Michael James Down has been busy this Eurovision season. He has two songs in Dziesma 2013: “One” by Niko, and “I Need A Hero” by Samanta Tina. He also was a co-writer on Birgitta’s Icelandic National Selection song “Meðal Andanna.” His co-writers on “One”, Johnny Andersson and Hanif Sabzevari, have also been busy, writing Ditte Marie’s entry from last year’s Dansk Grand Prix “Overflow.” We spoke with them as they prepare for Friday and Saturday’s shows.
ESC UNITED: Hello guys. Congratulations on making it to the next stage of Dziesma 2013. Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you became songwriters.
MICHAEL: I am from Belfast, Northern Ireland and I have been involved in music in one way or another for as long as I can remember. Songwriting felt like a natural progression for me and I have been really ‘into’ it for the past few years.
HANIF: Thank you! Here’s my story: I found my musical path very early by playing the drums and the guitar in different hard rock bands. I was also a member of a classic choir where I sang all the famous works by Bach, Mozart, Handel, Verdi, Rutter etc. In 2001 I started my own band called The Academy. At this point I had learned to play the guitar pretty well, and I became the lead singer and guitarist in The Academy. We released our only album, “One moment of truth”, in 2004. We also recorded a video for the single “Roseanne”. In 2005, I attended the PhD program in Comparative Literature at Uppsala University. While writing my thesis, I also really dug myself into the world of producing and mixing music. I had already written a lot of songs by that time, so I wanted to learn how to record and produce them. After getting my PhD, I decided to fully get into songwriting and producing, and shortly I found myself working professionally with established artists. Today I work as a professional songwriter, producer, and mixer with cuts all over the world.
JOHNNY: I started out making music when I was 13 years old and had a dream to become a big producer in the future. 3 years ago I was signed to Thomas G:son (who co-wrote Loreen’s “Euphoria”) publishing company, G2 Publishing. Since then, I’ve been working with artists from all around the world.
ESC UNITED: By the way, Michael, wouldn’t happen to be THE Michael James Down that wrote “Meðal Andanna” with Birgitta, are you?!
MICHAEL: Yes, it’s me. Iceland was such an amazing experience and we are very proud of what we achieved! Working with Birgitta was so easy – she is both a colleague and great friend! 🙂
ESC UNITED: How would describe your songs in Dziesma 2013?
MICHAEL: “I need a hero” is a big 80s-inspired power ballad and “ONE” is a dance-pop number!
JOHNNY: “One” is an a big and energetic mid-tempo driven by some big drums. The verses are dark, with an underground feeling.
HANIF: When Johnny sent the instrumental to me, I knew instantly what I’d like to do with it in terms of melody and lyrics. I intentionally wrote a “dark” melody to those words, to emphasize the message in the big chorus. I think it’s really cool that the verses are so dark when the message of the song is in fact so full of hope.
ESC UNITED: What led you to deciding to submitting these songs to Dziesma 2013?
MICHAEL: I am a big Eurovision fan and jumped at the chance to take part in the Latvian national final.
JOHNNY: It was all about the right song and the right artist. Once we got in touch with Niko and his management, we knew it’s the right way to go with the song!
HANIF: Yes, and it’s a totally new market for me. I’ve never released any of my songs there earlier, and I’m very excited about it!
ESC UNITED: So where were you when you found out they both made it? What was the first thing you did?
MICHAEL: I was at home eating my lunch – I had an extra chocolate biscuit to celebrate! 😉
HANIF: I was at my studio working as usual when I got a message from Michael that we’re in. The first thing I did was to call my fiancée. She’s my biggest inspiration and support! Then I contacted my fantastic co-writers and Niko’s manager! None of us would have made it alone. We’re a great team!
JOHNNY: I celebrated with a cup of coffee.
ESC UNITED: Tell us about who are performing the songs.
MICHAEL: We contacted both Samanta Tina and Niko because we think they are fantastic artists and perfect for their chosen songs. Samanta has an incredible voice and Niko has the perfect popstar charm!
JOHNNY: Michael is an incredible guy when it comes to finding great artists in countries where I don’t have many contacts. So he contacted me and Hanif and told us about Niko. We instantly liked him and thought he’s a great singer and performer. And that’s the most important part: the artist. Without a good artist, it doesn’t matter how good the songs is. So, once we saw Niko, we were convinced he’s the perfect artist for our song! And luckily, he loved the song, so we had everything we needed to make a great song for Dziesma 2013!
