Riding a musical high

Riding a musical high

making waves

Riding a musical high

I  was in the middle of changing a diaper when I was told that we were nominated for three Grammys,” Lukas Forchhammer said from a tour bus, somewhere between Minneapolis and Philadelphia. “Completely surreal.”

Forchhammer, the lead singer and songwriter for the Danish band Lukas Graham, was caring for his 10-week-old daughter at a truck stop when his girlfriend and bandmates informed him that ‘7 Years’, the group’s breakthrough hit, would be competing with Beyoncé, Adele and Justin Bieber in two of the Grammy Awards’ big three categories: Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Though Lukas Graham, which released its self-titled major label debut in April, may not have anywhere near the name recognition of its competitors, the group’s nominated song is indeed a smash: ‘7 Years’ reached No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart, has been certified quadruple-platinum and has more than 600 million Spotify streams to date.

“It’s been a very weird year for us,” Forchhammer said. “Our world has been turned upside-down.” As the reality sank in, Forchhammer discussed the nominations, the downsides of the pop machine and what the Grammy would mean to his homeland. These are excerpts from the conversation:

What was the first thing that went through your head when you heard the news?
I was like, “OK, even just being allowed to perform would have been amazing.” I believe only one Dane has ever won a Grammy before — in 1960-something. Bent Fabricius-Bjerre (known as Bent Fabric) — do you remember the swing tune ‘Alley Cat’? (hums melody) But he didn’t go to the Grammys because he was pitched against Elvis Presley. He was sure that Elvis was going to win. But that’s the amazing thing about the Grammys, right?

What do the Grammys mean back in Denmark?

They mean something because it’s peers voting for peers. We don’t have an academy like that back home. It really promotes a sort of camaraderie amongst American musicians that you rarely see in Europe. I know there are around 25,000 eligible voters in the (Recording) Academy at the moment. That means a substantial amount of these 25,000 people went and voted for us. Potentially, someone like Beyoncé or Jay Z was like, “Oh, that ‘7 Years’ song? I dig it!”

How much of an underdog do you feel like in a class with these mega-pop stars?

I am sure that we’re the greatest underdog. But put us on stage next to each other and then they’ll hear that we’re on par. We’re the little kids on the block who have been fighting our way up. We’ve only had a major label backing us since 2013, so the majority of our career so far has been just us. I put a lot of my own money into the creation of this record.

Can you talk a little bit about the making of the song ‘7 Years’?

It’s one-take, recorded on an $80 mike. It was basically written in a 3 1/2 hour studio session in Copenhagen. It started with just the piano riff that one of our producers was playing and I just started singing: ‘Once I was 7 years old ...’ It took another 18 months to finish the production. It’s a weird piece of music — there’s no hook.

Do you worry that this song will define your career to the exclusion of everything else?

Nah, not really. I keep writing songs and I’m so prolific as a writer that I have so many more things to come. I don’t even think ‘7 Years’ is the best song on the album.

Did you have a sense that it was something career-making?

I knew ‘7 Years’ was a special song, because it just hit that nerve. How big it was going to be was quite unfathomable. It’s not something you can guess or hope for. It’s such an underdog in this market of pop-pop-pop music. Half of what’s on the Billboard is quite ruthlessly calculated. It’s almost a mathematical equation where people sit down and decide, “OK, the chorus has to be here, the verses here, the pre- there and that’s why the bridge says this.” I’m sick and tired of it. I’m sick and tired of fast food and popcorn. What I want is something that touches people on another level than “Oh, this is my great idol who released another song — I love it because it’s him or her.” Love it because you love it and (expletive) the rest.

We’re really, really striving to get off the pedestal, because musicians are not better people than anybody else. We aren’t more honour-worthy. Quite the contrary — we drink more, we smoke more, we sleep less, we travel all the time, we don’t see our families. At times we’re quite egotistical. And I do believe that the world needs to look up to some engineers and doctors, rather than some stars. I looked up to my father and my mother as my biggest heroes in my every day life. I never once looked up to people on the stage even though I wanted to be on the stage myself.

The song is largely about your father who died a few years ago. What would he have said about this honour?

That is a Catch-22 question. If he hadn’t died at the time that he died, I wouldn’t have written the song that brought us this huge success, so I can’t answer that question. Unfortunately, I would have loved to become successful on some other song about my boys in jail or my upbringing rather than my father being dead. But that’s just not the case.