The Swedish songwriter joins to discuss her 2018 EP, “Sorry For Writing All The Songs About You.” The bold concept behind the release — it details the peaks and valleys of a single relationship — is passionately detailed, including the empowering twist housed within standout “I’m Not Her.”
And to fully uncover this unique and thrilling pop expression, you’ll also come to understand her creative partnership with Cassandra Ströberg, you’ll discover how she used Pinterest for musical inspiration, and you’ll hear about her winding path to Big Beat Records (highlighted by the origin story behind KREAM collaboration “Taped Up Heart”).
Interviews: Clara Hagman, Gina Tucci (Big Beat Records), Cassandra Ströberg (Songwriter, Manager), Mugisho Nhonzi (Producer).
Clara Mae — “Lost”
Jesse Cannon: Hi. My name is Jesse Cannon, and I’ve devoted my life to figuring out what goes into making great albums. I’ve produced over a thousand records, written two books, and recorded hundreds of podcasts pursuing the hidden secrets of how great music gets to the world’s ears. Now, I’m proud to present Inside the Album, where we get to go deeper on how your favorite artists have made the amazing albums in their catalog. We will hear first-hand from the musicians and the team behind them that helped craft these records, while getting to know the little secrets that go into making great music.
On this episode, we’re going to talk about Clara Mae’s new EP, “Sorry For Writing All The Songs About You.”
Clara Mae — “Better Me Better You”
Clara Hagman, aka Clara Mae, is carrying on the Swedish pop tradition that started in Stockholm that has given it the name: Pop City. Starting her career with a brief dabble in fame as part of the reformation of legendary Swedish pop group, Ace of Base, she soon set out to find her own sound. Finding the sound, as you will hear in this podcast, came from numerous collaborations with other EDM acts, until finally she found her way to her debut EP, “Sorry For Writing All The Songs About You.”
I’m going to let Clara get us started by telling her story.
Clara Hagman: Yeah. I grew up in a music family. My father is a songwriter and producer as well. He had his time in the ’80s. He was in a band called Modesty. I think they were kind of big in the U.K. I don’t know if they reached the U.S. I don’t think so.
So, they had the big hair, you know, the typical ’80s style. So, everything he makes in the studio, he tried to produce for me as well. All sounded very ’80s. So I was like, “Dad, let’s not work together.”
So, we had a studio at home. So I, at a very young age, started to write music, record myself, and recorded covers. So, yeah, I started out very young, and I moved to Stockholm when I was 18 and signed my first publishing deal, and started writing songs seven days a week. They weren’t very good. I can go back now and listen to it, and be like, “Oh, my God.” But at least I got better.
I wrote the song called “Taped Up Heart.” I was sitting on the subway in Stockholm, and I saw this ad for…it was a sign of heart disease. It was a heart with a bandage on it. So I just wrote down in my phone, “Taped Up Heart.” And I think the week after, I co-wrote it with two songwriters from Sweden. And the week after that, I think Gina at Big Beat, Gina Tucci, got hold of it, and she took it for her act, KREAM, and I feature on it as well.
So yeah, we kept on sending songs to Gina, and she was like, “There’s a lot of good songs here. And who’s the one singing? Who’s Clara?” And yeah, I got to come here to their record label. I think it was one and a half years ago, and I got to meet the whole team, and so it’s such a cool team. So many women. It’s very…it’s like a big family. Instantly fell in love with the whole…this whole record label. So I was like, “There’s nowhere else I want to be.”
Jesse Cannon: Here’s Gina Tucci, who she just referenced, who is the general manager of Big Beat Records, talking about how she came to work with her at Atlantic.
Gina Tucci: Running Big Beat Records, a lot of our roster are producer-based artists. You know, we are constantly collecting outside songs. So, with my day-to-day, I’m constantly listening to outside songs being sent to me by publishers and independent songwriters.
And one morning, about two years ago, a demo was sent to me that was called “Taped Up Heart,” by an independent publisher in Sweden. So, I listened to it and thought the record was just amazing. Just about a love story of a girl who’s trying to get over a heartbreak and just spending her day doing normal things she does with a taped-up heart. So thought the lyric was amazing. Couldn’t get over how great the tone of the voice of the vocalist was. Call up the publisher, “Who wrote this, who’s singing this?” And he said, “This writer, singer-songwriter, from Stockholm, Clara Mae.” And I said, “Does she have any more records?” And he sent me a boatload of records. I ended up giving that demo to an artist on Big Beat named KREAM, and they worked on it. And when we released that song, it wound up in Today’s Top Hits on Spotify, and has done over a hundred million streams.
