If you're unaware of Ghost they are the people behind a lot of Robyn's hit singles and albums. They worked with her on her very first LP in-between her school classes. We're talking pop legends. They've written for so many pop singers it would be ridiculous to list them here. Johan Ekhe and Ulf Lindstrom are behind some of my favourite key pop songs of the last years & now they've created something with the rather wonderful vocalist Sanne in the form of Hold This Girl. The album was reviewed last year by myself and Fabtastic Music (their review is here). Fabtastic even added the album in its top 20 albums of 2008 (coming in at an impressive 16). As the physical release approaches I thought it was time the hit writers sat down and a chat about everything from unreleased Robyn songs, how the songs came to be, Sita, to the dialectical sound of Hold This Girl....Along with the work of Steve Anderson, Max Martin and Richard Stannard, Ghost are rather central to my musical musings. For me, the distinct ability to engender their unique sound that combines electronica, soul and big melodies has shaped a large chunk of my musical preferences that continue to influence me today. Indeed, I got the name of this blog from one of their songs. They're pop legends...
First three albums actually. She was great. She was only fifteen when we started out and it's true what others have said that she was very mature for her age. She had a lot of energy and creative input. What really made it work between us was the fact that she was very unafraid, as were we. Of course she had her idols musically like Aliyah and TLC but she was not afraid to experiment and explore stuff in the studio which made the creative process very fun and rewarding for all of us.
You put together her debut single “You’ve Got That Something”. Released back 1994! What was that like? How did it come about?
The first song we wrote with her was "Do You Really Want Me". The record company thought that it was a smash. Maybe to much of a smash to start out with. We got a call from Peter Swartling where he was asking if we could try to write another single that would be a softer start and that would introduce her but not make her seem like a one hit wonder. So we wrote "You Got That Something".
That was amazing second single, and break out track, for Robyn. “Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect)”. How did that track come about and can you remember what it was like in the recording studio hearing it back for the first time when its was completely finished. It has a great melody to it.
It came about in an odd way. Half way through we were stuck. We had a verse and and a chorus but the chorus wasn't strong enough so we turned it into what is now the pre-chorus. We sat for hours and hours trying to come up with a strong enough chorus and it eventually became time for Robyn to go home 'cause she had school the next day. Then she started humming that nursery rhyme melody like a joke. Just fooling around, like saying "I give up". But the second she did that we looked at each other and said or shouted rather "that's it, that's the chorus". We redid it like three or four times so by the time it was completely finished we were kind of fed up with it. But at first, when we had finished the demo, we were all very exited and we knew it was a hit. And really, that demo was what got the whole Robyn-project going and it got BMG-people all over the world exited about the her. And when that many people get involved and are exited, everybody starts having an opinion about it and treats it almost like it's their own baby and like they wrote it themselves. Which is a GOOD thing, that's the response you want from people, but you also get a lot of opinions to take into consideration and that's the reason we redid it so many times. To make a long story short, we ended up with something that sounded exactly like the demo. Go figure...
Now, you also worked a lot with Robyn on those sessions. Can you mention a few words on the brilliant album cuts “How”, “Don’t Want You Back”, “Bumpy Ride” and “The Last Time”?
It actually was kind of funny because Robyn was in school and we would work on her album during the weekends and on other projects during the week. We would often work all week for two weeks in a row to finish a song with one of the other artists but a Robyn song would be written and recorded over a weekend. We where all excited and felt we where doing something cool that spring.
You worked extensively with Robyn on her second album “My Truth” which has become a bit of a fan favorite. Despite the fact it was never released in the States, its got a brilliant warmth to it. And a wonderful yet dark creativity to the Lp. What was going on in the creative process during its creation?
Thank you. Well what can we say. It was kind of a stream-of-consciousness-process. We decided not to censor ourselves at anytime. Just let it flow, experimenting and clean up the mess afterwards so to speak.
Where did the song “Electric” come from? It’s a clear move from Robyn’s earlier work. She appears to move to a sound that she is currently producing know. What were the influences for this shift sound?
Same thing there. The result of an experiment. Ulf was alone in the studio experimenting with a car battery from the next door car shop, recording the electrical charges thinking there should be a song called electric with an electric sound creating the rhythm pattern. It came out cool and he started a grove that we all wrote on the next day. Everything was made kind of Ad hoc. You know: "There should be a song called electric" "What would a song like that sound like" "Well...Sparks of course" "Ok, and what would a song called Electric be about?" and so on.
I adore the song “Play”. Can you shed any light on its creation. Its my all time favorite Robyn song.
Thank you very much. Love that song also. Very warm and uplifting. Well, we started out with the chords on a guitar and a sample from "Cecilia" by Paul Simon. We took the sample out eventually but that's how we started. We also borrowed the shant-part from Electric, (i-yeah-i-yeah...) only this time in a major key. You probably already noticed that. Very convenient. Stealing from yourself.
