Photo: Hugo

Photo: Hugo

Will Shenton

Few things in the music industry are certain, but every once in a while we at ThrdCoast have the pleasure of encountering an artist that we can tell is about to make it big. When i am not Hugo, the debut EP of Swiss songwriter Hugo, came across our desk a few weeks ago, we knew we’d found something promising.

In just four songs, this record displays a frankly astonishing range of styles. From the energetic dance beats of “Fall” to the contemplative, melancholy acoustic instrumentation of “Old Heart,” i am not Hugo demonstrates a rare degree of creative competence and willingness to experiment. The songwriting is tight, complex, and layered with diverse textures that keep you coming back for dozens of repeat listens. On top of that, every track is beautifully produced — listening to this EP with a nice set of headphones is a truly engrossing experience.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Hugo about his songwriting process, his influences, and what he has planned for the future. I suggest you take a listen, as I think it’s safe to say you’ll be hearing a lot more about this guy in the coming months.

ThrdCoast: Is i am not Hugo your true debut? That is, have you worked on any other releases under a different name or as part of a different collaboration? I ask because the production value suggests this might not be your first effort.

Hugo: i am not Hugo is my first EP. I took a lot of time working on it because I wanted it to be right. I am very happy that people like it.

TC: According to the description on your website, this EP was a collaboration among you, producer Ruedi Tobler, and songwriter Ale. How would you describe each person's contribution to this album, including your own? And what brought the three of you together in the first place?

H: I have always been an artist in my head and always felt the need to express myself through art. With Hugo I want to create a platform, where different artists can unite and create something positive and beautiful through music and performance art. I want Hugo to be a shelter and celebration of the underdogs of our society.

Through Ale, I found somebody who could help me collect my thoughts and really define my vision. It was basically me sitting on the piano and us freestyling melodies and song lyrics. Ruedi Tobler was a producer I met through friends. Through him I was able to record my songs as high-quality productions.

TC: I try to avoid attaching arbitrary genre definitions to music when I can, as I prefer to hear what the artists themselves have to say about it. How would you describe your musical style, and what sort of aesthetic and emotions were you trying to evoke in your listeners when creating i am not Hugo?

H: I never thought about what genre my music should be in. My goal was to create something real, raw and honest. To escape the pigeon-holing, I decided to put my music in my own genre, where I can make the rules. I call it Emopop.

I want my listeners to feel happy, hopeful and free when listening to my music. i am not Hugo talks about different, painful situations and how we can find hope in every one of them. As long as you stay true to yourself, you can overcome everything.

TC:  What bands have been your biggest influences and inspirations? Similarly, what have you been listening to recently?

H: My biggest inspiration and one of the few real and honest musicians out there is definitely Antony Hegarty of Antony & the Johnsons. His music is all about raw emotions and touching people through his art. Recently, I’ve been listening to FKA Twigs, Lana Del Rey, and Angel Haze.

TC: What has the response to this album release been like in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe? There seems to be relatively limited coverage here in the United States, but it's all been very enthusiastic. I'm curious to know if there's more widespread hype in your home country.

H: The EP was released without a label or any kind of advertising. Therefore, the response has been overwhelming to me. I am very thankful for every little reaction to my music. There isn’t really much Hugo hype in Switzerland, because the music industry is not as important here as it is in other countries. I hope that one day I will get a record deal so I will be able to reach more people all around the world.

TC: I see that you're currently on tour in Switzerland. Do you have any plans to come perform in the US?

H: I would love to perform in other countries, especially in the US, if the opportunity presents itself!

TC: Are there any other studio projects on the horizon for you, such as a full-length album?

H: I have many ideas for my next project. It probably won’t be a full-length album, but there is definitely more music on its way.