Sebastian Mikael is in his own lane, with his own sound and unique personality. His current stature definitely didn’t happen overnight, the R&B singer got his first taste of the music industry in 2013 but it was an unfortunate series of events that eventually clouded his focus and direction.
The now 30-year-old describes himself as “a regular kid who followed his dreams and stuck with it.” His goal has always been to inspire others to do the same in whatever medium of art they’re in — not following any one type of trajectory because it varies from person to person. The Sweden-born, Boston-raised artist returned to music in December of last year after a four-year hiatus, delivering his critically-acclaimed EP titled I C U U C ME, Pt. 1.
From the seven-track project is lead single “Time,” a record he surprisingly considered a throwaway initially. It was the smooth, sultry visual exuding immediate 90’s energy that made all the difference, highlighting his fashion-forward style and pairing it with romance. In the end, he leaves the question up to you: is this reality or a dream?
Sebastian’s sound is soulful, alternative, and Afrofuturistic, from the style to the sound. He reiterated, “Soul is the main ingredient. It all stems from soul music but it has a new futuristic type of sound to it. It just hits differently.”
Flaunt Mag caught up with Mikael in his few days in Los Angeles, on the road opening for fellow R&B crooner Mahalia. We chatted about his upbringing in Boston, addictions, the creation of “Time,” and current goals.
You’re born in Sweden but raised in Boston, how does that play into your life and career?
Boston is where I got my start, that’s where I started doing music. It showed me how to really grind and hustle be cause it’s not a market out there, we had to work really hard to be seen. It definitely shaped me, it taught me about work ethic. Because I work with a lot of artists from Boston, our sound is definitely a new wave of Boston. Our sounds are different but we compliment each other, so it’s really a collective of people doing the same type of thing.
How important is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
Honestly, I don’t think artists should go to LA when they’re in the beginning stages. That’s the last stop in your journey. You know, it’s not easy to get on in LA. If you’re not from here, it’s not easy to get in with the right type of creatives, producers, or whoever you’re trying to get in with. It’s very secluded. People come out here and they’re already set. To me, it’s better if you start in New York or wherever you’re from, try to conquer that city first then move out to LA.
Favorite part about the West Coast?
The weed, the weather, the women. The three dubs. The three W’s. [chuckles] No but for real, that’s really what it is. The weather, the weed, the people… it’s nice.
At what point did you realize this music thing was forreal?
When I had my first single in 2013. I put out my first single “Last Night” (featuring Wale) and saw the song I made was charting, that was a big deal for me. That’s when I really felt like I was in the industry, I got my foot in. That was 2013 or 2014.
How have you evolved since you dropped that?
Aw man, a lot. I found myself, my sound, and the type of artist I want to be. Because I was away for a couple of years. I was really trying to create a sound for myself, something I can own. Now this is kind of the beginning new me, I had to start over.
What happened that caused the hiatus?
It was a lot of personal things. Also, I didn’t like the music I was making. Because it really wasn’t my direction, it was what the labels wanted. I was with Slip-N-Slide Records and Capitol.
Did they have a joint venture?
Yeah, I didn’t like it. I felt like it was a label play, it wasn’t me. You have to step away from the limelight and really figure out who you are as an artist, the type of music you’re making. You never want to depend on other writers, or the labels in general. You gotta know that even if I wasn’t with a label, I’d still be good. I’d still be able to create my music. I can still put it out if I want to. I can still perform. You want to be self-sufficient in that way, that was my goal. So when I come back now, I have full creative control. Everything I created was done by me in my bedroom. I record myself.
Do you engineer and producer yourself?
Mmhmm. I don’t produce everything myself, but I engineer myself and co-produce everything.
What inspires you creatively?
Really just life. Going through shit, being able to talk about it. I usually can’t talk about it while I’m going through it but once you find a solution and you learn from it, that’s when you can. I like to really gain a lot of knowledge through my music, I like to share knowledge through my music as well.
“Time” is at over 1.8 million views on Youtube, did you foresee it blowing up like this?
No, not at all. That was my least favorite song, I didn’t even want it to come out to be honest. We were at the end, I finished my project and had my two EPs done. They’re like “we need another song.” I’m like “oh God [sighs], I just want to put it out.” They sent me the beat and had an idea for the hook, but I wasn’t feeling it. They had thrown different ideas out there from different writers, I’m like “I’ll see what I can do.” Basically I took the hook idea from a songwriter I was working with at the time and just made my own verses, then I flipped the hook. What he originally had, I flipped it and made it into something else that was my own.