Listening through Clara’s demos, I said, “I have to meet this girl.” So, we scheduled a meeting, she came over to New York, we spent time together, she played me more records, and I just said, “I have to sign this girl.” Her voice is so special and unique. The tone, the way it hits on the tracks, it’s just so amazing, and her songwriting is just gorgeous and flawless.
For me, personally, it was super exciting to work with her because, like I said, I work predominantly with producers. Clara is a songwriter. So, she was really doing the shaping and the curating of the songs. Where I came in was just sort of editing down some of the concepts, or just trying to flag different things in the arrangements of the records to make sure, you know, that the energy level was there. But as a songwriter, she’s really coming up with all the ideas, and the lyrics, and the flow. She’s done a fantastic job, and I just…in this process, I felt excited to just guide her. So we signed a deal, and now we’re releasing her first EP.
Jesse Cannon: There’s a strong tradition of pop singers working with someone else really closely. Sometimes that person is even their co-writer and manager. And in this case, Cassandra Ströberg is Clara’s. So I wanted to talk to her about her move from collaborator to manager.
Clara Hagman: I was at Denniz Pop Awards. Yeah, he’s a Swedish songwriting legend and, unfortunately, he died of cancer a few years back. In Sweden, we have an award for him every year. It’s a really fun award. People win prizes for upcoming songwriters, upcoming artists and stuff like that.
So, I met a girl called Cassandra Ströberg. We were like playing each other’s music in headphones and, “We should work together.” And we did. On the first day, we wrote two songs. So, we just went super easy together. And on the second session we had, we wrote my first single, “I’m Not Her.” So we were like, “OK, this is a good fit.” So, we kind of stayed together. Today, she’s also my manager. She just like grew into that part, taking care of my life ’cause I’m all confusing, and like I’m losing stuff all the time. So, she started helping me out.
I think, for me, signing with a new label, and it was a lot of new people around me, a lot of decisions to be made, and it’s kind of tough. So, I needed someone that could stand up for me, that could do the things that I don’t want to do, really, ’cause I want to focus on the creative, and she’s really good at that. I just saw it in her. She’s like such a ballsy lady, which I love. I instantly saw like; “I want to bring you. If we travel, it’s the best to travel with your best friend. We could write music on the way, and you’re also my manager.”
Jesse Cannon: And here’s Cassandra talking about her roles in the project.
Cassandra Ströberg: I think I’ve heard Clara’s voice before, and I knew who she were, and then at Denniz Pop, I just saw her cross my way, and I was like grabbing her and like: “Hey, I love your voice. Like we should totally exchange headphones and listen to our music.” So, we like played a snippet of my song, and a snippet of hers, and schedule a session. And both the first sessions, we wrote like three songs, and every one got placed very fast. So I was like, “Hmm,” kind of knew. I just signed to a publisher at that time, and I felt like I didn’t click with anyone before. Like many of my friends in the songwriter world have like a producer to go to, or another top-liner to work with. And I was like, “No, I’m so like focused on lyrics.” So, I’m very like picky with who I feel I flow with, and I can be like 100% honest with without like someone getting offended or like getting a bad vibe in the session.
And Clara was like the first person that I felt that with. And I think she felt the same because both were like: “Oh, I love this song, I love this song, and this. Like should we make this?” We’re not like officially a team, but we prefer to write and work together, and none of us had been to LA. So we were like, “Hmm, maybe we should go to LA for a month and just like try out writing.” And like when we look back at it now, both were like: “Why did we do that? I’m not the kind of person who just like takes off in a plane with a stranger. I didn’t know you.” She was like, “I’m the same. Like it’s so weird.” And my whole family was like, “Hmm, who are you traveling with?”
It turned out great. It’s very fun like to experience everything with your friend, as well. Like and going through everything, and you still like have someone to rest upon if something feels wrong or-
Jesse Cannon: I then talked to Clara about the evolution of her sound, since some of this EP sounds quite different than her past collaborations.
Clara Hagman: Well before I was much more organic, leaning toward country, and like more guitars, more organic sounds. And then I realized what I’m listening to in my headphones myself, it’s electronic music. And I love Robyn, and I love a lot of electro stuff. I think we have a lot of great female comings from Scandinavia, Astrid S, Sigrid, and also a lot of people from the U.S., of course, that we all know.
