Andreas Carlsson Interview

Swedish born Andreas Carlsson is esteemed as one of the world’s finest and accomplished contemporary songwriters. His songs – including Backstreet boys ‘s mega hit “I want It that way” with Max Martin – have sold over 150 million copies, honored four “Diamond Awards (recognition of 10 million sales in the same country)” and “Export Prize” from Swedish government, five US “Grammy” nominations and two Emmy Awards.


This time, Andreas joined Soundgraphics ‘s co-writing session with Japan’s finest songwriters, which is his first challange to J-POP market. Fortunately we had the oppotunity to have a interview with him. We hope everyone can find many inspirational words from this interview, especially if you’re involved with music industry.


Andreas Carlsson

—- Welcome to Japan and thank you very much for having an interview with us.

A.C.: Thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here.


—- What do you think, or what do you have any image of Japanese music market?

A.C.: Well, first of all, I think Japan is the music market of the world. It is very refreshing to come here and see so many bands and to see record stores that we don’t really have back in Sweden or the US anymore. And it’s very inspiring to work with Japanese artists that have such a rich language in terms of melodies, chords, structures. You know, sometimes when I write for American acts or Swedish or whatever, when you try a chord that’s a little different, they slap your fingers. But here, it’s like a creative freedom that I love, you know. It’s like music really comes from the heart in Japan. And I really appreciate that.


—- Do you like that style?

A.C.: You know, I’m planning to back next week to Sweden, but I think I’m going to stay. I just have to learn some more Japanese words.


—- Is it hard for you?

A.C.: It’s very hard. But it’s a wonderful country and the people couldn’t be nicer. It’s… I adore it.


—- I’m so glad to hear that. So… in this market, you’re a really big success. What is the first idea that you’d like to write your music to Japanese?

A.C.: Well, I was here in the mid-90’S touring and I had a record out in Japan as a solo artist with BMG back in the day. And then I was an opening act for Backstreet Boys in parts of Europe and then I toured with other artists in Japan, such as Dede who was sort of in the mid-90’s… kind of famous here. I always wanted to come back, but I was not a song writer, I was more a singer and musician back then. And I didn’t have, you know, I didn’t know the people, I didn’t have the opportunity until me and Erik started working and he said “I’m gonna go to Tokyo and work” and I was like “wow.” And he’s like, “do you wanna come?” And I was like “Yes! Absolutely!” and so it’s been a dream for me to come here and work with Japanese song writers.


—- What kind of idea or material do you love to come back here?

A.C.: Um, It’s, uh, whatever comes up. I think if Western music is this broad, I think Japanese music is like, there’s so many different possibilities because the love for music is bigger, I think, than anywhere else. So it’s very inspiring. You can come up with an idea, and Daichi or Erik or any of the other writers that I’ve been working with are like “Yeah!” and so it’s very creative.


—- What was the first idea that you’d like to be a song writer?

A.C.: Well, the first idea, and this is funny, came when I first stayed in Tokyo at a place called Okura, An old hotel. There was a cousin of Lenny Kravits, his name was Gerry DeVaux and he came to this hotel and I was in my room and he called me and said “I’m here” and this guy arrived with suitcases and all and I was like “What do you do?” and he said “I’m a songwriter. I work with Japanese artists and I..” because I didn’t know that you could only be a songwriter. But he was the one that pointed it out. And from that day, I decided that I wanted to be, like, that guy, Gerry DeVaux. And later I was asked to join Cher in the studio and I worked with Brittney, Celine Dion, Backstreet, N’Sync, and all these people, but that’s how it started. So the idea of song writing started in Tokyo.


—- Wow.

A.C.: So, yeah, it’s fun.


—- Your song, Backstreet Boys’ song, “I Want it That Way” is very famous and everyone knows that song. Would you please tell me the episode that you made this song for.

A.C.: Yeah, sure. “I Want it That Way” was written by Max Martin and myself and we had a lot of (singing) “You are my fire ? the one desire.” And then to be honest, the lyric doesn’t really mean anything. It was a lyric that sounded very good, so the record company was like, “we need to bring in maybe another lyricist to help work on this,” you know, “to turn it around and make it more,” you know, “make it make sense. “ So, the very famous producer, Mutt Lange, who did Def Leppard and Shania Twain and everything flew into Sweden and we did another version of the song, but the band liked the first lyric better. So we decided to stick with that lyric and the song became very big. A lot of record companies were like “we want songs with mysterious lyrics” like “I Want it That Way.” So it was a song that sounded great but the last thing that was added was the (singing) “ba-do-do-ba-do-do-do” which was like a Metallica kinda riff which was off for the boy band scene at the time, but it’s a song that I’m very proud of. In Europe and the US, it took the boy bands to a huge market and, you know, I think we sold nearly 30 million records.



—- That’s interesting. It has been 14 years after “I Want it That Way,” your style of music, the way you do your job… have you really changed it?

