Andreas Carlsson rose to fame as one of the most successful songwriters of the late 90s and early 2000s as a part of Sweden’s Cheiron crew. Led by Denniz Pop and later Max Martin, they penned hits for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Westlife, Celine Dion and others. I stopped by Andreas’ place to talk about his lengthy career as a songwriter, his later success as an Idol judge and his current ventures in film and education.
– Hi Andreas. Thanks for having me over. I heard that your dad was a pop star in the early 70s. How did that shape your upbringing?
“Pop star” is a broad term, but my dad played 70 shows the summer I was born, and I was raised on a tour bus as a result. You didn’t need your own song to be successful in the 70s since it was common to play other artist’s music in the public parks. My interest in music came from growing up around that, and my great-grandfather was also a music director. He was even more into music than my dad and so was my grandfather. I got my first drum kit at the age of ten and spent a lot of time playing in the basement.
– When did you decide to pursue music as a career choice?
I had a music teacher called Magnus Lundin who came to my town, Tingsryd, and instead of having boring music classes, we did quizzes on who the members of AC/DC were. He even arranged music camps where I wrote my first demos at. It was an unbelievable experience, and that’s where I decided to pursue music as a profession.
In the absence of a proper family structure, music had become both my family and fall-back activity. I played in different bands during high school and would even travel to Småland where Magnus lived to play with my friends there. We’d just finished rehearsing when a random lady came by and asked for my band’s cassette. She knew a guy who ran a new label in Stockholm and said that he’d be interested in us. It turned out to be Peter Swartling, and I was asked to come by the Ricochet offices a week later to talk about my music.
– From what I understand, he offered you a record deal?
He did, but he was a little bit bullish for my taste, which I told him years later. I was more of a blue-eyed soul artist similar to Hall & Oates, so I didn’t fit what Ricochet was doing. I declined Peter’s offer and decided to attend the Musician’s Institute in LA, but the afternoon before I left, Roy Colgate and Hans Desmond invited me to the Warner Chappell offices. One of my schoolmates, Magnus Larkeryd, worked in the mailroom and had given them my music, so they wanted to sign me as a writer. I was like, “What would I do as a writer? “, and they said, “We pay you to write music that gets recorded by other artists “. I said I’d think about it, and at the very last minute I decided to take their offer. I was staying with the parents of a friend, and when they said, “It’s time to drive to the airport for your flight to LA “, I said I wasn’t going. Needless to say, they were shocked. “You’re not going? But you paid for the program. Don’t your classes start on Monday? “. But I’d changed my mind and called up Roy Colgate to accept the deal.
– It seems you changed your mind about signing with Ricochet too.
Yes, but only because the Warner deal put me in a better position. I no longer had to put all my eggs in one basket, so I called Peter and said, “I might be interested in signing with Ricochet after all, but I can only sign my masters since Warner Chappell has my publishing “. They weren’t happy about that, but we moved forward because they believed in me. I was nineteen at the time.
– Did you meet Anders Bagge for the first time at Ricochet?
I did. One of the main reasons I signed with Ricochet was because I liked Anders. He was a peculiar guy, but very lovable and funny. He had long hair at the time and always wore a cap. This was in the early 90s, and Ricochet had a lot of cool studio equipment when most studios in Stockholm still used old consoles. I remember Anders using desks with flying faders, so I think the label was funded by private investors who could afford state-of-the-art gear, which made the place attractive to guys like me.
– In a previous interview, you said that Sweden in the early 90s hadn’t developed its own scene for international songwriters, and you were part of the first wave of that. Was that something you strove to be a part of?
Not really, but I had an interesting experience leading up to it. I was always drifting around with no parental oversight, which left me open to being pulled into things. At the age of sixteen, I was asked to be the judge in a beauty competition alongside a panel of older people. It took place in Kungsträdgården, and once the event was over, a model in her 30s came up to me and said, “I see very unique things around you. You’re going to do great things in music “. I was pleasantly surprised and said, “I play in a cover band, so that would be great “, and she said, “No, not with that. You’ll be doing something new that hasn’t been done yet. It’ll be similar to the success Per Gessle has in the US, but you won’t be the one singing “. I had no clue what she meant, but she was talking about a role that didn’t exist yet in Sweden – a songwriter and producer for international artists, which was something that opened up a few years later.
