Here’s a fun fact: the peak of the northernmost cliff in Europe, Kebnekaise MoHuntain in Alesso’s native Sweden, has the highest fixed point in the country. It’s 11:25pm on night one of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, and while Alesso is far from home he’s still standing way above ground.
A large portion of the crowd at the main stage, reserved for rock legends AC/DC begins to migrate towards the Sahara tent like a flock of jittery-jaw raver birds. “We have to walk faster! Alesso is on in 10 minutes”, yells a female 20-something navigating her group of friends with a fortified, handholding power walk.
The darkness of the desert sky is illuminated by the culmination of stage spotlights and the horizon line is no longer visible as an incalculable mob of Alesso fans wait anxiously to sing along to his catalog of crowd-pleasers like the infectious ‘If I Lose Myself’ and ‘Heroes’.
11:35pm: Blinding megawatt lights outline dozens of girls planted atop dudes’ shoulders as the build for ‘Tear the Roof Up’ commences. Alesso pushes back his long tousled hair with focus—he’s got his game face on, even as a knowing smile escapes his lips. His hands reach up to the sky as if worshipping this momentous platform he’s been given. He looks like a superstar. Showtime.
Just 24 hours prior back at his residence in Los Angeles, the Swedish wunderkind, born Alessandro Lindblad, awakens mid-afternoon after a long night of final preparations before the much-hyped Coachella set. “I’m always very excited but this [Coachella], it gets me extra pumped up to show everyone,” says Alesso clearing his throat.
“I get excited when there’s new elements in the show. When we have new content, new stuff we’re going to do. I just really can’t fucking wait!” Much like the rapid flutter of a light show, the past few years has brought blurring bright and swift success for Alesso, and he’s reached a point personally and professionally where he is at ease with not always knowing what’s next.
“I used to worry a little bit too much about things out of my control but I’ve gotten better,” he reveals on an exacerbated exhale. “Like I seriously worried way too much about everything. Even though I’m surrounded by this crazy environment, I still know what’s going on and I know what to do and how to react.”
The wild world of being one of EDM’s chosen it-boys at the exact right time in dance music’s place in history is enough to stress out any budding artist. However, for Alesso, it is more than that.
“It’s a very typical Swedish thing to always be concerned about the future and what’s going to happen next. That’s good sometimes but other times you just have to live in the present and just appreciate and have a few ideas and work on that. I’m just focused.”
One place he finds it most difficult to focus is in his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden where a combination of pride and pressure meet. With a cringing tone Alesso explains: “It’s my hometown and if I screw it up they’re going to see me the next day walking down the street and be like, ‘Yeah. You sucked man.’ I think it’s the only place in the entire world where I get maybe a bit too nervous.”
Those nerves are artistically expressed in the music video for his recent single ‘Cool’ featuring Roy English, Alesso dressing up as a high school nerd carelessly dancing his way through pubescent geekdom (extra kudos for the Takis cameo). The overall message: be yourself.
Something the continent-hopping producer recalls as a struggle to be during his childhood. “When I was a teenager it was one of the toughest periods in my life because I was so insecure,” he professes. “You don’t know who you are.
You think you want to be somebody and this and that. You want to be cool and everything. So what we tried to gain with this video was just don’t take yourself too seriously and try to laugh.”
MAINSTREAM VS. UNDERGROUND
In the past few years, a mainstream versus underground tug-o-war has shrouded the dance music industry in “my music is better than your music” internet face-offs. Most recently his friend and mentor Sebastian Ingrosso and production partner Axwell, formerly two-thirds of mega-group Swedish House Mafia, fell victim after apparently misconstrued words in a recent interview with the New York Times.
“If it’s too mainstream or not, who cares?” chimes Alesso frustrated over the undying debate. “If it’s a good song, it’s a good song. I think people should stop worrying or commenting about what’s right and wrong and just let people produce whatever they want to produce.”
No stranger to Top 40 radio airplay and charting accolades, Alesso doesn’t categorize his music into any one genre regardless of sales or fan archetypes. “It really doesn’t matter if you produce a song that’s for the radio or one that’s super underground. Good music is all that matters. I’m not thinking ‘I hope these kinds of people will like my music’.”
Known for its fast-paced sonic evolution, EDM is often times guided by trends that could leave today’s hottest artists chasing a new sound tomorrow. While it’s important to evolve, Alesso believes that’s why so many producers fade away. Nobody can identify their uniqueness.
“I always stick to my thing,” he assures. “Of course I update and I bring new elements but it’s still my kind of vibe all the time. I would never put out a deep house record and be like this is my new single now just to follow the trend. That’s when you kind of lose who’s who in the game, in the music industry.
It’s okay to be inspired by other genres and develop your sound and you should never keep it the same way all the time or it gets boring, at least for me. But always stay true to yourself.”
In a singles-driven music economy, putting out a full-length album (unless you’re Rihanna or Katy Perry) is a major risk. But Alesso’s built an ironclad team, fan base and milieu of crossover hits to help break that daunting threshold.
Similarly to British crossover sensation Calvin Harris, he manages to get his productions on the charts while maintaining a signature vibe fans can easily associate with his brand. That’s not an easy achievement in an industry of one-hit wonder DJs whose fizzling fame train often steers them right back into the desperate press release abyss.
Compiling his biggest records of past and present, plus new soon-to-be smash hits seems to be the winning formula for Alesso’s debut album, titled ‘Forever’, released on Def Jam Recordings in May 2015. The title’s significance signifies eternal permanence.
No edits or re-takes. It’s an indelible milestone for a young artist in EDM where full-length bodies of work are overshadowed by bangers. Alesso gushes, “Before now it’s been kind of scary for me to put out an album because, well, it’s an entire album.
