“Fritz Cola or beer?” is the question as LOU ASRIL gets comfortable in the office of his agency in Vienna’s Seventh District. Although the 23-year-old would probably rather be in the train on the way home to Upper Austria at the end of a long day, he’s still in a good mood and feeling chatty. Sipping cola, the young musician talks about existential fear, gender fluidity, and Lil’ Kim.
The special thing about Lou Asril is how unassuming he is as a person: it’s a stark contrast to the strength of his convictions and his plans for the future, and it makes them all the more believable. His new EP, RETROMIX21, signals a departure from the smooth soul niche he’s been inhabiting, flaunting ample power and a pop-diva attitude. The EP ranges from ‘00s pop to London Fashion Week, to dreamy passion. Just back from Berlin, Lou Asril sat down with Ania Gleich to talk about how he packed all that into six tracks and what has changed since his hit debut.
What does Berlin have that you don’t get in Vienna?
LOU ASRIL: Berlin gives me a much greater feeling of freedom and anonymity. And the chance to rediscover myself as an artist. It’s also a special feeling to have a new home, outside of Austria and other points of reference here that I know really intimately. It’s a kind of reset.
Did you need the anonymity?
LOU ASRIL: Yeah. I mean, it’s not that it was so intense here in Austria that I couldn’t stand it anymore…but I am the kind of person who likes to go out and know that I’m not going to meet a lot of people I know.
Your last interview with mica – music austria was in 2019. What’s changed for you since then?
LOU ASRIL: So much has happened…first of all, a lot of development in different areas. I’ve tried some new things out – in the way I work and with whom, how I see my art and how I want to make art in the future. I realized a lot of things, and I learned a lot.
So, more ‘finding’ than ‘searching’?
LOU ASRIL: Definitely.
Still, RETROMIX21 has something searching, something dreaming about it. Would you agree?
LOU ASRIL: It’s definitely dreamier and more interwoven. I was more direct on louasril, but on this EP a lot of additional aspects have arisen that I wanted to address. Until a few years ago, my sexuality was the biggest issue in my life, and I worked out my experiences in music; that was the output. RETROMIX21 deals with a lot more themes.
LOU ASRIL: In general, I want to leave things as open as possible: there should be room for the listener to interpret and discover the issues for themselves. Naturally I’ve included more familiar themes as well, as the track “MaMaMaMa” shows. But still, a lot more fears that I didn’t used to have emerged. At nineteen, I was convinced that a lot less could happen to me. In the last four years, I’ve become more sensitive to my fears.
“I accept the fear and uncertainty, but it’s exactly those things that I want to transform into strength.”
How did you get (re)acquainted with fear?
LOU ASRIL: A lot of the songs are very inspired by the relationship I was in when I wrote them. It was an open relationship, and it was always associated with a very intense fear of loss for me. It felt like it was constantly in limbo: what it was progressing toward, and whether it made sense. We got along great, but we had different ideas of what we wanted and expected than what it turned out to be. In that sense, there was a lot of fear involved. But aside from that, existential fears also caught up with me, fears that were definitely influenced from the state of the world.
And how do you break through the fear?
Lou Asril: There’s always a ray of hope. That almost imperceptible nudge of motivation, that also pushes me to make music. A feeling that tries to express: OK, I accept the fear and uncertainty, but it’s exactly those things that I want to transform into strength.
But you’re clearly telling someone off on “MaMaMaMa”, aren’t you?
Lou Asril: There is a specific person I wrote that to. They were very close to me and my mom. That person said some stupid things, that I didn’t contradict at the time because the situation didn’t allow it and it would have just made things worse. But that’s where the song came from. And that was also the first time that I wanted to include an aspect like that in my music.
That kind of anger?
Lou Asril: Yes – but also something that personal. Issues like love and sexuality were already familiar to me – they’re still important to me now, of course, but I’ve gotten used to them to a certain extent. I was a lot more concerned before releasing “MaMaMaMa”; I wasn’t sure how people would take it.
Even though sexuality is also a very intimate subject.
Lou Asril: I don’t think I’ve ever written a song where sexuality isn’t present on some level. Even on “MaMaMaMa” or “Same Planet”, where it’s not primarily about sexuality, there are statements where it comes through. It’s still one of the building blocks of my life, but I’m glad that it’s expanding, that new building blocks are being created.
