“Stayed behind these walls too long,” a vulnerable falsetto advised us in the opening lines to sir Was’“A Minor Life,” the opening track to sir Was’ debut EP, Says Hi. “Kept my life on hold too long/ Dreaming of all I was not…” Well, those walls tumble further down on “Falcon”, the second track to be made available, an equally unorthodox tune that somehow mixes Beck, David Crosby and D’Angelo. Built around birdsong, a supple groove and a tremulous organ.
sir Was Grew up in the tiny village of Frillesås on the western coast of Sweden, an hour or so from Gothenburg, Wästberg began playing music at an early age. He left home at 18 and, inspired by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, studied jazz saxophone in a so-called folkhögskola in the southern Swedish countryside. Such was his talent that he was soon flying around the world to perform with a variety of ensembles, and his more unlikely experiences included jamming with a pyjama-clad Sean Lennon in his New York apartment and escaping the 2012 coup d’état after playing at a festival in Bamako, Mali. Though he’d by now moved to Gothenburg, he also spent time at the University of Kwasulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, where he developed an interest in pan-African rhythms that was furthered by travels through Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Stirred by the liberating philosophies of post-modern composers like John Cage and Morton Feldman, about whom he was reading, as well as by the complexity and feeling of the music he was hearing – and indeed playing with other musicians he met along the way – Wästberg began to question his musical identity. Leaving his saxophone in Durban, he returned to Europe with his head overflowing with rhythm. “I’d learned I’d rather play a beat that makes people dance,” he explains, “than play a fancy solo.”
Soon he was making a living not from his saxophone – as he had since 2010 – but from other musical adventures, including playing with Jose Gonzales. Eventually, however, the time came to strike out on his own. And what emerged – all of it filtered through Wästberg’s love for hip hop – was as unrestrained and spirited as the music that inspired it, though trying to pin that down, too, is as hard for Wästberg as it is for the listener.