Power Pop: Interview with…Chris Braide!
I don’t want to tempt fate, but if that’s not a number one, I’ll eat my sofa.
As the man responsible for such songs as Diana Vickers‘ “The Boy Who Murdered Love,” The Saturdays‘ “Chasing Lights,” and Will Young‘s “Anything is Possible,” as well as some of the upcoming material from Pixie Lott and JLS, pop songwriter and producer Chris Braide has seen his fair share of glory in the UK Top 40 recently.
Two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of speaking with the busy producer from his studio in London (which is about to be packed away and carted stateside!)
I’m quite proud of this interview–we touched upon all sorts of artists and ended up having a really in-depth discussion about the very nature of pop itself.
Read on to hear all the gossip from behind Braide’s soundboard–loads of pop nerd chatter ahead!
Click “Read More…” to view the entire interview.
Hey, Chris. How are you?
I’m good. how are you?
Good! Sorry about that. It takes me a little bit to log into Skype, so I didn’t actually see your call until it ended.
Oh, I didn’t know. I was sitting here staring at the screen thinking “Do I go first?” or…
No, no, no–it’s totally fine. It just takes me a few minutes to log-in.
Sure, no problem.
So how have you been?
I’ve been good. I mean, I’ve been absolutely flat out manic busy and getting rid of my studio because we’re gonna go to the States, so I’ve been kind of wrapping things up. I’m in the middle of doing this JLS–two tracks on this new record. Also, Pixie Lott–the repackage of Turn It Up and various other things and I’m getting rid of the studio whilst I’m doing it, so it’s the maddest time–probably I’ve picked the worst time possible, but you know, then again you sort of create energy, don’t you?
Absolutely. So now, you’re going to be fully producing and writing in the States now?
Yeah, I think so, yeah. I fancied going there for a bit, you know what I mean? I’ve been doing it here for–well, sort of twenty years really, like full on and I kind of fancy being there for a bit in L.A. and I’ve got a great publisher there. Sony are [being] really cool and I’ve got a manager there now–I’ve got a really good guy now. Just a bit of a change, you know? Just a new sort of fresh approach.
Absolutely, and lots of different artists as well.
Yeah, and the thing is all of the UK labels are sending the UK acts there anyway. I mean JLS just came back to do the vocals on one of these tracks that I’ve been doing. They’ve been there for like a month or something.
Right, and now are they trying to launch JLS and Pixie in the US, is that right?
I think so, Yeah. And that’s the plan.
Very nice. So, what were some of the first major pop releases that you sort of worked on or wrote?
The first major one was probably, you know, in terms of commercial success–you know the S Club 7?
It was the, um, that song [starts singing “Have you Ever” by S Club 7] “Have you ever loved and lost somebody?” That one…
[Laughs] Ah, yes!
[Laughing] Um, I don’t tell to many people that.
No, why? Why? That was still a great pop track!
I know, I was quite proud of it.
Yeah, yes! You should be.
Number one. That was like the first major one. I mean, I’ve been writing just gazillions of songs and, you know, I did my own record with Dave Stewart years before that and I was signed to Atlantic as an artist and stuff and it wasn’t really–it wasn’t hugely successful. So that was like the first.
I remember somebody saying to me actually when I decided “Do you know what? I love being in the studio so much I’ll just stay in the studio forever, you know? Touring and promoting as an artist, you know, it’s okay, it’s quite fun, but sometimes it’s quite lonely and miserable and I’d just rather be in the studio.” Somebody said to me, “Once you have some success with one of these things, it’ll be hard to go back.” I don’t think that’s a negative thing, but it’s quite true in some ways.
You think, all that slugging as an artist and not seeing much for it, even though I’ve made some pretty good records. But, just the whole, like–machine and just trying to align stars upon it not really happening, you know? And then suddenly you have a hit and it’s like “Oh, that’s interesting.” And it was like the first one, really.
And then you sort of crave it again and want to have another one.
