He started playing the drums at 12, moving onto the Danish Academy of Music to study music theory. From there he worked in studios in Copenhagen before working for Warner in the UK on various international projects. He has since teamed up with Danish songwriter and producer Mich Hedin Hansen, aka Cutfather, and, more recently, Black Eyed Peas producer Jean-Bapiste.
We caught up with him to find out a bit more about how he started out, the power of the co-write and his quest to change radio forever…
When did you first start writing songs?
I tried to get into pop music because I’ve always loved it. I was hanging round with pop writers to try to play on their records. At the time I was a non-paid drummer. I would get paid when something was used, but many times with songwriting, it wouldn’t be used and I would just be this kid hanging round the studios playing on things that never came out! Eventually I just got so tired of projects being started and me never being paid that I thought ‘OK, I want to be the writer instead’! I’ve always played about on the piano but that was when I made the decision to start writing seriously. This was around 1996 or 97.
What were your influences?
The thing that really got me into programming was R&B music. I loved No Diggidy by Blackstreet – that was one of the songs that really made me think. Before that I was playing live stuff but then it became obvious to me that there were things you could do in the computer that you couldn’t do playing live, which was really cool. It drew me to the studio. All that R&B stuff that came out in the late 90s that had the fat bass and very American R&B sound was inspirational – Timbaland and all that stuff.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is how important psychology is in a studio session. It’s all about creating the right atmosphere and believing in everything you do.
What led you to write in English?
In Denmark and pretty much all the Nordic countries, we are taught English from a young age. For the first project I did, I found a singer and we co-wrote some songs. She got signed to management and through that I got my first UK productions. I did Point Break and another act that was never released on Warner. It all just came through me making some demos with the singer I found. She loved R&B music and I ended up doing the beats and sometimes the lyrics and melodies, co-writing with other people to get the top line. Lyrically I want to make things that everyone can understand. I always think ‘How can we make this simpler?’ But the driving force is usually the other person, lyrically.
You spent a while working with Cutfather among others. Do you find it easier to co-write or go it alone?
I don’t do many 100 percent writes, it was many years ago since I did. I find it great to co-write. I like to join forces. My strong point is the beat so I need someone else to help me find that great lyric concept or whatever.
So, for you, the starting point is the beat?
That was the way I did it for many years but lately I’ve been going more into the co-write situation with a clean sheet to see what we can come up with together, instead of me forcing ten different beats down someone’s throats and saying, ‘This is what we are going to do today, pick one!’ I find it a lot more inspiring and you don’t limit yourself that way because the chords can go any way. As long as you’re in with someone you’re going to end somewhere great. With a beat, sometimes the writers can feel limited.
How did you get your first break?
After the first year of producing a bunch of songs, Steve Allan at Warner gave me a song on the Point Break album and half an album with a kid called Jamie Lee who was signed to Warner too. Being from here, it was a bigger chance than most people get. It was in the UK and it’s a bigger market than just producing things for Denmark. Because, quite coincidentally, it was the first project I did, it became the template for everything else I did after that.
How has your style developed since then?
I think it’s always been about growth. The second you find a sound and stick to it is the beginning of your end. It’s important to evolve all the time and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Do you do that by seeking out people to collaborate with that might bring something different to the table?
You strive to get in with the bigger the better people you hear of in the business, then once you are in with them, some you click with and some you don’t. And with the ones you do click with, sometimes its co-producing with or whatever, over longer periods. Right now I’m working a lot with Jean-Baptiste, who came out of the Black Eyed Peas camp. That’s kind of my new thing. We’re not a team, because we both work separately, but we do a lot of stuff together.
I don’t think a lot of Danish things have done a lot outside of the country. Other than our producers we don’t really have anything like our ABBA or whatever. Even Norway had A-ha! Denmark is not like Sweden where its been consistent – every tenth year a huge act will come out of country. The same with Stargate or me or Espionage, I’m not really sure what drives us! I think we have a certain mindset in the way we work. The more people I meet from America I see that our work ethic is more strict and hard on ourselves than other people! Maybe that has something to do with it.
From your point of view, what makes a song really universal and gives it mass appeal?
It’s all about the lyrical concept and the way it touches you. It’s that and the feel of the record. You need to make people feel something, even if it’s not with the lyric, if it’s a dance record or whatever. It’s all about touching people.
How easy is it to do that? Do you have to write many songs until that feeling comes along or do you work on one until its perfect?
That’s a hard question! I think I do both. I write a lot of songs every year and obviously not every one gets released. But I also work a long time on them, all of them, since I’m the producer in the sessions. And there are songs where I decide the session didn’t go so well so I’m not going to finish this.
One of the main things I’ve been doing lately is co-writing with the artists, which gives the song a place right away. If everybody loves it, it’s got a home there and then. But then sometimes there are records that just don’t fit that artist for whatever reason and you find another home for it. Sometimes that’s possible and sometimes it isn’t. And when it isn’t, that’s when you think, ‘Oh, that’s probably not as good as I thought it was!’ Everybody can say that they know what a hit record is but at the end of the day, the charts have shown us again and again that we don’t really know. Every now a new sounds pops up that no one had ever thought of.
Curveballs seem to appear and reset the rules, right?
Yes, that’s definitely my new quest. I want to change radio again and again so I’m trying to do something a little different.
How are you going to do that?
It’s important that you don’t just sit and copy everything else that’s on the radio. Of course, through listening to other stuff there are some rules in there, but at the same time, these rules are meant to be broken. You learn skills as we go to produce great and write great, but many of the rules we create along the way are also there to be broken because that’s the way you innovate.
Do you have any songwriting tips?
One thing I’ve learned over the years is how important psychology is in a session. It’s all about creating the right atmosphere and believing in everything you do. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you get an idea, it’s so easy to think, ‘Oh, that won’t work’. The most important thing is to keep a very positive mind in the studio and let everything roll. Together, you can create it. When you really strive to get it somewhere, you often start pinpointing the things that won’t work. Being too analytical about it can ruin the mood, instead of just letting it flow and believing you can create something great. You can correct the little things as you go. That’s the most important thing.
Read our Nordik Beat feature from the latest issue of M magazine