I realized that, “Oh, my God. I want to do this so bad,” ’cause I realized I was listening to them in my headphones and kind of just singing along when I walked home from the studio. I wanted to do something upbeat that makes people happy, and pop, electronic pop just grew on me.
I grew up during the ’90s, so I would lie if I said I didn’t listen to Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Westlife. But I also love Robyn. She’s a Swedish artist. I think she was so before her time with the sound. I mean, you could take a song from, like one of the first songs she released, “Show Me Love.” It could be a song today coming out now and it would still sound fresh. So, I think she was like a true inspiration. I know I lip-synced in front of the mirror to her a lot. I know she’s releasing a new song this Friday and I’m so pumped.
Jesse Cannon: You don’t often hear about concept albums in pop music, and probably for good reason. But this one has a great concept that really, really fits the mold of pop today.
Clara Hagman: So, I have a really strong concept about the EP, “Sorry For Writing All The Songs About You.” It’s about one relationship, and I want all the songs to be connected to each other.
So it starts off with “Us,” is the title. That’s about when you’re happy, you’re in love, and everything is amazing. After that comes “Rooftop,” where he kind of breaks your heart, and it ends and you’re devastated, but you’re also like, “Ah, what the fuck.” Then comes “I’m Not Her,” which is about his meeting someone new, and you start to compare yourself to her. And which I think a lot of people can relate to. They look at the other…the new girl, and it’s like, “All right, she’s…is she looking like me? Is she prettier? Is she more talented,” or whatever. We kind of tried to make it more empowering, so we changed it to, “I’m Not Her” and that that’s a good thing. It’s more like “I’m Not Her,” and that’s good because it would be terrible if she looked like you or if she was exactly like you, like a copy.
So and after that, it’s “I Forgot.” And it’s four years later when you’re meeting at a party, and you’re like, “Oh, my God. I gotta get of here, and…” But it’s too late, he’s already seen you. And all the feelings come back, and you’re like: “Why? Why did we end it? We were perfect for each other.” Until you see why you’re not. And you’re like, there’s a few small signs that come back, and you’re like, “OK. We ended it for a reason.” And after that, “Better Me Better You” and you’re in a new relationship. It’s great. It’s safe. It’s almost boring. So you start to reminisce on the other one, and you kind of beautifying the drama ’cause you’re like, you’re missing the drama. I think a lot of girls, at least, can relate to that ’cause they’re drama queens. I’m a drama queen. You’re a drama queen, as well.
You know you’re in this great relationship. Why the fuck are you thinking at the old one? You didn’t like it, but you know it’s like…I can’t remember when I was little, I can’t remember that it’s rained ever. It was only sunny everyday, and it’s almost the same here. You’re just remembering the good things, and not the bad. So that’s that song, and then it’s the end track, “Sorry For Writing All The Songs About You,” but I had to, and then you’re kind of done. You got it out of your system.
Jesse Cannon: And this is Cassandra talking about the concept.
Cassandra Ströberg: Like you said, we sat like down at the cafe. And we had some songs. We had, “I’m Not Her.” And we had, “I Forgot.” And both of us was like, “Oh,” keep on like talking about two guys that we need to get over. We were just like, “Hmm, what could we do like with an EP,” because as a songwriter, I think it’s super fun, and as a lover of music, to hear an artist that has like a concept behind an EP because I love albums and to really like dive into an artist and like, “Hmm, this is so clever, this is so smart.”
And nowadays at Spotify, everything is so like single oriented. So, I think I’m missing that part of like the artist side. So, when Clara was like, “Maybe we can do this EP together.” I was like, “OK, I’m down for this,” and like invested all of our time for so long. And when that idea came like, “Maybe we should write like start writing all the songs about you because like if the guys knew that we were like writing about their lives, would they be pissed?” Or like they didn’t sign off on this at first. But like I guess that’s the bad side of being with a songwriter, artist, creative person. You will get your life on paper and radio and have to like listen to it and be like, “OK, I can recognize.”
And then we just like, OK now we have like end song, the like “Meeting Someone New,” “I Forgot.” And actually, like Clara said, “Better Me Better You.” And I think it’s like another new twist, a love story that is like 100% honest to someone that looks back and like beautifies something. And us, naturally, like we felt like we needed a happy like…and it’s hard. Both me and Clara is like such suckers for heartbreaking songs. And I love to get like goosebumps and chills, and like, “Ah! This line is so clever. It touched my heart.”
