The Gustav Efraimsson Interview

Dontstopthepop is back from its summer break. Returning with an interview with Swedish songwriter Gustav Efraimsson. He was had cuts (and big hits) on releases by Eric Saade, Marta Sanchez, Edurne, September, Nexx, New Kids On The Block, Backstreet Boys and not to mention Snoop Dogg. Not only covering the sparkling world of pop, we also wanted to talk about the approaches for budding young songwriters coming into the music industry and the possible avenues they could take... 


Gustav,  how did you start songwriting?

I started out as a discjockey when I was 11, playing at school parties. As I grew a bit older I got to DJ at nightclubs every Friday and Saturday, but to be honest, I wasn’t very good at doing nice mixes and stuff like that. On the other hand I was great when it came to feeling the crowd and knowing what would be the perfect next song. I actually think I developed some kind of ”hit feeling” during my almost 10 years as a DJ.  When I started college I attended a music production class. I was hooked as soon as sat foot in the big school studio and the teacher Pär Holmertz (who was involved in early recordings with Lenny Kravitz, Madonna and Mariah Caxrey) quickly became almost like a mentor to me. So one time while we were sitting in class some American guy rushed in with two flight tickets and begged our teacher to come with him to Switzerland later that day to do a mix. I was enormously impressed! I saved money and finally got myself a real DAW. It was a system called Ensoniq Paris and I loved sitting on my parents PC every night recording songs. Eventually I met a guy at school who also was into songwriting, started a band and got to work. Even though we were awesome (not) I hope the songs from that period aren’t online somewhere.

You started with Spanish pop princess Edurne.....

I had the pleasure of working with Edurne on her two first albums and it’s was nothing but great. Her debut single ”Despierta” (”Erase Delete Be Gone Now” in English) back in 2006 was one of my first cuts and reached #5 on the Spanish Singles Chart while the following album peaked at #3, so I have a lot to thank Edurne for.

Hand on heart, love that song. How did "Despierta" eventually come about?

I wrote the song together with Swedish songwriter Adam Alvermark in early 2005. We couldn’t come up with any good lyrics that day so we just sang fake words to remember the melody and sent it to a great lyricist called Andreas Karlegård. A few days later we got a sheet of fantastic lyrics back and recorded the song with a demo singer here in Stockholm. I was unpublished at the time but both Adams and Andreas publishers really liked the song and started to look for a suiting artist to record it. A year later someone at Andreas publishing company sent it to Sony Music in Spain that was looking for songs for their new popstar Edurne. They loved the song and decided to cut it, translate it to Spanish and record it with Edurne for her debut album. It was also chosen to be the first single and gave both me and Edurne a career kick-start. Later that year I got to produce her song “Te Falta Veneno” (her biggest hit to date if my Spanish sources are telling the truth) for her re-release of the debut album and the following year I produced “No Mirar Atras” for her second album.

Do you write your demos with a popstar in mind?

Nowadays I mostly get to write together with the popstar I’m hoping to release the song. The few times I actually write without the artist I’ll just try and do whatever feels right that day. Those songs written on pure feeling are usually my favourites.

So a track like the one you did with Edurne can sit in the vaults for a year until it finally gets to spread its wings and fly?

Yes, a couple of months ago I got a song cut I wrote back in 2004. We had an american artist working at The Kennel for a week and she didn’t really like the song ideas we had prepared for her, so instead one of my publishers, Pernilla Svanström, played her some old songs and one of them finally ended up on her new album. Thats the longest I’ve waited for a cut so far.

So when writing for Edurne did you commission demos with certain phrases and lyrics in Spanish?

No, that was one of those “feeling” songs. But sure, that can be a good thing to try so if you have a great hook in Spanish, use it.

What advice would you have to someone who had a talent for writing killer hooks in some suburb of Sweden how best could you explain the whole process of what you do, especially if they wanted to get into the industry...

I imagine it being easier today as you can make really good sounding demos on most home computers with free music software. Even the professional products like Logic Pro are now very cheap in comparison to when I started, so my advice is to start playing around with the software, learn about how equalizers and compressors work and record your songs. If you’re a pure songwriter without the necessary computer skills maybe you can team up with someone who knows his or her way around the computer. Then there are millions of ways to make your songs heard.

Would they require publishers?

The traditional answer would be Yes. I have a publisher (The Kennel) that finds great homes for my songs which lets me focus on my songwriting and producing. Once you start getting cuts it feels safe to have a team behind you that make sure all contracts are in order, the royalties from around the world are coming in and so on. But, today there’s Youtube and lots of other great places on the Internet where an artist can break through. I mean, look at Justin Bieber. The only limit is your imagination.

