Sweden makes big hits. And we're not talking about Abba and Ace of Base songs, we're talking about American hits.
In the '90s, much of the most famous (and ridiculous) pop music was churned out by a literal hit factory in Sweden called Cheiron. From a studio in a small Stockholm office suite, the company's masterminds wrote and produced for groups like Bon Jovi, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. They somehow managed to revolutionize American ear candy, even though not everyone involved spoke great English. (Which is part of the reason Backstreet Boys' “I Want It That Way” makes no sense.)
Cheiron closed after co-founder Denniz Pop's death around the turn of the millennium, but another guy from Stockholm, Fredrik Eriksson, was inspired; a couple years ago he teamed with Venice-based songwriter Adam Roth to create serious pop for a new generation. The duo added another Swede and created a group called Griz Adams — Roth's rootsy twang blended with Eriksson's crisp pop. They are producing an album together, though it doesn't yet have a name or a release date.
We can all rest assured knowing that at least one bona fide American is creating music in Sweden that Americans like. Before that Roth, whose songwriting credits include the theme song for animated series Trailer Trash and placement in The Hills, had been playing with a variety of bands including La Vie. “Fred and I met and we started writing together,” he tells us. “After a few days, we had literally dozens of songs.” He started traveling to Sweden last year and will be headed back soon.
One wonders: What's so musical about a half-frozen, fjord-etched chunk of northern Europe swathed in near darkness half the year? Sure, we understand Swedish metal, what with the homogeneity and Viking ruins. But what about Ikea and lutefisk and the bork-ing Muppet chef?
“I think it's the work ethic — they'll just work and work until they get something perfect,” Roth says. “There's also this humility in Swedish culture. They don't have a really high opinion of themselves, so that seems to drive these guys to work harder.”
“Swedes think about the melody first, and production,” Eriksson puts in, “[whereas] American songwriters start with the lyrics and the theme of the song, and then they think about production. I think the Cheiron guys inspired the younger Swedes to think like that.”
Further, Sweden's big musical traditions lend themselves to pop and slick, saccharine songs. There's the tune-heavy dansbandsmusik, the bus-touring groups of dance-oriented musicians who gained popularity in the 1970s. And you can even go back to the historic 18th-century proto-pop ballads of Carl Michael Bellman, whose melody-heavy songs celebrate drinking and love. It's not so different than the pop music of today.
Roth and Eriksson's songs aren't exactly earth-shattering, but they represent something musically inevitable: the collision of swagger and sweetness. Sonic bacon lollipops, if you will, accessible to pop-tuned eardrums but still somewhat substantive. Griz Adams' “The Struggle,” a track they're still polishing, is made for palates more grown-up than “I Want It That Way,” for example. But rest assured it will still stick to your eardrums. That's the Swedish way.