And, with us, this was like, “Let’s try to write an up-tempo like falling in love song, without sounding cheesy,” because none of us is like poetic. I think what I like about the lyrics, it’s like I want to relate immediately, but feels like it’s written in a new way. Like, “Oh, I haven’t heard this line before.” For me, I think it was really fun to write because I know that we’re good at like writing heartbreaking lyrics, but it was challenging to write about love in a positive way without sounding cheesy, and it’s still like a massive track. So, to have that balance.
Jesse Cannon: I then got a little bit more insight on how they hardened this concept from Clara.
Clara Hagman: I think just talking, and talking, and talking, really about the lyrics, about the concepts. I have other songs that I am like, “Oh, I want to release this too, but it doesn’t fit the concept, so we would ruin the whole idea.” We even used the same actor in the videos to make it like really chapters of a relationship. So, if I picked another song that I really liked that I want to release, it would ruin it all. So, I’m keeping them for the next one.
So, I think just talking about it, and have a really strong idea, that helped a lot. And I think it gave…it was easier to write the songs ’cause you know what you’re aiming for a little bit instead of coming in like a blank page. Because, usually, those days are the hardest days when you have nothing.
Jesse Cannon: Gina then told me about some other really strange collaborators they had in the process.
Gina Tucci: With this EP and with Clara, there’s a lot of young female artists breaking out of Stockholm, or in Sweden, or in Scandinavia, and Europe. There’s tons of female artists right now.
Clara, she offers sort of more of a softness to her music. She’s not trying to keep up with anybody. She’s not trying to outshine. She’s really staying true to herself. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful EP. And I think with this whole project, what you’re going to see and unfold is just this beautiful, peaceful soul. And I think that will come through in all the records over time.
Clara recorded a lot of the EP in Los Angeles, and being that she’s from Stockholm, it’s fun when I get to LA and she’s there to see the time difference affect her. It takes her like three or four days to get used to the time difference. The songs that she writes on some of the first sessions that she does when she gets to LA versus toward the end — it’s funny because she’s like almost delirious. And the quality of the songs definitely change over the course of her trip.
She always stays in this same rented apartment that’s amazing. But one night we were going through all the songs for the EP, and there was, when we were outside on a terrace, and there was a group of squirrels that literally were trying to attack our laptop as we were going through the music. And then we went inside and there was just like mosquitoes trying to attack us then, and we had to switch rooms then. And I just felt like the universe told us to wait and not settle on the songs for the EP yet. And sure enough, we went on and recorded more songs at later dates, and those are the songs that ended up on the EP. So, I think the universe helped curate this EP, as well.
Jesse Cannon: I next wanted to learn more about Clara’s inspiration, as well as the other people she collaborated with on this EP. Here’s what she had to tell me.
Clara Hagman: I usually start with having a concept. I get a lot of ideas. I watch a lot of movies. I’m a totally serious movie freak. I like…I can sit up all night watching movies. It’s a lot about love, like love movies. Like, I love “Me Before You.” If you haven’t seen that, I recommended it. It’s really good. It’s a lot of romantic movies ’cause I basically only write about love.
And I read a lot of books, and it’s also good for inspiration. So sometimes I find lines that I just write down in my phone and, “Oh, my God. I want to write about this. “Taped Up Heart,” is a good example. I saw this picture in the subway, and I just like, “Oh, I can build something around this taped up heart and an open bottle.” Like it’s heartbreak. That wasn’t maybe from my own experience. It was more like I can relate, and I can build something. But I also really liked this title.
So, I read a lot of books, usually in English even though I’m Swedish. I think it’s good to read in English just because I can find one-liners. Sometimes it’s like, “Wow. Why didn’t I come up with that?” ‘Cause I mean, my own life, it’s very interesting, but it’s not interesting enough to write seven songs a week about it. Because you need to do more, you need to feel. Sometimes you just need to take inspiration from something else, like a book or a movie, and try to find a way to relate to it. So that’s basically what I start with, having a concept.
I usually co-write with maybe one other top-liner and a producer. And we meet up, and we start talking about the concept, and see if we both relating on it. We usually talk about the subject, and see if we both can relate. As soon as we do, it’s so easy. It just writes itself really.
And I’m definitely a melody person. I love doing the melodies and record it in my phone. Then we’re just starting to work on the lyrics. So usually it takes a day to write a song and then it takes a few weeks to polish it really. We write the idea, the rough, in a day…on a good day. Sometimes it doesn’t work.
Jesse Cannon: There was also a concept for how she wanted to go about working with collaborators to hone her sound.