It’s going to be my first one and it’s always going to be my first one. That’s why I called it ‘Forever’ because it will forever be my first album. ‘Forever’ will be the first time I ever did such a huge project.”
They say you can only make a good first impression once and that’s exactly what Alesso sets out to do. The timing of this album arrived much earlier than anticipated, a rarity in the music biz. “It just kind of started off with me having a lot of records and I’m like, ‘I don’t know which ones should be my next single.
What should I do?’” he remembers pondering. “And my manager said ‘I think you’re making an album without knowing it’. So I decided I need to tough up a bit and just put out an album. I thought I was going to have to release an album way later in my career but now is definitely the right time.”
Alesso loves that fans resonate so much with his contagious singles but establishing his musicianship is also a crucial objective with this release. “This is the first time I can really describe myself as a musician. I don’t think you can do that with just single after single,” he points out.
“I want people to know that I do more kinds of music. I’m not just destined to do dance music really; that’s what I’m trying to get across to people. I want to show more of who I am as an artist. I can finally put out records that don’t have to be singles.” Some of those tracks being the album intro ‘Profondo’ and the drop-less (sorry, bros) ‘Destinations’, two of the more interesting creative departures on ‘Forever’.
One ingredient fans won’t see changed is Alesso’s go-to working relationship with OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, who’s a powerhouse musical threat all on his own. It is now 12:31am at Coachella and the crowd sings along with Ryan’s incomparable live vocals as he accompanies Alesso for their mammoth collaborations ‘Calling (Lose My Mind)’ and ‘If I Lose Myself’.
What Pitbull is to J.Lo, Ryan is to Alesso. With free-flowing natural chemistry and artistic synchronicity, another collaboration was a no-brainer as Alesso remembers working with the Grammy winner for the first time.“When we did ‘Calling’ together with Ingrosso, we wanted to find a vocalist and he suggested maybe we should ask Ryan Tedder.” He recalls hesitatingly:
“I thought it was a long shot. I wasn’t sure if he even liked dance music. But we still asked and he loved the song and that’s how it started. His voice just really fits with my records. It’s one of the best song voices in the whole world!
Even with Ryan’s monstrous singer-songwriter success for himself and other megastars like Beyoncé, Adele and U2, the powerful influence of dance music is demonstrated by the unparalleled worldwide success of ‘If I Lose Myself’, which would have never gained the wings it did without Alesso’s remix. “My remix helped a lot and he loved it so much he even plays that version now at their live shows,” he humbly adds.
Fans display a similar excitement during the live performance of their newest collaboration ‘Scars’, one of his next two singles. “I sent him the instrumental to ‘Scars’, just a couple of chords and the lead guitar that’s on there, and I told him ‘it’s a happy beat but let’s try to write something that’s not too happy’.
It’s about how love can be terrible and controlling and ‘scar’ you for life but at the same time you learn from it and hopefully you won’t make the same mistakes again.”
The other single, much more light-hearted by the way, is ‘Sweet Escape’ which oddly enough was debuted back in 2014 during his Ultra Music Festival set in Miami. But due to high demand from fans via social media, it only makes sense to give the people what they want by putting it on the album along with an already completed music video.
Alesso divulges, “I’ve been getting a million tweets and comments like ‘When are you going to put it out?!’ It’s already big and people are already singing to it when I play it, so for me it’s kind of a relief to give that to them on the album.
THE BALANCING ACT
Citing the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, as his biggest musical influence, Alesso finds himself at a similar creative crossroads in terms of making sure his formula for generating music doesn’t grow stale. Constant reinvention while still preserving his gargantuan fan base is the biggest obstacle he teeters with.
“[Michael Jackson] was making all kinds of different music all the time and never stayed at the same place artistically,” he aspiringly notes. “Always evolving, always coming up with new ideas but still managed to stay himself the whole time. It’s very tricky finding that balance. You don’t want to go too right or left.” Up will do for now.
In grade school, teachers remind students that the hardest part isn’t getting an “A” but keeping it. So, having entered the echelons of main stage headlining stardom, how is Alesso sustaining his melodious honor roll? “Whenever I’m in the studio I’m always thinking that the next song I’m making, that’s going to be the biggest and best one I ever made.
Of course, that can’t happen all the time though.” But it has. And the new album has plenty more where that came from. While the beat remains the pulse, the not-so-secret magical ingredient is the lyrics. “Whether it was ‘Calling’ or ‘If I Lose Myself’ or ‘Years’, I always keep that in mind,” he describes as he checks his constant stream of phone texts.
“I’m always trying to find a diversity in sound or a different topic for the lyrics each time. I knew ‘Heroes’ was like the strongest hit and now maybe even ‘Cool’.”
Whether it’s the beat or vocals, don’t expect to catch Alesso pumping iron at the gym listening to his own records. He jokes, “I never put my own songs on my iPod because I have to listen to it 100 times already. But I never get tired of playing them live for my fans because the reaction you see from them is something you can never get tired of.”
There’s four minutes left in Alesso’s closing Coachella set, just enough time for one last song. As the crowd sings along to ‘Heroes’, which just went platinum at the time this is being written, the lyrics ‘Everyday people do everyday things, but I can’t be one of them’ encapsulates the philosophy behind his tiered climb to the top.
“I don’t really know what’s next, but that’s what makes it all so exciting. I try not to plan everything too much. Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time doing that because you’re forced to try and see what’s the next big thing. And, if you don’t, then what’s going to happen?”
Similarly to that glacial summit of Kebnekaise Mountain, he is weathering the seasons of change electronic dance music routinely throw his way and still managing to stay in touch with his fans. Musically, Alesso stands out of reach from the humdrum collective of wannabes in his hopefully forever-advancing zenith of a career.
Words: Jordan Diaz Pics: Harrison Boyce