There’s always something heart-warming and endearing about seeing two close friends chat away in their own rhythm and cadences — like you’re watching your comfort TV show or listening to your favourite album. That’s exactly how we felt when we sat down with prolific songwriters Dan Bryer and Mike Needle to chat about their 2021 mega hit, Tom Grennan’s Little Bit of Love.
It’s easy to assume that the songs we hear on the radio are created by some gargantuan corporate songwriting machine, relentlessly churning out pop bangers. But in actuality, they’re often the product of a few talented people, sat in a in room discussing their own lived experiences so that they can write a song they truly care about. This is certainly the case with Little Bit of Love. And when you boil it down, that’s music at its most basic level — something that’s designed make us feel.
We were keen to find out how Dan and Mike got into songwriting and how their relationship blossomed because of it. Dan tells us, ‘Well, I was into drumming in bands and stuff growing up, and it slowly evolved into that I was far more interested in the songwriting and production process than actually being a session drummer... ‘
‘It's very much about getting that melody, getting that chorus, getting the lyric, getting the, you know, “Why the fuck are we telling this story?'
‘Thank God for that mate, ‘ Mike quips, the teasing and in-jokes will become a theme of our conversation.
Dan laughs, ‘There's a joke in the studio where we say, “No, I’m the best drummer here” and so it gets a bit competitive. Nobody’s won yet. But yeah, I did drumming for a minute and then when I was at university I got a very small publishing deal. I met Jamie and Mike kind of at the right time. What a perfect love story. It's about seven or eight years ago now and we both started writing together, had a very similar ideology about how we like to do things, and I think we just clicked.’
And what about Mike? ‘I was in bands when I was younger.’
Dan coughs, ‘Boy bands.’
Mike laughs and continues: ‘Mate, I have no problem with that. I took a slightly different path when I left school. I tried getting into music, it didn't quite work for me. I used to play tennis to quite a high level and so I became a tennis coach for six years. And then, you know the cliché story, broke up with a girlfriend and started writing about it and sent a few songs off to a few people and it got a like a half decent reaction. Then I fell into doing some sync work for EMI Publishing through Sony ATV and that's how I met Dan.’
So what does it take to write a hit? ‘It's very much about getting that melody, getting that chorus, getting the lyric, getting the, you know, “Why the fuck are we telling this story? Have we got purpose for what we're doing here?”’
Dan adds, ‘It's about finding that one spark, whether it's just us thrashing away on a guitar or a piano, or whether one of us comes in with a melody idea, one person has got a lyric thing they want to talk about, or a title. Just that one little essence of spark that we can then — between us and an artist — flesh out and hopefully take over the finishing line.’
Little Bit of Love was huge in 2021, peaking at No.7 in the UK charts and earning Tom Grennan a Song of the Year BRIT Award nomination. Discussing its origins, Dan recalls, ‘It was the first writing session [we had] with Tom. We’d never worked with him before and I just remember it being a kind of blur of melodies being thrown around, all of us just coming up with random different bits and before we knew it, we had half a song there.’
Mike adds, ‘I remember sitting down with him and he was obviously going through a few things. I think if someone is going to perform a song ten thousand times in their career, they will eventually get bored of a melody. If you write a lyric that genuinely means something to them it will always take them back to that place. Any artist I ever speak to that's been in the game for quite a while, that's the one thing they always say – they can always grab hold of a lyric, that can always give them that extra 10 percent they need when they're performing it.’
'Our aim ultimately is to write songs that will last the test of time. That's always our approach going into a studio.’
Mike jumps in, singing Tom’s praises with a story from the studio. He says, ‘Once we finished the song, there's one lyric in the chorus that bugged me. By that stage we had the whole song bar one line of the chorus. I remember calling Tom and the following day he was flying to Greece. He was living in east London at the time and we were in Guildford — it's a two plus hour journey — and I remember going, “Mate, I need you to come back, you gotta sing this lyric,” so Tom — and the second he did this I said "I'll work as hard as I can for you mate because you want this" — drove back at about 11 pm. He re-sang that one line in the chorus but me and Dan thought, “We can't just spend half an hour with him and let him drive back, let's write something." Writers — we just have to go to the studio and write. Artists have the promo, the concerts, the studio time, and for him to do that I was just like, “Wow. This is the guy that wants it as much as we do.”’
Was there a plan to go into the writing session and create this big, emotional song? Dan ponders this one a little before diving further into the bones of the track. ‘I think from a stylistic point of view, Tom's records — and indeed everything else in the charts — didn't really have that gospel feel at the time. That's the thing that interested me. I remember listening back to it the next day as a finished piece and just having that certainty that it was going to be a really big song. I'd never quite felt it like that before. Our aim ultimately is to write songs that will last the test of time. That's always our approach going into a studio.’
‘I think the nice thing about it being nominated for Most Performed Work is that it ties back into why do you start making music in the first place.'
The 2022 Ivors — the holy grail of award ceremonies for songwriters — is just a few days away , and Little Bit of Love has been nominated for the PRS for Music Most Performed Work Award. Mike says, ‘It is hand on heart the most incredible feeling and I genuinely mean that. Being nominated [in a category] with this type of prestige adds whole other layer to it. I'm really tight with Tom and I just said, “Tom mate, this is something that most artists and writers never get the chance to experience, so take it in because it's an incredible feeling.”’
Dan adds, ‘I think the nice thing about it being nominated for Most Performed Work is that it ties back into why do you start making music in the first place. You have to be a bit crazy to go into it thinking that you want to make money from it, so it's never really that. It's about making a positive impact on the world. The fact that other people relate to it and it's the most performed work goes back to that — they like it enough to have it get the popularity that has now. I'm immensely proud of it and I'm immensely proud of us three for capturing that moment.’