Interview with emotion-oriented bass musician Axel Thesleff

   Image credit: Tony Nicholson

Teaming up with artist ShiShi, musician Axel Thesleff has reworked the 2020 release ‘Sajani 2.0 (feat. Ben Parag)’ via CASHIR, which is a punchy bass banger regardless of the emotional weight carried. The Finnish musician built up acclaim after the release of the noteworthy single ‘Bad Karma’, which has a collective stream count of over 1 billion to date. Thesleff is equipped with a talent for rhythm and racy basslines. Through amplifying his sound and leaving the raw emotion of the original on display, the producer makes this collaboration a seamless one. The musician has an affinity for fusing genres together to create these larger than life culminations of soundwaves that feel like they make the world stop for a few seconds. This is probably thanks to his vast list of inspiration when it comes to his craft, which is equally dominated by electronic music and acoustic variations. 

We chatted with the man himself Axel Thesleff, and asked him a few questions about his inspiration and his thoughts on sharing this latest remix.

Stream / Download ‘Sajani 2.0 (feat. Ben Parag)’

Looking back, what were some of your earliest entries into music appreciation? And music production? 

One of my earliest experiences with listening to music was a trance compilation CD at the turn of the millennium called Trance 2000 and it had Darude’s Sandstorm on it – it blew my mind. I was maybe eight or nine years old, and I remember thinking ”I wonder how all these sounds are made”. I kinda forgot about it when the years went by and got into a lot of rock and metal music instead. But later I came back to electronic music after hearing Radiohead use electronic sounds in their music, which then lead me to dive more deeply into electronic music. Those were also the times when I started making electronic music with Ableton Live. It was around 2008 or so, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Your sound is a mix of various influences like this one, what draws you to create this unique sound?

 I’m always merging sounds, styles and cultures to create something new. In this track, I’m taking harmonic principles from western classical music and merging that with Ben Parag’s traditional Indian singing. The drop parts of the track alternate between a house beat and a trap/future beat. It’s through fusion like this where I often find the most interesting ideas.

Give us a sense of the music scene where you are based.

I don’t necessarily see myself belonging to any one scene. I’ve delved into many electronic genres over the years like IDM, future garage, dubstep, trap, techno, ambient and also non-electronic genres like post-rock, progressive, jazz, fusion, classical to name a few. In some ways, my music is a combination of all those genres. But I’m not really thinking about genres too much when I’m producing, I just go for a certain vibe and use all the musical knowledge from my subconscious to come up with something that fits what I’m looking for. If I had to choose one name for the scene, I belong to I’d call it eclectic bass, or melodic bass.

What key pieces of software/gear are you using to define your sound? 

Ableton Live is my main tool, I’ve been using it for like a decade now. It’s very fluid and flexible, you can use it in so many ways and with the Max4Live extension, the possibilities are basically limitless. I also use a lot of Universal Audio stuff, I use their Apollo Twin interface and a whole lot of their plugins. They do emulations of classic vintage gear, and I love to use their plugins in my electronic productions to give that analog sound to an otherwise digital process. I don’t use a lot of outboard gear, I like to have my sessions easily recallable. I use a Korg TR88 keyboard that I’ve had forever in the studio to play parts in and generally just to play with. I mostly use it just as a MIDI controller, but I like the weighted keys on it to give that real piano feel. Other than that, I have a keytar, a MIDI mallet instrument and a drum pad but those are mainly for playing live. But sometimes I like to play some parts with them in the studio as well.

What are some of your key musical influences? 

There are so many influences that it’s hard to give a comprehensive list but the main ones would be prog-rock, post-rock, IDM, future garage, future bass, dubstep, trap. I’ve also studied Musicology at the University of Helsinki, where I got more familiar with western classical music from different eras; electro-acoustic music, jazz, and other music traditions from around the world which was good for my overall understanding of music I think.

What kind of relationship do you have with the internet? How does this inform your artistic expression?

The internet is the key catalyzer in my music for sure. It’s an infinite source of sound material from all over the world, a limitless supply of software and technology that enables me to do what I do. It’s where I discover and listen to music and also where I release it. And it also enables me to connect with my listeners. So it’s basically how everything gets done, from start to finish, so yeah, it’s the medium that allows me to do what I do with ease.

After sharing this remix, what have you learnt about yourself as an artist?

 This project reminded me how powerful a tool collaboration is. At its best it allows everyone’s ideas to become more than their sum. When the chemistry is right, it brings out parts of me that wouldn’t necessarily come out otherwise.

What would you like to achieve with your music? What does success look like to you? 

For me, music is about self-expression, so I try to create songs that resonate first with me. If I succeed in that I know it will resonate with others as well. I hope to evoke the same energies in my listeners as my music evokes in me. For me, music is a safe haven, a place where healing and lifting of the spirit can happen. It’s a source of energy, awe and wonder. It’s about the celebration of life and humanity. When I get messages from people telling me my music has healed them in some way, that’s when I feel really successful.

What has been a memorable highlight of your career so far?

Touring with Beats Antique and CloZee in the USA for three months in 2019 was definitely a highlight so far. I got to play for so many people and see so many new places. I cruised with Beats Antique on their tour bus for three weeks across the country which was an unforgettable experience. So many good memories were created during those times!

If you could work with, or perform alongside any artist of your choice, who would it be? 

There are a lot of artists I adore so it’s hard to name one. I play instruments a lot when I perform live so it would be awesome to jam with a like-minded artist on stage and perform together that way. I’d also really love to collaborate with traditional Indian singers and instrumentalists in the future.

If you weren’t a musician what would you be?

Maybe a writer of some sort. I’ve always enjoyed writing. But if not that, I think I would still do something creative – that’s what gives my life meaning and fulfilment.

What can we expect from you in the near future? Any upcoming projects or gigs in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about? 

You can expect more music to be released this year, as well as music videos and live performance videos. Lots of interesting projects and content is in the works that I can’t reveal the full details of just yet!

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