Introducing himself to a worldwide audience, ASBJØRN is boldly making his impact with a raw confidence and glittery exterior that compliments his own self-discovery journey. After leaving his major label deal, the Scandinavian singer-songwriter took the time to really look within and reflect on who he was not only as an artist but also as a human. With the lyrics of his recent collaborative single ‘Be Human’ with WHO KILLED BAMBI ringing in his mind, he knew he needed to be authentic to himself.
Launching the Boyology series, he released a string of singles including ‘Young Dumb Crazy’, ‘Remember My Name’ and the newly revisioned ‘Be Human’ (Pride Version) which truly cemented who he was as an artist. Steering into the big experimental pop lane, he re-found his voice within big pulsating pop synths and beats that elevated his indie roots. Holding onto those experimental layers, he wants to keep pushing himself to evolve, and ‘Be Human’ is a perfect example of that.
I recently chatted with ASBJØRN about the vulnerable complexities behind his new single ‘Be Human’ which is highlighted by the two different versions of the track, reflected on the importance of queer representation, and talked about his Boyology music video series. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: The pride version of ‘Be Human’ is out now and hears you reinterpreting your collaboration with ‘WHO KILLED BAMBI’ which originally had this gorgeous orchestral arrangement. What was the creative process like for you to turn it inside out and reimagine it with a shiny new outlook?
ASBJØRN: It’s a strange story with that song as I actually originally wrote it on piano in 2018. It was a super quick song to write. The night before I had been to a show of a Norwegian artist called Ari, and I was so inspired by some of her chords and her melodies. So I think they were ringing in my head a little still, and at the same time it was at the peak of the ME TOO movement, mixed with all of my forever thoughts of masculinity and how to navigate that whole system. So the song came extremely quickly.
Contrary to how it was released, the pride version was actually the first production I made of it. I was walking past the Canal in Berlin and there was this marching band orchestra playing with horns, drums and everything. The song was so melancholic on piano, but then I heard that big band pop sound and it just changed everything for me. I headed home and produced something that was very similar to what was released now.
TB: With the orchestral version actually being the second version you interpreted the song through, was there something else you learnt about the song and your feelings about it through working with WHO KILLED BAMBI?
A: I think it kinda changed throughout the versions, and maybe it will keep on changing through performing it live. There is something about the lyric in the WHO KILLED BAMBI version and the original demo that is more doubtful, and I love that. There’s this vulnerability surrounding the question whether one belongs in the world at all, and I think that is a line that a lot of people who are just figuring themselves out could relate to. Whereas the pride version is the celebration when you have come to terms with who you are, or you’re nearly there.
TB: Lyrically the song does hear you questioning why we have to define ourselves to a gender and the prescribed stereotypes that come with it. As you explained there are two different emotions that are coming through the themes of the song. So what was the emotional vibe of the room like when you were writing it? Was it more leaning towards euphoric, or was it more emotional?
A: I think it felt really urgent. It felt like I was writing a diary entry more-so than a song. I tried to re-write the verses multiple times following the initial session as I felt like they were not living up to the chorus in the sense of catchiness, and that it was so diary-like that people wouldn’t be able to relate, or it’d be simply too much emotionally.
TB: “Can I just be human? Can I just be me?” is probably the most important lyric I’ve heard in a song all year. Let’s talk about writing that lyric. Hearing it back now, where does it take you?
A: With the recent experiences of playing it live at World Pride, West Coast Pride and the school tour I’m currently on, I see myself and people giving in while singing along. It’s a lyric that does make you think, and I see those thoughtful and expressive faces happening in front of me while they are hearing it for the first time.
TB: Queer representation is more important than it’s ever been with so many barrier being broken and conversations being started. So what does the word “pride” mean and represent for you?
A: To me pride means creating a safe space. I also don’t think I can ignore the historic beginnings of pride through the events of Stonewall, and having the strength in numbers. It’s all about realising that if we get together that all of us can change something, and can tear down systematic violence and other things that we want to change in society.
TB: Pride is often highlighted 1 time a year, when really it’s something we should talk about and celebrate everyday. Who are some queer creatives that you think we should be acquainting ourselves with?
A: One of your own, Josef Salvat! I had the pleasure of living in Berlin at the same as him so I got to learn a bit of his creative process as well as a bit of him. I think he’s really cool.
I also think Planningtorock is SO sick. My entire lockdown was soundtracked by me dancing alone to their music.
TB: You’re currently on a school tour where you’re talking to kids about gender identity, the future, and pop culture. And I think if you look at the progress of how far we’ve come in the past couple of years it’s really stemmed from young kids making a change. So from being in schools and having these conversations, what is something you’ve personally learnt from these kids?
A: I think something that is quite remarkable is that a lot of them are unafraid to talk about these matters. I start off by playing this 45 minute set with my band, and it’s usually in a gym, and we bring this huge PA so we are really blasting their brains out. It’s a real pop show. And then we talk in-depth bout these important topics.
I see their faces change throughout the show. Most of them start off looking so evil and making fun of the pink robe outfit I wear, and then they change and they start listening to the messages and understand why we are there. A lot of them ask questions at the end and will ask me things like “are you gay?” and I will be like “yeah I am”. And as trivial and unimportant of a question to us as it may seem, that may just be the most important question to them as they may have never met a queer person before.
TB: Okay let’s chat about the Boyology series of videos for ‘Young Dumb Crazy’, ‘Remember My Name’ and ‘Be Human’. What was the main messaging you wanted to highlight and the aesthetic reference you had to make it all cohesive?
A: I had a really tight budget, and it was lockdown so we could only have 10 people on set. I really had to conceptualise the fuck out of those videos. I knew I wanted to make them connected as that’s how I like to work musically, and it’s also how I visualised the tracks.
I was really into the ideology of the rite of passages as I found myself in the middle passage at the time with trying to figure out what things are when everything was changing but nothing was in place yet. Which is really identity itself.
Directly it was a love story I had experienced in Berlin, and it was one that had a grip on me. Filming those videos was the final hand in taking me out of whatever hurt was still left. Visually I knew I wanted the aesthetic to feel more real to compliment the vulnerable story. I wanted it to be less of me as a performer and more of me as a person.
TB: With ‘Be Human’ closing the chapter on this Boyology series, where is the next chapter of ASBJORN shifting towards? What is one of the most surprising things people are going to hear or get to know about you?
A: There’s definitely a lot to be surprised about on this album as it has been quite a while since I released my first two records. I was quite experimental and indie on those records, whereas this one hears me taking a big step into pop territory at the same time as still having experiments still.
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions. Are you ready?
A: I have morning brain but let’s do it!
TB: The emoji that best describes my new single ‘Be Human (Pride Version) is…
A: The dancing emoji!
TB: When I think of Australia I think of…
A: Funnel-web Spiders.
TB: The colour of my toothbrush at the moment is…
TB: A song I wish I wrote was…
AS: ‘Be Mine’ by Robyn!
TB: Pineapple on pizza is…
A: Something I wouldn’t do. But I’m also not a hater *laughs*.
‘Be Human (Pride Version) is out now!