The Learning of Urgency: an Interview with Kasbo

Background, Process, and Stepping Back from the Grind

Perfect Circuit · 07/03/24

The world of electronic music production and performance is rife with invisible pressures. Once an artist achieves a level of success, it's easy to become burdened with self-imposed expectations about productivity. How do you stay in the spotlight? How do you reach new audiences? How do you keep your current fans interested and excited to keep up with your future work? For many, this can lead to a sort of toxic productivity: working for the sake of working, continually chasing achievement for the sake of maintaining "success."

For Stockholm-based electronic musician Kasbo, this "hustle/grind" mindset led to unexpected and rare stress-induced hearing loss. This nearly ended his music career in 2019, forcing him to reevaluate his priorities. Shifting his focus toward his mental health and developing a new sort of work ethic, he reduced his stress and his hearing returned. Slowly, over the next four years, he produced his most intimate and personal work to date: The Learning of Urgency, out now on ODESZA's Foreign Family Collective label.

Seeking stillness and breaking through to sonic euphoria, The Learning of Urgency features Kasbo's most fine-tuned compositional work to date. Additionally, it includes features from Shallou,Frida Sundemo, ViVii, and many others.

We've teamed up with Kasbo and Teenage Engineering to give away an OP-1 Field—head to our contests page to enter for your chance to win. We also had the opportunity to talk with Kasbo about the making of his new album, his surprise encounter with hearing loss, and his approaches to music-making in general. Read on for the full interview.

An Interview with Kasbo

Perfect Circuit: Hello Kasbo! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, and congrats on the new release! Before we get into the details of your latest record, can you share a bit about your background as an artist? How did you get started making music—and what inspired you to start working with electronic music specifically?

Kasbo: Thank you! I started playing guitar as a kid and would play in bands with my friends, covering songs we liked. Eventually, as we all started going off to different schools, rallying everyone for practice became more and more difficult.

At a certain point, I felt it was just easier to do music on my own, so I started looking into music production. Electronic music just felt like the natural thing to do when producing music, I didn’t have the means to record any instruments and I don’t sing—so it seemed fitting!

PC: The Learning of Urgency is your first album release in a few years. Notably, it comes following a period of hearing loss that you experienced in 2019—we can imagine that was a frightening time for someone with a career in music! How did this impact your production process and mindset for this album?

Kasbo: By the time I started this album I had dealt with the worst of it, so I wouldn’t say the aspect of physically not being able to hear affected the process too much. The hearing loss was this abnormal stress induced thing which has led me to prioritize mental health a lot in the past years. Trying to keep myself anxiety free, which in turn influenced the theme of the album which is about slowing down in an ever accelerating world. Realizing it’s okay to do things at your own pace.

PC: A theme of slowing down, taking your time, and rejecting "the grind" is central to The Learning of Urgency. What was your biggest personal challenge in adopting this philosophy for yourself?

Kasbo: It just goes against the grain of how the world works right now. It feels unnatural when most people are always looking to do more and achieve more. I think it’s important to realize that the end goal in life is to be happy. Like you’re trying to achieve and do all these things because there’s this idea that if you accomplish those things it’ll make you happy. But that chase can in itself be the culprit in being unhappy.

I guess it’s sort of cutting out the middle man, like maybe I'll try to slow down just do things that make me happy and content now, instead of bending over backwards trying to achieve these things that may or may not happen, and may or may not make me feel fulfilled. Obviously there’s a balance there as well. I think setting goals and working towards them can be a key component in feeling happy, but you need to have a healthy relationship with it or it can eat you up.

PC: Spending more time on tracks, or anything creative, can be a blessing and a curse. How do you avoid falling into the classic loop of endlessly tweaking things and know when to call a track "complete" and finished?

Kasbo: You’re asking the wrong guy [laughs]. I definitely end up there. Setting firm deadlines that other people need to relate to helps though, then you feel like an asshole if you don’t meet them. And who wants to feel like an asshole?

PC: The Learning of Urgency has several tracks with guest features. How do you determine when a track would be elevated by working with another artist? Do you build tracks with specific artists or collaborators in mind?

Kasbo: A lot of the time with vocals I create around the vocal, rather than having an instrumental and feeling it needs to be elevated. I find that it’s really hard to write on a fully produced track and making it feel well-blended and not overworked. Most of the tracks with features on the album are vocals we wrote on top of another production, then once the vocal is recorded I scrap the production and produce something new with it. I feel it’s way easier to make the vocals feel part of the song that way.

PC: Between software, hardware, and everything in between, there are more ways than ever to make music these days. Do you find yourself sketching ideas on a synth or drum machine before moving into a DAW? Or do you start tracks in the box before turning to hardware for interesting sounds? Maybe all of the above and more?

Kasbo: A lot of the time I'll write on a piano and then once I have something that excites me, I move over to the laptop.

PC: In preparation for this interview, we saw a list of some gear that was used on The Learning Of Urgency. There's a good mix of beloved staples like Roland's TR-8s and JU-06a, Korg's Minilogue and MS-20 Mini, and Sequential's Prophet 12, along with some more open-ended or esoteric pieces ranging from Teenage Engineering's OP-1 to the Tasty Chips GR-1. When do you know to turn to a specific piece of equipment?

Kasbo: I sort of rarely turn to a piece of hardware for it to fulfill a specific purpose on a track, I’m not really an audio buff like that and figure it’s just quicker to do most of it with plugins I have instead. The hardware synths are more for me to start song ideas with. It’s a lot more fun turning knobs physically and creating a sound or a drum groove physically. And I think making it feel fun is key for you to get that adrenaline rush of creating, which you definitely need to make music.

PC: Are there any specific synths or hardware instruments that you consider critical to your process, or are things more open-ended than that?

Kasbo: I’d say it’s pretty open ended. I have a hard time if I don’t have a MIDI keyboard though, I like to play my chords especially.

PC: Are you ever experimenting with hardware effects for synths, samples, or vocals? We know you used a Line 6 Helix for some guitar parts on the record. Or are you focusing more on the software side?

Kasbo: I haven’t actually, apart from the GR-1 for some granular stuff. It’s all plugins. The quicker the better for me!

I used [U-He] Diva alot on this record, as well as a lot of Slate + Ash’s stuff. Portal by Output has been critical as well.

PC: When it comes time to bring these tracks from the studio to the stage, what considerations do you make in translating your music from their recorded forms to live performances?

Kasbo: I just try to make things more distinct and clear for live. In headphones you can be a lot more subtle since you can hear all the little details, and the goal isn’t necessarily to make people dance. For live, I just make things bigger, harder, and more clear.

PC: Besides the sweet sounds and grooves that they'll find, what's the biggest thing that listeners should take away from The Learning of Urgency?

Kasbo: Maybe that it’s okay to zone out and slow down every once in a while :)