– Did you have any role models as you were pursuing your songwriting career?
I secretly modeled myself after Gerry DeVeaux. He was a very flamboyant guy who was a cousin of Lenny Kravitz. He was half business guy, half marketing expert, and a little bit of a songwriter, but he had multiple flats everywhere and seemed like the prince of pop. I thought, “Whatever he’s doing, I want to do the same thing “.
– What was your first release on Ricochet?
My first single was called “Those Were The Best Days”, and was released under the name “Andres”. It became a minor radio hit, and it was surprising how I could write a song that suddenly ended up on most radio playlists. It got me thinking that maybe I was onto something.
Yes it was. Despite releasing my first single, I was always broke and had to take crappy jobs to survive, one of which was being a runner and dishwasher at Café Opera. Everyone made fun of me when I mentioned wanting to write music like Toto or David Foster. The chefs were like, “Sure Andreas…“, and then gave me pots to clean. But I went to see one of Bill Champlin’s shows when he was in town and managed to get backstage. I think he’d heard, “Those Were The Best Days” and asked what I was up to. I lied and said, “I’m moving to LA “, so he responded, “That’s cool. Here’s my number and address. Call me when you arrive “. By some odd coincidence, I actually did end up in LA for another reason, and a relative of mine had said, “Joe Sample from The Crusaders is married to a Swedish girl, so you can stay with them when you get to LA “. That’s what happened, and it was a bit surreal because Joe had played on a lot of records I loved.
Since I was in LA, I decided to go see Bill in Woodland Hills. The address on the paper was “5001 Arundle Drive”, so I rang the doorbell and his wife Tamara opened the door. Back in 1994, not a lot of Swedes would travel to LA in search of their luck, so Bill was surprised to see me. I told him I was staying with Joe Sample, and he said “It’ll take a long time to get back to Hollywood. Do you want to hang here for a bit? “. So I stuck around for a week and kept borrowing his clothes because I hadn’t brought any spares. I was a homeless kid from Stockholm with no parents or anybody who really cared about him, yet I’d ended up staying with one of the greatest singers of all time, having his wife cook me food and attending Chicago rehearsals.
– What did you and Bill do during your time at his house?
We mostly wrote music together. On my last day there, Bill asked how I wanted to promote the music and I said “I can call Expressen, the biggest newspaper in Sweden “. So I called their office and said, “I don’t know if this interests you, but I’m a dishwasher at Café Opera who’s working with Bill Champlin, the lead singer of Chicago. They had a Billboard #1 record last year, so we’d be happy to do an interview “. Expressen had a correspondent in LA, and he walked in an hour later. We did an interview that got a full spread in the newspaper with a picture of Ace of Base, Roxette, ABBA and myself, along with a quote from Bill saying, “This guy is gonna make it. Keep an eye out for him “. Suddenly, all the people who never cared about me started caring a lot.
– What happened to the songs you and Bill wrote? Where did they end up?
He recorded all of them for various albums, so they were my first placements. Years later when I won the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Award, I invited him and Tamara to the event. I’d gone from an unknown teenager to a big industry figure, which made the reunion a bit awkward, but I really appreciated what Bill had done for me. To this day I’d do anything for him; he kickstarted my career and it influenced how I look at newcomers in the industry. I said to myself that if I ever had a chance to do something for a young person with a dream, I would do that and keep paying it forward.
– After working with Bill and releasing your album on Ricochet, you ended up working with the Cheiron guys. How did that happen?