Yeah, exactly. And Cathy [Dennis] and I were both on the same label and she decided pretty much the same time as me that she had enough. She did this record called Am I The Kind of Girl and after that–I mean she had a bit of success and I think a couple of the singles got to the Top 30, but she decided that she’d had enough of that as well, and we both pretty much decided to write together after that.
Oh, okay. Have you worked on tracks together?
Yeah, we wrote that S Club song. And we wrote that Will Young single [“Anything is Possible”]–the Pop Idol one. And we did this new Pixie single that is going to be the lead single from this repack.
Oh, that’s exciting. Do you know when they’re supposed to launch her?
I’m not exactly sure, but I think it’s pretty soon because I saw in the back of Music Week it was scheduled for about the end of August or something like that, so…
Well that’s exciting.
Yeah, really exciting. She’s really — I really enjoyed working with her.
Yeah, I was gonna say I love the record. I actually got into it pretty late, only, actually this year — well, it came out later last year, but every song I was really impressed with her voice and the melodies.
Really great voice. She’s got such a great vibe in the studio.
Yeah. There’s a line in the song: “Mojito, line them up on the bar,” or something like that, and that was totally her. She’s such a party…club animal. Loads of references to drinking and boys, you know? It was great.
I wouldn’t peg her as that. That’s so funny!
Now, recently you worked with Diana Vickers with “The Boy Who Murdered Love,” which is out right now. That was one of my favorite songs when I heard the record, immediately. I think it’s a really strong song.
I was really pleased with that song, I think it turned out really well.
How was it working with her?
It was great, actually. She was really sweet. I sort of had that idea lying down for ages, ’cause I thought it sounded like a sort of Marc Almond lyric. You know, sort of like a Soft Cell lyric, you know [mimicking Marc Almond] “You’re the boy who murdered love.”
I just love it because it’s so dark and..
Yeah, yeah — it’s dark.
It’s a very dark pop song and it’s kind of brooding and yet her voice is so sweet and interesting.
Which makes it all weird–all weirder.
I was a bit disappointed with the video, though. I’m always a bit obsessed with how they make videos and I gave her loads of ideas, ’cause I came up with the album title as well. Songs from the Tainted Cherry Tree–it’s from that song. And so I gave her loads of ideas and I played her loads of videos. We watched Marc Bolan videos and Kate Bush videos and loads of weird things from the early 80’s and she loved it all.
We gave her albums to take away and stuff like that and I said, “Here. Go listen to Aladdin Sane by David Bowie and just–like, study everything, you know. He’s amazing. He’s a star, you know! And then I saw the video, and I was a bit disappointed. It was nice, she looks gorgeous in it, but they sort of went cute on it.
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting–I’m wondering what they’re targeting her for because “Once” was certainly a very cute video too, but it really worked for the song. But, this one, I think most of us expected something darker–like you said, Kate Bush or something, even. It’s surprising. I do think they’re marketing her to a very young audience and I don’t think they need to really, because I think the songs–it could be adult contemporary pop, really.
Exactly. I mean we did this other song called “Numb” on the album and I think it’s very grown up. I think it’s a song for a woman, definitely. It’s very grown up. One of the reviews got it totally wrong and said it’s like teenage angst and I thought “No, it’s not. Not at all. It’s everything angst.”
They pigeonhole you, you know> And when they see a picture of you and they go “Oh, she’s from X-Factor and she’s eighteen, so…” The thing is she’d co-written with people like me and I’m not like nineteen anymore. I’m over the hill! But, you’ve lived a bit haven’t you? So, lyrically you’re going to write a bit about things that emotionally take you.
Of course! And I think the problem was that when you have an X-Factor winner, or not even winner, just finalist, there’s a certain expectation that goes along with it and I don’t think anyone was really prepared. I think it’s such a strong album compared to–if you look at a lot of American Idol finalist albums, a lot of it can be quite throw away. But, I think it’s as strong as Ellie Goulding’s album. I played them both just as much and I think people sort of made their own judgment from that.
Yeah, I mean, like, listening with that prejudice like that. That’s what George [Sampson] once said. You know what I mean? I think definitely people thought “I’m not gonna like this” before they’d even heard it.
You’ve also written for The Saturdays.
