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TIMEeurope.com: Travel & Arts — Feeling Like A Number One

 

TIME

Friday, December 21, 2001

 


Feeling Like A Number One

Artists are going Norse to find chart-topping songwriters

 

 

Bonny Hakansson for TIME

Sweden and other Nordic countries have spawned countless pop songwriters like Bloodshy, above

Ever since Abba first put Sweden in the musical spotlight, a steady stream of songs has flowed from the north. Swedes have "disproportionate influence" in music, says MTV Networks International chief William Roedy, because "so much artistic leadership comes out of the place." That's really no surprise, given music's important place in the country's folk culture. And thanks to an educational system that offers free music lessons and extensive English training, the songs travel well.

But the talent doesn't stop at Sweden's borders and, despite the stereotype, these musicmakers are far from one-dimensional. "Their influences are so varied that you get all kinds of songs," says Polydor exec Colin Barlow. So while some producers are prone to allegations of pop prefab, others seem more like musical artisans. Here's a look at some Nordic talent that's changing — for better or worse — the sound of music.

Bloodshy, 25, Swedish

The name's the first clue: Bloodshy's not the average Swedish pop producer. Born Christian Karlsson, he took his new name from an old Hollywood western whose title he can't recall. He's got a vaguely Jersey City accent. And his musical taste takes in everything from hip-hop — as a rapper, Bloodshy toured with the Fugees — to hard rock — Marilyn Manson is in his CD player.

His style, which he calls "edgy pop," is atypical as well. But it has gotten him work with artists including Morcheeba, Boyzone and Vitamin C. He teamed up with Quincy Jones on tracks for the American group Youth Asylum and has also recorded with rising star Christina Milian, whose album comes out later this year.

Bloodshy's new writing-producing partner is Avant (real name: Pontus Winnberg). The pair spend their days writing, experimenting and playing with all their toys — computers, mixing boards, remote control cars — in a downstairs studio at Murlyn.

Great gig, but at times, it can be overwhelming. "It's that power, to show people new ways of listening to music," Bloodshy says. He's also showing himself, pushing his own limits to create something fresh: "I'm waiting for that song that comes on two years later, and I'm still like, That's the joint!'" — By JeffChu

Anders Bagge, 33, and Arnthor Birgisson, 25, Swedish

You know a guy loves music when he says he'd eat noodles and catsup at every meal if it meant he could write songs nonstop. "We don't have a choice," Arnthor Birgisson insists. "We can't stay out of the studio." Says his hit-making partner Anders Bagge: "I don't want to do anything else — writing fills my soul."

But make no mistake about it: while music is their passion, it's also hard work. Both have had a lifetime of training. Bagge's father was also a producer and brought young Anders into the studio at age five. Like many Swedish kids, Birgisson took free music lessons offered by the government. Even now, they're still learning, developing not only as writers but also as technicians. "We've forced ourselves to become engineers," Bagge says. "When I want the drums twisted or when I want that punch, I know how to get it." Hit-making is no accident and it's not luck, Birgisson says. "You don't write songs that sell 17 million as a fluke."

Growing up, they listened to everything from ABBA (of course) to jazz, and their own discography reflects that eclecticism. They've done pop ballads (Because of You, for 98 Degrees) but they've also gone Latin (Una Noche, also for 98 Degrees) and sampled rhythm and blues (Gotta Tell You, co-written with Irish sensation Samantha Mumba).

Bagge and Birgisson's next chance for a big hit will come on April 16, when Jennifer Lopez's Play is released in Europe. Also due this spring is the debut effort from Amanda, a 15-year-old half-Swedish, half-French talent on Madonna's Maverick label. After that, expect to hear projects with Sheryl Crow, No Doubt's Gwen Stefani and Enrique Iglesias.

As their partnership has deepened, they have felt freer to try new sounds and styles. But, says Bagge, "We're not even close to doing our best thing," which they call "the magic song." Maybe when they get it, they can celebrate with a decent meal. — J.C.

Paul Rein, 35, Swedish

Paul Rein's musical apprenticeship began in the early '80s. A Swedish pop phenom, Rein drove teenage girls into adoring delirium and even up trees. After three albums, his star faded — "I had nothing left to give" — but he learned how to relate to audiences and "how to get the right twist" in songs. He moved into the studio, writing radio ad jingles. He learned not only how to program and arrange, but also what works on air. "If the hook's not there in seconds, you're dead," he advises.

Last year, he proved that he's got that hook thing down. Artists who released Rein-written songs include Mandy Moore (The Way to My Heart) and Jessica Simpson (I've Got My Eyes on You). His breakout hit? The U.S. No. 1 Come On Over, Baby, written with Johan Aberg and performed by Christina Aguilera.