I was on tour for my debut album, which honestly hadn’t turned out very good. I should’ve continued writing material similar to the first single, but record labels at the time wanted R&B that sounded like Mark Morrison’s “Return Of the Mack”, so Ricochet pushed me in that direction, which was lunacy. Their final attempt to market my music was to book me as the opening act for the Backstreet Boys, who I thought were a German band. It went terribly – I came out with my guitar, sang a few songs and thought, “What am I doing here? “. By the third song I didn’t want to hear my own music anymore. After the show, two long-haired dudes that I’d met in the hallway showed up. One of them was Denniz Pop and the other was Max Martin. Denniz suggested I work at Cheiron by writing with Max. I said “That sounds cool, but my artist career isn’t working out and I’ve been accepted to a marketing school called Berghs, so I’m gonna do that instead “. On my first day of class, the teacher said, “You 25 students have been selected out of 800 applicants. Here are your first assignments “. As he was talking, I kept looking around and thinking, “This is everyone’s dream except mine. I can’t do this “. So I stuck up my hand and said, “I’d like to quit “. The teacher was like, “But you haven’t even started…“, and I said, “I know, but can someone else take my place so I can get my money back? “. Then I went back to my apartment and called Denniz to accept his offer. That was at the end of 1994.
– In order to sign with Cheiron, you had to get out of your deals with Ricochet and Warner. How did that happen?
I told Ricochet that I wanted to quit my artist career to attend Berghs, and Peter was like “Alright, if that’s what you want “. I thought it was a nonchalant answer, but I also understood the nature of label priorities; unless you’re Clive Davis’ personal signing or the artist everyone agrees deserves a big marketing push, you’re just a tax write-off to the label. I quickly figured out that I needed to work super hard to make myself relevant to Ricochet, and I didnt have the time nor passion to do that.
The next issue was getting out of the Warner Chappell deal. I convinced them that whatever I wrote for Cheiron would be separate from what I wrote for them, and somehow they agreed. It was a stressful two-week period of getting out of those contracts, but no-one was paying much attention to me, so I was thankfully able to walk away.
– A lot of attention is given to the music Cheiron made for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, but the studio was producing for acts like Robyn and Jessica Folker prior to that. Would you say that material was the forerunner for what came later?
It was. The Cheiron material on Robyn’s debut album served as a first act for what came later. The same goes for Jessica Folker’s early material – it laid the groundwork for a sound that eventually conquered the music world. But Robyn wouldn’t return to Cheiron for her second album. As early as fourteen she had her own ideas of how her music should sound, and I remember meeting her with Max Martin at Café Opera. Max said, “Let’s work on some more stuff ” and she was like, “Nah, I’m still looking for my vibe “. I remember thinking, “How about being Top 10 on Billboard? “, but she didn’t want that, and kudos to her because the best music she put out was on her own label where she called the shots.
– What was it like starting at Cheiron, and what was your first session like?
Cheiron wasn’t initially a friendly place because everyone shut their studio doors when you walked into the building. They might come out to smoke, but they’d close their doors right after, so you didn’t feel welcome at first. It took a long time to become a member of their inner circle.
Regarding my first session, Denniz said, “Bryan Adams is coming tomorrow, so maybe you and Max could work with him? “. I did a double take. “Did you say Bryan Adams?? “, and Denniz was like, “Yeah, you’ll be working in the demo studio. Nothing fancy “. I walked into the session and felt like I had “rookie” tattooed on my forehead. It was an uncomfortable start because I didn’t know Max that well, but things got better the more we wrote, and eventually they started to snowball. One day, Max called me and said, “The Christmas single we did for Five went Gold. Their A&R, Simon Cowell, is super excited “. I was like, “Gold? What’s that? “, and he said “It sold 500,000 copies, so you’ll get a plaque for that. But this is just the start, so we have more work to do “. I’d always thought that everything seemed to work for everyone except me, but all of a sudden things were coming together.
– How was Denniz able to get artists like Five and the Backstreet Boys to record at Cheiron?
Denniz’s success with Ace of Base was the door-opener – that was a commercial jackpot which changed the music landscape. Everyone was suddenly interested in Cheiron, but the one who really saw dollar signs was the CEO of Jive Records, Clive Calder. He and Lou Pearlman were in business together and needed music for the Backstreet Boys. Pure R&B music in the style of Babyface wasn’t their thing, so Lou wanted something different. Max was great at picking the best from different genres and creating something new from them, and our first attempt at that was “We Got It Going On”, which was inspired by New Jack swing. After that came “Quit Playing Games With My Heart”, which was a song no-one believed in. The released version is just a demo that doesn’t even have cymbal crashes, and it’s actually Max singing at the end because the band had left without finishing the song. But it caught on like wildfire and everyone liked it.
