve only gotten one day off so far, so we’re all very tired. We’re on the road now actually and I’ve been watching Saving Private Ryan.
Is this your first time touring in the U.S.?
No, actually this is our 3rd time. The first time we were all just really excited to be touring outside of Europe, but each tour has been unique.
In your video for “I Spy” you do a nice rendition of Tom Cruise in Risky Business and for “Jive Babe”, you’re basically tied up and taped down by a beautiful woman. Is there anything you WON’T do for your music?
Haha, yeah absolutely. When I was trying to figure out what to do for “I Spy”, I knew I kinda wanted to dance because I knew I would be embarrassing myself a bit or like showing something of myself that most people don’t usually do in a music video. Then it was just a matter of figuring out how I wanted to do it. I don’t know, it just came to mind in a way because it felt like the song. It needed something like that and the same thing for “Jive Babe”, for me the song just fit that kind of a vibe. It was more natural than me doing something crazy or like wacky, if you know what I mean.
Absolutely. The videos completely fit. I just thought it was interesting because newer artists don’t seem to really be adventurous with their music videos and you don’t really expect to see that anymore. That’s what’s so sad about MTV, you never get to see videos and they’re totally still a thing and they are awesome, when people take the time to do something different.
I definitely think so as well, for sure. People just tend to think like “Alright, let’s stand here and with our music instruments and pretend that we’re playing” and there will be some love story or some bullshit and they think that that’s enough. They think people just want to see their faces and that’s it. I really like movies, so to me it’s like my time to work with people and make something that will fit instead of just “Hey, look at me in my tough-man clothes.”
Speaking of liking movies, are you a history buff as well? The reason I’m asking is because of this independent label you’ve got going on, Pretty Boy Floyd. Is that a historical reference?
Oh yeah! You know about that gangster? Yeah, definitely, he was a cool dude.
So you just recently performed at CMJ in New York and you’ve previously performed SXSW. Do you have a favorite?
I think SXSW was a little bit more fun for me. That was my first time in the states and it was with my old band. It was just like, from the moment we got on the plane we just popped a bottle of champagne and patted ourselves on the back and thought we were pretty cool. You know what I mean? We were just pretty happy going anywhere further than Europe. Texas is cool, for sure, as is New York, but the two are completely different.
So are you a BBQ fan? Have you had any Texas BBQ?
I didn’t have it this time, but last time, when I was at South By, and it was great. I don’t remember what the place was called, but it was down by the river in Austin.
Well, I mean, you have to. If you’re not a vegetarian and you come to Texas, you have to have some BBQ.
Yeah, I’m definitely not a vegetarian.
So you’ve been touring with Courtney Barnett and San Fermin. How has that been going?
Yes. Well, Courtney Barnett, Fun Fun Fun Fest, that was our last date. We had been together for about three weeks and now it’s just me and San Fermin. It’s going great. They’re all really good guys. We travel in three different vans though, so most of the day is just traveling. So once we get to the venue, we just hang out for a bit, but we’re all kind of like tired people. We just sit together or drink beer and then play the gig. We’ve only had one day off so far, so we’re a tired bunch. But we’re having fun.
Speaking of beer, do you have a favorite?
Beer? I drank Lonestar yesterday, I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, but it’s not bad. Shiner Bock’s not bad either. My favorite beer? I actually have one I used to drink in Liverpool. It’s a South African beer. It’s quite nice.
Is there a current artist that you’re a fan of that’s in a different genre music as you, that you’d like to work with or cover a song?
Oh yeah, probably loads. I’m really bad at remembering them on the spot. But somebody that’s really different than me, but that I really like, but maybe Jai Paul or his brother A.K. Paul. They’re like indie-soul. Jai Paul has a song called “Jasmine” that was really huge last year and his baby brother just released a single like two months ago. They’re just really cool dudes.
What do you think are three essential things that are required of someone who’s going to be successful in music? “Successful” being defined as however you define it.
Well, if successful means however I define it, then the number one thing is to be proud of what you’re doing in yourself. This is going to sound negative, but I hate people who are lie “I’m doing music for others” or “It’s so cool that I get to help people with my songs” and all of that. I mean, the times that you do actually hear something like that, it’s very nice, even though it feels like almost too much of a compliment. I’m not saying I don’t like to hear that, but I’m just also saying that most people that do music do it for an egotistical reason and they want to fulfill themselves, if you know what I mean. So, in terms of success in that way, I’d just say, do whatever you want and do it the best you can. If you like it, hopefully others will like it. Because it’s definitely not going to be the other way around. If you don’t like what you’re doing, I don’t think anyone else will.
I read that you studied at Liverpool at the Institute of Performing Arts. I know a lot of artists opt out of going to school. How do you feel about musicians that don’t receive formal training and do you think it’s important?
No, I don’t think it’s important at all. I don’t think me or any one of my friends that have kind of done well have any particular school to thank for it. But sometimes when you go to school, you’ll be apart of an environment that’s got nothing to do with the teachers, but other like-minded people that have just as much of a drive as you when it comes to music. The only reason why I went to school was just because I didn’t have expectations that I’d be doing my own songwriting and performing professionally. So, I thought I had to have and education and have a “B-Plan” which would be to be a music teacher when I reach 33 – and that option’s still there.
What’s the story with the title of your EP, Sayonara Saigon?
Well, it’s the closing track of my debut album. It’s a song that I wrote after watching a movie called The Deer Hunter. The song is about war and about not going to war. It’s telling a story in an innocent kind of way. It’s not graphic or anything like that. It’s like the movie Blue Velvet with Eva Lynch. So, some horrible shit is happening in the movie, but at the same time there’s the song “Blue Velvet” going on over the top of it, which makes it a hell-of-a lot scarier and freakier. I just wanted to write about something that was very serious and very big, but not make into pointing my finger and saying “Do not go to war!”. It would be too literal and embarrassing to do that.
Do you have any side projects or musical experimentation that we need to know about?
I play in another band, which is one of my best friend’s, she’s called Billie Van. She plays in my band and then I play in her band. Whenever I’m off, I’ll go with her and whenever she’s off, she’ll go with me. I do that when I’m not doing my own thing. And then another really good friend of mine, Joe Wills, who plays guitar in my band and who also produced my album, I’m a little bit involved with his indie label called Obscenic Records. They just released a single by a band called All We Are, in a couple of weeks we’ll be releasing some songs by James Canty, which is another good friend of ours. So, there are definitely other things going on and I try to be involved with things other than just myself.
Well, I think that’s it, but I do have one favor to ask – and you can say no. I was wondering if it would be possible for you to take a “tour selfie” for me?
A tour selfie? I’m at a gas station right now, so if you don’t mind that I’ll get it to you straight away!
#TourSelfie : Mikhael Paskalev Edition
Paskalev plays tonight in Nashville before continuing on his North American trek for seven more stops. You can find out more about Mikhael and his adventures here. Check below for more tour dates:
11/12/2014 – Cincinnati, OH @ Woodward Theater
11/15/2014 – Portland, ME @ SPACE Gallery
11/16/2014 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
11/18/2014 – St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club
11/19/2014 – Madison, WI @ The Frequency
11/20/2014 – Rock Island, IL @ RIBCO
11/21/2014 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas