If Bryson Tiller joined Soulection, had an ear for Swedish pop, and used Al B Sure! samples, we’d be hearing something similar to the sound of Sebastian Mikael.
Just before graduating high school, Mikael left a life in Sweden and moved to America to turn his passion into a full-time focus. The sacrifices have paid off; the 25-year-old R&B singer was thrown onto the scene with “Last Night,” his 2013 single featuring Wale, which landed him a deal with KWL and 300 Entertainment. His 2014 album, Speechless, featured a guest verse from Rick Ross, and he’s currently prepping the rollout of his forthcoming follow-up release.
Before then, he’ll be dropping a handful of singles to cap off 2015, including a music video for his smoky club track “La La Land.” In the meantime, we caught up with the Swedish-American soon-to-be superstar about his migration, the current state of R&B, and life outside of music.
What pushed you to make the move from Sweden to America?
When I was in high school, I started getting into music and it became a really important part of my life because it kept me out of trouble and kept me focused. It changed my life. I wasn’t doing too well in Sweden, and I got into a lot of trouble as a kid. I was 17 when I decided to move to America; I finished my last year of high school in L.A. at an arts academy and then moved to Boston to go to Berklee [College of Music].
My dream has always been to make music, and I knew it wasn’t going to happen if I stayed in Sweden.
What were your first impressions of the U.S.?
I remember my first time walking down Hollywood Boulevard, I was thinking about how it wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. I thought Hollywood was going to be glamorous and more like what I saw on TV and in movies. When I first came out, I was like, “Yo, this is mad dirty.” It was super weird. But I was super young, and I was more excited than I was scared. I was ready for something different and new.
How does the Swedish music industry differ from the American music industry?
I never really got into the Swedish music industry, since I was super young, but I did have mentors when I was 15 or 16, and from what they had told me, it sounded like there was no place for my type of music in Sweden. I realized that when I saw artists doing what I was trying to do and not finding support for it out there.
Tell me about some of your early conversations with KWL and 300.
I had known my manager, Kevin Liles, for a long time. When we first met, I hadn’t put much music out, but he told me he loved it and that he thought I was talented. I kept putting out more and more music, and I think it was after we put out “Last Night” that he reached out again. Shortly after that, we made a deal with him. He’s been a big mentor for me. He’s taught me a lot about how to move and make the right decisions.
When I first signed with Kevin, they didn’t have 300 yet; Lyor Cohen didn’t create it until a year later. They’re so cool because they’re so relevant; they know exactly what’s going on right now. A lot of time labels don’t understand how everything works because it’s so different from how it used to be, but 300 is on top of this era of music.
How do you feel about where R&B is right now?
I really like where it’s at right now. People really want to break boundaries and be more unorthodox with music. A lot of people think R&B is dead, but I disagree; it’s just different right now. My music is more alternative; I was never very traditional with it. I’ve always felt that I have all these different elements in my music, a lot of which I bring from Sweden.
In addition to being a musician, you’re also a painter. When you’re inspired, how do you know whether to translate your idea into a song or a piece of visual art?
Lately I’ve been painting on a lot of jackets and things like that. It’s another way to express myself and be creative. Painting and music go hand in hand. Usually when I paint something, it inspires me to do something music-wise, too. You get another source of inspiration that you bring to the music.
What else do you like to do when you’re not making music?
I hang out with friends or family, and I watch a lot of shows.
What are your favorite shows?
I love Narcos. I’m waiting for the second season to come out. I’ve also always been a big fan of Game of Thrones. Those are my two top shows right now.