– Is it true that “…Baby One More Time” was written for TLC?
Yes it is. When Max was writing it, he’d turn around and ask me if the lyrics should go, “My carelessness…” or “My loneliness…? “. He took a lot of inspiration from funk music for how to pronounce words, which became a trademark for Britney Spears when she’d say “bay-bay” instead of “baby”. That track was also influenced by the production on Lutricia Mcneal’s“Ain’t That Just The Way”, and that’s why Rami Yacoub was recruited to Cheiron. He produced that song and Max loved the sound; it served as the template for our piano stabs and drum sounds.
– It’s long been rumored that “…Baby One More Time” is just a sexual innuendo, though most people at the label and in the media brushed it off. Can you clear that up?
All of us were more into the sound of words over their meaning, and Max just thought it sounded good. Our English wasn’t perfect and we didn’t think about all the layered meanings. The only remark I think he got was from Zomba – they said it couldn’t have “Hit Me” in the title, so it was removed. That’s how the title became “…Baby One More Time”.
– Given the royalty checks you were getting, do you remember when money no longer was an issue?
I don’t remember what the first big paycheck was. The one from Five was pretty good, but then came the ones from Westlife and NSYNC. “I Want It That Way” became big, but the Celine Dion songs were played at all kinds of events, which was another revenue stream. We’d made a lot of music for three of the biggest acts in the world, and I had multiple hits in just one year, so I very quickly went from being broke to making great money. Songs like “Bye Bye Bye” were getting 9000 spins a week, and it eventually got to the point where we’d say things like, “I think I wanna buy a car. I don’t know what it cost, but let’s do it anyway “.
– What’s the story behind NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye”?
“Bye Bye Bye” was written for Five, but they hated it so much that one of the members started crying whilst recording it – he thought it was cheesy and awful. Five had their own ideas about what they wanted and thought the song was below them. But in their defense, the track wasn’t as complete as when NSYNC got it.
Twenty years later, all of the boybands might say it was amazing to come to Sweden and sing our songs, but the truth is that nobody liked what they were asked to sing. I remember Backstreet Boys not being too excited about anything, even the tracks we did for “Millennium“. They wanted to be cool like Eminem, not sing corny lyrics written by Swedish songwriters. But they also understood that singing those songs would make them a lot of money, so they went with it.
– The main Cheiron studio had a Euphonix console and the smaller room had a Soundtracs Jade 32. Which desk got used more?
Although Euphonix didn’t have a lasting legacy, their CS3000D console was our secret. It was considered high-tech in the late 90s, at a time when “vintage gear” wasn’t yet desirable. We also had a Sony APR 24 tape machine, which gave the tracks a certain warmth.
– Who was the better producer; you, Kristian Lundin or Max Martin?
Kristian was above everyone – he could analyze all kinds of things in a song and was unbelievably gifted. Max was a brilliant songwriter, but Kristian at that time had something very unique. He was just a bit lazy and did things on his own time. He’d take three weeks to mix a song, working on it a bit everyday until he was happy.
– Is it true that Cheiron’s royalty rate was 8% back then. That’s quite high.
It was, but we didn’t charge much upfront. Guys like David Foster charge something like $100,000 for a production. We charged less but wanted 8% and A-side protection, so regardless of what they put on the B-side, we got paid. The labels had blind faith in us back then – if we so much as whistled a melody, they’d book the studio. Some of our demos were very rough, but the labels still chose to release them anyway.
– Denniz Pop eventually got sick with cancer and passed away in 1998. How did that change things in the team?
Denniz’s passing was the start of Max being the new leader, which was a position he’d been trained for anyway, but it was still tough – Cheiron was Denniz’s identity and we were suddenly running the whole operation despite being kids. I always felt I wasn’t worthy of that role. The guy who brought me in had died but now I had to sit in his office and work at his mixing desk. It wasn’t a good feeling, and everyone wanted to move on. Sure, the best music was made after his passing, but songwriting became a job whereas it had been fun and games before.
– Similar to how you were told at sixteen that you’d be successful in music, I’ve heard that Denniz also received a prophecy about his fate.
That’s true. He attended a music festival in the early 90s where he stumbled into someone else’s tent in the woods and came out looking pale. There was a fortune teller lady in there who said he’d only live to 35. I think Ulf Ekberg from Ace of Base was with him. It obviously wasn’t a nice prediction, but it did feel like the events at Cheiron had an air of divinity around them. I was part of many great songs that became part of modern culture, but I honestly didn’t have much to do with their creation – I was just channeling the energy at the time. ABBA were in a similar situation 20 years earlier when Sweden was still a remote country. No matter how gifted Benny and Björn were, you can’t really accomplish what they did just by being good songwriters. You’re only being selected to fill a role, so when the Universe decided there would be a musical explosion in Sweden, we were the vessels chosen to be part of it, and it’s hard to take the credit for that. So maybe the Universe knew Denniz wouldn’t make it past 35, and the fortune teller just channeled the information.
– Did Cheiron come to an end because Max and Rami wanted to start their own studio?
Partially. The contract was also up for the building we were in and it was time to move on. We were a bunch of guys assembled by Denniz, and even though we liked each other and were colleagues, we weren’t all best friends. After camping there for seven years, you eventually start to wonder what life is like elsewhere, so we broke up. Kristian and I took over the Cheiron studio and set up a new studio called The Location whilst Per Magnusson and David Kreuger formed A Side Productions. Max Martin set up Maratone with Denniz’s business partner, Tom Talomaa. I think a few years passed where we didn’t talk to each other after that.
Another reason for the end of Cheiron was that Pharrell came along and changed the game with his sound. The Neptunes did “I’m A Slave 4 U”, and suddenly our records sounded gimmicky by comparison. A similar thing happened to Desmond Child in the early 90s. Whilst mixing a Bon Jovi record called “Keep The Faith“, he said, “Turn on the radio so we can compare the mix to whatever’s playing “, and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit“ came on. After hearing it, Desmond turned down the faders on the console and said, “Listen guys. It’s over “, and it was. From one day to the next, hair metal became completely irrelevant and sounded dated, and it was the same with Cheiron. I couldn’t even convince myself that our last records sounded any good, like NSYNC “Celebrity”. Pharrell came along with something much cooler and sexier, so we knew it was time to pull the plug and do other things.
– Max Martin’s reputation as a super producer has endured until today, and he’s talked about as the golden child of the Cheiron crew. Is that something the other members ever resented?
I don’t think so. Max is one of the greatest pop writers of all time, and he lives and breathes music. He’s always been obsessed with making the next hit, and I don’t have to hang with him for a long until he starts asking what I think of a chorus or the B section in a track. The skill he possessed that set him apart from the rest of us was how to nurture new talent and sign whoever had the key to the next phase in music. Dr Luke was a great example – Max was searching for years until Luke came on board as a guitar player, and all of a sudden you had “Since U Been Gone”. It also marked the next phase for Max where he used his ears more than sitting behind the console and programming everything himself. He truly is a genius and I’m not surprised by the success he’s had over the years. He really is that good.
– It’s not uncommon for teams of people to do the actual legwork behind a #1 hit, yet only the super producer gets the credit. Since you mentioned Dr Luke, what are your thoughts on how Max operates with his team?
Max can walk into a room and recognize when a song is good, but as he sits and listens, he eventually identifies the weak parts and knows how to finish the production. Anyone can create 80% of a good song, but the last 20% is where the journey really starts. When they asked Arnold Schwarzenegger how many pushups he does, he said, “I don’t count until it starts hurting “, because that’s when the real work gets done. So it doesn’t matter if Max sits with a pen and paper at the start – his contribution is in taking things to a new level. Whatever he adds to a song is what takes it from a generic Top 40 record to a #1 hit, and I’ve seen him do it multiple times. Who else would take on producing acts like Coldplay or Ed Sheeran, and then move on to The Weeknd, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift? So what he does isn’t dumb luck.
– Once Cheiron broke up, what was it like running The Location?
The building was a commercial space that was meant to be a store, which made the rent several times more expensive than usual, but Kristian and I didn’t care because we were 28 and had made so much money. We started decorating and repainting – the kind of things you do when you have money but don’t know what songs to write (laughs). Once the space looked great, we needed a better logo. When that was done, we finally thought about writing some songs, but were like, “Nah, we can’t do that right now, so let’s sign someone else “, so we signed a group called Pilots which consisted of guys like Carl Falk and Savan Kotecha.
