Having written about all 65 of Max’s US Top Ten hits (…So Far!!!), my attention has started to shift to the song’s in his discography that didn’t have that sort of chart impact. Obviously included in that long list are album tracks by massive popstars, nestled alongside singles by massive popstars that inexplicably didn’t catch on. There is also the odd curveball – 3T’s ‘It’s Gotta Be You’, a batch of songs by terrible girlband Solid HarmoniE and a song for Gary Barlow, among others. Perhaps the most surprising, however, came in 2011. Those Dancing Days were an indie band from Stockholm who formed in 2005 when most of the members were about 17, and went on hiatus in 2011. They released two albums on indie label Wichita Recordings; 2008’s gloriously DIY ‘In Our Space Hero Suits’ (featuring the lovely ‘Hitten‘) and 2011’s more robust, Patrik Berger-produced ‘Daydreams & Nightmares’.
The band never troubled the charts, and never particularly tried to, but they did grow up on Max’s late 90s classics. Even when the band met Max (read on for an AMAZING story about how that all happened) there was still a sense that the two were from very different worlds. And yet, nestled in the middle of ‘Daydreams & Nightmares’, and recorded around the same time as Max was working on Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’ album, is ‘Can’t Find Entrance’, a sugar-rush of strident indie-pop complete with a glorious chorus that’s pure Max Martin (Shellback worked on it too).
Intrigued as to what it was like for a band with no real commercial ambition to suddenly be working with pop’s biggest chart machine, I interviewed singer Linnea Magnusson via email to find out how it happened, why it happened and her thoughts on hearing Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ before anyone else.
How familiar were you with Max Martin before you worked with him?
I was born in the 90s so I listened to a lot of his songs in my younger years. That was all I listened to…I was 8 years old so it was perfect timing. I sang ‘…Baby One More Time’ about a million times and my wish lists for birthdays and Christmases was all about the Backstreet Boys. I remember seeing a poster of them together with this long-haired dude in a magazine and I was so jealous of this dude actually being in the same room as them, not to mention they seemed to be such great friends. I’d say this poster is the reason I learned who Max Martin was – I simply had to find out how someone could be so lucky.
How did people in Sweden view Max at that time? Has that view changed over the years?
I don’t know in general but in our world at that time the kind of pop that Max made was so far away from the pop we were making. It was two different worlds; indie versus commercial. I don’t see it quite the same way today though, and I think a lot of the rules in music are a bit blurry now, which is good. It’s okay now to change direction and try new things which is how music evolves and we get new exiting things to listen to.
Were you aware of the fact that Max started out in a rock band and focused on guitar music before he discovered pop?
Yes, and I thought that was really weird when I was younger, but now I can totally see the brilliance he got from that.
Do you think that’s maybe why he wanted to work with you guys?
Maybe, I haven’t really thought about that. I have no idea why he wanted to work with us really, but I guess he saw something in our version of pop that could be united with his own.
How did the collaboration on ‘Can’t Find Entrance’ come about?
Well, I have to start with how I first met him which was at a party where all the music industry in Sweden were gathered. I was introduced to this Martin guy by our manager. We started talking and later my bandmate Lisa joined the conversation. If I remember correctly Martin said that he was a producer and songwriter and suggested that maybe he could produce our music some time. He said it in a way that you could easily mistake for a joke, because he was so serious and we weren’t really used to that. Anyway, Lisa asked him who he was but he was being really secretive about it. So Lisa started making things up about him, with a lot of irony since she thought that was the mood of the conversation. She said something like “You’re probably really famous, like Max Martin and you could write songs for us so we’d become super rich and famous”, and then continued to go on and on about who he was. After a while our manager leaned in towards me and whispered in my ear “You know that really IS Max Martin?” I was so shocked. Mainly because it was the same guy from my childhood poster except less hair which made him unrecognisable to me. But also shocked because Lisa was standing there in front of him and telling him everything he would ever need to know about himself, spot on, without even knowing it. I think Martin was kind of shocked too judging by his face, but kind of amused as well. I don’t really remember what happened next in the conversation but we didn’t start working together immediately. I think our manager proposed a few times that we should consider working with him, but I don’t think we ever took it seriously. It felt so far away from the music we were making at the time so we had trouble understanding why he would even want to work with us. But later on Lisa started working in this café in a mall at Götgatan in Stockholm. We had our rehearsing studio in the basement of the same building and apparently Max’s studio was also in the building on a higher floor. So Lisa naturally met him several times when he was buying coffee from her, and that is how the collaboration really started happening I guess, over the coffee counter. So finally we thought we could give it a try and sent him our demos. I think it was maybe 5 or 6 songs but he didn’t think they were good enough. I remember us being a bit bummed about that. (We thought all of our songs were great, of course!). Although he did find potential in one of the songs called ‘Monster And A Bird’, so he made a new version of it and it became ‘Can’t Find Entrance’.