Clara Hagman: On this EP, I worked with a kind of small team. I’m trying to keep it kind of at least within eight persons like so it’s not too many, keeping the right thread in the whole EP, so it’s not too all over the place.
I’ve tried a lot of genres. I wanted to do country, I wanted to do jazz, I wanted to do rock. And to find myself. And finally the pop won me over. I think it was important to really find my sound, and I think that’s why I wanted to keep it in the family a little bit for the first EP to really nail that sound, so it’s not too all over the place. Someone’s doing maybe more organic, and someone’s doing the super electronic, and people get confused. So, I think after you established yourself, you can definitely change it up a little bit, and people would still be like, “Oh, this is Carla Mae.” But I think in the beginning and the first songs that I released, it’s important that you can hear a special sound really. So I think that’s why…I also like, if you want an example, I think Love’s latest record. I know he was keeping it also kind of small, the people working on it, and you can really hear that. I think it’s so well put together.
Jesse Cannon: Since Cassandra is such an important part of this collaborative team. I wanted to get her to talk a little bit about how that collaboration works.
Cassandra Ströberg: We work well together because I come from more like the lyrics side, and Clara is more a melody person. And after like working together for two years, I think that we like have been challenged enough to like change position a bit. When I had meetings with publisher, I would always say before like, “Yeah, I’m a lyric person, I love to come up with concepts.” And now when I go into meetings I say like, “Yeah, I love melodies.” Like I don’t know why I love phrase, but I tend to like focus on finding the right phrase.
And Clara, when she’s in meetings she’s like, “I’m a lyric person.” So, I think that like meeting Clara, and her meeting me, made our like world, and how we see ourselves as songwriter, changed and evolved in a good way.
Jesse Cannon: And now Clara is going to talk about the producers on the record who she co-wrote it with.
Clara Hagman: So the title track, “Sorry About Writing All The Songs About You,” it’s made by David Björk. He’s also in my band. So, he’s here in New York today as well. As he produced that one, and Cassandra and me top-lined it. “I’m Not Her” and “I Forgot,” is the same team. It’s me and Cassandra, and Nicki Adamsson, who’s signed to TEN Music Group. And for the other two tracks, “Better Me Better You” and “Us,” it’s Mugisho. He’s a producer from Norway, also an artist…a great artist…and me and Cassandra. Basically three producers, and me and Cassandra top-lining.
Jesse Cannon: Before we go any further, I’m going to introduce you to Mugisho, who we haven’t heard from yet. And he has a really, really interesting story about how his music career came to be.
Mugisho Nhonzi: I’m basically from the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to Norway when I was four. I’ve been living in Norway since. The reason why I’m in Norway, it’s because my family was fleeing from a civil war in my country. We were a group of four boys, four girls, and mom and dad. So we’re 10.
I’m growing up with music around me. So, my family and I traveled way back when I was just a little kid, like 3, 4 years old. We just traveled as a family choir, singing. That’s when I kind of got into music, and bigger brother told me how to play the guitar and then YouTube came, and I started watching YouTube tutorials of how to play guitar. And then I studied music and then studied music production. During my time at school studying, I got signed by Warner Music, and that was like two and a half years ago now. I’ve been there since. Since I came to Warner, I’ve been working as an artist and producer for other people, as well.
Jesse Cannon: And now Clara is going to tell us about how writing for his project birthed the song, “Better Me Better You.”
Clara Hagman: I went to Norway to actually write for Mugisho for his artist’s project, ’cause I write for other artists as well, not only me. And we wrote this duet, and he was singing on it, and I was like, “My God. I want this one for my project. I don’t want to give this one away,” ’cause I really related to it. I was like, “I need to sing this. What if he wants someone else on it or if he wants it, and want to bring in another artist?” And I was devastated. But I asked him politely, “Can I have it?” And he was all fine with that. He was really happy too that I wanted to sing on it. And so we started searching for a male voice that could suit it. I was searching on Spotify, looking at related artists. Came across Jake Miller who’s now singing on it and he’s doing a great job. His voice was perfect for the record.
Jesse Cannon: And here’s Mugisho talking about working with them.
Mugisho Nhonzi: I had my first impression were like, “These girls are really talented, and they write songs incredibly fast.” Because the one thing about Clara, and because when you’re in a session you often start, me as a producer, show them some of my stuff, and some tracks, some beats, and I asked them if they vibed with something. And if they do, they immediately know it. For them, it’s not like a long process to know what kind of beat or track they want to write to. If it feels wrong, they just know it immediately.
