|Published: 2008-01-18 by Sebastian Tiger
Ana Johnsson, Il Divo, Britney Spears, and Bryan Adams – for the past ten years, Mathias Venge has collaborated with a bevy of successful artists. Mathias Venge calls his time with Jörgen Elofsson a ”crash-course in international music production.”
As a studio musician, technician, songwriter, and producer, he experienced the golden age of Swedish musical export from the inside, and remembers with a little bit of horror how ”hordes” of Americans came to Sweden in search of the Swedish sound. He has with his own eyes seen how the situation for Swedish songwriters has changed since then due to the problems for the music industry during the 21st century.
”It’s tougher now. There are many people still working but a harder culling of those who make it big. On the other hand, there are other ways of going about it—the Myspace way. And this is both good and bad; it’s great that there is a curiosity about music on the Internet. But the feedback you get—”Hey, you guys are great!” – seems mostly to be there to make you write the same thing back.
What is the state of Swedish songwriting today?
- There are many people who are good at making it sound good, but sometimes it feels like there is too little soul, because the songs are not good enough. In a way, it was worse when everything was supposed to have ”the Swedish sound.” There were many people who didn’t get what made Cheiron special, to make something plastic but that was damn good too.
In his little studio on Kungsholmen in Stockholm, he nowadays writes songs for up-and-coming artists like the Swiss Fabienne Louves, Swedish-Lebanese Therese Neaime, Gaby, and Richard Darrell. For the past year, he and Sara Jangfeldt have also worked with the youth musical Grymt!, that will be produced by the Gothenburg Opera in March. One can see traces of this on his desk; next to his Apple computer lay namely reference CDs with rebellious music: Nirvana, Sex Pistols, and Bob Marley. It is not only when he does commissions that he peeks at other music; in contrast to many songwriters, he sees nothing negative about studying other sources of music as a starting point for his own songs.
- The reason I began writing songs is that I was not good enough to copy the songs. I wanted to be Richie Blackmore but it turned into something else instead. It’s not like I take a well-known song and put a new melody on it, but one learns a lot by studying other people’s songs. I have played my lifelong dose of covers live on tours, and there you learn how the songs are constructed.
Aside from cover bands, Mathias has also been a tour guitarist for artists like E-Type, Jennifer Brown, and Joey Tempest, and he feels that this aided his development both as a musician and a songwriter.
- When one plays with Anders Glenmark one has to comply with his idols and their phrasing. Joey Tempest comes from a totally different direction. One learns from everything one does.
As a songwriter, Mathias Venge works well together with others; his latest partner is Peter Wennergren. He sees songwriting collaborations as a creative vitamin injection.
- It is an energy kick. I write most songs together with others, and you function like energy generators for each other. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out at all like you thought—then you have to perfect your craft instead. This happens most often when one works with artists instead of songwriters.
Is writing with artists difficult?
- No, I like doing that too. But it’s fun to work with people who know the craft. First you make the song, and then you check it like an engineer, to see if there are any mistakes in the writing. Jörgen taught me how to go into the smallest details and see things that didn’t work, to ”kill your darlings.”
Do you save all the song ideas you get?
- I always collect some little thing here and there sand put it in small idea folders on my computer. Then it’s important to name the song sketches according to the style of song you want, so all the sketches are called ” the Celine Dion song” or ”the Hives song.” We always did that when I played in a band, ”how would BB King have played that solo?” If you want it to sound like Keith Richards, maybe you have to have a cigarette hanging out of your mouth and hang the guitar way down, and if you want to sound like The Strokes you have to have a short shoulder strap on the guitar. It’s the same thing when you name your song sketches, they have to give you the right feeling.