Swedish songwriting duo Carl Utbult and Chris Meyer are responsible for numerous platinum awarded J-POP hits over the past few years. With their catchy and emotional melodies they really know how to get the attention of the japanese audience. We had the chance to do an interview with them about their secrets of composing – mixture of acoustic & synthetic instruments, the pop-country scene in Nashville, US (which is also a big part of their international works along with the J-POP scene) and the music trend in 2013.
—- What is your musical background?
Carl Utbult (C.U.) : I grew up with a lot of west coast rock bands like Toto, Airplay, Steely Dan. I also studied a lot of Jazz music with piano as my main instrument.
Chris Meyer (C.M.). : I come from a rock oriented background, listening to bands like Bon Jovi. I started out as a guitar player, lead singer and songwriter for different bands but eventually felt that I enjoyed writing the songs more than I did performing them.
—- What made you decide to try writing J-pop?
C.U. : I like J-pop because there are no limits for what you can do. One example is that you can do a lot different styles in one song. Its very open minded and we’re also able to do a lot of co-writing with great people.
C.M. : I totally agree. With J-pop we can mix a lot of different styles and sounds in a way that we wouldn’t when writing for european or american artists.
—- When did you start writing J-pop?
C.U. : 2006, 2007 maybe.
C.M. : For me it was about 3 years ago.
—- How did you work on your latest J-pop cut?
C.U. : On that song, we worked with “arrow_”, a Japanese songwriter. He came up with a synth riff, and we worked around that. We started making a traditional western boy band song, and then spiced it up with J-pop flavor. There’s a big difference between the verse and the chorus. The verse is very cool and the chorus is more of a “We Are The World” sing along type. That’s also very J-pop when you can mix a melancholic verse and a more positive sounding chorus.
—- When writing song together, how do you usually work?
C.U. : It depends, either we bounce new ideas back and forth, or one of us brings a sketch of a song that we finish together. either way, it usually ends up being a good song.
C.M. : I guess it depends on what type song we’re making. For most of our J-pop songs we try to find “the hook”, the part that is supposed to get stuck in the listeners head, and then we build the rest of the song around that.
—- What instruments do you usually use?
C.U. : We use most them. My main instruments are piano and guitar.
C.M. : If we’re writing a ballad I’m most likely to sit by the piano, but I would probably prefer the guitar. if we’re making a rock song. Both of us are multi instrumentalists so for our productions we like to mix it up, real instruments with synthesizers. It makes the production feel more “alive”.
—- Interesting things when co-writing with Japanese song writers?
C.U. : Japanese writers have a different melody language that we enjoy mixing with our melody landscape. The combination of Swedish and Japanese melodies is a great combination.
—- What is the key point for writing J-pop?
C.U. : I think its all about having fun, deliver great energy and a nice vibe.
C.M. : I try to think of how the song will sound when its performed live in concert. I close my eyes, imagine it being played live, and try to picture the response from the audience. We write music for the fans, not the artists.
—- You ‘re working on recent pop-country scene in Nashville, US. How does that work?
C.U. : The both of us are big fans of Nashville music. Its different from the J-pop market because when you write country music, lyrics are always the priority. You always write and finish the lyrics during the session. I come from a background where you focus on melodies, but there you focus a lot on the lyrics. Otherwise its the same. Its all about the song.
—- Any upcoming projects from Nashville?
C.U. : I’m working with a Nashville based band called Friday Satellites, They have a single coming out in March.
—- Carl, you won Grammy award as a songwriter for Jason Crabb ‘s album in 2010. How did your Grammy award affect your song writing career?
C.U. : It was really a big moment for me. It opened up doors to new writers that I could work with in Nashville.
—- What kind of trends come to music industry in 2013?
C.U. : I think we are going to hear more organic stuff.
C.M. : The trends are a lot harder to spot these days when there’s so many different styles out there. I think, like Carl said, that we are going to hear more organic sounding recordings and maybe less “four on the floor” dance music.
C.U. : I think the trend is set by who has the biggest single…
C.M. : …then, everyone else is gonna copy the sound of that song. That’s why we try to go our own way.
—- Advice for young Japanese song writers.
C.U. : Make a goal and follow it with your heart.
C.M. : Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts and write songs that you would listen to yourself. Work really hard, believe in what you do and don’t forget to have fun along the way!