ESC UNITED: Now that we are a few days away from Dziesma 2013, how are you feeling? How are you and your team preparing for your Semi-Final?
MICHAEL: I’m feeling great and very positive that we will do a great job. Everyone is working hard and rehearsing around the clock to ensure the best possible result! It’s Eurovision at the end of the day… who knows what will happen! 🙂
JOHNNY: I feel pretty calm right now. I guess the big thrill will kick in when Niko enters the stage! Niko, his manager and the whole crew are pushing themselves to the limit right now. They do everything they can to give the audience a fantastic show and performance, and I know people will be blown away by the stage show!
ESC UNITED: What do you believe is the key to winning a song contest like Dziesma or Eurovision?
MICHAEL: Right song, right artist, right time.
HANIF: It’s actually really hard to tell. If I had the answer, I’d not tell you anyway! Hahaha! No, but seriously, it’s hard to tell. Especially since it’s a whole new market for me and I don’t know what the Latvian audience prefer. But I always try to make honest songs with strong melodies. Also, I think the whole Eurovision thing is so much about creating the feeling of a union. All these countries and people from different places… it’s fantastic! And that’s the key message in One: “Tonight we’re gonna be one”!
ESC UNITED: Do you have any favorite Eurovision songs?|
MICHAEL: My all time favourite Eurovision song is Runaway by Sahlene. My 2nd is Keelatud Maa by Maarja. Both Estonian! Weird – eh!?
JOHNNY: Eric Saade – “Popular”.
HANIF: There are many great songs to mention, but some of them that I’ll always remember are Elena Paparizou – “My Number One”, Hadise – “Dum Tek Tek”, Maria – “Hold On Be Strong”, Mor Ve Otesi – “Deli”, Anastasia Prikhodko – “Mamo”, Jelena Tomasevic – Oro, and of course our wonderful Loreen with the magnificent “Euphooooooooria”!
ESC UNITED: What advice would you give to anyone interested in songwriting?
MICHAEL: Never give up. NEVER GIVE UP!
HANIF: There’s no formula or manual for writing a hit. But some of my key tips would be: 1) Have fun and make music with passion. If you don’t love what you do, no one else will either. 2) Write honest songs from the heart and don’t think too much. It’s not math, it’s music, passion, emotions. 3) Surround yourself with professional, honest, and reliable people that you trust and have fun with. 4) A wise man said you need to spend at least 10 000 hours to become good at anything. I won’t say it’s exactly 10 000 hours, but you need to spend a lot of time writing songs before you’re on a good level. During that time you’ll have to sacrifice some stuff in your life. You can’t have everything. So, if you really want to become the next Max Martin or Quincy Jones, then work hard, sleep at least seven hours every night, avoid junk food, drink a lot of water, and eat a lot of vegetables! Also, don’t forget the people around you, your friends and all the people who love and support you. Spend time with them. 5) Be critical to your own work. Don’t think every song you write is a masterpiece. It’s not. Dare to say you’re not always right and always try to get better. A great way to become better is to work with other people and learn how they think. So open your mind and get inspired! Travel and learn about different people and cultures. The inspiration is everywhere! I most often don’t look at the big stuff. I observe the details. How a girl ties her shoes, how a boy eats his ice cream, how a woman kisses her child, how a man looks at his watch. All those beautiful details are all around you!
ESC UNITED: Any closing thoughts you would you like to share with your fans?
MICHAEL: Thanks for all the support! It’s really appreciated! 🙂
HANIF & JOHNNY: we really hope people like our song! We believe “One” is the perfect song to represent Latvia in Malmö. It’s so hooky, and full of hope, energy, and love. Niko’s a perfect artist and he will definitely take Europe by storm. Swedish Television uses the slogan “We Are One” for the ESC final in Malmo. And exactly that message is found in our song: “Together we are one!”
ESC UNITED: Guys, thank you so much! And good luck this weekend at Dziesma 2013.
Catch Michael, Johnny, and Hanif’s songs at Dziesma 2013! “I Need a Hero” will be performed by Samanta Tina on February 8, 2013. “One” will be performed by Niko on February 9, 2013.