‘When it comes to songwriting, I’m like, You don’t know my pain, so get the hell out of here.’

 ‘When it comes to songwriting, I’m like, You don’t know my pain, so get the hell out of here.’

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MBW’s World’s Greatest Songwriters collection celebrates the pop composers behind the globe’s greatest hits. This time, we discuss to Brian Lee, who has written for/with the likes of Lady Gaga, Post Malone, Fifth Harmony and Camila Cabello, amongst others. World’s Greatest Songwriters is supported by AMRA – the global digital music collection society which strives to maximize value for songwriters and publishers in the digital age.


Brian Lee has solely simply woken up when his interview with MBW begins. He plans to return to sleep just about as quickly as it’s completed.

We ought to level out that his temporary waking window is extra a case of unconventional hours than of a lazy lockdown. As he places it, “I do this so that I don’t have to work nine to five.”

After getting his first break writing with Lady Gaga, Lee went on to co-create hits with and for a succession of pop artists together with Selena Gomez, Fifth Harmony (together with Work From Home), Justin Bieber and Camilla Cabello (together with Havana).

Most not too long ago, although, he’s been embedded in Team Post Malone, and performed a central position in the writing and manufacturing of final yr’s Hollywood’s Bleeding (No. 1 in the US and UK), together with the single, Goodbyes.

During lockdown, the time period ‘embedded’ took on a extra literal that means as Lee was quarantined with Malone in his Utah residence/HQ. They have been writing collectively and, as over 10 million individuals know, in April – together with Travis Barker of Blink 182 on drums – they performed a live-streamed YouTube live performance of Nirvana covers to elevate cash for pandemic-related charities.

The relationship is a big one, and Lee is each fan and good friend. He describes Malone as “the only artist who can save rock n roll right now” and says he’s “teaching me to love music again, making it fun”.

The implication, of course, is that Lee had fallen out of love, that it wasn’t enjoyable. And he concedes that, for some time, writing grew to become “formulaic” for him – going so far as to inform The Times final summer time that “I can take a bit of the blame for the state of pop music today”.

He now says, with a chuckle, “I probably shouldn’t have said that”, however he does consider that he’s at present making music that’s extra true to himself, and to the child who grew up in Illinois, a promising violin prodigy till he found Green Day, weed and skateboards…


What music had been you into as a child?

For me it was the Beach Boys and Green Day. When Green Day got here out, they modified my world, as a result of they appeared like the Beach Boys, however on crack.


When did you begin attempting to make a residing from music – and was the authentic ambition to be a rock star?

I used to be in bands and we performed to hundreds of individuals, we performed in Japan, we performed on the Warped tour. I felt like I used to be residing the dream, however I nonetheless had no cash in my pocket; we had been residing off of merch gross sales.

Meanwhile I used to be dropping out of school… and my dad and mom supported me, in so a lot as they didn’t kick me out of the home, however what they really needed was for me to be a physician.

That was throughout after I was about 19. There was a bunch [Lee was in] referred to as Made In Hollywood, and I used to be [also] in a band referred to as Show Off.

It was a time when MySpace was massive, and that’s after I began to make my personal beats, write my personal songs and never depend on a band so a lot; I went extra in the direction of a form of DIY factor.


What was your massive break?

Meeting Lady Gaga. I used to be actually, actually content material with my life earlier than I met Gaga. I had a very nice high flooring house wanting out over downtown Chicago, I used to be making six figures doing music for commercials. I don’t know if you happen to’ve ever seen the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, however I used to be that man, who writes the jingles.

And I assumed I’d obtained fortunate, as a result of my mother had instructed me I’d by no means discover a job in the music trade that paid good cash – and right here I used to be, making good cash!

” I used to be that man, who writes the jingles.”

I form of knew Gaga from Lollapalooza, when she performed the BMI stage, earlier than she was signed, after which I went on her tour and we began to work on Born This Way, with a producer referred to as DJ White Shadow.