A.C.: No, you know, I’ve done rock after that, I did Bon Jovi, I did Celine Dion, I did Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, so you know, I always … you will never hear me in a hip hop song. Um, you will never hear me in certain dance songs that are like, I think I’m known for melodies and lyrics and um, you know, it’s always a certain type of music. You know, I like Pop. I like songs that are very direct. I want every kind of music to be instant, but I’m not looking for credibility. I just want a lot of people to like what I’m involved in. And since then, I’ve also been developing a musical that’s gonna be out next year with 26 songs that I think is fantastic, called “Dandy.” And I’ve done TV shows, I’ve done “Idol”, I’m now on “X-Factor.” I wrote 3 books. So I’ve been doing a little bit of everything…. that I think is good for my song writing because it gives me a different perspective.


—- For example, you tried, after the Backstreet Boys, you wrote the music for ladies and lady singers… young and old, doesn’t matter. Is it really different to…?

A.C.: No, I think sometimes when we’ve done songs, we’re not sure who’s going to record them. So if it’s a great song, and it’s got a great lyric, a lot of people can sing them. But since “I Want it That Way” I’ve preferred to work directly with the artist. Because it may be different from here, but in the US, for example, it’s better if you can co-write with the artist. Like with Katy Perry, I wrote “Waking Up in Vegas,” which was a Number 1. That was great because she wanted to tell that story and so I could help her tell her story while we were writing it. So that was great, and that was also co-written by my partner, Desmond Child, who’s an unbelievable writer, who’s been my mentor.


—- So now, where are you based in?

A.C.: I’m based in Sweden and I have a place in Los Angeles that was once owned by Charlie Chaplin and then Robert Downy, Jr. ? Iron Man ? used to live in my house. It’s a great house in West Hollywood and it’s got a studio and I’d like to be there. And some of your Japanese writers have already come to visit. Like Heroism was in LA to write with me. I hope that Daichi is gonna come. So yeah.


—- In the States, the music, the big market or big music scene is, a lot of people got the image, is in New York and Los Angeles. Why is it people gather in Los Angeles rather than New York?

A.C.: Well, Los Angeles was always the place where all the studio are located because rent is cheaper in LA than New York, so a lot of the music community would be in LA. All the musicians, etc, etc, and the business was always in New York. So maybe now more than ever, LA is a very creative place. In the 90’s it was Seattle with the Grunge and then it moved somewhere else and now it’s kinda back to LA.


—- So now a few Japanese writers also are going to LA and try to challenge… It’s a very different music culture compared with here and LA. But they’re really aggressive to try that. What do you think the Japanese writers?

A.C.: Well, I think that’s wonderful. Music is collaboration… of different nationalities, different backgrounds, ethnical background. I think just the fact that I’m sitting here today, you know, a Swedish guy, and to be a part of this wonderful Japanese community is fantastic. And I welcome my Japanese co-writers, in the same way, to come to LA and work with me. And I’ll open the world for them as much as I can. And I think music should be fun, it should be an exchange of different energies. I give something, I get something back. And that’s just how it has to be. I think the US market and the Japanese market should collaborate because the US has a lot to learn from Japan.



—- For example?

A.C.: Well, first let’s start with the manners!


—- Oh!! Hahahaha.

A.C.: Japanese manners are wonderful. And let’s start with the melodies and the way music is done here, I think the US has lost their touch a little bit. Yesterday I had a phone call with Quincy Jones, and he said that in most places the music market is down to nothing. And I think music is the highest vibration. I can say a political message to a 1000 people and maybe 2 or 3 will listen, but if I sing a wonderful song to a 1000 people, people will be on their feet cheering and applauding. So I think the way music has become in many countries, it has diminished from what it used to be when the music spoke to the heart. When music was connected to a memory. Music was there to show people passion and love, you know (singing) “Every Night She Walks Right In My Dreams Since I Met Her From The Start I’m So Proud I Am The Only One Who Is Special In Her Heart” You know, that’s music. I can’t sing, but I tried.


—- Wonderful. Definitely.

A.C.: I’m talking about Quincy Jones, you know, the big time producer of the last century.


—- Definitely! So also about you, you came from Sweden, and you came to Japan and you went to the States, and you had big success. Is there any advice to new Japanese writers who challenge the States.

A.C.: Well, you know, um, I meet thousands of people doing “Idol” and “X-Factor” and I meet many people and they come up to me and they want to be a song writer. First of all, music is never easy. It’s never easy to be in a business where everybody is prepared to work for free. Because when you’re a songwriter, sometimes I write a song that will never get cut, it will never be recorded by an artist. So in a sense, that was a wasted day. I wrote a song and nothing happened with it. But I had a lot of fun. So I think music has to come from a calling. You have to feel like “This is my mission in life.” This is just a job, this is what I do because I can’t do anything else. And if you’re prepared to walk into music with that feeling, everything else will come. It’s like, I’m here today, not because of what I did 10 years ago, not because of what I’ll do tomorrow, but because I’m here in the present and I love to create with the people around me and I love to give what I have to give and share what I have to share. If you walk into the music business with that sense, I think you’ll do fine. And you know, always try to do your best, because when you put your name on a song, you gotta make sure it’s the best you can do. Because when somebody look at the record or they hear it and they’re like “this is Andreas Carlsson, I don’t think this is good,” that’s a problem. So every day has to count. Every day has to be a special day when you communicate your heart and music to the world. If you look at it that way, money, success, all this wonderful stuff is going to come. That’s my philosophy.


