It's no coincidence Kyrre means "peaceful" in Norwegian. The given name of tropical house star Kygo, he maintains a seasoned calmness far beyond his years amidst a seemingly overnight explosion into a hard-to-crack industry. Hype is a vicious beast that can make or break a new artist.
But it's more like an adopted house kitten to Kygo, who's been honing his skillful creativity to pay any mind to the peripheral naysayers. That is no coincidence as -- after having the biggest year of his still-young career -- the Norwegian born Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll is the beacon of change electronic music has been waiting for. Even his fellow in-demand EDM cohorts like Avicii, Zedd and Dillon Francis are unhesitatingly waving their flag of musical solidarity to welcome the industry's buzzing artist.
"It feels very unreal," the Nordic prodigy professes shaking his head. "It's like a dream come true. I don't even have any words. It's unbelievable how fast everything has gotten." It is extremely rare in a genre as crowded as electronic music to get tracks heard let alone become the tip-of-the-tongue, most-anticipated artist of the year. If compared to a top 40 artist, although not a singer, Kygo is like Sam Smith: tactful management, widespread publicity, and a refreshingly unexpected sound. This is his moment.
Before the skyrocketing success of his early twenties, Kygo, with his slicked back hair and eager eyes, reflectively stares out the snowy window of his Norwegian home -- where he resides for only about four weeks out of the year, the other eleven months are spent on a plane -- and recalls his six-year-old self discovering how to play piano for the first time. It is this instrument he attributes for his newfound dance fame. "I played piano as a kid, but it was kind of because my mom made me do it," he admits. "She and my dad loved piano and other instruments.
I started learning a couple songs and slowly fell in love." But it wasn't until his teenage years that he became a fan of non-classical genres. "I started listening to other styles of music like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and a lot of alternative rock," he nostalgically remembers. "Then I heard about Avicii and got deep into electronic music and started producing." But, like any modern day wannabe producer, the odds of “making it” seem about as likely as Kim Kardashian never taking another selfie. Overcoming the fear of uncertainty is where Kygo—now 23—begins his journey.
Debating whether or not to hang up his musical aspirations in the closet of lost dreams, Kygo first attended college before trading his textbooks for mixers permanently. "Of course I had a dream to do this for a living but I always thought, 'Is it possible?' There are too many people doing exactly the same thing as I'm doing," he reveals. "So, I thought it was impossible and actually started studying economics, business and finance, with music as my hobby.
It wasn't long before his hobby took center stage. “I would post [music], people started sharing my remixes and I thought maybe I have a chance to do this for a living. Then I jumped off the studies and started pursuing it. Music is just in my head all the time."
Enter in his 22-year-old manager, Myles Shear, co-founder of dance music blog EDM Sauce and co-owner of Golden Hare Group, a Miami-based music management company. Kygo gets childishly giddy recalling their first encounter saying, "My remixes started to get a little bit of attention and a bunch of blogs posted it. Then Myles heard about my music, and he actually had just started managing Thomas Jack. Thomas is the one who showed Myles my music.
We chatted over Skype and he really just wanted to help me get my music out there because he really believed in it. I just felt he had this enthusiasm and energy about himself. So I was like, 'Yeah! Let's do this!'" Like the young stockbroker titans Jordan Belfort and Donnie Azoff portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ Kygo and Myles are creating a winning dynamic everyone wants a stake in. But expect an even bigger (and legal) return on investment.
The first payoff being a two-for-one with his smash remixes of Seinabo Sey's 'Younger' and Ed Sheeran's 'I See Fire', which has been played about 25 million times on SoundCloud and more than 40 million times on YouTube.
Not to mention his mixes for other A-list talent like Coldplay, Rihanna and Ellie Goulding that have racked up tens of millions of clicks as well. And, who can forget the crowd favorite? Marvin Gaye’s 1982 baby-making, globally iconic single 'Sexual Healing' was given a tropical flair in Kygo's reproduction of the track in 2013. "That was so unreal but huge for me," says Kyrre, who more than a year later is still trying to wrap his brain around it.