It will be interesting to see what else your twenties bring.
Lou Asril: The period until I turned 19 was very intense for me, but I was always able to internalize it, accept it, try to accept myself. Now I’m having a harder time – I’m trying to break out of some things, but at the same time I don’t know how to reconcile these new facets with my concept of myself.
I think that’s a lifelong process, but one that you feel very intensely in your twenties.
Lou Asril: Ha! Well, that’s certainly how I feel at the moment!
Talking about a different process: how was the production of this EP different from that of louasril?
Lou Asril: The production was much more unified. I produced the whole EP with Maximilian Walch; Moritz Köller collaborated on “MaMaMaMa”, and Lex Lugner worked on “Breathe”. The idea of RETROMIX21 really got started in May of 2020. It may sound strange, but the pandemic was really kind of a boon for me. Otherwise things never would have happened that way.
Do you mean the content or the product?
Lou Asril: Both. I probably would have been on tour and working on other songs with other people. I think I tried to create a sort of mini-oeuvre, both musically and visually. And that was great preparation for the album that I want to make next. There are songs I want to put on it that I wrote when I was 16, and songs I wrote last year. The experience I got out of making RETROMIX21 helps me realize that much more completely.
How did you record these songs?
Lou Asril: I was at Max’s studio, and he showed me his demos. I was interested in several of them, and I wrote over them. Then we worked on them for two years.
It’s gotten a lot more electronic.
Lou Asril: Particularly in the last few years, I’ve started listening to a lot more electronic music; the late 90s and early 2000s have been especially inspiring.
What were you listening to?
Lou Asril: Missy Elliot, for instance her album The Cookbook. Lil’ Kim – I love her music, but I love her attitude even more. But early Rihanna tracks, too!
Hence the title ‘RETROMIX21’?
Lou Asril: There’s no deep story behind that; it just matched the vibe. 2021 was the central year for the whole process. ‘Mix’ because even if the sound is very defined, very unified, it still moves through a lot of different genres: pop, R’n’B, house, even a little footwork and hip-hop. And ‘retro’ because I was inspired by tracks that are already twenty years old.
Didn’t you turn 21 in 2021 as well?
Lou Asril: Haha, you’re right!
Is the album an echo of your generation?
Lou Asril: For sure, unconsciously. I wouldn’t say that I specifically aimed to present the things that have uplifted our generation, or that have been on our minds. But the fluid way I present myself on the album – both gender-fluid and fluid in terms of my characters – I do represent an openness or a mindset that’s very present in my generation.
How personal is that aspect for you?
Lou Asril: Well…I do identify as a guy – he/him – but I don’t see it as very important to me personally. Whatever you call me, if I want to feel spoken to, I’ll pay attention.
The videos are total fashion shows. How did that come about?
Lou Asril: I think that in the whole process, different characters developed, and they needed – literally – to be shown. The emotions on each track are represented by the outfits! Everything happens in one universe, true, but every track has its own energy. That’s why it was important to me that I see it in myself. I developed the outfits with my stylist, Marie-Therese Fritz. We sat down together several times, sent ideas back and forth, and that’s how it evolved. We shot the whole thing in Berlin, but then I did the editing myself. That’s why I was so deep inside the computer in the last few months: I wanted to present them in the way that was right for me. I felt that I was the only one who could do it. Besides, it would have been much more time-consuming and stressful to try to explain it to someone else. But the biggest difference from the first EP – people always wrote “soulful” or “smooth”. Now I want to present myself as a pop diva! But it doesn’t mean that it’s a new Lou Asril. We’ll see what happens next!
What will happen next?
Lou Asril: A big, beautiful project!
But you can’t say anything about it yet?
Lou Asril: I can just say this much: I’m working on a couple of tracks already. The new album will have a lot to do with my past; it’s going to be organized chronologically.
But first, you’re going on tour?
Lou Asril: Right – it starts in Graz on the 30th, then there are several shows in Austria, a brief stop in Switzerland, and later to Germany. And in mid-May it’s all over.
Cheesy last question, but: what do you wish for right now?
Lou Asril: That everything keeps going, if I’m being honest. I’ve been so occupied with RETROMIX21 in the last three years that I’m looking forward to a new chapter.
Then I hope it works out for you!
Lou Asril: And thank you for the talk!
Translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger