August 25, 2009
Kleerup: The Interview
Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with Swedish producer Kleerup while on the set of his new film. Instead of the traditional Q&A route, Iâ€™ve opted to put together something a bitâ€¦classier: A full-length article. Please read on, and I hope you enjoy!
A former member of a thrash metal band and an avid fan of Motley Crue, Guns Nâ€™ Roses, and KISS, Swedish producer Kleerup may well be the antithesis of the disco-sheen persona behind his self-titled debut album.
Born in Stockholm, Andreas Kleerup was brought up in between his love for â€˜80â€™s hair metal, drumming, and his lessons in jazz at high school and college. In fact, it wasnâ€™t even until his first purchase of a computer that Kleerup even discovered the genre he now dominates.
So where did it all begin to take off? As with so many musiciansâ€™ anecdotes, it began with a chance meeting at the recording studioâ€”in this case, with the internationally acclaimed pop artist, Robyn: â€œWe met through Klas Ã…hlund, whoâ€™s in the band, Teddybears. He also wrote the song â€œPiece of Meâ€ for Britney Spears. He and Robyn wrote for her album, and I was in his studio loaning the room for free. They were recording the album, and then I asked if I couldâ€”well, Robyn asked me to play in her band, so I did that for a year. And then I had my album coming out under EMI Sweden, and I asked if she wanted to do a song with me.â€
She agreed, and the collaboration spawned a four-minute pop opus known today as â€œWith Every Heartbeat.â€ â€œIt was sort of likeâ€”itâ€™s meant to be an Andy Warhol kind of pop artist thing with the string break in the middle and not too many choruses repeated,â€ he says of the songâ€™s unusual construction, including a chorus that doesnâ€™t even make an appearance until the songâ€™s three minute mark. â€œItâ€™s close to me still when I listen to itâ€”itâ€™s so close to me.â€
It was a song that struck many more people than just its producer. Upon its release, â€œWith Every Heartbeatâ€ hit number one in the U.K., made an appearance on charts around the world (including #4 on the Americaâ€™s Hot Single Sales chart), and was deemed the greatest track of 2007 by respected Brit-pop music blog, PopJustice.
With the single, Kleerup was on a mission that dance music didnâ€™t have to be a simpleâ€”as a throbbing love story, â€œHeartbeatâ€ was both everything and nothing the dancefloor had ever experienced. â€œWhen a song like that hits number one, I think it shows hope for everyone, making kind of a cultural forceâ€”you can actually break into mainstream and still do kind of quirky, sort of off-center pop stuff.”
As much as it was a boundary-breaking moment in dance-pop, it was also very much a personal triumph. â€œBasically it was sort of twenty years of hard work paying off,â€ he says of the trackâ€™s unexpected success. â€œBefore that, it was just struggle, struggle, struggle. I mean, I canâ€™t really recall anyâ€”I donâ€™t have any fond memories of my twenties.â€
It should be unsurprising then to learn that Kleerupâ€™s album is wrought with struggle. Threading together common themes of longing, hoping, fading, dreamingâ€”Kleerup is a midnight throb with a morning-after kind of gloom. â€œItâ€™s about breakups and getting through the worst part of life,â€ he explained of the albumâ€™s contents. â€œThe whole thing was about relationships gone wrong.â€ It’s a subject with rich potential according to the artist, who believes the music I’ve come to describe as “sad disco” acts an opportunity for exploration of human emotion: “When you’re dancing, you’re probably feeling quite good. So when you get melancholic in that kind of area, you can provoke more feelings…Iâ€™m just glad people sort of took notice of that fact as you did.”
To help Kleerup construct his vision for a debut album, he enlisted a slew of singers to act as the voice of most of his work. The guest list? An impressive array of Swedenâ€™s most talented chanteuses, including Robyn, Titiyo, and Lykke Li. â€œ[They were] people in my surroundings, people I liked as peopleâ€”not who was the flavor of the month,â€ he said of his choices.
Oh, and as for that pesky rumor that â€œThank You for Nothingâ€ was made as a response piece to Cyndi Lauperâ€™s refusal to allow the use of their 2008 collaboration track â€œLay Me Downâ€ on his own record? â€œWe can throw that rumor in the garbage,â€ he urged definitively. â€œI knowâ€”I get that question a lot, but I did that song before Cyndi and I made the song.â€
The creation of the album spawned two more successful singles, including the Marit Bergman-led â€œ3AMâ€ and â€œLonging For Lullabies,â€ a track perhaps best described as the epitome of all things “sad disco”: â€œâ€™Longing for Lullabiesâ€™ I think is my favorite because that was written mostly by me, but [with] Titiyo being in studio and sort of acting like a lightning-like channel sending me good vibes,â€ he says of the â€œWith Every Heartbeatâ€ follow-up. â€œThe whole hook came out of the blue; it came to me one day, so that song was sort of delivered with help from the spirits.â€ By the time the album was released, be it divine intervention or simply a penchant for good pop-making, Kleerup had concocted one of the most sophisticated dance records of the decade.
When I spoke to Kleerup last week, he was on the West Coast of Sweden watching boats sail by on the Archipelago while preparing to start shooting as the lead role in an upcoming Swedish film due out in December (the title roughly translates to Spider Walk or Walk of the Spider), a film he describes as â€œDavid Lynch meets Ingrid Bergman.â€ Earlier that day, the music producer was being introduced to the act of method acting, including having to demonstrate the ability to cry on cue. â€œYou have years of shit behind you, you can open up those lockers and let the emotions out,” he explained of the task.
Itâ€™s a far cry from the late nights spent tweaking tracks in a dark studio booth, but Kleerup insists that the change-up is good for the mind. â€œItâ€™s nice to take a break from the studio sitting watching a computer,â€ he insisted, â€œitâ€™s really heartwarming. I can feel my soul sort of jumping up a notchâ€”I guess closer to Nirvana.â€
Fear not however, as Kleerup has no intention of ditching his day job. Only two days after we spoke, Kleerup planned to work with Robyn to produce and remix some new tracks. There are plans to begin DJ and touring gigs later in the fall, and later this yearâ€”after the birth of his first child in November (congratulations!)â€”heâ€™ll be returning to the studio with a refreshed sound and a revitalized spirit for his sophomore effort.
When asked about the direction of the new album, his mission statement was armed and ready: â€œI think what Iâ€™m going to try to do is prove that France isnâ€™t the only one to make good dance music.” So how does one plan to go about such a task? â€œIâ€™m probably going to incorporate lots of Van Halen, kind of “Billie Jean” guitar…a bit more hip-hop and drums, but still dance tempos.â€ Still, heâ€™s not deviating that much from protocol: â€œItâ€™s probably going to be equally sad, if not even more sad,â€ he chuckled. And as for a dream collaboration on the new record? â€œAmy Winehouse,â€ he responds. â€œI would love if she could do a song with me.â€
But first comes the promotional duties following the recent American release of his Swedish debut. â€œIâ€™m waiting to see if things go well in the States, because then Iâ€™ll come overâ€¦Iâ€™m just waiting to see.â€
In between shooting his movie, his collaborations abroad, welcoming a child on the way, and his first major release stateside–Kleerup is just as he always has been; scattered between genres, sights, and sounds, patiently preparing for his next creative move.