When I made it, I’m like “alright here you go.” It was the label asking for something, they’re like “we want to shoot a video.” I’m like “noooo.” I told them I have a girl for the video and didn’t say it was my actual girl. We flew her out and during the video shoot, I kept telling her “don’t tell them you’re my girl.” Because I was trying to finesse them. But afterwards, people were like “omg, we loved that you used your actual girl in the video. That was so genius. What made you…?” I’m like “psstt, she’d be mad at me if I didn’t use her in the video.” [chuckles] I didn’t really want it to come out but when it came out, obviously I was proved wrong. I’m happy it came out, that’s all I can say.
What’s one thing you want fans to get from I C U U C ME PART I?
Just my story: things I went through, things I overcame. Every song is different. I don’t have a lot of love songs, which is rare when you do R&B. “Time” is the only love song that I have. Everything else is about overcoming addiction, living a certain lifestyle that was toxic, just going through other things in life. There’s more to it than just relationships, so just sharing my story.
What addictions were you going through?
I was actually selling drugs. I didn’t do anything until I stopped selling drugs and that’s when I started. But a lot of things happened in my life that drove me into doing that. It was pills, it was coke, things like that. Party shit.
Are you still partying?
No, I’m done with that. I mean I party, but I’m not doing drugs.
I see you got I C U U C ME tatted on your neck. What’s the significance?
I got this before the project came out. That was a clothing brand me and my best friend had, we were hustling trying to make money that we could invest into the clothing brand. That’s the reason why I was selling drugs and doing what I was doing, only so I could invest money into it. Then in 2017, he was shot and killed during something that we were doing.
Was it on some street shit?
Yeah, this was in Boston. That day, I was supposed to go with him. I was with him, but I remember not feeling good about what they’re about to do. Whatever lick they had planned out, I didn’t feel good about it. So he dropped me off at the studio to finish mixing the EP, and that was the last time I seen him. After that happened, I chose to use that name for the EP and I got it tatted. That’s why it says “in the after life.”
Did that hurt? It’s on your Adam’s apple.
It really didn’t, not too much. They have to pull your skin and they can’t go too deep, so it’s not actually too bad. But that became the EP.
That must’ve been traumatic.
Absolutely. You kind of realize the gift within the tragedy. It was a confirmation for me to just go hard on my music. You have to roll with the punches and keep going.
What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
To get better, to get nice at what I’m doing. Keep creating, keep making music. I set goals for myself, like I always want to collab with more people. I want awards, Grammys, all that. But I’m trying not to focus on those things, I’d rather focus on the actual work that’s going to get me to that point.
How important is social media for your career?
It’s important but it’s not. It’s not the end all be all. I could stay away from it and still do what I have to do. We’re so used to it now that it’s expected from me, but I don’t think it makes or breaks your career. You see artists out there that are doing great and they’re not on Instagram… barely.
You have to figure out what type of artist you are. Are you a quantity type artist or are you a quality type artist? You got quality artists like Cole, Kendrick, Childish Gambino, then you got the quantity artists that are the majority of artists. No shade to those type of artists but if that’s what you’re doing, you have to be more active on IG.
Who’s your favorite person to follow on IG?
I follow more brands. I like Vashtie’s page a lot. She’s a sneakerhead/designer. She was the first woman to design a Jordan sneaker. She was the first spokeswoman for Supreme. She’s controlling the tribe in New York, she’s a heavyweight.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
A normal day for me is kind of boring, I do the same thing every day. I wake up, I work on music. I might rehearse if my band is in town. It’s just working for me, I wake up and I work. Smoke weed, go to sleep, do the same thing all over again.
3 things you need in your home studio?
Coffee, tea. I drink both. [chuckles] I love coffee in the morning, the smell is amazing. I read magazines, I usually have something on the screen on mute so I can watch it while I’m creating. It has to feel inspirational. I don’t like being in a regular studio, I like having a room like this where you have a nice couch and different art pieces around.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
I’d be painting. Love to paint. I actually did both of my cover arts but I collaborated with an artist from NY. I definitely was drawing some shit for the album cover. Before I was doing music, I used to write graffiti. It was my life, that’s wanted I wanted to do for a living. That’s what I would’ve done if music didn’t end up becoming my life.
Greatest memory on the Love and Compromise Tour?
So far, it’s been Portland. Portland was a great show, it was just so much fun. It was a really fun show. And probably Chicago, also a great show. We’re just getting started so you’ll see.
What’s the energy with Mahalia?
Awesome, her energy is great. Everybody that’s on tour is super cool. It’s fun, we’re just having fun with it. There’s no egos, that’s what I like about the tour the most. Everybody’s just focused on having the best show possible. It’s not about “oh, I’ma go up there and kill it more than you did” or whatever. We just want it to be a full out good show, want the audience to be satisfied when they walk out and feel like they got their moneys’ worth.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
Oh! Actually, it was a lady. She might’ve been 50 or 60, she was so excited to see me. She’s like, “I love your music, it reminds me of Marvin Gaye.” She was naming all these singers that I grew up listening to. Her coming up to me and complimenting me, her being that old and still relating to the music was dope.