From homeless to hyped – the story of XOV

Ripped off by his friends, bankrupt and alone in the cold archipelago – that was Damian Ardestani’s life a few years back. Today he’s a one of the most interesting new Swedish artists, with an EP just out and an amazing story to tell.

When you read the press release for XOV you find it all almost too absurd. Commuting between a remote cottage in Stockholm’s archipelago and big studios in LA. Going from having hit rock bottom two years ago to being part of The Hunger Games soundtrack and releasing a highly anticipated EP. Damian Ardestani has definitely had a life full of contrasts.

The man behind the music alias XOV has released only a few songs but all with an impressive sound; dark pop filled to the brim with feelings. Radar met up with the musician and his dog Everly in the small cabin where he spends his time (when he’s not off to studios in downtown Stockholm or LA). Living in such a remote place is not the only thing that’s quite unusual about Damian’s life story – we start the interview with another subject: that time when Lorde tweeted him.
– I was in LA, having breakfast when I got a notification on Twitter. It said “Lorde has sent you a message”. I thought it was just a spam but not long after I realised it was really her.

I had gained 50 kilos  and had a dental plate at this time, so when I woke up I would find myself fat, with no teeth and half blind without my lenses

Lorde was at this time curating the soundtrack for the new Hunger Games movie. The message stated that she loved the XOV-song Lucifer and wanted his music to be featured in the movie. Lucifer is in fact a more accurate place to start, when telling Damian’s life story, and where everything took a big turn. He went from being alone, broke, angry and betrayed to where he is now: an acclaimed musician who has just begun his career. And Lucifer was the song that made it all happen.

Two years ago Damian found himself being ripped off by people he thought were his friends. He had lost his company and didn’t have anywhere to go. Literally; no place to stay. So, he borrowed a friend’s summerhouse and spent his days in minus 20 degrees, being drunk on whiskey and plotting his revenge. Would he hunt the people down? Use violence? Ask his friends to beat them up?

Fortunately Damian didn’t act out on any of these thoughts. Instead, he wrote a song. Shitfaced, in the middle of the cold night with his dog howling by his side. And the lyrics? The message is clear: you’re lucky I’m this new, mature person and not young and reckless anymore. Lucifer contains all the anger and hopelessness boiling inside of Damian during this time of his life. He describes it as a total low point.
– I had gained 50 kilos and had a dental plate at this time, so when I woke up I would find myself fat, with no teeth and half blind without my lenses. Also I was totally broke, deceived by my friends and completely alone. People don’t know what “rock bottom” means. That was it.

XOV

But Lucifer changed everything. Within a few weeks Damian was flown to LA, got to meet with Max Martin who told him he loved the XOV-sound, and from there it’s been moving forward, fast. Damian emphasizes that Martin only gave him his best wishes; the music is all Damian’s and fellow producer Kono’s work, despite what some articles might state.

Another thing that’s recurring in articles about XOV, along the Max Martin-subject, is your upbringing. Did you really grow up in a “rough ghetto”?
– Haha no, I wouldn’t describe it like that even though I know a lot of journalists write that. I grew up in Tensta, which is a suburb, not a ghetto. I love Tensta but there was a lot of violence, that part is true.

There’s this story about you having a run-in with a Neo-Nazi gang when you were thirteen, is that true?
– Yes, that’s all true, fighting racists was a big part of my teens. I got my teeth knocked out in that fight, hence the dental plate I wore two years ago. That shit has haunted me my whole life, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago I got new teeth.

The debut album Damian is currently working tells the story of his life and his childhood in the suburbs. It has a lot more hiphop influenses than the Lucifer EP which is released today, Damian explains. The six-track EP, on the other hand, depicts the last chaotic years of his life.
– The first song Lucifer contains all the anger I felt when my life crashed. The second song Boy’s Don’t Cry is all the despair of the situation, Chaos is about not feeling sorry for yourself, the message is “get over it, get on with your life”. The EP ends with first Paradise, a positive song that follows by Lucifer in a naked version that ties the whole thing together since that was the song that started it all.

I’m grateful that my dad was a narcotic, I’m grateful that my life crashed and that my friends turned their backs on me, because it has all led to this

At the moment Damian and producer Kono are putting the finishing touches to a full-length album set for this spring. Even though a big part of the music industry is keen on working with XOV, (Damian has a few stories involving both hotshot record label bosses and people like Kanye West’s manager) offering money and fame, he handles it all with an impressing cool. The reason, he explains, is that this time around he knows it’s all just a big circus.
– I have been in the industry for a long time and I’ve been offered a lot of money to do stuff I didn’t really feel like. Before when I made music I did it with money as the objective and when my life crashed I learned that doesn’t work.

How do you keep from getting seduced by all the fame and money?
– Before when I did stuff, being the boss of an event company or running my own record company, I was always playing a roll. And I lost it all; the money and the company, and was left with nothing except me and my story. But since then it’s been going really well, so I learned that the key to it all is to be yourself without compromising.

– I also spend a lot of time by myself in this cabin which is a good way to keep me grounded. It’s far away from all the madness in LA, which I do love but it’s all just a big bubble.

How does your strong independence correspond with you being a part of the music industry?
– I’m both an artist, a songwriter and a producer, so I’m doing it all, together with Kono. We had everything done when we got signed so we didn’t really need anything from any record label.

That’s a very fortunate position to be in!
– Yes, it definitely is, but it’s because I’ve said no to a lot of stuff that could have made me less independent. Now I have the pleasure of telling the industry: “My team and I are going to finish this album whether you’re in or not. We’re a train and we’re rolling. If you want to get on and make this even better, be my guest, but if not, that’s fine, we’re going to keep on rolling anyway”.

That sounds great.
– Yes, I am the artist I always wanted to be. All roads have led to this and that’s why I hate when people paint me as this victim. You shouldn’t feel sorry for people just beacuse they’ve had a difficult life. I’m grateful for everything that’s happened in my life. I’m grateful that my dad was a narcotic, I’m grateful that my life crashed and that my friends turned their backs on me, because it has all led to this.

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