Erik Hassle’s Visa Problems Turned Out to be, Well, a Hassle



“I grew up in a really shitty place two hours south of Stockholm and now I’m playing Soho House in New York,” Erik Hassle gushed to an intimate crowd Tuesday night during a six-song showcase that marked his first perfomance on American soil. The lanky 21-year-old was scheduled to make quite a bigger splash in New York, Los Angeles and SXSW to promote his much-anticipated debut Pieces, which dropped yesterday on iTunes. Unfortunately, his visa application got held up so he’s not allowed to play any public shows on this tour. His show at the Viper Room  last night had to go invite-only. Even so, Hassle was pretty upbeat after the first performance. He told me he’d spoofed the customs fiasco in an AOL video sketch where, “I could only play for 20 seconds before I had to stop and say something about the U.S., and then I could continue,” he says. “But I’ve been trying to sing myself here my whole life so this feels incredible.” That enthusiasm came out Tuesday through Hassle’s shockingly soulful delivery of the acoustic versions of his pop hits “Don’t Bring Flowers” and the digitally skyrocketing single “Hurtful.” He also served up a blistering cover of Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love” that made me completely  forget I was watching a 6-foot-3 Swede who wasn’t born until a quarter-century after Cooke’s tragic death in an L.A. hotel.

“When I first heard Wilson Pickett sing ‘I’m In Love’ or a cover of ‘Hey, Jude’ I just wanted to scream,” recalls the singer, who was introduced to Swedish punk  and American soul at a young age. He also had a “natural introduction” to learning instruments because his hippie-ish parents moved the family to a rural village with a population of 600 when he was just nine and turned a barn-like building in their garden into the village theater. “All the musicians stayed at our ouse and they had all their instruments out so I kind of got into it in a sweet way,” he says, making sure to note that, “In small cities people like to get drunk and it got pretty wild. Me and my friends would be playing soccer between old people having sex.”

This unorthodox schooling seems to have paid off. Hassle met his manager at the age of 17 when he was studying at Stockholm’s musical secondary school Rytmus (where Swedish pop singer Robyn trained her Grammy-nominated voice), where he learned to blend his R&B upbringing with a pop sound that was born in the schools of British New Wave. “The school reintroduced me to pop—a lot of stuff I had forgotten about or just missed, like Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Joy Division,” says Hassle. “I’ve always wanted to sing the soul I grew up with, but I was really blown away by these amazing minimalist elements in pop songs.” If that sounds naive, remember that we’re talking about a (very talented)  21-year-old with an orange fro and a tattoo of his siblings’ birthdays on his right arm so he’ll remember them. With that youth also come adolescent lyrics about heartbreak and some synthy beats that we’ll call universal, but the range of Hassle’s voice is undeniably powerful. “I don’t really care about a song or lyrics, I’m really just interested in the way people emphasize words,” explains Hassle. “That’s what makes a strong impact on me.” By his next (and hopefully more public) U.S. tour in April, he may well have a lot more people thinking that way.

Pieces is out on iTunes.