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Track By Track: Mikhael Paskalev ‘Heavy’

From Hitchcock heartbreak film fantasies to inspirational drinking sessions to finding his political courage, the Norwegian indie-pop artist gives us an in-depth breakdown of his latest album.

From Hitchcock heartbreak film fantasies to inspirational drinking sessions to finding his political courage, Norwegian indie-pop artist Mikhael Paskalev gives us an in-depth breakdown of his new album, ‘Heavy’, set for release on September 8th.

All words below by Mikhael Paskalev.

“Jet Plane”
“My girlfriend, about three years ago, was moving to Budapest to study psychology. We’d been together for about six years and all I did was travel and she just had to deal with it. And the moment she was leaving was pretty heartbreaking for me. I hadn’t had those feelings in many, many, many moons — potential jealousy or heartbreak or missing someone. It just dawned on me that I’ve always been the one leaving and it’s a lot easier than the one being left.

“I’ve always wanted to do a music video for it so I could depict how I meant it to me, saying goodbye to your girlfriend at the gate of the airport and then the moment she’s walking through the gate everything turns to slow motion and your heart is pounding and it turns into a Hitchcock movie where all the scary shit that could happen happens, but they’re all just dudes winking at her or she’s not caring about you anymore or all that kind of very dry, mundane, everyday sort of girlfriend/boyfriend thing. But a full on Psycho movie.

“Lyrically I tried bringing out that — ‘tried to call you up to tell you a joke but you’ve got this guy from a movie coming up to light your smoke.’ Which is sort of what it’s about. It’s stupidity, but that’s what you think — a guy that looks like he’s from a movie coming up to light her smoke — and she doesn’t even smoke! And you’re like ‘she’s probably going to start smoking as well!'”

“This is a song that I wrote firstly with a shuffle beat, and then I started playing with the bass, which is one of the first times I did that kind of stuff. I usually write on an acoustic guitar or piano, and then I’ll add production and stuff. There’s things to be said for both of those methods but that’s what I did with this song — started off with the beat and jammed along with the bass and found a groove and added some chords with the electric guitar. The demo that I did a couple of years back sounds, arrangement wise, pretty much what it is now, except for maybe a couple of kooky sections here and there, but it was a pretty easy process from coming up with that main vibe. Once in a while when you lay down chords, bass, drums, everything, and you save the vocals and think fuck it — I just need to add something on there. I was lucky, I did it once for the verses — not the whole entire song. That was the main melody that got stuck. In terms of lyrics on that song, it’s pretty fragments of lyrical lines that mean something to me. They all have a thread about dreamers or people with a twinkle in their eye. I read a press review once and it said something about people that have a ‘cock-eyed self-belief,’ so they shouldn’t really have self-belief but they’re such wonderful people because they have self-belief and I respect that. So, it’s about dreamers, in a way.”

“Needles In Our Hearts”
“One of the first songs I started writing for this album. I kind of wanted to make something dumb to be honest. I wanted to make — not that I would call Tom Petty dumb — just something that’s straight ahead. You can’t call it nothing, but what it is. So I just started trying to do that and had an acoustic out and pretended that I was playing in the Traveling Wilburys or something. And then got the song to an OK level.

“Further down the line I got help from my mate James Canty, who also helped out on a couple of other tracks on this album, which we’ll get to. He and I wrote the lyrics together on this track, which is was a lot of fun. It’s about jamming tranquillisers into your heart because you don’t want to feel the loss of a girl, or something like that. The tranquilliser being other girls.”

“That was also a co-write kind of thing. I had a bit of a writers block going for a while. I was really sick and tired of myself and couldn’t feel inspired. And also I’m used to playing in bands and having a good time and then maybe go back to my room and write something. But this time around, I used to live in Liverpool and now I’m living in Oslo. Everybody was busy and everyone was being adults, my girlfriend was living in Budapest — all that kind of stuff. So, I needed some company, basically.”

“The main guy that helped me out was James Canty, but I also went to Sweden once, to try and write with a guy called Peter, from a famous and amazing band from Peter, Bjorn and John. So we spent three days together, getting to know each other and we wrote like seven songs together or something. Not all completely done, but all of them were really good. Most of them me and Peter haven’t finished, but this is the song that really felt like it needed to be finished. So, I came back here to Oslo and pin-pointed the storyline of the lyrics.”

“This is the last song that was made for this album. I am a dad, which is a weird thing to say, even though he’s nine months old, yesterday. It’s pretty fucking wild and he’s great but in terms of the song — obviously you’re inspired to write about something as life-changing as that. It’s about the feeling that I’m — maybe not a loser in his eyes, but just a regular dad. He’s going to hate me! He’s going to love me for like another five years but slowly it’s going to turn into a hate, like I do with my dad. I’m full of love for my dad, but he has to call me like four times before I pick up. I guess that’s what it’s about, how I’m treating my dad, who does nothing but walk around and think about how I’m doing… and I don’t care. I’m thinking, ‘Fuck, I’m going to be at the other end of that!’

“So the first verse is sort of about how I’m going to try and be everything for him, or at that point her (I didn’t know if it would be him or her — we didn’t know, which was nice to write that song unaware of that fact, which made me realise how unimportant that would be).

“But that second verse is more kind of like I’m slowly realising — I’m calling myself the man of the hour in that first verse, which is a very typical way of thinking about someone who’s just become a dad, and I have that thought that I need to be the man of the hour and always be prepared to make us happy. The second verse is more about me realising just how he made us happy and now he’s gone off to college with his school mates and I’m calling him 50 times a day.”