—- Your each word makes me cry!

A.C.: Thank you. I’m sorry I make you cry. You know I’ve come to a point where music to me is more important than just hit songs. I love to be a part of hit music, and I love to be in the charts, but I know something that a lot of people don’t know and It’s my mission in life to try and communicate music. It’s important. All the people who do music, do it for all the people who can’t do it. And all the people who can’t do music, they’re a businessman or plumbers or doctors or dentists or they have to fix my teeth or whatever. So it’s a trade, in society… It’s important.


—- That’s true. You gotta live only you, right?

A.C.: Yeah, you know, but for all the young people, everybody who feels the music is important should give the music business a try because it’s very rewarding. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve had unbelievable times. So it’s good. And more to come!


—- More to come! OK, so writing songs is kind of your solo job, basically. But in Japan, especially Japanese writers, co-writing is kind of a new culture, new music culture still. In your world is it popular to co-write?

A.C.: It’s very popular. Here I’ve been very lucky to start working with Hide who is an unbelievable song plugger, publisher, kind of the missing link when it comes to putting this person together with this person. It’s very rare to find somebody in the music business that is that hands-on. And I know he’s very successful in Japan and it’s clear to me why, he knows his song, he knows who wants to do the song, and he can also tell me “you better think about this and that.” So we have writing sessions in the US and Sweden but I’ve never been in a situation where it’s so structured. It’s like OK, we’re doing this and we’re doing that. And I think that maybe that’s the Japanese mentality. And I just love it. I want somebody to tell me, look, this is good, this is great, this is not so good… Because as a creator, you sometimes need another set of ears. So, so far it’s been just amazing. But I love to co-write, I really do. Sometimes I write on my own, but I prefer to write with other people.


—- It seems like you really enjoy meeting new people and work with people and conversation or learn new culture and things.

A.C.: Oh, I absolutely love it. I think it’s fantastic. I love the Japanese culture which is so old and you feel the values and the food and the way people approach me is nice and, you know, I just wish I knew more Japanese. But next time, I promise! Daichi is gonna come to LA and teach me some. We’re trading. I’m teaching him some not-very-useful Swedish words…



—- Hahahahaha. You had started your career when you were 16. If right now 2012 you were 19, do you think you would still choose this job and your way to live?

A.C.: You know what, I didn’t have a choice. I grew up in music. My father was a pop star in Sweden. And it was extremely tough for me. I was a dish washer in a restaurant, I was working in a golf club, you know, driving people on the golf green. I was working at Ralph Lauren, I was doing all this extra work because my family didn’t have any money. We were super poor. I tried to go to school, I did high school and all that, but I was going to go into advertising because all my family thought I should have a real job. It took me one day to realize I had to do music. Advertising was not the right thing for me to do. I don’t know why, but I quit school. And the next day I got a phone call from a very big producer, his name’s Dennis Pop, who did Ace of Bass and all that and he said, I want you to work with me. But it was not until I pushed myself to the very edge, like “OK, I’m ready! Whatever it takes, I’m gonna get this done.” That’s when it started to happen for me. But I could never see myself do anything else. And I have a 10 year old son now, and whatever is good for him. If he wants to be a soccer player or if he wants to be in business or if he wants to be in music, I’ll support him. But it can never come from another person. I can never force him to be a songwriter or be in music or even appreciate music. That’s just for each person to decide. But for me, I couldn’t go any other way. So, yes, my answer to you is “yes,” I would do it again. We all have our path that we have to walk, I think.


—- What did your family say about your choice? Did they say something about that?

A.C.: I think my family is um…. They know that I’ve had a lot of success. They’ve seen me buy homes and cars and all that stuff, but I think deep down their proud that I went my own way. Cuz I left my family when I was 15 or 16 and I said, I’m gonna do it my way. And whenever they call me, I’m in Japan or Atlanta or New York, I’m in Berlin or whatever. I think they’re kind of fascinated by it, by my sort of different lifestyle. I’m the only one in the family who’s doing this and doing music. My sister is a nurse and they all live very organized lives.


—- And this is your last question. If you have any advice or any philosophy for young Japanese writers, all of the people who try to become song writers.

A.C.: In three words, or three points. Study as much music as possible. Be curious. Listen to all different genres. Don’t be put off by old music. Listen to Abba, listen to the Beatles, listen to the Eagles, listen to everything that was successful before you. Because there’s a reason why it was successful. Remember that music is universal. You know, a good hook, an easy word and an easy concept works for everybody. Try to be very accessible. Don’t complicate stuff that could be said in an easy, simple way. And last of all, be passionate. Be ready to work long hours. And very, very important, have fun.


—- Amen.

A.C.: That’s it.


—- Thank you very, very, very much.

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