Fredrik Thomander | Interview
Fredrik Thomander is a Swedish Songwriter and Producer based in Palma, Mallorca who has written and produced for NSYNC, Jennifer Lopez, Agnetha Fältskog, Gotthard and the Scorpions. He has recently opened Palma Music Studios, a 7 room complex in the heart of Palma de Mallorca which he co-owns with another Swedish producer, Johan Lundgren. I caught up with Fredrik for a chat about how he started his journey from Sweden to the Balearics...
KMR : How did you start off and were you always into music?
FT : Well, I’m from the west coast of Sweden in Varberg, about an hour below Gothenburg and when I was young it was an amazing time because the rehearsal places were free if you joined this ‘studio circle’. You filled out some forms then the government gave you funding to have a rehearsal place
They gave u a small PA and you could rent guitars for basically nothing so that's how I grew up, and from the age of twelve, I was in a rehearsal space 6 nights a week after school. My big brother was a guitar player who got me into music, but I got into the tech side of things pretty quickly. Even though I was 3-4 years younger than the others in the band I would be one who fixed the sound or recorded with a 4 track Tascam I always liked the idea of the construction of songs. I didn't know there was a thing called a music producer, I didn’t know back then when I was trying to dictate what everybody was gonna play - that was producing music.
So from early on, I tried to make it sound better it was just trial and error and I didn't know anything, but growing up like that gave me a good work ethic. Every night we would listen back to our tape recordings of the sessions.
KMR : Did you stay in Sweden?
FT : No in 1989 I moved to America to go to Guitar Institute in Los Angeles and whilst there, I took ear training and they had a studio at the time with a reel-to-reel. So I started a band and went to college during the day and rehearsing in the evening. Sometimes we'd get cheap studio time in the middle of the night so we’d rent and record through the night. I remember we did one in Paramount recording studios, and I was back there just last year and it felt the same.
At this time I bought my first studio equipment, from some money a relative had left me, and it was a Korg M1, Roland R8 Drum Machine, Ensoniq EPS sampler and the Yamaha MT3X 4-track cassette recorder, it had 6 inputs and 4 tracks - and I had a Tascam Tape Sync to the R8.
I moved back to Sweden and to Stockholm after going to the Vocal Institute after the GIT and arrived mid-depression in Sweden ..haha. I came from Los Angeles thinking this was the state of the world, and then suddenly hitting unemployment in Stockholm at the end of 1990, this was really when the 80’s ended!
KMR : That was just when I started recording 90’s indie bands because everybody was just depressed...
FT : haha yeah, exactly! - and coming from Los Angeles I thought everybody wore cowboys boots…it turns out they didn't…
But coming home to Stockholm where it was super dark, super grey I had to figure it all out again, and I learned fast that the record contract we thought we had, we didn't have.
So I took gigs as a touring musician playing keyboards and bass and a did a run in Greece in a rock club, and then in early 1994 I started my own band again called Vildsvin and got a record contract with Per Gessle from Roxette, his publishing signed me. So from 1994 onwards, I did three albums and 100 gigs a year with one and half months a year in the studio, which was in the centre of Stockholm up until about 1997.
KMR : This was with the band Vildsvin?
FT : Yes, we did have some radio hits, and did some good gigs on TV - we sang in Swedish so it doesn’t make sense to many people haha - but we were like a mix between No doubt and RHCP but with Swedish lyrics.
Over these 3 years, though I'd built up a pretty nice home studio, I got my first Mac 7600 and went from Logic without Audio to Cubase VST, which was mind-blowing at the time that we could have so many channels and EQ inside.
KMR : It was great when technology allowed us to start working in ways we hadn't been able to before wasn't it?
FT : Yes this was when I felt technology made it fun, as I never really felt it was fun with a 4-track - and the hassle of it never sounding good but that was when things changed and I got myself a Yamaha 03 digital mixer and started doing commercials for Deisel and Stockholm Airport before I built my own studio together with people who did special effects for movies called Effectstudio, and they still do amazing things now for things like the Lord Of the Rings etc
KMR : So this was your first studio proper in Stockholm ?
FT : I was in the basement and they had their Monster Making workshop above. At the time there was a Swedish version of Spitting Image and they did all the dolls, and by accident I got the gig to do all the music. Which was my first big TV gig - which meant basically I could just buy more gear!
This was when I bought Pro Tools and a Neumann M49 mic and API Lunchbox. The band was going to do a 4th record but I was really sick of touring and the new studio was situated really close to Cherion Studios. So we would eat lunch with Max Martin and all the people there and hang out and I just saw all these artists coming in and this whole thing changing. So thought ok there's an opportunity here, so I started to just write Pop songs.
KMR : This must have been an exciting time for Swedish music as the legend of Cherion and what it started put Sweden right into the forefront of the Pop market?