“This is maybe my favourite track off the album, if I’m allowed to say so myself. I’ve always been about writing about real things, but often I’ll have a tendency to go towards ‘Shotgun,’ or ‘Jive Babe,’ or definitely ‘I Spy,’ wonky lyrics that don’t really say anything. I don’t mind people doing that but sometimes I get pretty fed-up with myself.

“A year ago I watched a documentary about the coral reefs, and it definitely had a big impact on me. It feels weird when I have a platform to say something, like either on my Facebook or in my music or on Instagram — not that I’m really active on any social media, but I have followers and I don’t really say anything. I don’t really know enough to feel steady when I’m saying shit. I’d feel ashamed if I said something wrong. The whole point is that it makes you feel like a coward after a while. I was sort of activating myself politically in that song but kind of funnily enough I still didn’t.

“Basically that song is just me talking about myself and how I talk about myself or making up stories about chicks with red lipstick on and a red Corvette kind of thing. Like, ‘Jesus are you going to do that whole saga again?’ It’s just sort of a song about corruption and chicks and money and pearl necklaces and pearls being buried under the ocean and things being on fire. There’s a line in there that says — ‘while the world is losing corals you think you hold the colours in your eyes.’ It feels pretty daft to quote myself but that’s what the song is about. I think all these colours are beautiful and thank god for me to be able to see them, instead of appreciating the fact that they’re already there without my eyes. And in terms of production I think it’s the coolest track on the album as well. Me and my co-producer had a long jam out in the middle section and it sort sounds like a cinematic horror movie, which we tried to do to kind of instil that idea.”

“I flew in James Canty to write with me. I didn’t have shitloads of money, he didn’t have shitloads of money, but I had enough to scrape together a plane ticket for him and some pocket money to hang out with me and buy him beers every day. We hadn’t done that before writing with someone and it feels really weird. It’s a very personal thing and really scary because what you do is you strike a chord on the guitar and go ‘Oh baby!’ there’s nothing more scary than doing that in front of someone else live. We just got pissed and kept putting off the fact that we said we were going to write something. We went to the pub, came back, drank some more, listened to a lot of good music, and then just as we knew it was late enough for us to go to bed, we gathered the courage to go, ‘Okay let’s just try.’ We sat up for one hour to make some bullshit before we’d go to bed, and we wrote ‘Witness.’ We obviously didn’t finish it, but the whole kind of verse and chorus was there and the rest of the time we spent nailing the lyrics.”

“Bad Boy”
“James Canty helped me out with this one too. I started the thing out and got it to 50% in terms of lyrics, but it was one of those things where I got tired of myself. I’m probably going to love it more than anything else in like a year or something, but instead of saying something about what’s going on I’m just making up this story about a best friend of a girl and the girl has a boyfriend and he’s not able to tell her how he feels. It’s always cinematic in my head and makes me think of movies like ‘Boogie Nights’ from Paul Thomas Anderson. I think it’s got really vivid colours in there and lyrically it has a clear identity and I really do love it.”

“These are my favourite lyrics that I’ve ever done and this is where I nail what I was talking about. I’m just telling a love story, which of course I made up, but it’s also half true in terms of my own love and relationships.

This song is just a love relationship revolving around the word ‘push.’ Push can be an versatile word – it can mean a positive or a negative. It made me think of how often you hear the word ‘push’ from like when a mother is about to give birth, to when you go through life and you’ve got to ‘push’ to get through it or you’ve got to ‘push’ and become successful. And then sticking that word into a love story and the lives of two people and what it would mean for them throughout their lives in some ways. This is all sounding pretty cheesy but I think I nailed it in my lyrics. Anyone who’s reading this, if you’re cringing, go through and read the lyrics. They’re pretty good.”

“The Surf”
“This came after me and my girlfriend argued and it seemed like we weren’t going to get back together kind of vibe. We left each other in the heat of an argument — not left left, but left the same room. She’d gone out and I was sat by the piano, sobbing. Well, not really sobbing. I just realised how sad a dude I just sounded like. But letting emotion pour over, I guess I milked that situation for what it was. It was just a feeling of ‘Okay, what’s going to happen if we don’t stay together? She’s going to find another dude but she’s not going to like him as great. You’re going to have a baby but it’s not going to be my baby, blah blah blah.’ The normal things. The tagline of the song is if you’re going to drown girl or boy or whatever — ‘you better love the surf.’ If you’re talking about love it is going to get you in a negative sense and you’re going to drowned by it. You get hurt by someone who loves you in some ways.”

“Ride Or Die”
“This almost didn’t make the album because it was away from the rest of the album in a lot of ways, but we just couldn’t leave it behind. The production was great and the sound was cool and we thought ‘fuck it, let’s give them 11 songs and give them a little bit too much, rather than too little.’

“I wrote this song also with James Canty. This is the final song I wrote with him. The other songs that we wrote together we would jam on acoustic guitar and then work very organically. This song was different. We didn’t know what the heck we wanted to do and I sat down on the drum set and acted like a joke and then he pulled out an electric guitar with distortion on it and acted like a joke and this song started happening. I think that you can feel conceptually it has a bit more loose and fun vibes in mind. It’s about me and him basically — just ride or die. Obviously a huge hip-hop reference, but more just about us two boys always sticking together and not caring about love, or all the other bits that I’ve been moaning about. It’s about brotherly love — the kind that’s just as important but doesn’t get talked enough about in movies.”