"The original track, in my opinion, is better because you can't touch the original. It's just so good. But I feel like my remix has given it a more modern version that has brought a new audience." But it was a long time in the making getting approval to release the updated version. "Just getting that song cleared, I didn't think that was going to ever happen. It was a long process," he recalls. "Myles was working hard to get that cleared, but it was definitely a lengthy process because when an artist has passed away and their family inherits the rights, like his, it takes even longer. But I'm so happy we made it work. I think they were happy with the song." He jokes nervously, "I hope so!"
CYNC OR SWIM
Listening to a Kygo track is like escaping to an island getaway for roughly four minutes, so one might as well go for his full mixes where the vacation lasts longer. Summoning the taste of pina coladas, the site of bikinis and conga lines, one has to wonder: How does a guy hailing from an arctic climate like Norway get inspired to produce a "tropical" sound? "I actually don't know where my sound came from," he claims shrugging his shoulders.
"When I started making these tracks, I agree that they sound tropical, but I didn't go into it thinking that it was tropical. I live in Norway and it's snowing outside right now. Maybe it's because I'm wishing I was at the beach and it was warm outside. I just wanted to make happy music, which apparently makes people think about summer and tropical things.”
While pioneering these melodically euphoric rhythms may be chalked up to a happy accident, it is indirectly an extension of his years-long admiration for dance music heavyweight Avicii, now revered for his sonic versatility after mixing country with dance music. "My biggest inspiration is probably still Avicii," Kygo gushes. "He has those great melodies and he's been keeping it up. I'm just so impressed by how he's able to make so much new music and tour that much.
Of course he's been having a break now, since the last year has been insane for him, but I'm just impressed by how hard he works." His esteem for the Swedish megastar manifested into a full-circle moment at TomorrowWorld 2014, the US spin-off of Belgium's TomorrowLand, back in September when Kygo was selected to replace Avicii due to health concerns. "Myles told me like less than a week before, almost like a warning, that I was filling in on the main stage at TomorrowWorld," he explains wide-eyed. "I said, 'Holy shit!' I was kind of skeptical.
Like, how is my music going to work on main stage? I think people appreciated it though. Some people said it needed to be harder, but most enjoyed the little break in between the other artists. Afterwards, I had a good feeling in my gut. I felt it went almost perfectly."
His gut is something worth sticking with. Kygo's biggest moments are still to come during this festival season, being touted as one of the must-see acts at globally recognized festivals like Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Coachella in Indio, California. Not only is the pressure on at these make-or-break bookings, but this is the first time he will be ditching the typical DJ set and debuting his live instrumental set and new stage design.
Lounging back at his computer desk, Kygo seems surprisingly at ease when he says, "I have yet to play the electronic set-up I'll be playing at Ultra. Hopefully it goes well. I've been playing a lot of DJ sets the past year, and every time I play DJ sets I think, 'Why am I not playing a keyboard right now?' Because that's what I'm always using in the studio to record the melodies. Why not bring to the stage what I do in the studio?"
And what exactly does Kygo's new live stage look like? "I have my main keyboard where I play chords, a small piano on the side to play with the melodies, and drums so I can play different samples." He confidently adds, "I'll also have iPads and all that stuff. I'm super excited about the set-up with my logo! There are four different screens that spell out 'Kygo' and I'm in the middle of those four screens. I'll definitely be playing new tracks too."
Even when testing his sound on a multi-faceted, enormous audience like Coachella, Kygo remains poised and asserts that just being himself onstage will be enough. When asked about the difference in audiences, he temporarily diverts the question and jokes, "I'm looking to meet all the artists. I'm going to be fanning out." (DJs: they're just like us.) Kyrre straightens himself in his seat and adds, "But, seriously, I never even dreamed of playing there. I thought maybe in a couple years."