We form of teamed it collectively, and we had been killing it, after which some variations meant that DJ White Shadow and I separated – and we are going to depart that there. I’ll depart that entire dialog there.


Why do you assume you and Gaga gravitated in the direction of one another?

We each cherished some fairly darkish artists, like Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode. She would give me tons of references, artists to pay attention to, she actually opened my ear to new music, and I used to be prepared to be open.

It was so cool to work along with her, and very easy to work along with her, and he or she cherished each fucking minute of writing and dealing in the studio.

Looking again, I’ve hardly ever been that completely happy. Working on music was her life, and that was one factor I actually appreciated about her, and I don’t see that as a lot anymore. Quite a bit of the time [once you get busy/successful], it’s like, ‘Ah fuck, I gotta go to the studio, I gotta finish this…’

I see [that Gaga-type love] with Post, although. I’m out right here with him in Utah, and this child is like… He’s constructing a studio, however it’s not completed but, so he made a makeshift studio in his personal home, and he works all the time, as a result of he loves it.

When different individuals take pleasure in their job like that, it makes me take pleasure in it, and makes me understand I’ve to cease complaining about silly shit.


How did you come to write Havana?

Havana was one thing that was masterminded and put collectively by my supervisor, Austin Rosen [who also co-manages Post Malone, alongside Dre London]. I name him The Sniper. He may not have quite a bit of phrases to say, however his actions communicate loud sufficient, and he made that occur, he actually did. He’s been half of my assist system my entire profession, and I owe him quite a bit.

He requested me, ‘Who do you want to work with?’ And I used to be like, ‘I want Camilla from Fifth Harmony.’ I’d co-written Work From Home, which you’d have thought would assist, however at first she didn’t need to work with anybody that had been on her earlier undertaking, as a result of she needed a distinct sound.

But I talked to her and I instructed her, ‘Havana should be the name of your single, your album,’ like earlier than we even wrote it. And she was like, ‘Yeah, I love that.’


Was there a way once you wrote it that it was going to be world-conquering?

Even with none vocals it appears like successful; that piano introduction is successful.

There was an urgency on that tune, it was one of these songs that wasn’t carried out naturally, it was actually despatched to everybody and it was Best Line Wins, y’know, everybody tried.

There’s really an authentic model that they had been gonna go together with [with Lee’s contributions omitted]. I bear in mind calling Camilla and, I wasn’t begging her to put my half again in, however I used to be saying, ‘Listen the whole song is da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da’ after which the entire refrain is ‘Havanana-na-na-na’, it’s all staccato notes – you want some legato in there.’

I bear in mind singing Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, the ‘Woah woah/We’re midway there’ half, and saying you want that second when the crowd can simply take a look at one another and sing alongside. And that’s how my three chords made it! [Laughs].


How do you go about writing?

I normally have a guitar. But I additionally simply have shit in my head all the time. I really despatched voice notes of me singing a capella, ‘doo-doo-doo’, and saying, okay break right here.

I ship these notes to Dre London, and he sends them straight to Post. And I’m like, ‘Why would you send him that?!’ That’s me going ‘doo-doo-doo’! But generally it’s no matter works.


How did you come to work with Post and why have you ever linked so nicely on all ranges?

We had been launched to a very long time in the past, and I bear in mind after I noticed him coming in the studio, I used to be like, ‘Who is that?’ This is 10+ years in the past.

I didn’t know the tune White Iverson, as a result of at the moment, when Post was coming by, I believe I had simply carried out Icona Pop’s All Night, David Guetta was ruling the radio, and all the things was Afrojack, so I used to be like actually concentrating on my EDM craft [laughs], like Dr Luke and Max Martin.

And then [producer] Rex [Kudo] performed me White Iverson, and I bear in mind stopping it and saying, ‘This is too slow, I can’t take care of this!’