And how important is it have a manager to overview your demos?

For me it’s very important cause I write so many songs and really don’t have time to finish all demos. I usually sit down with my publishers and my manager Mr Hayden Bell once a month and together we decide on which songs I should focus on finishing and which songs I should leave. I usually love all songs I’m involved in so it’s hard for me to just let some of them go. On the other hand, if I don’t I end up working on songs that probably won’t get cut anyway.

Are publishers and managers essentially the link between you as a songwriter and the popstar (or record company)?

In the beginning when you don’t have a big network of your own, yes. After a few years when people in the music business know who you are and what you’ve done, it’s of course easier to make contact on your own. I actually prefer to have my manager or publisher doing that for me cause it makes me feel much cooler. Haha! ☺

Sweden is pretty notorious now for providing great songwriting talent. Why do you think is so?

We have great public music schools in Sweden that every kid can go to for free. That along with our tradition of very melodic folk music is probably the biggest reasons. I guess we just grow up listening to big catchy choruses in everything from folk music, rock to schlager. Then of course the people behind production houses like Cheiron, Murlyn and RedOne has given Songwriting more attention in Sweden and paved the way for the rest of us world wide.

Would you say the education system is simply there for it?

Considering we have free public music schools it feels like the system really encourages young kids to start playing an instrument. We even have songwriting schools on university level, still free of charge.
Some pop writers are moving away from publishers....Is this trend something you’ve experienced in Sweden?

It was the other way around for me actually, cause I started out with a manager before signing an exclusive publishing deal. At first the goal for me was to get a publishing deal, but I got a great advice from Mr Pelle Lidell at Murlyn Music (now head of a&r, Universal Publishing Europe) saying that it’s bad for you to sign a publishing deal early in your career when you don’t have that many cuts and things in the pipe. You’ll just end up with a shitty deal. Build your name first and then, when the publishers need you just as much as you need them, sign a good deal instead.
But to go back the question: No, I don’t think that’s a trend in Sweden yet. All my songwriter friends are published or want to be published.

You had massive success last year with Marta Sanchez. How did that come about?

Funny story actually. I got a mixing job for a Spanish debutant rapper called D-Mol. He was about to release a 5 song EP and needed a better sounding mix then he already had so Universal Spain called and asked me to do it. While I was already involved the famous rum brand Bacardi had heard a snippet of one of the songs, “Get Down” and thought if was perfect for their international summer campaign. They needed it to be re-written and re-produced which also landed on my table so I did new chords for the chorus, wrote a complete new bridge and changed the form of the song making it more commercial. Bacardi got us to change the title to “Get Together” so it suited their campaign better and then got Marta Sanchez to feature on it. Eventually it was D-Mol featuring instead so in a few days it went from a small mixing job to co-writing, co-producing and mixing a international single from one of the biggest names in latin music. I’m glad I took that mixing job. ☺
She’s the second Spanish performer you’ve written for. Do you think there is a pretty strong affinity between Spain and Sweden at the moment?

For me it’s been great, but I don’t know if there are any other Swedish writers doing business down there. (Ed: just check out Soraya/Pastora Solers recent releases for slices of Spanish Scandipop)

Do you think it took you some time to “crack” the industry?

I’m not sure I’ve “cracked” it yet, but it took a few years to understand how record label a&r people work. Many up’s and down’s during the way has given me a different attitude towards good news. In the beginning publishers could tell me to “order a new BMW today” and stuff like that because they claimed I had a huge cut coming (that didn’t make it on the album). I still love good news of course, but I’ve learned that a cut isn’t a cut until it’s actually out. When you have the cd in your hands or you can buy it on iTunes, that’s when it’s a cut. Not when someone tells you it is. Might sound a bit cynical, but that’s how it is. ☺

What songwriters do you admire?

Wow, there are so many but my favorite band has always been AC/DC so I guess I have to mention Angus and Malcolm Young. Then of course my fellow swede Max Martin who is nothing but a genius when it comes to writing great pop songs.

Who would be your dream artist to work with....

There’s something in Kelly Clarkson’s voice I’ve always loved so I must say she’s pretty high up on my list. Then I would say Snoop Dogg, but I’ve actually just did a song with him so that dream has already come true. Haha!

What song do you wish you’d had more time to perfect before the artist went ahead and released it?

Oh, no. Almost every song I’ve ever done! I’m never completely satisfied and can always use another day with the song I’m working on. Sorry for that not so controversial answer.

Lastly, if you had to give any advice or help to a youngster wishing to write songs for other acts what would you say?

Send your demos to record companies or music publishers...


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