Songwriter Interviews

Simon Kvamm of Nephew

by Carl Wiser

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Simon is the frontman of Nephew, which is the top Rock Band in Denmark. Check out the video below of "007 Is Also Gonna Die" to see what all the fuss is about. Nephew is not available in America yet, but Timbaland knows about them (he had them remake "The Way I Are"), and now you will too.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Simon, I'm wondering how you go about creating a song.

Simon Kvamm: Well, I usually make my mind up to write a song. Of course sometimes some word or some melody line pops into my head, but I'm usually quite logical about starting up the process of writing a song: I sit down at my piano or with my guitar, and then I start playing something. And then I usually record it on my Dictaphone, round and round some kind of chords and some melodies, some blabberish, I guess, say some words. I go through these recordings and see what's there, and then I take the best from that, and then move over to Logic, the software recording program on my Macintosh, and start producing and recording a demo.

Songfacts: And at what point do you start putting lyrics on these things?

Simon: It's usually continuously developing together with the melody. It's not either way around. It's very seldom I have some words that I start out with without having a melody or harmonic feel to it. I usually have both things developing at the same time.

Songfacts: You have a mix of languages in your songs - English and Danish. Can you tell me about how that works, and how you decide what language you're going to use?

Simon: First of all, I want to stress that it's not a concept I came up with to be different, it's more like the way it just comes out of me. When you're from Denmark you have to have a second language, which is English for everybody here, because we have 5 million people and we have to speak English to get around the world. It's important for me to use the Danish kind of English that I speak. I don't try to sound British, I don't try to sound American, I speak English in a Danish way. But those two languages - my mother tongue Danish, and my second language English - are very present to me in thinking and talking and speaking with others, and writing. Also in songwriting. And things just take form in one of those languages, or a mixture in between them. I can't really find a system to what goes the English way and what goes the Danish. But on the last album, I noticed that maybe I can do something more directly to Danish listeners in Danish, because it's very in your face for a Dane when you sing in Danish. But at the same time sometimes it can be too unfiltered; I experienced some songs on the latest album that worked better in English because they were so heart-opening and so filled with pain and feelings, that it would always be too much to use Danish, that it would help the song and help the final message or mood of the song to be in English instead.

Songfacts: What's an example of one of those songs, Simon?

Simon: The last song on the album, "Hurra," that's a song which is a little more personal. It's a little more one-sided mood-wise, because it's this song about how you have every reason to shout "Hurra" and to be cheerful, but you can't be it. Somehow it suits that song better to be in English, because the words fill out the musical lines best. But also because if I imagined that in Danish, it would be like eating too much cake.

SF: Do you want to tell me who that song's about?

Simon: Yeah, it takes place in my life, in me. Of course I have some issues, which are only mine, and I have a situation which is only mine regarding things happening in my life, which are all good. I have everything I need material-wise, and I have a beautiful daughter, and I have everything, but sometimes I get this feeling of not being able to appreciate it, and not being able to think of other things than bad things. Sometimes a feeling strikes me… but it's not bottom-line of my life, it's one side of it, and that side is the persona singing in that song.

Songfacts: What's another song on the album that's important to you?

Simon: I would say the song called "Police Bells and Church Sirens" is quite important, because it's an ode to things that are a bit off the road, things that are a bit quirky, and people that are not following the rules. I sing that I'm a fan of days and baths and nights and school, and I'm a fan of tigers on a leash, and dogs in a cage. I think it's good that things are not always done by the book.

Songfacts: Tell me about "007."

Simon: "007" is from the dark and heavy side of the album. Musically, it's a heavy beat. We really love playing stuff like that and wanted to explore that side of Nephew on this album, with this song and a couple of others. I'm very glad it got this '80s feeling to it. That's at least what we in the band think. We toured last year, and went to visit Moscow, and that was about the time I was writing this song. I played the demo for the others, and we kind of placed it in the band. And then we talked about how the perfect place for a live performance for this track would be the Red Square in Moscow. So it has this '80s kind of Gorky Park feel to it that I really like. And lyrically, you could say it's a bit connected to east-west, because it features the future death of 007, and 007 is, as I see it, the personification of western capitalism. So this song very well might be the lost ode from the east side of the Iron Curtain against the west.

Songfacts: Even though 007 is a British character?

Simon: He is, yeah. But he's quite celebrated in all western civilization, I believe.