Songwriting for Kristian and I was full of pressure, whereas Pilots could do it because they hadn’t yet been successful. The stakes get higher for every hit you write and you keep asking yourself if you can still do it. We’d have clients arriving in two weeks but didn’t have any songs for them, plus we had no free time and worked on Christmas and New Years Eve. So it was eight years of constant chain smoking, mixing, and trying to write hits, and I eventually got tired of it. Kristian had been doing it since 1993 and his health began to deteriorate. We also spent too much time on each song – we’d sweat over “Can’t Make You Love Me” for weeks, but it was just as an album cut for Britney’s second record. Songwriting suddenly became hard, and even if we wrote the next “…Baby One More Time”, it felt pointless. We’d become the guys with a dated sound because we hadn’t taken time to refine a new one, which was the opposite of what Max did. People don’t talk about this, but “Since U Been Gone” came out in 2004, and you won’t find anything from Max Martin between 2001 – 2004 that had major success. He had four cold years because it took him nearly half a decade to figure out the next thing, which is what we should have done.
– I heard that you took Pilots to the US, but the A&Rs didn’t respond too well.
The A&Rs just shook their heads and one guy said, “You really wasted a year on this? “. So we knew that time was up and The Location wasn’t working. I started spending more time in LA and educating myself about the wider music business. This was when Paris Hilton was making music, so I started writing for acts like Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff. It was so far from the greatness we’d created at Cheiron, and I wasn’t a fan of what I was making. I remember working with Hilary and not one note she sang was in-tune. I looked at her manager in disbelief and they were like, “Please just play along. We’ll tweak it later…“.
– Maybe you should’ve accepted working with Chris Brown? Didn’t he come to you as a teenager?
His mother used to call me all the time. I’d found my way into Diddy’s camp in the mid-2000s and tried producing for the artists there, but nothing ever started on time. A session at 2pm would literally begin at 2am, so I got tired of things being disorganized and decided to leave, but I still took a meeting with Chris and his mom at Westlake Studios when he was sixteen. She told me about his singing and he showed me his dance moves, and I said I’d get back to them, but I didn’t. So I missed out on a few big things like that. I remember driving Josh Groban to rehearsals at David Foster’s place. He was in the backseat whilst Rami and I were in the front, but we never wrote anything for him.
– What was it like working with Celine Dion?
She’d just done Titanic and needed an uptempo song, so we were called in to write for her. I wrote the lyrics and Max sang the lead, with me on backing vocals. It ended up becoming “That’s The Way It Is”, and Celine loved the demo. We flew to Florida to record it, and when they asked us what console we wanted, we asked for a Euphonix. They brought one in, but it broke down and took three days to repair whilst we sat at the hotel and waited. We thought the delay was an excuse for her not to sing the song, but we finally went to the studio and Celine was there with Humberto Gatica and her team. She listened to the song once or twice, but typically doesn’t want to hear it three times. Then she sang it and it was amazing.
– As the Cheiron years came to an end, you started working with Desmond Child?
That’s right. Everyone at Cheiron was suspicious of outsiders because so many people were reaching out to us. So when we received a fax from Desmond Child, no-one responded except me. He’d just written “Living The Vida Loca” and I wanted to write with him, so I flew to Florida and we wrote a song called, “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is”, with Howie D from the Backstreet Boys. Nothing happened with the demo, but we later used the phrase on Katy Perry’s “Waking Up In Vegas”.
– Was it your relationship with Desmond that led you to write for American Idol’s first season?
That’s right. He became my manager and we started working on the first season of Idol. We put together a songwriting camp called “The Sand Castle” that was influenced by Stewart Copeland’s writing camps from the 90s. He’d invite people like Sting and Olivia Newton John to a castle in France for group writing sessions, so Desmond mimicked that by inviting songwriters to hang out in Miami and write for Idol.
– How did Carrie Underwood’s song “Inside Your Heaven” come about?