Fast ahead two or three years, I might see Post in the studio quite a bit, however we by no means actually hung out till round the time of Congratulations, after which I began changing into shut along with his workforce, his manufacturing crew, and he made it a household setting, which was so cool. But I felt like he was being bombarded, and I didn’t need to add to that by simply displaying up to the home the place he was recording. That’s what individuals had been doing, they had been simply displaying up and hoping to get an opportunity – form of like American Idol, however not.

“I didn’t want to push my musical capabilities, I just wanted to party.”

Also, I didn’t need to push my musical capabilities, I simply needed to occasion. You may name it networking, I suppose, as a result of by simply being there, I grew to become half of it.

I didn’t do something on that album [Beerbongs and Bentleys]. Then there was a day in the studio after I didn’t assume he’d be there, and I simply needed to test a mixture. So I flip the lights on, I am going straight to the soundboard and he was actually in the again sleeping. There was this lengthy hair protecting his face. I used to be scared at first, like who the fuck is that?!

I believe at the moment we had been each going by some shit in life, that’s why I used to be there at some fucking loopy time [of day]. And I believe he was the No. 1 artist in America at the moment, and he’s sleeping on the flooring of the studio, so…
We ended up speaking for eight hours that day, introducing one another to totally different music. I didn’t know he cherished System of a Down so a lot, and was so into steel. I want I may commemorate the date, as a result of that’s the day we grew to become actually shut – it appears like we had intercourse, however we undoubtedly didn’t.

And yeah, after that, we determined to do one thing collectively. And I used to be attempting to implement these issues for him, like saying it can be so cool if you happen to did a tune like System of a Down – however you. And Hollywood’s Bleeding is form of like that. The title observe has that vibe.


In an interview with The Times of London, you mentioned that Post is the closest factor we now have to Kurt Cobain. What did you imply by that?

Well, one is his voice – as you’ll be able to hear on the [Nirvana] tribute. And two, his carefulness and carelessness. And by carelessness, I don’t imply he doesn’t care, I imply he does it with out effort. So many individuals put an excessive amount of effort into issues. He is effortlessly cautious.

And there’s his way of life, the approach he lives, I can see similarities in the emotions of the songs.

That’s a loaded query, by the approach, I don’t know how to reply that… What I’ll say is that Kurt was tradition, at the time, for the children, and I believe Austin is tradition for the children now, for positive. And I believe he’s the solely artist who can save rock n roll proper now. Maybe another person will come alongside, however he’s actual rock n roll, not manufactured pop.

“[Writing in LA] is like we put our names in a hat, get pulled out and have to write this song.”

Every day, we’re listening to Alice In Chains, or Father John Misty. The child at all times teaches me one thing, about music and life, and that’s one thing I lack in different individuals, or periods, in LA – they’re not educating me something, I really feel like I’m educating them.

[Writing in LA] is like we put our names in a hat, get pulled out and have to write this tune. But with Austin he’s continuously educating me one thing about myself, educating me to love music once more, making it enjoyable.

I’m simply so grateful for our relationship, not only for the music aspect, he simply makes me a greater individual. It’s a win-win scenario – nicely, it is for me, it is perhaps lose-lose for him!


You additionally mentioned in that interview, ‘I can take a bit of blame for the state of pop music today.’ What did you imply by that? Did you imply there are songs and initiatives you would like you hadn’t been concerned in?

No [pause]. I in all probability shouldn’t have mentioned that [laughs]. I’ll say it like this: in case your favorite meals is steak, and also you eat it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Saturday – come Sunday, if you happen to eat it once more, you’re gonna throw up. Same with if you happen to’re watching the similar factor or listening to the similar factor.

So writing pop songs grew to become actually formulaic for me, despite the fact that that’s what I needed to do.

Max Martin, who I appeared up to, I don’t need to say he was only a system, however he actually had a system as half of what he did, and I really feel like I figured it out, which is why I had his face tattooed on my left arm.


Does Max like that reality, or does it freak him out?