Simon is an accomplished television actor, and is known in Denmark for his role on a sketch comedy show.
Songfacts: I'm wondering, Simon, how your acting plays into all this?

Simon: Actually, it's acting and writing I've been doing. For me they're not so very different. It's another way of expressing myself, playing comedy characters. But acting in itself is expressing something you have inside you with extreme focus on one characterization. And I think that's what songwriting is about, too. I've always considered myself mostly a musician and the band have been going on for like 13 years now, so the acting is something I've done on the side, but it's another way of expression that is very natural to me. And of course, it's something that I used to develop my live performance, too, and my performance in music videos and so forth. Because I think it's interesting inside of being in a band and being front man, to be the one you look at to understand the music. I take that very seriously, and I work with it, and when we play live I use the cameras all I can, when we play stadiums and so on. So it's meant a lot to me to do more than just write songs and sing them.

Songfacts: It sounds like you guys look at this as a whole performance art, not just making music.

Simon: We do. We look at it as we're a unit. Maybe a little bit like the way the hip-hoppers, the rappers look at it. We look at it as this unit that can make records, perform them live, but also can do other things creatively. We've been working with other artists re-making some tracks. We did it for Timbaland, and we're doing it for other big international acts now and in the future. So in that way we see ourselves as a unit that can do a lot of stuff, and try to use all the chords within the band.

Songfacts: When you're doing remixes, is it the whole band that gets involved?

Simon: It is. When we did the remix of Timbaland's "The Way I Are," I started out more or less doing what I usually do, write and record a demo. Of course, this time with some structures already there in terms of vocals from Timbaland and Keri Hilson. I used that and built up a song around it with new harmonization, and some vocals from myself and some new parts meant to be played by the others in the band. Then we went into the studio as we always do, and we recorded it with our producer, Carsten Heller. He mixed it, and it came out a Nephew song, more or less, with Timbaland/Keri Hilson vocals on it. So it is really a re-make, but it's kind of difficult to get that story through, because people tend to think that it's Timbaland with a bit of me singing in between.

Songfacts: They must have supplied you with the individual tracks and asked you to do this, is that what happened?

Simon: Yeah, it is. We were talking to Timbaland. He saw us in Denmark at the MTV Europe Music Awards '06. He really liked us, and he wanted to know more. He tried to get us on his album Shock Value, but we never got to do that - I think the deadline was too hard, and it was just around the time my daughter was born. So it was a bit difficult, but then we agreed that, instead, we would make a remix of one of his singles from the album, so that's how it came about.

Songfacts: And then did that single - your remix - got released on your side of the world?

Simon: Yeah, it did. It was released in most of Europe as a B-side to the original single. And in the Nordic area and Denmark, Scandinavia, it was airplayed quite a lot as the main single. It was #1 in Denmark for several weeks.

Songfacts: Have you been to America, Simon?

Simon: I have. Actually, I went there and stayed in San Francisco for two months at the beginning of this year, in January and February.

Songfacts: Fantastic. What did you think of it?

Simon: I went there with my daughter, my girlfriend, and another music colleague and his his son and girlfriend. We went to a house in the mission, and just hung out there for like 2 months. And we tried to write some songs because we're going to make something together next year.

Songfacts: Do you guys have aspirations to break into the American market?

Simon: You bet we have. We're not very young, we're like in our mid-30s, all of us. So we're not ready to drop everything we have and just move to the US and try without anything in the pocket. We have families, we have lives here, and also we treasure the Danish audience and the market here. We want to nurse that. But we also have very high ambitions and dreams about letting other people than Danes hear this music. I have a firm belief that our universe - musical, artistic, lyrical universe - has something to offer to other people than Danish people, and maybe especially to American people. And already now I think we have some different people in the US agreeing with that. We have people trying to find business partners and labels. And it looks quite good. So I really hope that there'll be a chance to see if the feeling is mutual at some time soon.

July 1, 2009
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Comments: 1

  • Pamela from UgandaWoow simon, Jag har precis ser dig pÃ¥ svenska teve när du var i Akrica, Tanzania och nu lyssna jag pÃ¥ din lÃ¥t som heter MEXICO LIGGAR I SPANIEN och jag tycker att du har en jätte spännade röst och jag tycker om den här sÃ¥ngen väldigt mycket, jag vill förttsätter lyssna till mera av dina lÃ¥t och kanske köpa en skiva. men var kann jag hitta det?.
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