Yeah, I wrote songs on the first album [Chasing Lights]. I wrote one song on the first album and one on the second [Wordshaker]. There’s a new song that we did, actually, with James Fauntleroy. Do you know him? He’s a good writer and we wrote this really good song, but I’m not sure what’s happening with it yet.
Oh, for The Saturdays?
Yeah, I think it might be the next single or something.
Oh, okay because they have the Headlines EP coming out in two weeks actually.
I think you would know by now if it was on it.
No, probably. [Laughs]
[Laughs] But maybe for their next actual record, I think this is just something–
That’s what I mean, yeah, I think it’s for the next actual record. It’s like some kind of mini album, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s like a mini EP almost to keep us tided over until the next. What was it working for a group like The Saturdays?
It was fine, you know. The thing is–because you know I produced those tracks as well, so, it was interesting because the first album we did that Chasing Lights track and everybody seemed to have a song with “chasing.” I know Snow Patrol did it first, but after that I felt paranoid because everybody seemed to have a song with “chasing,” and then that was the Adele song and it was just everybody had “chasing” and it wasn’t ripped off–it was genuine.
But anyway, we did that track, and they were all really sweet and humble as you are when you first have a record deal and it’s all like, “Wow, this is amazing!”
I love that song as well. I thought that came out very strong. It’s interesting working for a group because there’s so many personalities coming together at once.
Yeah, exactly. Especially girls as well. Oh my God. Get out! [Laughing] They were really sweet.
That’s good. Were you ever unhappy with the end product of a song you’ve written for someone else?
The end product of the actual song?
Right, right. Compared to how you wrote it or intended for it to actually be sung.
Oh gosh, let me think. A couple of moments, I’m sure. I mean, particularly when other people have produced them, you know? I mean to be honest, it’s very difficult sometimes because I sing all the demos–all the original demos I sing, Like the Cheryl Cole track. I sang the original demo, although some people think Nikola [Rachelle, sister of Natasha and Daniel Bedingfield] did, I wrote it with Nikola. She actually did the second version, she was going to do it for her record. Anyway, the point is–
Oh, wait, Nikola — now is she working on music?
Yeah, she’s writing.
Oh, okay. Does she have her own record?
No, no I don’t think so.
Oh, she’s just writing songs?
Yeah, I think she’s just writing. She’s not that interested.
The point I’m trying to make is you get close to two versions, so you do a version–you know obviously being a singer, you put your heart and soul into it, and you’re trying to sell the song to the artist or the label or whoever it is unless you’ve co-written it. If you’ve co-written it with the artist, they usually sing it.
But even then, sometimes certain artists who know me well will say “Look: You just sing it, and then I’ll learn it” kind of thing. So, a couple of time–there was one time, even though it was a big hit–the schmaltzy old “This is the Night” which Clay Aiken had to do with. This demo for me is the definitive version, and it’s not just an ego thing. It’s not because I was singing it or something like that. It just was the spirit of the guys I co-wrote it with. We were just in a great moment. We did it in Miami. It was late at night, and we recorded it and it was just really spot on. You know, when that record came out I thought “Ahh…no.” Then it was a hit, so…that’s all, man.
Well, [laughing] you know…
I was a bit disappointed with it because sometimes producers will get a hold of things of mine. I’m a real stickler for things like chord changes and things. They’ve gotta be right, you know? You can’t go and change the chords. That’s like, I mean, I can’t even have–what’s an example of–I can’t think of a comparison, but if you’re gonna take a song and you’re gonna produce it–a song of mine, just don’t get the chords wrong or the melody because that’s fundamental. As long as you get those bits right. It’s snots and giggles maybe, but there you go.
In contrast, which songs from your collection would you say you’re most proud of?
Well, I’m really proud of “The Boy Who Murdered Love,” I thought that turned out really good and the Pixie song sounds great and also, I mean–and these are all new things but, you know, you always love the newest thing you’ve done I suppose. There’s this song I’ve produced for JLS which is really, I think, really strong. There are two, actually.
Oh right, and that’s coming up.
Yeah. I mean, I’m fond of like the S Club things, and stuff with Cathy that I’ve done.