That, for me, it’s like a great gift to have because I’ve been writing some songs with other songwriters, and they’re like they don’t quite know what they want, so we just try a bunch of stuff. And it takes hours to actually get where we want to go. With Clara, it’s like she knows exactly what she wants and she hears it if something is wrong.
And basically I just figured out that Clara, she likes like floaty ambient kind of stuff. Plucky ambient synths. For me, I’ve used it on the songs I’ve done for Clara. I’ve used a lot of sounds from a synth called Spire. When I have a session with Clara, that’s the synth. My go-to synth, because I know she, almost every time, likes what I do with that synth. So that’s kind of my Clara synth. I also use guitar a lot as well with Clara.
It could be the blend of having the organic stuff blended with synths, and I like a sound that is very produced because I feel like Clara has a good blend of the organic stuff and the over produced stuff, so it makes that…maybe it’s a fundamental of her sound, maybe.
Clara Mae — “Better Me Better You”
Jesse Cannon: Next, I wanted to get Clara and her collaborators to start talking about some of the memories of making these songs, and get down into the details. Here’s Clara talking about her song “Better Me Better You.”
Clara Hagman: For “Better Me Better You,” the video, we used the same guy again, Ky Mahone, but also Jake Miller. And I think people got confused about it. They were like, “Is she cheating on Jake?” And it’s supposed to be flashbacks with Ky. I don’t think everybody got it. And people are taking things very seriously, even if it’s a video. I might as well say…try to explain that because if we hadn’t used Ky, we would have like gone away from the whole idea. So, we had to find a way to get him into the video in a way.
So, I think the director of the video really found a good way to be like, “Yeah, you could see that she’s reminiscing about the old self-destructive relationship, and yeah, so I think everything has so far been as my vision, [as] I wished it to be.
Jesse Cannon: And here’s Mugisho talking about making the song.
Mugisho Nhonzi: Actually, when we wrote “Better Me Better You,” it was like very random. I think we had been working for like six hours or something, and then we were about to call it a day, but just like in the last minute I started playing like the main guitar riff that you can hear on the song. And they immediately reacted to it and started writing it. It took about an hour or something to write that song, to be honest. It was just, everything went super fast. When they felt the guitar riff as much as they did, that song kind of came up from a session that it was about to call it a day. It was a process as well, because we both loved the song so much, but he liked song as well, but he didn’t think it was maybe the right song for me.
So when Clara took it, as I told you, she just knows exactly what she wants. And how the result ended up to be, it’s just amazing. And out of that song, I went back to Stockholm to work for her and her project again. We wrote this song called “Us” and some other songs. But it was “Us” that ended up being on the EP. And that was based…we just tried to like, continue building on the sound we already had, even though the music and the genre feels…the songs are totally different, but at the same time it feels like you’re hearing at this same artist and the same kind of group that made the songs.
So yeah, it was a good session to do that as well.
Jesse Cannon: And now he’s going to talk a little bit more about that song “Us.”
Mugisho Nhonzi: On “Us,” we had a couple of rounds on that. I did a production on “Us,” that was like very produced first. And they liked it, but then it was too much for Clara. I had to go back and listen to the demo we did because the demo, she actually was very, very happy with the demo. So, I just went back to the demo and almost deleted everything I did first, and just made the demo kind of sound more expansive than it did. So, we ended up maybe using three, four rounds, finally happy at last with the fifth or sixth try or something.
Clara Mae — “Us”
Jesse Cannon: Next, Clara is going to tell us all about her song “I’m Not Her” and how it evolved through time.
Clara Hagman: For “I’m Not Her” and “I Forgot,” we wrote it last summer in 2017 in Stockholm. So it was me, Cassandra and Nicki Adamsson in the studio. We are a great team. The three of us, we just work really good together, and Nicki is very…he sits with production and kind of having the back against us, but he’s doing his thing, and he knows exactly what suits my voice and what style I want. So, we trust him completely with that. And we can focus on polishing up the lyrics and the melodies.
So yeah, both of those songs immediately just grew into a favorite of mine. I was like, “Oh, my God. I want to release this tomorrow.” And sometimes you have to wait like a year, and you write so much more music, so you’re like, “Oh, wait. Is it good? Is it really good?” ‘Cause after a year you have new favorites. But I think both “I’m Not Her” and “I Forgot,” they lasted so long. I still like them, and I think that’s a good sign after so, so long. If you still like the song, it’s a good song.