FT : The 1st demo I sent to a friend in America was friends with somebody at BMG in New York, and that demo ended up on the desk of the A+R of NSYNC and they took one of the songs for their No Strings Attached Album, which turned out to be one of the biggest albums in the world at that time.
So basically I quit the band overnight! And told the record company there wouldn’t be any more records I’m just going to write songs, and they all thought I was crazy! But I just started writing and very quickly, and my songwriting partner Anders Wikström and myself started travelling to the US, with no publisher at the time, but America was experiencing an invasion of pop, with all the boy bands around 1998-1999 - and no American writers were writing music like that at the time so it was all Swedish and Northern European influences.
Within 6 months, I was completely correct to go to America with pop music from Sweden, which I did for about 4 years, some got released some didn't, you know how it goes.
KMR : What were the studios like at that time, what were you using?
FT : An interesting time going back to gear as at this time in the US as they all had MPCs, and ADATS and RADAR, a few guys had ProTools and Logic, but most of the time people were using Digital Performer. And it was a big difference between who wrote the melodies and who did the beats. The beat guys were from hip-hop doing underground stuff and they hadn't crossed over to the Pop world yet.
KMR : So what made you go back to Sweden?
FT : The music then started changing and it became more RnB, but I was still working a lot over there - and in Sweden, I worked with Fergie, Luis Fonsi who has just been massive with Despacito, we worked with him when he was starting out in Stockholm, a lot of stuff like that. Then it all went Neptunes, and Farrell so Swedish music wasn’t in fashion anymore, so I started working with local Swedish bands, as I still had my studio.
I'd actually bought the studio that I did all my previous records in and it had an Amek Angela, 24 Track MCI Tape Machine, and even had a Quarter inch for mastering and I bought the whole studio but I had the Digidesign 888's and Pro Tools TDM, and I’m ashamed of it now, but we just sold off 90% of the gear! We just cut up all the patch bays and just sold it all off. But we couldn’t work in that analogue world back then as we were working on 10 tracks at the same time, a bit like today.
KMR : A lot of places I worked at sold off all the hardware analogue gear...
FT : Yeah, I should've kept the 1178’s, the Eventides, Tube-Tech, Alan Smart... I even had a Lexicon 480 - I had a 480! But you know…
But I kept working a lot with Swedish Idol and Swedish Pop Stars, and for about 4 years I was doing the TV winners and got back writing with Rock bands, myself and Anders wrote with the Scorpions, Gotthard, Backyard Babies - we became these chorus guys for Rock bands.
Then I bought a smaller studio and started working from home, and made the city studio into a songwriting place to meet people and write, but mainly mix at home and this was until about 2012.
I’d been working with another Swedish producer RedOne, who did Lady Gaga in the US, and we worked with Jennifer Lopez together. I’d also just done the Agnetha Fältskog 'come-back' album which was a huge thing for me, I mean she was an Abba idol from my childhood, which was a really fun project as I was working with Jorgen Elofsson ( Britney, Leona Lewis, Westlife, Kelly Clarkson ). So we did a lot of work together and but this was also the time I was feeling a bit burnt out.
KMR : Was this when you changed your location to Mallorca?
FT : Yes, so we knew we didn't want to live in LA, so there was an opportunity to live in Mallorca because my mum was living here, so we moved and I spent like 3 months just drinking in cafes and writing on my laptop and trying to figure out what to do. Then Auddly ( https://auddly.com - the new Swedish designed songwriting app ) asked me to do some label liaison work and this was the same time I met Johan Lundgren ( Palma Music Studios co-owner ).
KMR : How did that meeting happen?
FT : We had a mutual friend, so we met up with the intention to just do some writing together and then he tells me about the studio that you guys are working in the UK, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I came to the UK to mix some of the songs we had written, and that's when I met you and I remember even back then Johan was already talking about building a studio somewhere.
KMR : I remember we chatted about London with all the other great and historic studio spaces here already, so Palma seemed a perfect option - I think you made the right choice!
FT : It’s going to be hard as it is to get clients here anyway but at least we have a unique selling point and a truly amazing studio. Johan had the idea he wanted to build the studio, and I wasn’t used to the way he thinks in a big way. I'm used to working in studios where we can squeeze something in there, we can make it smaller. But he wouldn’t have that!
Then everything started with this studio, and during the whole process Johan was completely right, we're putting ourselves in debt anyway so his view was if we’re going to do something, we do it properly we don’t half do it - because we may as well then not do it all!
Now it’s all about filling it with good music, and trust that the future will take care of us, and for me now I’ve never been this inspired, and it's attracting people that just want to do music and I’m realising now the power that a ‘music place’ has…a place to create...
Right now I'm just trying to juggle with time and work out how much to spend songwriting, producing and how much to push this place, it’s a lot to do, but I’m getting the hang of it!
KMR : Thanks for the interview!
FT : Thank you!