Jakob Ogawa is Listening to Madonna, Marvin Gaye, and Moonlight

Published October 4, 2019

Photo by Hedda Rysstad.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. 

Spring came early this year for Oslo native Jakob Ogawa. Although you may recognize his signature sparkling synth-y sound from 2017’s Bedroom Tapes, his latest EP, April, feels brand new. “I started it during the first weeks in a relationship,” Ogawa explains. “So it was very vibrant. It had a lot of goosebumps and butterflies.” But that doesn’t mean it’s missing the lo-fi nostalgia he tripped out on tracks like “You Might Be Sleeping”—a duet with indie-rock darling Clairo. April’s “Acid Atari” is a blast from the past, particularly one that takes place in a neon-lit ’80s arcade. Weaving in the bright electronic pings of Pac-Man or Pinball with Ogawa’s smooth vocals, the track has an air of déjà vu as he wonders about the end of a relationship before it’s fully begun. It’s a fitting introduction to an EP that isn’t only fun and games: April is named after the birth month of Ogawa’s quasi-girlfriend at the time of writing, and, though they’re still friends, the relationship didn’t last. Still, retro ’80s relapses and all, Ogawa is focused on what’s to come. “I have a purpose with this EP,” he says. “I feel like there’s a meaning behind it. Everything is building itself up.” Even as he looks back on his musical origins, the Prince concert that changed him, and the drunken karaoke he crushed in Manila, it seems only natural that Ogawa is moving forward, full speed ahead. After all, we all know what they say about April showers. — JADIE STILLWELL

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ERNEST MACIAS: When did you start making music?

JAKOB OGAWA: Well, I was raised in a family that was very musical. My mom, she, does theatre and sings, so at the age of three or four, she gave me Purple Rain by Prince, and I also listened to a lot of Eminem back then. And Madonna, Shania Twain. But Michael Jackson and Prince were probably my big idols as a kid.

MACIAS: That’s a pretty good musical education. 

JAKOB: I also have a father who’s a guitar player. He’s a big idol for me. He’s taught me a lot, and he helped me when I started out. He supported buying software for me, and just really stood up for me. I don’t think I would be here right now if it wasn’t for him. He really pushed me to work harder. 

MACIAS: What was the last song you listened to?

JAKOB: I listened to a song by Patrice Rushen. She was playing at Blue Note Jazz Club, like, Monday. I had no idea that she was going to play the keys, but suddenly she was there, and I’ve listened to her music a lot. It was sort of a dream come true.

MACIAS: Who were the earliest musicians to influence you?

JAKOB: I would say John Lennon. Just the strength in his character. And the way, at the end of his life, he found such peace within him and Yoko, and that whole vibe that he sent out. The song “Woman” by John Lennon, it’s just…relaxing. Also Marvin Gaye.

MACIAS: What about your first concert? 

JAKOB: I think it was in 2016. We played at a small café. It was like the first go I ever did with my music. I was so nervous. I was backstage sweating, and all my friends were there. It was so nerve-wracking. We came up on stage—

MACIAS: And you killed it.

JAKOB: And we killed it.

MACIAS: What about the first concert that you attended?

JAKOB: Prince. I saw him in Oslo in 2000 and probably 2007. My mom took me, and she knew all the lyrics, and I had only listened to “Purple Rain” and “Sign O’ The Times.” But she’s a big Prince fan, so she knew every song. She was standing up. It was crazy. He was standing on the piano and pulling people up on stage and dancing with them. And that energy definitely made a mark. 

MACIAS: How old were you? 

JAKOB: It was 12 years ago, so I was 10. It was crazy. I also saw Miyo. I was a big fan of him back then. Miyo and Clipse.

MACIAS : Your favorite movie soundtrack, if you have one?

JAKOB: There are lots. But I really enjoy the soundtrack to Moonlight. I think the choice of music in that movie is just perfect. Same with If Beale Street Could Talk. They’re both directed by Barry Jenkins, and I think they’re just so surreal.

MACIAS: Who’s your dream collaborator of all time, and currently?

JAKOB: I don’t know if I could manage to collaborate with Prince, because he’s so talented in every sense. I think I would just be too nervous.

MACIAS: You guys would have a good jam session.

JAKOB: It would’ve been like a crazy thing to do, to work with Prince. There’s also a producer that I really love from the ’60s, George Martin. He produced all of the Beatles records. I really like his sounds. 

MACIAS: What about someone current? 

JAKOB: There are a lot of artists that I adore. Blood Orange is one of them. 

MACIAS: What’s a song that always puts you in a good mood?

JAKOB: “I Wanna Be Your Lover” by Prince.

MACIAS: Even the sad songs from Prince always put people in a good mood. What songs or artists would you put on a road trip playlist? 

JAKOB: I’d put “Friend of the Devil” by Grateful Dead.  

MACIAS: What about a dinner party playlist?

JAKOB: I mean, I adore Stan Getz, so all that sensual music. And Bossa Nova, just for family eating. I would probably put some Coltrane. Maybe “In a Sentimental Mood” by Coltrane and Duke Ellington.

MACIAS: House party playlist?

JAKOB: Fela Kuti. And maybe Wham! 

MACIAS:  What about a crying in your bedroom playlist? 

JAKOB: There is a song called “Catch Me I’m Falling” by a new artist, his name is Kelly Finnigan. It’s really sad but so beautiful.

MACIAS: What about a breakup playlist?

JAKOB: I don’t know. I usually listen to some hard shit, so maybe DaBaby. Maybe some A$AP, something to get me off the emotional rollercoaster. 

MACIAS: A high playlist?

JAKOB: I mean, I adore The Beatles, they’re just so nice to listen to when you’re high.

MACIAS: I’ve never done that. I’m going to have to try it. 

JAKOB: It’s crazy. There are a lot of different things I love to listen to while high. There’s a song by Charlotte Dos Santos, it’s called “Good Sign.”

MACIAS: What about a playlist of songs that you would want to play at your funeral?

JAKOB: Bach, man. Chopin. Some classical stuff.

MACIAS: Do you do karaoke?

JAKOB: I did it in Manila in the Philippines. A crazy, crazy night. It was just me, my manager at the time, and my drummer, and we went out and got really drunk. We went to a karaoke bar, and we got all these greetings. My go-to is Bryan Adams. What’s that song? “Everything I Do I Do It For You.” And “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones.

MACIAS: How was karaoke in Manila?

JAKOB: People were really lovely. It’s a big thing over there. 

MACIAS: Do you sing in the shower? 

JAKOB: Oh, yes. I usually just sing melodies. Maybe I’ll write a song in the shower.

MACIAS: Has that happened before? 

JAKOB: Yeah, sure. Cause I had a melody in the shower the other day, and just sat down with a guitar after the shower was done. It’s overly high-pitched in the shower. It’s really screaming in a falsetto. “Lost Without U” by Robin Thicke—that’s a song for the shower.

MACIAS: You said you play almost every instrument. But what is one instrument you’d like to learn how to play?

JAKOB: I would love to learn “In A Sentimental Mood” on the piano. It’s just the chords and harmonies, and the way it transcends into, like, a different world. It’s intense while really heartbreaking, but still beautiful.

MACIAS: If your life were a TV show, what would be the theme song?

JAKOB: That’s a tough one. It’s gotta be kind of cheesy. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna.

MACIAS: Hopefully Madonna will see this. Maybe she’ll send you an email or something. 

JAKOB: I would love to produce a song with you, Madonna.

Listen to Jakob Ogawa’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.