With “I’m Not Her,” it’s definitely one of the fun and greatest sessions I’ve ever had. And we had so fun that day. Sometimes when we write, we go into Pinterest. You can just write a few words and there’s pictures popping up, and it’s good for the inspiration sometimes. We just make a small like collage of pictures, and just write around that. We start with words that we want to put in there, and we’ll build around it. But the song kind of wrote itself, really. It was the most easiest session we’ve had, and I loved every moment of it.
And we went out to celebrate. We were done because we immediately knew that we’re gonna release this one. And also, it was before I signed to Atlantic we wrote this one. So, I was so scared that they would want to go give it to someone else ’cause who am I? I hadn’t released anything. But I was like secretly wanted it for myself. But I was…I think it was a bit too cowardly to ask them, “Hey, guys. Maybe I can release it.” ‘Cause we were all sitting and talking about like, “Who can sing this?” And I was like, “Yeah. Fuck, I want it.” But I mean after like I think a few weeks or month, I like sneaked a question in there. “Well, guys. I love the song. It’s me. It feels weird to give it away. It’s my life.” ‘Cause I don’t know, she was like, “Yeah, that’s my first thought all the time. I didn’t know if you wanted it.”
It’s better to be open from the beginning and say like, “Hey, I want this song. Are you guys up for it?”
Jesse Cannon: I wanted to get her to talk a little bit more about using Pinterest for inspiration since I had never heard that before.
Clara Hagman: Yeah I know. We searched for pictures. We searched “love,” “relationships,” “fighting,” “dancing.” So, we’ve got this picture, it’s of a girl dancing on a man’s feet and yeah, you know, the romantic pictures. Like a lot of vibey photos of emotions, and it can be a face expression that can give you so many ideas, really. Just by looking at a picture, I think you can get so many thoughts. So instead of just looking at the wall in the studio and be like, “What should we write about?” I think sometimes you just need to see something. You could eat something, take a walk. You just need to do something else ’cause, “I have a cool word, but we can squeeze this word in here.” It’s really hard to do something with that. So, I think it’s really good to see stuff, hear stuff, eat stuff. I think it’s good for the inspiration. I think that’s what we did with “I’m Not Her.” We started off having a great concept, which make things so much easier.
Jesse Cannon: She then told me how they had a paradigm shift in the narrative and how they figured out a better way to tell this story about how she’s not her.
Clara Hagman: Because first, it was like, “She’s dancing on your feet, with our song on repeat, she’s painted every role of us, she’s taking off her clothes, in the bed you kept me warm. Heard she’s everything I never was.” And that sounds kind of sad. So you’re like, “Oh.” So first, we were like, “Oh, it’s such heartbreaking.” But then we’re like: “We need to be more empowering. We can’t be the victim here. We need to be like, it’s good that I’m not her.”
So that’s the mid eight. “Been told that she’s the opposite. I kind of liked the sound of it.” Then, “There’s no one like me and that makes it easier. It wouldn’t be easy if she was a copy.” So, we kind of turned it around in the end. So, I think it was important for the song. But I think a lot of people, I’ve seen their comments on YouTube, they all understand it how they want to understand it. In a way, every way is a good way, I think.
Jesse Cannon: One of the things I’ve learned about how dance music gets made, compared to a lot of other genres, is you’ll start a song with one producer and you’ll only take one small element, and bring that with another producer and make it happen. Gina’s going to tell us the story about how that happened with the song “Rooftop.”
Gina Tucci: There was a record that we weren’t going to include on the EP that she did with another Big Beat artist named Sweater Beats. And the song is called “Rooftop.” I love the song so much, and she had so many great songs, and we were trying to find a more uptempo record. In that journey, I convinced her to put it on the EP. It’s one of my favorite songs on the EP, and we just put out the video for that. And I think it really demonstrates a side of Clara that she has the songwriting ability to not only write over electronic tracks, but also you know more rhythmic, urban-leaning tracks as well. And that was just something I really wanted to guide her through because it’s such a great direction for her. And again, she can write and sing over anything. It’s amazing.
Jesse Cannon: And here’s Clara telling us her side of the story.
Clara Hagman: It sounded totally different. We had his production on it, and we used a chorus that’s the chorus now for the pre and the pre for the chorus. And we switched that around. We change to production. We rewrote the lyrics. So that one was more of a struggle, I think, because it needed more work. We still loved it, even if it was such a rough…we had really rough demo of it. And Gina Tucci, she was like: “This song, it keeps coming back to me. We should just take another look at it, and try to see what we can do.” So yeah, we rewrote the lyrics, and swiped stuff around. And it turned out really good.
