Edge Radio Recommended: sir Was – Digging A Tunnel

Gothenburg-based artist sir Was, the musical alias of Joel Wästberg, has released his debut album Digging A Tunnel, out March 10, 2017 on City Slang via Inertia Music.

Following on from his brilliant music debut EP Says Hi in June last year, Digging A Tunnel, is an album that constantly bucks trends and confounds expectations. Traveling as widely as Wästberg has – and filtered through a love for hip hop – the album, comprised of 10 original songs, is as unrestrained and spirited as the music that inspired it. Wästberg explains, “Moondog, Bob Hund, My Bloody Valentine, D’Angelo, J Dilla, Thomas Mapfuno. Liturgy, Dudley Perkins, Sly and the Family Stone, The Beatles, Mahavishnu Orchestra… I don’t know. I listen to a lot of stuff!

sir Was played almost all the instruments on his debut, including drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, percussion, clarinets, and saxophone. “Everything except the bagpipe and the harmonica… Those I captured with my iPhone,” says Wästberg. Much of Digging A Tunnel was recorded between autumn 2014 and spring 2015 in Wästberg’s favoured Gothenburg studio space, Stampen, but the album is lent its especially singular atmosphere by the strange background noises the producer employs, many from field recordings he compiled during his travels, whether maracas in Mexico or flutes from another distant land. It boasts, too, an effortless flow, reflected in Wästberg’s vocal delivery, which shifts from the aforementioned falsetto to a lazy spoken word delivery that circles round the beat rather than landing on it.

Inspired by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, sir Was began studying jazz saxophone at an early age and was soon flying around the world to perform with a variety of ensembles. His more unlikely experiences included jamming with a pyjama-clad Sean Lennon in his New York apartment and escaping the 2012 coup d’état after playing at a festival in Bamako, Mali. Though he later moved back to Gothenburg, he also spent time at the University of Kwasulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, where he developed an interest in pan-African rhythms that was furthered by travels through Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Soon he was making a living not from his saxophone – as he had since 2010 – but from other musical adventures, including playing with José González. Eventually, however, the time came to strike out on his own. “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, break ups – 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 5,000 people hear it, as long as it comes out of my studio.

Words: City Slang/Inertia