Of course, yes. I mean you should be proud of them too. They were successful and they were still–you know they’re still strong pop songs even if it’s, you know, the association with the cheeky pop group.
I don’t know, really. I get put on the spot and I can’t hink. There’s one song actually I really love and if you ever get the time and you’re bored one day, type my name into YouTube and put in “Heavenly Rain” because that’s one song that was never a hit. I think one day–I’m determined that somebody will have a hit with that because I love that song. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s one of the nicest things that I did, actually.
Well, I will certainly check it out.
Now, how about artists that you’d love to work with but haven’t yet. Are there any artists you’d like to work with?
Um, yeah. I mean there are loads of artists you’d like to work with. I mean–oh gosh, you put me on the spot!
I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Gosh. I mean, if you’d have asked me fifteen years ago, it would’ve been Prince but now I’d probably run a mile…No, nah, nah! [Laughs] He’s still amazing. But, I guess the obvious things like females–Beyonce, I mean she’s amazing. Something like that. It would be absolutely amazing to work with somebody like that. And in fact I just had my hair colored the other day and right in front of me on the TV screen they were playing the video with the dance, and I just was mesmerized. I just thought, “She’s a star.” I don’t think there are many stars around at the moment.
No. How about Lady Gaga?
Oh, yeah. Amazing. It’s just entertainment and that’s what pop music should be and I tell ya, I get–sometimes I get a little bit frustrated when I see pop stars on TV doing live vocals. I don’t think it’s necessary, actually. I think pop stars should just look fantastic and should just mime to a fabulous record ’cause that’s what you bought.
That’s a really interesting mindset compared to so many other people who chastise Britney or chastise, you know..
It’s nonsense, though. Personally, I think it’s nonsense. You know, Britney is not U2. She’s Britney, she’s a great pop star, she’s fabulous, you just want to watch her in a great video look fantastic. You know, perform this weird, amazing, electronic, fabulous 2010 track. I don’t want to hear her do the live vocal.
Yeah, no I think that’s true too. I think she has a great studio voice and a lot of pop stars do to but that doesn’t mean you have to be able to recreate that live.
Shirley Bassey. Exactly.
Well, that’s reassuring! [Laughs]
You know, I love records and I love the way they’re made and I think I was always like that. You know, when I watched my favorite bands–watching people like Soft Cell, they were a huge influence on me–watching “Tainted Love” on Top of the Pops. Just watching them mime. Even the miming was sort of part of the kitsch. You know, maybe Marc would kind of get the miming slightly wrong but it was all part of the fabulous pop world, you know what I mean? Kind of fake and brill and I loved it. Now it’s all a bit too worthy. [There] should be a bit more theater in it, and I think that’s why Lady Gaga’s fantastic. It’s always entertaining to watch her performances. You never know what you’re going to get and it’s always gonna be something pretty eye opening and I love her for that.
True, although she has raised that bar in that she manages to entertain and sing live which has completely thrown off everyone.
Yeah, true. Yes.
So, what songs are out there right now that you enjoy or maybe even wished you wrote yourself as far as on the charts right now?
Well, there’s definitely one song that I have to say that I absolutely love. I love the record more than the song because it’s not really the song, but it’s “Bang Bang Bang” [Mark Ronson & The Business Intl] I just think it’s brilliant.
I heard it on the radio and I didn’t know who it was. I love those chords, the chords sound like, they almost sound like Scritti Politti or something. Do you remember them?
A strange 80’s sort of thing and I heard it on the radio and went “What is this? It’s brilliant, I love the girl’s voice!” and then the rap, I thought “I recognize that rap!” and that sort of voice and I was thinking about that “Bonita Applebum” by A Tribe Called Quest right on, right on “Bonita Applebum, you gotta put me on” and it was like “Hey, man it is him!” [Q-Tip] I love the old school rap. That kind of rapping, you know, that A Tribe Called Quest did is so musical and so lifting, isn’t it? So that is definitely my number one favorite record at the moment.
Oh, that’s good. Yeah, that is a very strong record.
And the video, you seen the video?