"It's a great thing to have a No. 1," Rein says, "but my hard work really starts now." He believes his best results come when he's working as part of a team. At home in Stockholm, he's based at Eclectic Productions. He also works frequently with Britain's Metro team. Their material will appear on upcoming albums from Spice Girl Victoria Beckham and Cleo Higgins of pop-soul trio Cleopatra.

Rein admits that pop can become cliche, so he has ventured outside his musical comfort zone. While working with Donna Summer on her next album (out this spring), he tried his hand at writing gospel, an experience he found "uplifting." It challenged him to reach people on a deeper level. But he says that heavy stuff can be "too much, too deep," which is why he and fans also need the lightness of pure pop.

Asked who he'd most like to work with, Rein had a ready reply: Diane Warren. That he named not a singer but a songwriter reflects his respect for the craft. To write songs is to tailor with music, Rein says. Right now, his style is definitely in. — By J.C.

Herbie Crichlow, 32, English

"If you really picture it," Herbie Crichlow says, "I shouldn't be here." No kidding. A brash English import who says he's the "black sheep" of Sweden's low-key pop scene, Crichlow moved to Stockholm for one thing, or more accurately, one woman. The short story: boy meets girl on a Barbados beach, boy falls for girl, girl goes home, boy follows, freezes, acclimatizes, marries.

The boy also happened to have a good voice and caught the ear of Cheiron's Denniz PoP, who shifted Crichlow's focus to song-writing. The hits soon followed. With PoP and Max Martin, Crichlow penned the Backstreet Boys' We've Got It Goin' On, while he and Martin wrote Quit Playin' Games.

"If it weren't for D., there would be no me," Crichlow says, so PoP's death in '98 hit hard. Crichlow left Cheiron that year. Some say the move meant the end of his career as a premier writer. Going it alone is unheard of in Sweden, where the music scene centers on collectives like Cheiron.

So his recent work for B-list acts like No Authority got little notice.

One industry exec notes that Crichlow never lost his talent, just the people he needed to back him up. So it's worth watching The Bridge, Crichlow's new setup with producers Per Stappe and Ari Lehtonen. Their first project is a cover of Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me for British group Five, to be released by summer.

The skeptics are still there; one producer says Crichlow is "done." But the "black sheep" of Swedish pop is sure he'll come up with the Golden Fleece. "I've made it this far for this long," he says. "Why not now?" — J.C.

Stargate, Norwegian

Their Trondheim base may be off the beaten path to Stockholm, but does it matter? Hallgeir Rustan, 34, Mikkel S. Eriksen, 28, and Tor Erik Hermansen, 28 — known collectively as Stargate — are making Norway the next big place for pop. For some artists, the trip is obviously worthwhile. Billie Piper scored a British No. 1 with Stargate-produced Day and Night, and S Club 7 got to No. 2 with S Club Party. Others don't even make the trek. Stargate's remixes include radio edits for Sisqo (Unleash the Dragon) and Mariah Carey (Thank God I Found You, her collaboration with Joe and 98 Degrees).

Stargate credits Cheiron with introducing Nordic talent to the world. But the trio isn't exactly following in Cheiron's footsteps. Call it pop if you like, but Stargate's sound is more hip-hop influenced, the legacy of a musical wave during the '80s.

We'll soon hear their sound on the first album from Hear'Say, the group created on the hit U.K. TV show Popstars. Stargate admits Hear'Say is manufactured, but no more than acts assembled away from the public eye. Nor has musical quality been compromised, says Hermansen. "They can sing and they can dance."

This year, we'll also hear Stargate's work with Five and new R. and B. group Blue. Hermansen promises "underground elements" that will give pop's familiar framework an extra edge. And if fans like the sound, expect a run on Norwegian maps as wannabes try to figure out just how to get to Trondheim. — J.C.

Jaakko Salovaara, 26, Finnish

The child of classical musicians and a cellist himself, Jaakko Salovaara listened to Bach from birth, with some Twisted Sister and AC/DC thrown in. But when he heard acid house on a trip to London in '89, he was converted. He negotiated his teens with one hand on a bow and the other on a mixing deck. But the pulse of the club beat was stronger than the conductor's baton, and at 20 he launched a solo career as the dance artist JS16.

Salovaara has launched others' careers, too. He produced two of Finland's hottest exports: last year's smash Sandstorm by Darude and the Euro hit

Freestyler by Bomfunk MC's. He has worked with acts like Ricky Martin, A-Teens and Vanessa Mae. And he may like to try rock in the future. "I have so many different styles," says the man with the mixed-up musical resume.

Right now, though, dance is Salovaara's thing and the British club scene his Mecca. In 1999, he set up a label, 16 Inch Records, to produce and release both his own tracks and other artists' work. Present projects include two new singles by Darude for the U.K. market — "They want something special, a little different" — and a new spin for Swedish star Jessica Folker. With only a handful of artists in his portfolio, Salovaara is content to favor musical values over volume. "Darude went so well," he says, "I just want to keep that quality." — By Elinor Shields

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