When Mikhael Paskalev’s video for I Spy was released in late 2012, it was as if someone had doused Youtube in gasoline and lit it on fire. The two-and-a-half-minute clip—showing the Norwegian-singer-songwriter prancing about in his underpants, became an Internet hit. “My record label gave me some money to make the video and I straight away thought of the idea of dancing in my pants,” says the 26-year-old. His brand new EP is one hell of a second act. An array of colourful, heart-wrenching tracks somewhere outside of the contemporary, but with an outlandish edge is perhaps the best way to describe the imaginative project.
Talking to Paskalev about his songs is like speaking to someone about their most intimate secrets. As an experimental musician, he is an artist, who sings and writes from the depths of his experience, a word painter who shows us the light and shade of his encounters. To him, genre isn’t just a set of artistic constraints. Having spent the past few years touring— Paskalev has garnered a diehard following from laying his soul bare. I spoke with the singer about his new EP, artistic approach, and cavorting in his underpants.
I want to ask you about I Spy. How has the positive reaction affected you? Are you now known as that guy who sings in his undies?
A lot of good things have definitely come from it. In fact, I can’t actually think of a single bad thing, apart from sometimes hearing the occasional ‘Mikhael, take your pants off.’ I initially thought the video would’ve only been seen by 20,000 thousand people. It obviously went passed that mark but I don’t mind paying the price for sometimes being told to take my pants off. Honestly, it’s fine.
In I Spy, you have the lines: “I spy with me little eye, to fall is connected to try. It’s a drag on a boat and we’re lost at sea. I spy with me little eye, eye…” Aside from the simplicity of these lines, your vision seems very important to you?
Yeah, I guess so [laughs]. I do have a few other songs that I think are kind of lyrically deep, but that song in particular is not one that I lyrically boast about. However, I think one of the reasons why people have found it quite infectious is because of how natural it is. If I was self-conscious and over-thinking things, then the concept would not have come through. In the video, I knew I just had to dance like I was on my own.
There was this story that I heard about the concept being inspired by Tom Cruise’s 1983 film Risky Business.
I would like to take credit for saying that it’s almost like a political statement or a proclamation on how the music business is, but it’s not. I did see Risky Business, a few years ago before making the video, but initially I also had the same idea of someone dancing around in their socks and pants. In some ways, I wanted to do something that was a bit of a middle finger, because most music videos are boring. I’m not saying that this is groundbreaking. It’s just that it’s not trying to be clever. It’s not exactly a rebellious video but for me, it kind of was.
It’s very interesting watching the way you play with the whole concept. It feels like, from watching the video, there is a sort of exposure to the real you. What inspired that decision?
It was quite straightforward. My record label gave me some money to make the video and I straight away thought of the idea of dancing in my pants… [laughs] I think that’s the easiest way that I can break it down.
Visually, you’re very unique, like the way you express yourself through music. But your records are so personal, I can’t tell if you’re happy or if you’re a bit discontented. It’s like a real old-fashioned sort of style.
I’m usually a happy person. I’ve always loved songwriters and when I say that, I do mean the classic ones, not like James Blunt, if you know what I mean. Whenever I make music, it’s always about the song for me. I do like making pop music but at the same time, I don’t like making compromises. If I’m in a particular mood and I feel like making a record, I always go with my guts despite the outcome.
I’m really enjoying your new EP, especially the track, Susie, which feels like an older version of you speaking to yourself. There is also a lot of layering, which adds to the individuality of your sound. Is this something that comes easy?
I just sit down with my guitar and sing. It’s definitely not a conscious thing, but that song, in particular, does not have a very strict pop arrangement. It’s me, my acoustic guitar and a few things on top of it.
Who is Susie?
She was someone I was with for a long time, but then we broke up. It was basically me saying, ‘I still think you’re really cool, and you should remember me in the future.’
Has Susie heard the track?
Yeah. She has. We’re good friends now.
Does begin personal with yourself make it easier for you from an artistic perspective?
I definitely take a very personal approach when making music. But it can also be kind of tricky because sometimes when I write a song the ideas that come along are at times bad. I remember writing some lyrics and thinking, ‘That’s really cheesy and horrible. I could never sing that,’ but then I ended up doing so. I like to take risks.
I know your dad is also a musician. What does he think about your music?
He thinks it’s great that I’m doing well. As a musician himself, he always second guesses everything that I do, which is a good thing, I guess. Whenever I play a new song for him, I’m fully aware that I’m going to be faced with feedback on what does or doesn’t work.
Besides the EP, what else do you have coming up?
Believe it or not, it’s my day off and I’m sat in my living room rehearsing and writing new tracks, but I’m back out on tour soon. I will be touring in the UK throughout November.
I Spy is out now. For more on Mikhael, visit his website.