LEAKED AND LOADED
Though not as on edge as Taylor Swift when her platinum-selling '1989' album leaked early, Kygo is still apprehensive about the final destination of his unheard tracks. His most recent case being the "accidental" early release of 'ID', the track he produced as this year's Ultra Music Festival anthem. "I don't think the video was 'accidentally' released," he speculates. "That was a melody I had been playing around with for a long time and we sent it to Ultra and they really liked it.
So, we agreed that they could use it in their trailer. I guess we kind of expected people to figure out that it was my track because it sounds like mine. And a lot of people knew right off the bat it was me before it was officially released." Intentional or accidental, the thought of not knowing whose hands have been on the unfinished product is creatively frightening. Kygo adds, "I'm very careful of who I'm sending my tracks to before they're done. I'm just scared people will steal my tracks, or even if I have an idea or a melody that I'm really passionate about."
The trop-house wunderkind excitedly dishes on what fans can expect on his still untitled, six-track debut EP slated for an April release. "I have quite a few tracks that are much different than what I have been releasing up till now," he dishes. "I never see myself going into one genre and only making just hip-hop or just tropical house or only EDM. But the next single will be 'Stole The Show' with Carson James who's got an incredible voice."
Other tracks promised on the EP include a collaboration with Dillon Francis and singer James Hersey and another with British newcomer Tom Odell. He even mentions chatting with mainstream radio king Ed Sheeran about working together. Kyrre chimes, "Maybe that will happen sometime soon."
Even though the buzz is all about Kygo, his artistry takes great pleasure in collaborating with lesser known singers he discovers on YouTube or Hypem. "I genuinely enjoy finding vocalists," he says with a passionately exaggerated tone. "There are so many who are really good but they don't get any attention.
Just like a lot of the remixes I've done, I like to keep finding vocalists who are unknown." A prime example is his smash remix of Kyla La Grange's 'Cut Your Teeth'. "I had actually heard another remix of it and I thought her voice was really special," he recalls. "A lot of my remixes have been super random. I just look online for very unique voices…just raw, talented vocalists."
Chilling vocals remain a large part of Kygo's ingredient for hit-making, but mastering the piano allows him to tap into a much wider range of melodies. "Of course you have to learn the software for producing, just like I'm learning it now, but my advice is to learn how to play the piano or guitar because you get an understanding of how music works," Kyrre emphasizes. "I wouldn't be able to make the music I make if I hadn't been playing piano.
I'm actually really impressed by producers who don't even have a keyboard and just paint the melody in, especially when I'm on a plane because you can't bring a keyboard with you." On the same note, the time he loses in the air he makes up for with a swift recovery in-studio churning out chord progressions in no time thanks to the more than 15 years of perfecting.
But even his mastery of the piano is stunted when inspiration doesn't strike. He frustratingly admits, "It's really random. I've gone weeks where I'm not able to make anything good. Then I have a few days where I'll make like four tracks. Inspiration suddenly hits me then I'm super inspired and motivated and then maybe I have another week or two where I'm not able to make anything."
The past year has been a slew of surreal moments for this young paragon of ingenuity; one coming less than a year ago when getting to play his first massive gig at the world's most in-demand dance music festival, TomorrowLand, in Belgium. The same festival he couldn't score a ticket to for three years prior. He won't have an issue now. But another full-circle moment came when returning home to Norway to play to a sold-out arena of 13,000.
With his face resting daydream-like in his palm he recounts, "Being in a stadium I got to see what thousands of people look like looking back at me and our faces connect and I'm just thinking this is a lot of people. That was beyond surreal when I stepped on that stage."
I don't think it [hype] affects me," Kygo says nonchalantly. "Even if people didn't listen to my music, I would still make my music." Like the fluctuating pitch of piano keys, Kygo's distinctive talent is writing the melody of his life.
words: JORDAN DIAZ pics: JULIAN CASSADY
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.