It was written at The Location for Season 4 of Idol. Me and Desmond were pitching for the winning song, but “Inside You Heaven” was never meant to be submitted. I wrote that with Pelle Nylén and Savan Kotecha, and somehow it got added into the pool without my knowledge. We went to Clive Davis’ bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel to get the final verdict, and after waiting for a while, Clive came in and said, “We’ve made up our mind on the final song “. Desmond was like, “Awesome, which one did you pick? “, and Clive said, “We’ve decided to go with Inside Your Heaven. I believe Andreas wrote it “. Needless to say, I was a bit embarrassed since I’d submitted a different song with Desmond, but he said, “Then I’d like to produce it at least “. So that’s what happened, and it sold 500,000 copies.
Other Idol songs like Clay Aiken’s “Invisible” sold 3 million copies, but a lot of the material I wrote during that time was second rate, so I started to lose interest. The last major thing I did was Katy Perry’s material before becoming a judge on Swedish Idol.
– Around 2007, you came back to Sweden and reconnected with Anders Bagge and his wife, Laila, correct?
Exactly. I’d been drifting around LA for some years, spending money on BS, but I somehow reconnected with Anders. He was involved in Cheiron early on but was offered a major advance from Chrysalis, which he accepted because Cheron didn’t give any advances. He’d also married and divorced Laila, who I’d known for years. The three of us started working together to pitch our own TV shows, and when we walked into TV4, they asked if we’d audition as a music jury. We agreed, and they called us afterwards to ask if we’d like to replace the old Idol jury. We eventually agreed and it became the biggest thing on TV – 25% of the Swedish population ended up watching. I also think it was needed for me so I could branch out into other things, like writing a book, opening a school or producing a musical; it made me realize I could be creative in other areas.
– You, Anders and Laila also formed a company called Meriola Music. Would you say that that was successful?
No it wasn’t, though we did sign some acts like Kim, Janet, and Play. Laila brought in Zara Larsson when she was just eleven years old, but the CD was dying and it was a tough time. We could’ve been more focused, but we had our minds on making TV shows like Made in Sweden, and the music suffered as a result. It also became clear when we did our showcases in the US that Swedish artists had a hard time entertaining American audiences. An American teenager can sell a pen in front of 1000 people and make everyone laugh, but Swedes have a different mentality, and Meriola’s showcases didn’t deliver. But I have no regrets about any of it. It was a fun time and those were some of the best years of my life, especially when compared to the late 90s/early 2000s. The Cheiron years were mostly just stressful and not that great, to be honest.
– Why did you leave Idol?
I’d said all I had to say and felt like I was giving my best years to TV4 just to sit at a jury table. It was also hard to be that recognizable – if I wanted to be a celebrity, I’d have been one in the 90s. I already had a perfect life and didn’t need the tabloids poking into my business. If I went on a date with the same girl two or three times, they’d call her and make a story out of it, which isn’t what I wanted. The only reason I did The X Factor is because I’d started building my school and needed another year of TV to get the financing in place. I also thought The X Factor would be a success, but the jury didn’t have any chemistry and they canceled it after one season.
– Once your Idol days were over, you started developing a musical called Dandy. Why didn’t it come out?
Dandy was shelved for different reasons as I got involved in a lawsuit over rights which I eventually won. I raised capital in 2018 and began writing a new musical for which I re-recorded some of the best music from Dandy, hired Academy Award-winning writers, and was ready to start casting when the pandemic hit. So I pulled the plug and came back to Sweden in 2021. It almost killed the new musical, but then Stiller Studios showed up and we decided to turn it into an animated film called “Tinseltown”. More money came in and screenwriter Rob Muir joined the project; he’d worked on Toy Story 3 and Monsters Inc 2. So everything fell into place. I’ve written fourteen songs for “Tinseltown” and we have a major star who wants to come onboard.
– Aside from entertainment projects, you also have your AXB schools. How did those come about?
I was at my lowest point during the lawsuit and wondered whether I should become an entrepreneur or motivational speaker to cover the legal costs, but in the midst of those thoughts, I realized that I had to do something unselfish for others. If I’m failing in one area, the best way to counteract that energy is to help other people, and opening a music school made the most sense. It also let me expand beyond songwriting now that I’m older and don’t write music as often.
