Jak of the trade: A trip with Sebjak through Stockholm and the road to his debut album
Of all the stereotypes to bless Scandinavia, extreme weather and musical aptitude are among its top hits. On this day, the sun beats down on Stockholm with welcome salutation, making for the seemingly perfect day to roam the streets with Sebjak – a talent for whom 2013 has been a manic run on every level. It unfolded with remix duties for CLMD, peaked with returning Size Records duties for ‘Liceu‘ alongside Marcus Schossow and was followed by emotive Spinnin follow-up ‘Kemi.’ Add tour duties scaling Miami, Brazil and a wealth of European hot spots and to have Sebjak on his own doorstep feels like a mean feat in itself. After many a chance encounter between fleeting visits to Stockholm and international shows, I am extended the courtesy of spending a day with the man who Ultra, Steve Angello and global club land as a whole have deemed one of Sweden’s most promising talents. With his all-star summer ID-turned-latest single ‘Feel You‘ finally on rotation, there has never been a more fitting time to test the anatomy of an artist from whom, rumor would have it, the best is yet to come.
In the journey from his studio to the heart of his hometown, I learn several key facts about the artist now lesser-known as Sebastian Jak. For starters, seeing him leave the studio is a rare and wonderful sight. As a self professed production hermit to whom “holidays are simply not an option,” the influx of international shows are sure to be a welcome respite to a man whose conviction to the craft may boarder on the unhealthy by a doctors terms. He points to the antisocial hours spent getting the mix right for “Liceu” and mastering his new found aptitude for vocal recordings. Even the labors of love can land heavy.
Secondly, his love for Stockholm has not been buckled by the prospect of American domination. Where many of his heavyweight peers upped-sticks to LA at the first possible opportunity, Sebastian points to the loves, quirks and subtle nuances that have made the city a dream-like canvas for his upbringing and musical aspirations alike. “It is so easy to meet people if you have some sort of social skills or can handle alcohol,” he laughs. “The cliché of our awful weather and abundance of studios in the city helps. In my own lifetime I have had four and you often find whole communities of artists sharing larger studio spaces. That is a unity I have not heard of happening anywhere else in the world to such an extent.”
That work ethic and overriding sense of community value are sure to have been a huge part of wooing phase that saw Ultra Music lap up the young Swede in the early part of 2013. Perched in a coffee bar just a stones-throw from his own studio, he enthusiastically recalls the day he first met Patrick Moxley in Stockholm – the accomplished label head who he admits to having not known of before their encounter, but found enough inspiration in to sign on the dotted line. “He told me a few things about the record industry and his vision of dance music and I just thought ‘shit, this is something I want to be a part of,’” he explains. “His plans and overall perspective of both US, European and the newer emerging markets is just really exciting for an artist in my position. From that day knew I wanted to do something for them.”
It started with a few singles, then whisper of an album. A barrage of paperwork and legal discussions later, Sebjak was scoped as the latest impending album monger to a label adamant in putting full-length dance albums back on the map. But as the prophecy goes, he who buys the ticket takes the ride. The ink may be set, but Seb is quick to admit that as the biggest challenge is sure to be the delivery of his most meaningful landmark to date. “It is always nice when people show you they believe in you, but once the paper is signed, the reality of your life starts. It is a whole new chapter that you have to deliver on, but that is the most positive type of pressure. Singing the contract feels so calm, but the storm comes quite quickly. You are being compared to these huge artists, which is great. That pressure makes me want to be a perfectionist about everything. Ultra feels like my home and I want to show them I was worth the enthusiasm.”
Even in the context of ferocious tides of change for digital music and saturated market values, an album deal isn’t simply handed to one on a silver plate. Quoting personal and professional faith, network and perseverance as some of the most vital points of concentration required, his own dotted timeline has left him to believe that the game is getting any easier to crack for generation y and its burgeoning talent pool. “It is so difficult to get people to really believe in you,” he admits. “You can’t show them just one or two tracks – every label wants to see that you have a bigger picture. There are so many producers out there and the labels these days are definitely taking fewer risks. Without a solid network and that initial spark of exposure, it can feel like a losing battle. It all sounds great now, but I feel like I have worked for a long time behind the scenes to even make this happen.”
When Sebastian asserts that he is no spring chicken to the European circuit, he isn’t lying. With remixes duties for Size alongside hometown peer AN21 dating as early as 2009 and enough national credentials to make us walking down the street a stop/start affair, his feels like a long road taken to the most positive avail. But every road worth traveling has its forks. He remembers ‘Follow Me,’ an early landmark for Positiva that propelled him towards national radio fame and a universally digestible blend of vocal house music. But with such an affliction for big bass and stern beats, ‘Follow Me’ was an eye opener as to the divergent trails an artist must take in order to truly discover himself. “The general reaction was cool and I was very grateful that it was successful, but when I listened to that track it didn’t sound like my future sound. It made me realize I wanted to refresh my sound for the bigger club crowds. The timing was great, because by the time I had truly discovered my vantage point guys like Size were willing to take me back. It has been one hell of a journey and you get lost on the way sometimes.”
Many would have us believe that this is the generation of mainstream crossovers, radio-friendly appeal and clubbing to be seen. Skeptically poised towards the VIP culture (“all that champagne and fancy people,” he laughs) that has overrun so many of his global pit stops, the Swedish artist seems to rise to the challenge of balancing dedicated crowds with passengers of the cultural buzz. “As your sound gets more popular you always risk that your sound is concentrated to the right people all the time, but that is just a risk you have to take when cool things start happening in your career,” he suggests. “Adjusting to a venue is half the fun – those VIP clubs love the big room sound and the clubber’s clubs love the tech and deep house grooves. If you can make both worlds dance then you are onto something good.”
A little VIP taming has evidently not hurt his creative process. We return to ‘Feel You,’ one of the first challenges in Sebjak’s leap from outspoken club asset to endorsed album smith. With no formal training in recording top lines and a sudden hunger for the tenterhooks of vocal dance music, a little time with Starsailor frontman James Walsh and a lot of swatting up appears to have paid off. Aurally and technically, the track is indicative of just how far Sebastian has gone to master his craft and take home a victorious statement for modern dance music. ”To actually know how to control a recording session with an artist and conduct them as to how to sing and deliver your track has been a gruelling learning curve. I had no education in this; it all came from asking friends and Googling stuff. You learn about microphones, different voices, various compressors and how to get the perfect sound. As a result, when you finally do, it is priceless. That discovery set the tone to what I want to accomplish as an artist. The sound will develop and this record will show a huge side of my creative scope, but I want it to be as perfected a process as it felt with this track.”
As we part ways, an otherwise open Sebastian employs some required secrecy about the timescale of his impending debut album. He hints to impending David Tort collaboration “Raveline” – A track said to unite the duos love for bass and acid to the avail of a full-bodied club offering. If the past 24-hours has taught me anything, it’s that this is one Swedish artist who opts for affirmative action over obnoxious promotion. Dashing for the last flight back to the cooler climates of London with little more than a peek at the tip of this industrious iceberg, there is little doubt that with the winds of change against his practiced wings, Sebjak is ready to play this game on his own terms.