Behind the Beat with John Dahlbäck
We were able to catch up with John Dahlbäck before his show at Space Ibiza New York and hear about his latest tracks, his favorite Call of Duty class, and the moment he thought music might not be for him.
[OTB]: This is your first show since SummerFade, right? I’ve heard some interesting things about that festival. How was that show for you? I heard it was a “unique experience.”
[John Dahlbäck]: It was unique because it was very well organized, the stage was amazing, but there was no one there.
[OTB]: Did that change the festival experience for you in a better way for you?
[JD]: No, a worse way.
[OTB]: Well, the positive side of it is that being in Norway, you got to spend some time in Sweden, right?
[JD]: Yeah it was close.
[OTB]: Have you by any chance caught that show called “Welcome to Sweden?”
[JD]: I’ve seen it all yeah.
[JD]: I love it, I thought it was great.
[OTB]: Would you say that it is an accurate representation of Swedish culture?
[JD]: I’d say it’s a bit over the top, but it’s definitely funny.
[OTB]: You get to travel all over the world, playing your music to different crowds, countries, and people. What makes NYC special?
[JD]: I started coming here five or six years ago, and the first time I was here…I was so influenced by TV. I feel safe in the U.S. for some reason. Whenever I turn on the TV at home, whenever there is an American sitcom on, I feel relaxed. It’s very weird. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s the same here, whenever I’m walking around, it feels safe.
[OTB]: I’d say feeling “safe” is a unique feeling when you’re walking around NYC. I think I’d say I feel far safer in Sweden…
[JD]: It is somehow different when you’re talking to people though. They’re very social and open. You feel welcomed when you walk into a store for instance.
[OTB]: Are there significant culture differences between here and Sweden?
[JD]: Yeah, I lived in LA for a bit, well for a couple months, and when I come back I went to go buy a car, so I went to Volvo of course, and I was used to American salesmen. They’re so polite and they want you to buy stuff. So I walked into Volvo and I was like “Can I see this car?” And they said “uhh no, you can’t, it’s not available.” I said “It’s out there, I can see it from here.” “Yeah, but the guy who handles that is out at lunch so we can’t help you.” “Well how long has he been away?” “About an hour. Maybe another hour.” And they just showed no interest. So that’s a pretty big difference.
[OTB]: So yeah, I’d say thats a big difference, between American salesmanship and Swedish…I don’t know, standoffish-ness?
[JD]: Either U.S. is very desperate in selling stuff or Sweden is SO GOOD financially that they don’t need to sell stuff.
[OTB]: I’ve even heard that if you want to see your car being made, Volvo will fly you out to the factory to check it out….Is there any place in particular that you haven’t been to that you’d like to go to to perform?
[JD]: I want to go to South Africa, I’ve heard some interesting stuff about there.
[OTB]: Any particular reason why?
[JD]: No, I’ve just heard it is very different. Like India. It’s just a different world.
[OTB]: This year, you’ve had five singles, latest being Raven and Lord, what inspirations did you take?
[JD]: I did Raven after a show somewhere in the States and did it on a laptop in a couple hours. I tried it out the day after and it sounded great. I don’t know. I think I was just inspired by club music and rave music as it used to be. It’s a mix in between now and then. The drop is very now, the breakdown is very then.
[OTB]: When you say it only takes a few hours, I remember reading that there was another track that took you only an hour or so, and when I hear this, I have mixed feelings. Either I think he is such a virtuoso, he’s got this down, and knocked out a stellar track in one hour, and the you have the counter argument that taking only one hour to make a track doesn’t really qualify as “making music.” How what do you say to this?
[JD]: The track was called “Everywhere” and it was a vocal track that I had for a couple years and then one day I just took it out, made some chords. Did a drop and that was it. It wasn’t very complicated.
[OTB]: Do you think just because it was easy it takes away from it as a piece of art?
[JD]: It’s not a masterpiece like a classical piece of music would sound. But you know, this genre is very simple. Maybe too simple. But it can also be very musical. It’s hard to make music that is both danceable and very musical. I don’t know, I’ve always believed that the most easy melodies and catchy vocals make the biggest songs.
[OTB]: You put out a lot of music too. We have a huge catalogue of what you’ve done. We haven’t seen an album since 2012’s Kill the Silence. Do you have any plans for a new one to come out?
[JD]: The new one is almost done. It’s 95% done. The last one in 2012 was a free album that I put together with my sister. It was more acoustic guitars and such. This one I’m finishing now, I’m really happy with it. Most songs start with me playing the piano, then adding the vocals, and doing production afterwards.
[JD]: Well Pickadoll I started at a time when I did so much music, I just needed an extra label for it. Mutants has grown into building new artists, which I like. We’re doing a compilation record that features 90% new and unsigned artists.
[OTB]: Well it certainly helps that Mutants has its own radio show in that regard, right?
[JD]: Yeah, it’s a nice thing to do for people. To play their songs. It’s hard for any label to put forward 100% demos.
[OTB]: How do you find time to do both, managing a label and producing?
[JD]: Well I do a lot of work when I’m on tour. When I’m at home, I spend time in the studio during “office hours.” So I always have a few hours per day. It’s like a normal job. When I’m in the studio, I can choose to work on my stuff, signing new tracks, or whatever.
[OTB]: Well when you’re not on office hours, I hear you’re a pretty good gamer.
[JD]: Yeah, well that’s also during office hours.
[OTB]: Ahh, I see. Well what’s your go-to game?
[JD]: I only play one game, an old Call of Duty game. Modern Warfare 3. Yeah so I’m there with a friend and we play, screaming into mics, at these 12 year old punks.
[JD]: Well I take turns on the different guns, but usually sniper. It feels more real for some reason.
[OTB]: So I guess you probably never touched Guitar Hero or DJ Hero or anything like that?
[JD]: I played Guitar Hero, it was fun, but it was not AS fun as, say, killing terrorists. DJ Hero I’ve never tried. I don’t think I need it.
[OTB]: Are you the kind of person who listens to music when you play a video game?
[JD]: No. I listen to raging 12 year olds. That’s music to my ears.
[OTB]: If you could only hear one song for the rest of your life, whether it’s your music or something that comes on the radio, what song would you choose to hear?
[JD]: Just one song I’ve been listening to my whole life. I’d probably listen to Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now.” I always listen to it on planes and if I had to pick one track it’d be that one.
[OTB]: Any particular reason for that track? You said your mom introduced it to you…
[JD]: It’s just, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just nice and nostalgic. It’s just good music.
[OTB]: Was there a moment when you were a kid that you knew music was going to be your career?
[JD]: I used to tag along when my dad played drums, and he took me to concerts when I was a kid. I was one of the few who had patience to stay for the four hours they played and stuff. I played drums for ten years and have really stuck with it after that.
[OTB]: Was there a moment when you thought you just couldn’t cut it, that being a musician was too hard?
[JD]: I played drums, I was in a little band that was very far from what I was listening to, we played, like, Beatles songs. There was a moment where I played at a train station in Sweden, and people were walking by, and I remember thinking….this…this may not be for me.
[OTB]: Last question, there are two hypothetical movies being made about you, one is a documentary that has bootleg clips and interviews with family members and friends that critics thought was brutally honest, but fair, the other is a big budget film that audiences love but critics think might embellish a little too much.
[JD]: I’d go with the documentary. It would feel more real. I can watch a documentary about anything.
Check out this 2013 video interview Only The Beat did with John Dahlbäck in Seattle
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