There comes a time when all you can do in life is to surrender to the experience, regardless of how difficult it may get. sir Was is a prime example of looking inward long enough to consciously address complex emotional conversations, and turning all of that soul searching into something beautiful. His latest project, Let The Morning Come, is a diary into which Joel Wästberg relentlessly pours his emotions out, opening up the door to a series of questions and realizations he’s carried in his life up until today. After going through an ultimate trial that compromised his physical existence, he’s gained a new life that is too precious to waste away. As he found solace in music, he also found new artistic ground that’s launched his career in a liberated direction. SPIN caught up with the man behind sir Was as he intimately spoke about his relationship to music, working on his latest LP, fighting for his health, and much more.
Who is behind the identity of sir Was and how did you come to life?
It’s me, Joel Wästberg. I was working as a musician, touring and doing sessions, and on busses, trains and airplanes I would always work on my own stuff. It was sketches for songs, projects that never were finalized until around 2014-2015 when I found myself in a period where a tour had ended, a love relationship had ended and I wasn’t sure
about anything. It felt like a breaking point in many ways. For some time it had slowly dawned on me that I needed to take my own musical ideas more seriously or I would become a bitter and frustrated person to be around.
Tell us about your sound – where does your style originate from and what have been your biggest visual, social, and sonic influences?
When I heard D’Angelos Voodoo when I was around 17, I was completely floored. That groove and sound was something I’d never heard before. I still go back to that album and get the same kind of feelings.
Also, almost 10 years later, I heard Dudley Perkin’s album A LIL’ LIGHT (produced by Madlib) and that also was a big thing for me. Suddenly rap spoke to me. I heard the words, felt the words, it resonated in me. That album also led me to J Dilla. But I started out as a saxophone player and was active up until my early 30’s. I was very serious and as a teenager I listened to a lot of Charlie Parker, Miles, Coltrane, Weather Report etc. Alongside with that I listened to music that my parents had lying around. Chicago (Chicago II), The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell etc.. Vinyls they had at home basically… I also liked Rage Against The Machine’s album from 1992 and for a short time I played guitar in rock band with some friends.
As I got older, while I studied at the jazz program at university, I also got in contact with postmodern stuff like John Cage and Morton Feldman alongside music from Mali, South Africa etc. A lot of different flavors basically.
How has your songwriting/production process evolved through time?
I am not sure but I feel like I’ve become better at finding the core of what I want to express and peel off the “unnecessary” layers. I am not sure that’s necessarily true but that’s what I’m aiming for.
What ideas, processes, etc. have you been exploring lately to generate inspiration or new musical concepts?
For my latest album Let The Morning Come, I’ve been more focused on the recording process, getting the sound right before it’s in the computer. Room, microphones and preamps. In general, just working on letting any musical idea flourish before my judgmental mind comes in and kills the idea with some negative “what is this pathetic idea?!”
way of thinking. I have listened to so much music and still do, so I have many influences mixed together. I just want to see what comes out without trying to sort and put them in different boxes. It’s more fun that way, and the only way I know.
How do you define and perceive success? What’s your journey been this year in the pursuit towards it?
For me personally; If I can keep on doing what I like without having to get a day job that doesn’t interest me I would say that is a success, a huge success.
You’ve just released your record, Let The Morning Come, which sonically and lyrically sets a vulnerable, yet at times, somberly optimistic tone that hints at the album’s great amount of depth –
Paint to us the universe surrounding this project. What themes are the driving force of this album?
Well, I started to make this album in a playful way, just trying things out and after a while I realized I was making an album. I was singing about love, pain, fear, and relationships with people around you and with yourself. It felt good. I was on to something. Then I got the information that I was carrying a hereditary disease that manifests in strokes.
Obviously that had a big impact on me and inevitably it would affect the themes of the lyrics. Pretty quickly the first shock turned into an intense feeling of being alive. It might sound a bit pretentious but I actually felt more aware of the things in life that I get to enjoy.
It also led to some important honest conversations with people close to me. Conversations I had dreaded for many years but that I knew I needed to have. I experienced a sort of high and the songs just came flooding one might say. A couple of moths later I had a stroke. It took some months to recover but today I’m fully functioning. I’m lucky that the stroke wasn’t bigger than it was. I hope the album is life affirming to listen to, something that brings joy and inspiration to the listener.
What track was the most challenging to record? Which one was the most enjoyable? Which had the most to say?
I wrote the last verse on the song “One Day” from bed. I still had brain fog after the stroke so that was a bit challenging to record.
“I Wanna Feel Like That” was really fun. For a long time I’ve been aiming to write something you can dance to, I don’t know if I’ve succeeded but I hope it’s at least somewhat danceable.
What track had the most to say? Hard question, but I would say “Time To Let It Out” or “Spend A Lifetime.”
If you had to give a title to the current stage you’re at in your career, what would it be?
“Work In Progress”
In what ways do you wish to inspire up and coming artists/producers that are aiming to get their creative work out into the world?
Learn from others but most importantly, follow your instinct, your gut. Listen to what makes you happy and follow that feeling. What you yourself might perceive as a flaw might actually be your unique voice. Try not to worry too much about what others might think of your work, because it’s impossible to know anyway! Give your ideas a chance before deciding they’re useless. And most importantly, have some fun. By the way, this is what I tell myself everyday.
What’s next for sir Was?
In these weird pandemic times it’s hard to know for sure but I’m looking forward to keep making music and play live shows.
Take a chance now and manifest something:
Any last words for the SPIN-verse?
Thank you for having me.
Melt away the day with sir Was’s Session below! For more SPIN Sessions, head over to SPIN TV.