Laleh On New Music, Being A Female Producer & Working With Max Martin
Before featuring on Adam Lambert’s surprise stand-alone single “Welcome To The Show,” Laleh was probably better known — stateside, at least — for her work behind the scenes. Since being taken under Max Martin’s wing, the Swede has written and produced tracks for Demi Lovato (“Stone Cold,” “Yes” and “Father”) and Tori Kelly (“Should’ve Been Us” and “City Dove”). That’s not to say that she’s put her own pop career on hold.
I recently caught up with the in-demand hitmaker to talk about her songwriting/production success and new music. Laleh (pronounced La-ley) revealed that she’s working on a follow-up to 2014 EP, Boom, and hinted at exploring an even quirkier sound. The Iranian-born singer also spoke about being a female producer in a male-dominated field and reminisced about her mega-successful career at home. Get to know the rising star a little better below.
When is your next single is coming out? It’s been a while now since the Boom EP.
I’m at a philosophical stage right now. For me, it’s the songs that are the most important. I am finishing a sort of EP. I’m interested in finishing another EP. Hopefully it’ll be ready soon. I just learned so much this last year writing with all the artists and also working with Max Martin. I’m finding my own voice. I might get even more quirkier. Somehow you kind of find yourself. You keep evolving. Hopefully there will be an album that can show another side.
Do you have any kind of time frame?
I’m working on it right now. I’m trying to balance the songwriting with my music. It’s hard. I produce too. That takes a lot of time as well. Producing today is not like it was 10 years ago when you had a band coming in and you could press play. It’s more work now. I don’t want to give up producing as well because I think it’s such a male dominated world. I want to kind of show that we can do it too.
You wouldn’t consider letting another producer work on your music?
I really love working with Ali Payami, for example. He’s my homie. I’m open to it. I think I’ve proven my production skills over my own career. I’ve proven that, so now I don’t have to hold on to it so much. I still produce for myself because it’s easier. Then it becomes the way I wanted it to be. I’m just doing whatever’s best for the song now. I’m definitely going to do more cooperation, especially after the experiences I’ve had on “Welcome To The Show” and on [Tori Kelly’s] “City Dove” when I worked with Ilya Salmanzadeh.
Would you let Max produce a song for you?
Max is one of the people who is really telling me to continue producing. When it comes to my own career, he’s like, “You have to stay. Don’t change.” He wants me to persevere. We definitely work together on little things, but we could make songs for me as well. It’s just that he’s really keen on me keeping my voice. Don’t change whatever’s working.
It must be amazing to have that support.
It is. We’ve only known each other for the last five or six years but my first albums… I didn’t know that he actually was listening to them and he was a fan, so it’s really fun. What I admire most about him is that he’s such a talented, successful person but he’s still so humble, which makes it so easy to work with him. I don’t know if it’s a Swedish thing but we don’t have time for rudeness. We don’t care what’s at stake, you always keep your calm and you’re always respectful to everybody. Sometimes this business can be really aggressive. Kicking people out of the studio or yelling, but we always keep our calm and I like that. It’s a very safe environment.
Why are Swedes so good at pop? Is there something in the water?
Yes, it’s the water. No, I think it’s mainly the air! [Laughs]. We have a really good school system. We have music classes in school. I don’t know what it is other than that. I grew up with ABBA and stuff like that. I don’t know. I think we’re very particular. I don’t know why it is. We’re in time. We work hard. I don’t know what it is.
Who is making great music in Sweden at the moment?
There’s a lot of them. I know them all. It just seems unfair if I mention one of them. There’s a band called Amason. Do you know them?
No. But I’ll check them out.
They’re amazing. They’re crazy and the drummer in Amason also plays drums with me. He’s one of the best drummers in Sweden. I love him. I would say them, because my heart is closest to them, and they’re really good.
What do you consider to be your big break?
I think [2005 single] “Live Tomorrow.” It was my first big hit and it broke all the records. Also my first album. I had to fight for producing and working the way I wanted back then. Studios were more expensive. You needed more equipment to make an album, so it was harder for me to get all that. I just had a guitar. Just getting all that equipment and fighting for getting my own studio and being able to produce an album the way I wanted to. It was so much hard work and a lot of people were saying you can’t mix Swedish with English songs on the same album. I was doing those weird things.
I was getting so much criticism for that from the people I was working with, but I did it exactly the way I wanted to. I created an album with mixed languages and I even had one song in Farsi. I was just having fun, but that album became the most sold album in Sweden that year and I won a lot of Grammys. I think “Live Tomorrow” represents that era when I just didn’t care and I just did whatever I felt was right and it became so successful. I showed people that you can do it your way. There are so many rules in how to make an album professionally.
What was the first album you bought?
I think it was a Billy Holiday CD. Or Ray Charles. I started with a lot of jazz music and R&B. I’d say maybe Stevie Wonder.
Is there a song you wish you had written?
Yeah, a lot of songs. I was raised in the Soviet Union. I wasn’t familiar with western music until I was like nine when I came to Sweden. Before that I just listened to Persian music and classical music. The day when we came to Sweden, I think I was nine. I remember somebody showed me MTV. For the first time I listened to and I saw a music video and it was “Like A Prayer” by Madonna. As soon as somebody asks me about a song or a video, I always remember that video and then that song. It’s just like I felt hope. You know?