An incredible 2014 continues for the Swedish superstar as he takes us Higher
Interview by Dan Prince
Tobias welcome to DMCWORLD, where on planet earth are you today?
“Hi Dan! I just got home from an intense week of work in London yesterday, so I’m back in my hometown Uppsala and brought my managers with me from the UK! Can’t say I’m too excited to be back in cold Sweden.”
So high fives to Pete Tong at the moment in the Karlsson household with ‘Higher’ receiving two spins in a row on his show. Where were you though when Zane Lowe dropped it as his ‘next hype’ track on Radio 1?
“Radio in general isn’t really a big thing here in Sweden, but I’ve come to understand the level of importance Radio 1 has to the global electronic wave over the last couple of months. To be honest it was absolutely overwhelming, it was kind of a tearjerker for me hehe. The specialist DJs at R1 are so important and have so much influence in the music industry these days, so it felt really good to be acknowledged and get their support on my music. You could say it’s like getting “made!”.”
The record was a year in the making, you wrote down some thoughts that were going through your mind at the time, handed them to Emil Hero of Urban Cone fame and twelve months later, the world is dancing to it! How did the whole hook up with Emil happen in the first place?
“I’ve been kind of aware of his work through mutual friends and got introduced to him when he DJ’d in Uppsala as Urban Cone (which is a famous indie band here in Sweden). We kind of clicked and decided that we should definitely make something together. I sent over a clip to him and it all led to “Higher”. Kind of a simple and random process – it’s just life I guess.”
You have a huge EP swinging our way on Kitsuné coming out, please talk us through the tracks on this stunning release…
“I’m very proud of working with Kitsuné actually as I’ve been sort of a big fan of them for years now, they are a really cool brand and I think they are good to be associated with! My EP was a product of the exposure and success that “Savanna” gave me, and the main track is a new take on it with a fresh top line by the UK-based vocalist, River. The second track is called “Free”, which features vocals from a new interesting Australian duo called Hoodlem. The track has kind of a similar tropical vibe like “Savanna”. The last track of the EP is “Deux”, which means two in French, and it’s also featured on the new Kitsuné Compilation. It’s leaning more towards a deeper vibe whilst still being true to my trademark sound. As for the remixers, I chose two brilliant acts that really I’m into at the moment: the Dutch disco-duo Keljet and my fellow Swede Filip Ilic!”
Well dude, what a journey you have been on of late. Your strength with your fight against cancer has given hope and belief to so many people, you truly are an inspiration. How much writing were you doing whilst going through treatment?
“Unfortunately the type of chemotherapy I got can have a bad effect on the nerves in your ears, and there was a decent chance of me getting permanent damage on my hearing from the treatment. A few days in after I had my first round of chemo I noticed how I kind of lost the ability to hear high frequencies. Basically, I couldn’t do any type of production during the period that I had my treatment, and I did not know if it was going to be permanent. Luckily, a few weeks after everything was well and finished my hearing returned back to normal, and it was then when I realised that I’m meant to work with music. I see my difficult journey as an opportunity to grow as a person and to inspire others to follow your dreams and never give up on them. Good things happen to those who stay true and honest to themselves!”
We are absolutely all over your remix of The Magician’s ‘Sunlight’…how do you approach a remix when first sitting down in the studio? Some producers strip everything back and leave only a vocal, some are just hell bent on leaving ‘their sound’ ingrained on the finished article… how do you see each project – surely there must be a connection to the record in the first place for you?
“I always try to be as creative as possible when it comes to my remixes, and normally I only use the vocals from the original track that I’m supposed to remix. I’ve always hated people who basically just make an edit of the original and take credit for the whole track. Remixing is very fun, you get to put your own creative mind and flavour into another person’s art, and it comes to be like a meeting between the artists in some way. “Sunlight” for example was a really hard track to work with, and it’s due to the fact that the original is so strong. In a situation like this it’s important to come with something completely different rather than making something similar (and probably worse) than the original, which is a big no, no.”
True or false: You wrote your first song when you were 10 years old?
“Correct! How did you know that? I had a tiny acoustic guitar that I messed around with at the time.”
You hail from the city of Uppsala in Sweden. Film Director Ingmar Bergman hails from there, the famous astronomer Celcius and my favourite…Hillevi Rombin who was Miss Universe in 1955!! What was the music scene like when you were growing up and what is it like in 2014?
“When I was in my teenage years I was a lot into metal and hardrock, and we had kind of an underground scene here in Uppsala. A lot of unsigned teenage bands emerged playing metal and hardcore. I played in a band throughout my teens, but this trend died out and has given space for new things to emerge! Today we have a lot of DJs who spin various tunes on our student-clubs in Uppsala (which happens to be a great city for students). Funny enough both Oliver Nelson and Skogsrå which are in the same management as me live here in Uppsala, so you could say that there’s a small nu-disco scene over here, even though nobody really knows about it.”
If you could spend a day in the studio with any musician, producer or singer, who would it be?
“Nile Rodgers for sure. His music has probably been the biggest inspiration for me since I started making this kind of music!”
What was the first dance music record that grabbed you by your short n’ curlies?
“Grum – ‘Heartbeats’.”
You were in London last week playing with Oliver Nelson at Shut The Front Door in Brixton, how did it go?
“It went amazing! It was a full house and really good vibes; it was one of the nicest gigs I’ve had for sure! The crowd were amazing and many people came and showed their gratitude”.
You obviously have a great working connection with Oliver, how does the studio set up work between you two – who excels where?
“Oliver is the closest I have in the business, we click very well musically and are into the same kind of bangers! When we work together we usually use Oliver’s setup, as he has so much cool equipment that we can use! We live in the same city so it’s really easy for use to meet up and work together.”
What are the big 5 tunes in your box this weekend?
Sam Smith – Like I Can (Jonas Rathsman Remix)
Liquideep – Welcome Aboard (Mario Basanov Dub)
Honne – Warm On A Cold Night (Embody Remix)
Tennyson – With You
Walker & Royce – Sister
The best piece of advice you have ever been given?
“My manager said something about being a music-producer that I think is very wise and true: “There’s always going to be other producers out there that are as talented as you are, but the ones that succeed in this business are the ones that work the hardest and cherish the opportunities that are given to you.”
You are off to a desert island for a month. Whose album do you take? The Best Of Nile Rodgers, Michael Jackson or Elton John?
“Wow, that’s a hard question, you basically just lined up my favorite guys in the whole world. If I had to choose I guess I’d have to go with Michael, just because his tracks are timeless and made to perfection.”
The record which reminds you of…
Metallica – Ride The Lightning
…realizing you could make it in the music world as an artist:
Tobtok – Savanna
…having your heart broken:
Led Zeppelin – Since I’ve Been Loving You
…thinking, shit I wish I’d have made that!
Every Oliver Nelson remix…
Not many people know this, but Tobias Karlsson is really good at…
“Cutting his own hair!”
Your favourite ever festival moment?
“When my friend Ghassemi wrecked my sleeping pad at Emmaboda festival after a wild “workout” in our shared tent…”
And finally… what is the next studio project you are getting your teeth stuck into?
“I’ve been in London workin’ in the studio with a bunch of really talented people, so I have a lot of new original material to finish over the coming months!”
Tobtok Higher is out now on Good Soldier Records