“Long Gone” is also another stunning track from “My Truth”. It has some great lyrics. It also sounds like an early whisper of the material you’d do with Sanne on the Hold This Girl album. Its beautiful. The strings. The production. The melody with the harmony. Stunning. Where did it come from?
Thank you. "Long Gone" was inspired by the movie "Contact" with Jodie Foster. Like with the rest of that album we just ran with whatever inspired us at the time, were it a movie, a book or whatever. Much like the way we're working now with Ghost vs Sanne. So you're spot on. Good eye!
Now…slightly moving away from Robyn but not quite. I wanna talk about the amazing track "Popstar". Its co-written by Robyn and given to the singers Sita of Holland and later Jon of Danish Popstars. I adore both versions. It has such great lyrics. How did that song come about and why did it remain unreleased!? Robyn was mad not to put that on her album!
Well, it was too much pop I think for her (and us). Even though, in our version it was much less pop than those who covered it. We had more of a Prince-vibe on it. I kind of wish that it would have made the album but we could never get the chorus to sound as cool as the verses so it had to go. No mercy.
Staying with unreleased Robyn tracks, can you describe the following shelved songs:Dig it, Roll With It and Give A Little Love.
How on earth did you know about those? Well, I don't know what to say... we probably have a couple of dozens more that is left overs. They're basically songs that for some reason didn't make it on to the album. You can't get it right all the time you know. "Dig it" made for a very good live number though and she performed it on tour and on the Swedish Grammy Awards. It was originally written on spec for a movie. Back then we were constantly writing, even in between albums.
The last Robyn album you guys work on was her legendary Don’t Stop The Music. You co-wrote the first two singles. Those two amazing singles. Keep This Fire Burning and the title track (for which this blog is actually named after). Both songs have been covered. Don’t Stop The Music was covered by the girlband Play and Keep This Fire Burning by Beverley Knight and recently the British dance outfit The Outsiderz. The album has an amazing collection of pop songs. Can you recall that time and the recording of Don’t Stop The Music?
We worked a lot on it. Many people were involved. It started out with a weird guitar riff that Ulf had and we went from there... It was a painting that seemed to never get finished. A lot of small changes over a period of several weeks or months even. You probably wouldn't notice a huge difference between the first and the final draft but it was still worth doing. In the end we were very happy with it.
Where did Keep This Fire Burning spring from?
It was written on a background track that we did. The music and arrangement was all there when we started putting melody and lyrics on it. I think we started out with a premise like "I'll be by your side" (which also was the working title) and we went from there. That one was done very quickly. It was just there from the get go. We built the track on leftovers from a string session that we did a couple of years earlier and some drums that where sampled in a way that you couldn't get them tight or quantized on the beat. That really gave the track an organic feel. Again, an experiment that triggered a song.
What do you make of the covers? Be honest now…
Well, it was us who produced the cover of "Keep this fire burning" with Beverly Knight so we're kind of biased there. Honestly we love them both but in different ways. I would say that the original is more "club" where as Beverly's version is more "soul". It was fantastic working with Beverly. She nailed it in just a couple of takes, start to finish. It literarily took a couple of hours with backing vocals and everything. And still she poured everything she got into it. A great performance. The other covers you mention we never heard so we couldn't say.
Robyn herself did a pretty interesting electro cover of the song. Did you get to hear it? Thoughts?
Heard it. Takes some time getting used to since it's partly in a major key now instead of minor, but it's good.
And Don’t Stop the Music? It’s a poptastic little number. It literally bounces out of the ipod with a huge smile on its face. Robyn truly should bring it back to her tours.
You also co-wrote "Ain’t No Thing". What was that about and what was it like creating it?
Honestly don't remember. Think we started out with a guitar thing. We often do.
One of my favorite songs from that album was "Moonlight". A great combination of soul, dance and pop. I can see Sanne ripping that track out and creating a rip roaring new version of "Moonlight".
Thanks, that one doesn't get recognized very often but it's one of our favorites too. Sanne would definitely rip that one apart as she does with everything.
I adore the craziness of the song of "Psycho". Where did it come from? It’s an early hint to where Robyn was taking her music too with "Konichiwa Bitches" as its probable cousin. How did the song come about?
It sprung from a musical idea that Ulf and I had and it actually took some convincing to make that one happen. It was second-guessed by pretty much everyone except me and Ulf before it made the album, so it's a little ironic that you see it as "Konichiwa Bitches" probable cousin, but I guess you have a point.
So there you have it. Part one! Hope you enjoyed it. As part of Swedish Season there will be more interviews with Swedish musicians and of course the second part of this interview which includes more stuff about their songwriting for other acts but more importantly the GhostVsSanne project. To check out their myspace just click here.