I really did it in Sweden, and I believe his niece Facetimed him whereas I used to be getting it carried out. That was fairly cool.

He was like, ‘Thanks man, I hope I meet you one day!’ I used to be like, ‘We’ve met, however that’s okay if you happen to don’t bear in mind!’ [laughs].


What do you concentrate on the approach the definition of what constitutes songwriting has modified?

It’s totally different in each area; like, in Ok-pop, the translator will get one thing. I believe what’s totally different now could be {that a} producer has to do all the things.

You used to have to be a musician to write music, you had to play an instrument or sing. But it’s nice, as a result of extra individuals can put their title in the hat.

I’m very explicit on this matter, as a result of I don’t like everybody pondering they’ll do that job, as a result of it’s my job! It’s like when DJs discovered out that numerous celebrities, I received’t say any names, had been changing into DJs; they had been livid! Stick to fucking performing and get the fuck out of my membership. Like when Michael Jordan tried to play baseball, do not forget that?

I attempt to preserve an open thoughts and an open coronary heart, however when it comes to songwriting, quite a bit of instances, I’m like, ‘You don’t know my ache, so get the hell out of right here.’

Oh, you need to be a profitable songwriter? You need to know how I did it? You imply you need to be depressing like me? Nah, you’re younger, you’ve obtained your life forward of you, fuck off.


How did you come to signal with Universal Music Publishing Group?

One of the essential causes was as a result of of Jody Gerson. Jody has at all times supported me, and I work along with her son, Julian.

I began to assume of him as household, and from there I obtained to assume of Jody as household – and yeah, I knew she was {powerful}, however I didn’t know she was that {powerful}. Like Michelle Obama-powerful.

It was all pure, we by no means compelled something, assembly along with her was no-brainer, it was actually informal, at The Beverly Hills Hotel – that’s the place I met Lillia [Parsa, Director of A&R], who can also be wonderful.

“I feel like I’m Dennis Rodman and Jody is Phil Jackson.”

It’s been one of the finest selections I’ve ever made. I’ve had some nightmares in the publishing trade, and going from a nightmare to a dream… [childlike voice] I simply by no means need to get up [laughs].

She’s simply so supportive. Are you watching [Netflix documentary on the Chicago Bulls] The Last Dance? I really feel like I’m Dennis Rodman and Jody is Phil Jackson; Lillia’s Scottie Pippin perhaps [laughs]. No workforce would let Dennis Rodman go and stay that life, like go occasion, get drunk after which come to follow, however at the Bulls he obtained further love and that’s why he labored in that workforce. Lillia undoubtedly provides me further love, my entire workforce does.

Just the proven fact that she provides me area is the greatest factor; she doesn’t drive me to do something. By her doing that, it makes me really feel like I need to do one thing. I couldn’t be happier.


What had been these nightmare experiences you talked about?

With each job, you’ve gotten to climb to the high, and that makes individuals act a sure approach. They attempt too arduous. I believe that’s a great way to put what I had to take care of.

I attempt fairly arduous to not make this a 9-5 job. I did this so I wouldn’t have a 9-5, so why am I getting reprimanded for being an hour late… for a session that begins at 9am, Nashville?!

Yeah, I’m speaking to you, Nashville. It actually is a 9-5 there. They get espresso and so they get going – quite a bit totally different to my strategies!

It’s not a rock star factor. You wanna begin at 11pm, you’ll be there by your self.

But no, I do love Nashville, truthfully, I do. It’s simply totally different, everybody has a distinct approach of getting to the place they wanna go.


What would your recommendation to be to a songwriter simply beginning out?

Go to med college. Have a household. Listen to your dad and mom. Stay at school. Say no to medication. Or perhaps sure. It’s a tricky one…


AMRA is the first of its kind — a global digital music collection society, built on technology and trust. AMRA is designed to maximize value for songwriters and publishers in today’s digital age, while providing the highest level of transparency and efficiency.Music Business Worldwide

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