Finding truth within the old adage of music being a universal language is often an exercise that we as listeners don’t take the time to test. Humans are creatures of habit, and as such, we are drawn to what we know. In the case of songs, that tends to be genres that we’re familiar with and lyrics sung in our own native tongue. Branching out beyond what’s comfortable can often lead to beautiful results, such is the case with the new album “Relax” from Brazilian producer and songwriter Alexandre Kassin (performing under Kassin), which has opened our eyes (and ears) to an an entirely new style of pop – a soulful Latin vibe mixed with a trippy dreamscape of sounds – and has proven that having a surface understanding of what you’re listening to is not nearly as important as grasping the artistic expressions of the creator who brought it to life.
We recently sat down with Kassin to discuss his personal relationship with his music, the reason he writes about truth, and the moment he hears a song outside of his head for the first time.
TrunkSpace: “Relax” seems deeply personal at times. Do you think it’s possible for an artist to put too much of him or herself into a song or is that honesty an ingredient in what makes great music great?
Kassin: It’s a personal album for sure, but more in terms of having a particular point of view over certain themes. Very few songs are autobiographical. Some songs I wrote about stories I heard, some songs I had for a long time and somehow they fit well on this album. “Stricnina,” for example, is an old song but it reflects the logic behind the lyrics on the rest of the record.
TrunkSpace: You write a song like “A Paisagem Morta” or “As Coisas Que Nós Não Fizems” and then, we assume, have to revisit the feelings that spawned those tracks every time you perform them live. Is it difficult to shed the emotional connection to a song or do they eventually become less about your own personal ties and more about the songs themselves?
Kassin: “A Paisagem Morta” I wrote for a very dear friend of mine who suddenly found himself in love with another woman, even though he was married. He was in a moment of doubt between choosing his marriage or a new love. He chose his marriage and I wrote the song as my thoughts on this situation.
On “As Coisas Que Nós Não Fizemo,” I took a more personal view on the end of my first marriage and tried to put it in a positive way. Even though the song is a bit melancholic, the lyrics have a light feeling on a complicated matter…
I realize people normally don’t write about divorce, I wanted to write these songs about it because I think it’s really beautiful to spend your life with somebody else; sharing moments, happiness, sadness, food; and after it ends, nobody wants to touch the subject. I wanted to talk about it because I think it’s part of life.
TrunkSpace: Many songwriters use songwriting as a form of personal reflection or as a type of therapy. Is it that way for you as well?
Kassin: For me, I like singing something that I feel is true. I like the truth, not in a therapeutic way, but in an artistic sense. I feel that, musically, my albums are very diverse so the lyrics need to be truthful to make the connection as a whole. Even if some irony is added.
TrunkSpace: “Relax” drops today. What emotions do you wrestle with as you gear up to release new material? Is it difficult to let go of something when you put so much of yourself into it?
Kassin: It’s always a challenge. I feel very happy with this album. I think my last album, “Sonhando Devagar,” was a huge step forward from “Futurismo” (my album with the +2’s). I wanted “Relax” to be a new step forward, a totally new direction from my previous albums. They are all connected by the songwriting, but you can quickly point to which song is on which album. I feel I achieved that with “Relax.”
TrunkSpace: There are so many different styles and techniques present on the album. What do you think “Relax” would say about who you are as an artist to someone who ONLY had this particular album to go by?
Kassin: I think my records are for people who love music. Listeners hear that in my albums. I know when you hear them that you are listening to a lot of different genres, not just one.
TrunkSpace: Of course, a single record is not all that defines you. Not only have you released numerous albums of your own, but you’ve produced about 100 records for other artists as well. As you look back over your career in music, what are you most proud of thus far?
Kassin: I am proud of all of it. I really love music. You need to love it to make all this stuff and sometimes I feel people think it’s not cool to say that. I think out of my records, I’m very proud of some albums I did for my idols: like Bebeto Castilho (“Amendoeira”), the Los Hermanos’ records, Vanessa Da Mata, Zé Manoel (“Canção do Silencio” is a masterpiece), Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Erasmo Carlos, Totonho e os Cabra, Me and the Plant (“Journeys Thought…” I did this record with Roy Cicala). I don’t know, I’ve done so many records it’s really hard to point to a few. I like all of them. I only regret sometimes not having the time to finish something as I had wanted.
TrunkSpace: If you could sit down and have a conversation with your 16-year-old self, would he be happy with the artist you’ve become? Would he be surprised?
Kassin: I started working when I was 12. I think about it daily that what I do in life didn’t change, just the scope of it changed. I never expected I would actually become what I became, but it was already there. I was buying records and listening to them all day when I was 8. And I still do it, so nothing has changed. It’s kind of boring you could say but that’s how it is…
TrunkSpace: Is your songwriting process different now than when you first started writing? Do you approach it from a different perspective in your present day form?
Kassin: It’s changed a lot during the years. Nowadays, I can think of a melody and know the chord I want on it. So when I write, I think melody, lyrics and arrangements together. The idea is in my head until I start recording. I don’t play it on an instrument beforehand. When I record the song, it’s usually the first time I hear it outside my head. It’s odd, but it’s how it is.
TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a songwriter?
Kassin: It’s still a process for me. I think I’m getting better at it. I think about songs everyday. It’s an addiction, it’s a muscle as well. I never thought of myself as a singer, but I had so many personal songs that at a certain point, if I didn’t sing them, nobody would. I needed to give a voice to them. After that, they were covered by other people. It’s beautiful to hear Bebel Gilberto singing “Tranquilo” or Caetano Veloso singing “Agua,” it means a lot to me that they heard it and made it their own.
TrunkSpace: Is there anything you would give up music for or to experience?
Kassin: I don’t think so. I love music. That’s my thing.
“Relax” is available today from Luaka Bop.