Entrancing tales, summertime vibes, and a sparkling pop outlook: What’s Life Without Losers is the debut album from bewitching Oslo singer/songwriter Mikhael Paskalev. Alongside producer Joe Wills, the captivating Scandinavian has created 13 utterly irresistible tracks. Having already charmed the pants off his native homeland, Mikhael Paskalev is headed down under… and he couldn’t be happier.
“I’m really excited about releasing these songs in Australia,” he enthuses. “My band, we’re not co-workers; we’re a gang. I’ve been touring like a mad man for about two years now, it’s been absolutely crazy… so to bring my music to Australia is great!”
Touring our shores in early March 2014, Paskalev set the music world aflutter last year when he donned a pair of tighty whiteys and “pretended to be Tom Cruise.” The cheeky Risky Business-inspired video for ‘I Spy’ turned Paskalev into a star back home in Norway, quickly winning hearts across the globe. The jubilant, all-in crowd sing-a-long became a triple j staple, fearlessly followed by valiant victor (OK, second single) ‘Jive Babe’ – the killer one-two punch preceding his forthcoming debut album What’s Life Without Losers.
Check the jaunty, Beatle-esque chorus of ‘Brother’, the cinematic goodbye of closer ‘Sayonara Saigon’ (inspired by watching Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter – Paskalev is a movie buff), or the saucy, waltz time ballad ‘Only You’ (“And the thought of you undressing by my side”). Steeped in rocking, ‘50s and ‘60s style vibes, Paskalev – who grew in the northern Norwegian town of Ålesund with dreams of becoming Jimi Hendrix – is a romantic at heart.
“Yes, I believe I am,” he laughs. “At the core I’m quite traditional, so I do like romantic sounding records… but it depends on your definition of romantic. Anybody who’s a joker at all times is just a joke. I don’t want to be a joke but at the same time I don’t want to be a serious dude, you know, someone like Damien Rice, who cries while he plays his songs on his acoustic guitar!” (Paskalev is teasing, he promises.)
What’s Life Without Losers is filled with love, longing, and sweet retro references. ‘Woman’ is a ballad of transition, from girl to woman. ‘Susie’ is a bouncy, country-picked acoustic ode to a farm dirt friend. ‘Jive Babe’ (the second song recorded for the LP) is pure rock & roll; four minutes 23 seconds of hand-jiving claps, pummelling beats and youthful abandon.
“I’m quite proud of the song,” Paskalev says of ‘Jive Babe’. “Sound-wise and energy-wise it’s a bit out of the ordinary. Even though there’s no electronics in there, I’ve gotten a lot feedback from people telling me it makes them dance, which is the coolest thing I can hear!”
Whilst studying at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Paskalev met producer Willis. Together, the duo crafted a record full of lo-fi, scrappy spirit; Paskalev ditching earlier sessions with a ‘name’ producer after realising an essential ingredient was missing.
“I had the opportunity to work with professional producers, big studios, a lot of money coming in after just one single,” he recalls. “I remember in one early session I went to the toilet and did a clichéd, Robert De Niro in the mirror thing, going, ‘This is not me’. So I went back outside and cancelled the session. Together Joe and I took a lot of risks making this record, but you have to go with your heart… with what feels right.”
It worked. Between Paskalev’s charm and careful attention to song craft and arrangements, What’s Life Without Losers is a seamless listen. Up on stage meanwhile, he’s a natural, all charismatic hips and electric energy: “Swaying from smooth, enchanting delicacy to a howling croon in a heartbeat,” reckons The Line Of Best Fit.
“There was a real value to production decades ago,” says Paskalev, “and a real value to song writing. Think of Elvis or even The Mamas & the Papas. Or Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’, which was a big pop smash hit. If you listen to that song now it’s really cool and swag production. I’m not trying to be retro sexual, I just really admire the production and song writing of earlier days.”
“Some people tell me that even my upbeat songs have a bit of melancholy to them,” he ponders. “I find that really interesting. For those songs I really wanted a bit of teenage angsty punk vibe.” Ask for a secret no one knows about him and you’ll get a typical cheeky answer. “I once was very drunk, was driven home to my mother’s and her boyfriend’s place, and started stripping all my clothes off while dancing to music, just for my mum!”
Shamelessly catchy and utterly winsome; from the lo-fi openings of ‘I Spy’ to the clanging percussion of ‘Jailhouse Talk’, What’s Life Without Losers is irresistible. Meet Mikhael Paskalev… and prepare to fall in love!