What does it say about EDM in 2016 that its most exciting new artist, Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll, better known as Kygo, is inspired by Billy Joel and says his initial vision for his music was to be played at “a festival setting with a laidback crowd, people sitting in the sun, drinking beer”? Whither youthful, bromantic hedonism?
In recent years the masses have flocked to Kygo’s sound, a slowed-down style heavy on piano melodies dubbed “tropical house,” rather than the 24 year-old Norwegian producer tailoring his approach gain an audience. He’s established himself through a slew of self-released remixes: His takes on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” helped define tropical house before Felix Jaehn’s remix of OMI’s “Cheerleader” took it to the top of the charts. Currently, his singles are dominating Spotify, with 2014’s “Firestone” and last year’s “Stole the Show” both around 400 million plays. Now comes his album debut, and the 14 tracks on Cloud Nine suggest that Kygo might end up a great producer of epic pop ballads. Lurking amidst the album’s downtempo four-on-the-floor beats are great big songs featuring superstar crooners (John Legend), songwriting doctors (Julia Michael) and a world of young songsmiths with deeply melodic sensibilities (Angus & Julia Stone, James Vincent McMorrow and more).
Rolling Stone caught up with Kygo after he debuted his newest single, “Stay,” featuring the vocals of Weeknd collaborator Maty Noyes, on Good Morning America. He told us where his music is coming from and where it’s going.
You started out playing piano, and it’s on pretty much all of Cloud Nine. Do you still feel like it’s your main instrument or have you switched over to the computer?
The piano is definitely very prominent through all of the tracks, because it is still my primary instrument. When I am back home, I have an upright piano and I play constantly. That is still where I make up the melodies and some chords — only then do I move to the computer to put it down. Sometimes I can sit at my computer and find a cool sound, or a new synth patch, and get super-inspired by that and make a track based on that sound. But the piano is where I find the inspiration and come up with the melody.
You do stripped-down performances all the time. Do you envision your music in the future performed in an acoustic setting? Or is making music with rhythm and drum machines still really important?
Both. I am getting my own residency in Ibiza this summer at Ushuaia — last year I opened up for Avicii there — and I’m bringing a lot of other artists with me. I’m bringing a live show where I play keyboards and drum samples onstage, so I’m very excited for that. But I have also been doing a lot of acoustic performances, and yes, that is something I really enjoy doing. I would say almost all the tracks on the album work in an acoustic setting.
Which pianists do you admire?
Elton John and Billy Joel, I find them both to be huge inspirations, those guys are so talented. There’s also this guy, Dr. Bekken — he’s Norwegian actually, insane pianist. My dad’s also a piano player, and he’s been showing me blues pianists. Those guys are really cool to listen to.
So how does a piano player from near the Arctic Circle arrive at making music people call “tropical house?”
Yeah, it’s pretty ironic. I’d been composing a lot of melodies on the piano when I heard Avicii in 2009 and I got curious by his style of music. His melodies were kind of simple but very catchy, and they kind of reminded me a lot of the melodies I was making. But I got a little tired of progressive house because a lot of it sounded the same. I started listening to other producers, including this producer out of Norway named Finnebassen who made more like deep house with funky basslines. So when I started listening to that style of music, I started creating slower music as well. The BPMs got slower and slower, and I ended up at around 100 bpm, which felt really good to me. It felt natural, felt right for me when I made it.
I don’t know why it was called “tropical.” I guess it was just me in the studio experimenting with different sounds, and I ended up with that synth sound. I thought it sounded really good. It might be because it’s very cold in my hometown, raining a lot, and I was sitting in my room and thinking about the beach and summer. That rain might definitely be a reason, like when you’re sitting inside and you look out the window and you kind of daydream about being somewhere else.
Are you comfortable with having your music labeled that way? Do you think it fits?
I am definitely comfortable with that being applied to a few of my tracks, but I don’t want to just be a tropical house producer. I want to be known simply as a producer who makes music.