I run the schools with my childhood music teacher, Magnus Lundin, and we currently have buildings in multiple cities and over 100 employees. We’ve seen our students have success after graduating from here, with examples like NOTD and Alla Hatar Bell. I more or less taught them what I thought was important, and it’s similar to what Bill Champlin did for me.
– You also have a music app in the works. Can you share anything about that?
When things were going well at Cheiron, a kid came in from Zomba and put an mp3 player on the table. We’d never seen one, and he explained how you could plug it into your computer and upload 1000 songs online. So I asked, “Who’s gonna need a CD then? “. The lesson I learned from that was the following: at the peak of any paradigm, someone will come along with the next mp3 player and change everything. I’m predicting that the era of passively consuming music is over. If billions of people can play video games where they decide the outcome, why would they listen to music that someone else made instead of making it themselves? So we’ve developed an app called HYPH that treats music like a virtual lego box where the same thousand pieces can be combined in different ways to make new tracks. I think my intuition about this was right because of what happened with AI in 2023, but AI doesn’t have any structure in terms of rights. Plus, it’s no good for the musicians because we get no credit for what the AI spits out. So when I saw this app, which was already in development, I wanted to be part of something that could be the next big movement in music. We’ve worked really hard on it for three years and are releasing it in September.
– Wrapping up, I want to ask about today’s music landscape. After nearly a century of music being recorded by live instrumentalists and songwriters, things have shifted to favor beatmakers and topliners. Where does that leave traditional songwriters like yourself or Desmond Child? Are you considered less relevant today?
In the eyes of the music industry, you’re only relevant between the age 16 – 25 (laughs). Once you pass your mid-20s, anybody can become irrelevant. But good music will always have an impact, irrespective of time or culture. That’s why Michael Jackson is put above everyone else, and there’s several gaps between him and the next person like Chris Brown. It’s the same reason why Prince songs are held in such high regard. I don’t know how much music from this era will live on, but Desmond taught me that you don’t write songs for the present – you’re writing for the guy singing in a bar 20 years from now who’s performing the 10th version of your song. If your music only caters to the present, that’ll never happen.
– Over 25 years after joining Cheiron, can you still write a hit today?
I doubt it – I can walk into a room and identify a good song, and maybe I can help the artist find their way to a hit, but I don’t think I can write a hit in my current state. If I really wanted it badly enough and dedicated a whole year to only making a Billboard #1, then I could do it. But I’d have to re-educate myself and get back into shape to compete in the world of top songwriting again. The mindset is still there if I put it to use. Look at Rami Yacoub – he’s still doing it and he’s relentless.
– As a motivational speaker, I often hear you advise people to have a positive mindset and belief in their dreams, but the reality of the music industry is that most people fail in their pursuits for a variety of reasons. Some get exploited and others are blocked by gatekeepers. What are people like that expected to do in the face of constant adversity?
I think you can outmaneuver bad luck – it eventually grows tired of pursuing you if you’re tireless about your ambitions. I could’ve gone under trying to make Tinseltown and I took a severe beating with a lawsuit that was expensive enough to bury a regular person, but it’s your mindset that keeps things moving forward, especially when you’ve picked the hardest industry in the world to be in. The entertainment business is where dreamers from all over the world want to be, and if you think success comes to those who wait patiently for a short time, you’re wrong. You may have to wait for years, all whilst saying goodbye to friends and relatives who think you’re gambling your life away. But I’ll say this – I’ve never seen a dreamer who had talent and was willing to give 100% that didn’t succeed. Everyone I know who had stamina and relentlessness ended up winning. So success is not just for the lucky few – it’s waiting for everyone with a relentless desire to grab it. That’s my humble opinion.
– Thanks for talking to me, Andreas. It’s been great to learn about your career. Last question: I’ve heard that you and Anders Bagge visited Melrose Place in the late 90s, and you ran into another lady who foretold your future. What did she say?
She said, “You’ll have enormous success in music, but the first wave won’t be your big accomplishment. You’ll have the initial success and then go through a very tough time. After the tough times, your big success will come and it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever imagined “. So we’ll see what happens. If the lawsuit was the tough times, I might still have some interesting years ahead (laughs).