Jesse Cannon: And last, we’re going to hear about how the title track came to be, “Sorry For Writing All The Songs About You.”
Clara Hagman: I wanted it to zoom up all the other songs. So, we even have the title of one other song, “Rooftop,” in the lyrics. So it’s very…the conversion of like you…it’s like you’re talking to this person, and it’s like hoping he’s going to listen to the whole EP and figure out that it’s about him. But you know that he probably don’t care. Yeah, so it’s a very, it’s like you’re talking to him. You, I think you feel every word because it’s so easy to understand. And I think that’s where we were aiming for when we wrote it because we didn’t want it to be too poetic and too hard to get. So it’s very upfront. It’s very clear. So you know what it’s all about. And I think that was a smart move just because you’ll get why…you get the whole concept idea of the EP. Zooming up for that song.
Me and Cassandra were sitting and talking about the whole EP and the ideas, and we kind of realized that we’re kind of writing about the same thing over and over again, and we can’t really get it out of our system. So I know Gina Tucci, my A&R said, “Maybe you should try to write about something else than love.” But I’m like, “No. I need to finish this one before I can move on.” And I think we understand. And we were sitting at a coffee place in Stockholm when we got the title. We were like…I think we both got chills because we both felt so touched by it that we need to do this. So we just wrote it down, sent it away to the label, our idea of the whole thing. We want to use the same actor in the videos. We want the song to be the start of the relationship, and then go down to when everything went to hell. And then just end it with, “I’m Sorry For Writing All These Songs About You,” but I had to.
Jesse Cannon: And lastly, she’s going to tell us what it’s like when you finally get to put all these songs together in one big concept.
Clara Hagman: I mean, it’s always exciting in the studio, especially after writing a song that you feel like we nailed it. So, we usually celebrate with some prosecco. We like that in Sweden.
Clara Hagman: So I mean, I think all of the songs from the EP was an exciting moment after writing them, because there’s like a relief ’cause you’re expected to deliver songs, and you have like a time limit to do it. So when you feel like, “Oh, my God. I’m 100% happy with this,” and then that’s an exciting moment. But, no, I don’t think I can tell you a specific moment because they’re all different, but still very exciting.
Clara Mae — “I’m Sorry For Writing All These Songs About You”
Jesse Cannon: Lastly, I wanted to turn to her collaborators who know her best and find out what makes her unique. Here’s Mugisho first.
Mugisho Nhonzi: It was really, actually really good to see girls handle the tools as well, because it’s so rare that I see girls do that. So, when I was in session with her and she just comped her own lead vocal, it was just amazing to watch. So, she is like all over musical…understands music in a way that makes it really, really simple for me to work with her. That’s why I also love to work with her because the chemistry is just amazing, and she makes everything easy for me.
Jesse Cannon: And here’s Cassandra on Clara’s storytelling ability.
Cassandra Ströberg: She can tell a story through vocals. And I worked with so many artists, and I love to record vocals, and sometimes it’s hard to find the right take when you feel like everyone will feel this line. Like, “Oh wow! She sang that line, and I believed every word.” And somehow I never like found it hard or like as a problem when working with Clara. She’s like always been good at delivering whatever. I believe every word she sings.
Also, as a person, I think she’s like super humble and easy to work with. And like everybody that meets her is like, “She’s so cute. She’s so kind,” and she’s so funny, and like in an unexpected way because she’s kind of like shy. But then, she has these, like, fun punchlines, and like, is fun to be around. But I would say, like, her voice is like, she can tell a story with her voice and that’s her biggest asset.
Jesse Cannon: And lastly, here’s Gina on what she thinks makes her special.
Gina Tucci: Outside of her amazing songwriting ability, it’s her voice. To me, a voice is just as important as any instrument or any electronic sound. In a track that’s unique, the voice has to be unique as well. And the tone of Clara’s voice is so unique. It’s sweet, but strong. And when you hear it, you know it’s her. You don’t mistake it for anybody else. She has a quite a large range. So, to hear this special tone in many different registers is amazing because it never breaks. It just remains sweet. She’s singing higher. If she’s singing louder. She’s singing softer. It’s always her. It’s amazing. She never, I guess, breaks out of vocal character.
Clara Mae — “Us”
Jesse Cannon: Thank you for listening. You can find all the episodes of Inside the Album on your favorite podcast app. Clara Mae’s “Sorry For Writing All The Songs About You” EP is out now.