No, I haven’t actually.
[Gasps] The video’s just brilliant. It’s amazing, it’s directed by a Japanese guy, I can’t remember his name [Warren Fu] but it’s all very 1981 and lots of Japanese typography in it and a sort of neon keyboard and she’s got a great sort of like The Buggles like, “Video Killed the Radio Star” glasses on and it’s just brilliant.
I’ll check it out, absolutely, after this. So, okay, well, I think I have just one more question though I think we’ve discussed this at the beginning as far as your current and future endeavors, what you have lined up at the studio now and what you have planned down the road.
Well, I’ve just finished this really interesting project actually. But, I’ve been working on it for a few months but it’s called Hello Leo and it’s completely new and no one’s heard it really apart from a couple of guys at Universal Records and it’s very early stages. It’s an album and the idea is Leo–it all sounds like a big concept album, but it’s not really. There’s a loose concept: Leo, this character, sort of mythical character has been asleep since 1979 for whatever reason and then he wakes up and it’s 2010, and the last thing he remembers is John Lennon‘s still alive and pop music by him was in the charts at number one and ABBA was still together and blah blah blah.
And so, the whole album–and there’s an intro, it’s a computer voice talking to Leo saying “Hello, Leo. Welcome to the 21st century, you’ve been asleep a long time. We have a lot to tell you,” and then the album starts. And the ten tracks have painstakingly used every sound from that era. All of the original keyboards like the [Yamaha] CS-80 and Prophet 10. I mean, it’s like nerd central. But the songs, really, they’re cool pop songs but they sound like they were recorded in 1981. They really do, and I’ve absolutely got it down and I’m really excited about it.
I would love to hear it! So that’s a solo project on your end, then?
It’s a solo project, but I didn’t want it to be like “Oh, it’s him doing a solo album.” I didn’t want it to be like that at all. It’s more anonymous than that. Hence the “Hello Leo” is–what is “Hello Leo”? You know, who is that?
So, similar to how the Gorillaz have, you know…
In fact, I heard “On Melancholy Hill” the other day and I thought “My God, it’s not a million miles from what I’ve just done!” I heard that and I thought I’m a big fan of Damon Albarn anyhow and I said well, you know, he’s doing it and it’s not the same at all. It just sounded kind of electro-retro.
I love all those records. I was only little when 1981 was around, but I still have that vivid memories of the sound of those records. Even like, Dollar, you know, all of those old cheesy 80’s things. The sound of them–it was like machines with humans and Human League and all of that stuff. So, it’s kind of like that. In fact somebody heard a track, it’s called “Human Feel,” and somebody said it sounds like the Human League. I said “Good, that’s the idea.”
That’s really interesting! I didn’t know that was happening. So, okay, so there’s that and you also have Pixie and JLS.
JLS and Pixie I’m really excited about. I mean the Pixie track–I don’t want to say too much ’cause I don’t want to tempt fate, but if that’s not a number one, I’ll eat my sofa. I keep on praying. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
[Laughing] I can’t wait to hear that!
It’s really good. It’s so up and it’s kind of–nice chords, nice melody she sings, and it’s a good sort of dance record. It reminds me a bit of Heart.
Are you working on Cheryl Cole’s next album?
I’m not sure actually, I’ve been so busy working on everything else. I hadn’t actually sat down to write anything for it. She’s in America so I’m not exactly sure. I think she’s trying — she’s rejoined Girls Aloud, I believe. Is that right?
I think the latest is that there were some rumors about a week ago that they were disbanding so the label was forced to step in and say “That’s not true. Next year there’s going to be an album.” So, you know…
But, alright, this was great. Thank you so much for talking with me!
I’m glad we got in touch.
Absolutely. And I definitely look forward to hearing everything.
You know what? I’m not just saying this–I’m not a creep or anything, but I really do like your site and I look at it a lot. I think it’s always a good sort of marker for me, so…
Oh, wow! Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
Yeah, definitely. Keep in touch.
Absolutely. Thank you so much again.
Okay, no problem.
Many thanks to RJ Kozain for providing the transcription of this interview.