Did you have any reservations about working with him at all? Were you worried he might try and change the song too much?
Yes, we were really worried (laughs). Not so much about the song really, but how working with him would effect our oh so important indie image. And we were also really worried about working with autotune and click tracks for the drums, because to us that was not being real. We had a meeting with him where we expressed our concern about this and he listened carefully to us but then just asked “why do you hate autotune so much?”. We tried to explain the rules of indie music to him but he didn’t buy it (laughs). Today I´m very glad we had the guts to challenge ourselves and just give in to a great experience.
What did he bring to the song in terms of songwriting and structure etc?
He basically just kept the part “can’t find entrance, where is the entry” and made it into the chorus, but also added the extra “soooooo where is the entry”. We often wrote quite heavy choruses with a lot of stuff going on, lots of lyrics. I think it’s a classic Max Martin thing, as well as a hit thing in general, to find the essence words, remove everything else and just let them speak for themselves. So the verse and the structure was completely changed by him, although Cissi [Efraimsson, drummer] wrote the brilliant lyrics.
Were there any specific bits of the song that he changed that made them better?
I think of them as two different songs really, and I like them very much in different ways. ‘Monster And A Bird’ was more of an experimental song for us where we removed ourselves from the classical pop structure and just played with it. ‘Can’t Find Entrance’ however is a classic pop song, that you can easily sing along too. I can’t say which is better, but one of them is partly written by Max Martin so obviously that one is special.
What was he like in the studio?
The first time I was in his studio he was going to record the melody for ‘Can’t Find Entrance’ and he asked me to leave the room because he was too shy! Imagine that. I still have this demo version where he is singing in a made up language and lots and lots of autotune. Another time when the whole band was gathered for the first time in his studio he had just received the latest mastered version of ‘California Gurls’ with Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg. So he excused himself and said, “Sorry guys, I just gotta listen to this”. Then he totally blasted the volume and everyone in there was really excited. After the song he got serious and asked us what we thought about it. We obviously said it was going to be a hit and he asked us, “You really think so?”. That kind of shows how professional and humble he is. He doesn’t take anything for granted. I don’t think just anyone could stay grounded like that in his position and with his resume, it’s very admirable.
Were you tempted to work with him on any other songs?
No, I think we liked the experience of working with him a lot but we really enjoyed writing our own songs. With ‘Can’t Find Entrance’ we were kind of given a finished track for everyone to play and honestly that wasn’t easy for any of us to get used to. I don’t think it would have felt completely like Those Dancing Days if we had continued to work with him. It probably would have been great but it would have been a whole other project I think. Our sound was mainly built on the mixture of five very different creative minds so we wanted to keep it like that. And also, he was a very busy man so we didn’t expect anything more from him – we were very happy with that one song.
Are you still in touch?
I’m not, but I’m not sure about the rest of the band. Although I’ve just started making music on my own after the band’s break so maybe one day we will meet again!
How do you think Max has changed pop music?
Oh this is such a difficult question since I’m not an expert in any way and pop music obviously goes way back. But I guess he has made pop music more likeable to people. He puts so much work in to a song so it’s almost impossible to just dismiss it as not good. You might not like that particular artist or whatever, but the song is always so well written and that has probably given pop music a higher status.
What’s your favourite Max Martin song of all time?
‘As Long As You Love Me’ by the Backstreet Boys.