Interview with ALLAN ESHUIJS, songwriter for Cascada, Taio Cruz, Wynter Gordon - Sep 6, 2010
“It’s important to work with people from the country where you want your tracks out. It’s a strategic thing.”
Fast rising Dutch songwriter Allan Eshuijs is capitalising on the international success of co-write ‘Evacuate The Dancefloor’ by Cascada (UK No.1, Top 5 Ger, Can & Fra, USA Top 30) and the current US and UK mainstream appetite for all things Euro dance by broadening his musical horizons far beyond the lowlands.
With writes for Wynter Gordon and Booty Luv fresh in his notebook, Eshuijs talks to HitQuarters about what a songwriter needs to do to conquer the charts in a foreign land, why he left Universal to start his own publishing company, and how a pop song doesn’t need to be logical to be great.
Euro-style pop and dance are on the rise in the US mainstream charts - not least through Lady Gaga and RedOne (HQ interview) - is now therefore a good time to be a songwriter-producer coming from out of this background?
This is the best time. As Europeans we’ve had a hard time getting into the US market, because it was mainly hip-hop, urban that was dominating the charts a few years ago. And since the whole Gaga thing, Rihanna going dance influenced, and especially because of the collaborations with European producers, I think this is the right time for us to make the next step and get in contact with US writers and A&Rs and build up relationships with them.
Was getting a hit that broke through into the US and UK charts always a career aim?
Yeah, it was always my aim. I’ve been a member of SongQuarters for a while. I tried to get in contact with A&Rs, reading all the HitQuarters A&R articles and getting to know the people in the business - how they think and what they want to hear. And it’s funny because now I meet a lot of those people I read about.
I’ve read you’ve been working with Taio Cruz, Wynter Gordon amongst others, so has your involvement with Cascada’s international smash hit ‘Evacuate the Dancefloor’ already directly led to more interest and projects in the UK or the USA?
Yeah, definitely. ‘Evacuate the Dancefloor’ was my big break and is changing my career and my life.
What is it that makes it hard for writers to secure cuts outside of their own country?
If you don’t have the network then it’s really hard. You should collaborate with people from the US if you want to have a cut there.
It’s not always necessary, for example ‘Evacuate the Dancefloor’ was coming out of Germany, but I was lucky to be part of this team - Cascada’s producers Yann Peifer and Manuel Reuter have their own label, they license it all over the world.
But I still think it’s important to work with people from the country where you want your tracks out. If you’ve got two Dutch guys writing a song you still have to cross the border somewhere - you have to get your network out in the US or the UK or wherever. It’s a strategic thing.
So I’d rather write with a US writer because he has his network - maybe he’s closer to the next upcoming A&R or the next big artist.
It’s also nice to be in a different atmosphere meeting different people, because people in the US see songwriting more as a profession unlike Holland where people tend to think, “You write songs? Yeah, my neighbour write songs ...”
So why do you think ‘Evacuate the Dancefloor’ was such an international smash hit?
That’s hard to say. I think the timing stands out and that it’s different. Nobody would say, “Come on, let’s evacuate the dancefloor.” [laughs]. That’s the funny thing about it. We got a lot of comments about that, “Why would you say evacuate the dancefloor?” I love to be different.
The synth hook is also so strong - because where it starts off is so catchy - and the ohs ohs, those hooks always work - it’s like a new gimmick, everybody uses it nowadays.
Where did the title phrase come from?
Yanou played these chords, and we were building on it, and the hook was already in the synth, so we just had to get a nice lyric on it, we got like “nah nah nah nah nah nah, something-something-dancefloor”, because we wanted something that makes everybody want to dance. But what on the dancefloor?
We wanted to say something different. So we were Googling for some nice words and weird combinations of words, and suddenly we had ‘evacuate the dancefloor’. We then built the whole story around it.
How do you and the guys from Cascada usually create together?
Normally I work directly with Yanou - who’s more of the writing guy and the musical guy - in a session in the studio. The other guy, Manuel Reuter, is more the sound guy, so he puts together everything we play.
When I’m with Yanou we look for great titles, think of strange words or just a concept to start off with.
The song has been variously compared with Lady Gaga all the way to Nickelback and Miley Cyrus’s ‘Party In The USA’ - can you tell us what the actual inspirations for the song were, as sonic-wise it’s a significant departure from Cascada’s previous sound?
Yanou and Manuel Reuter are the production team and they decide on which way they want to go, and I don’t have a lot of say in that, but this song just asked for a certain production. With the second album they noticed that sales were going down and they had to come up with something different and that was the only way they could make it. I think it worked.
How did you first come to work with Cascada?
I’ve known the guys from Cascada for ten years. After two years of working with them as a backing vocalist one day they asked me, “Do you write songs? We heard you had a hit song with Ch!pz ...”
Ch!ps is a Dutch kid act, I wrote a song called ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ and it was huge in Holland and also developed in Germany and Switzerland – and because they knew about that success and knew I was writing, they asked me, “Do you want to write for Cascada? It’s a new dance act, and we need songs.” We did some tracks, and then eventually one track (‘Can't Stop the Rain’) got on the first album ‘Everytime We Touch’, which was a major success.
The biggest single was obviously ‘Everytime We Touch’ and so I was fortunate enough to ride that train. I had one track on an album that sold more than a million worldwide. So that opened a lot of doors for me.
Not least in maintaining a working relationship with Cascada ...
I was there from the beginning, and it’s nice to see that developing. On the second album I had one track called ‘Perfect Day’. And then the third album, I had two album tracks (‘Ready or Not’ and ‘What About Me’) and the first single (‘Evacuate the Dancefloor’), which just went crazy. It entered at #1 in the UK.
You also co-wrote their latest single ‘Pyromania’ - what was the inspiration behind that?
To set fire! [laughs] I have a lot of Word files with lists of words that maybe could be a song title, or concepts or stuff like that. So we were just going through the words and then Yanou said, “I like this ‘Pyromania’ thing, maybe we can use it.”
How did you first start making music?
I started playing piano when I was around 10 years old. I think I was inspired by Richard Marx and ‘Right Here Waiting’. I was like, “Look at this guy - he’s singing and he’s playing the piano!” Lionel Richie with ‘Hello’, and Phil Collins - that’s what inspired me to sing myself. I couldn’t find anybody to sing my demos, so I had to do it myself. And after that, people loved my singing better than my piano playing [laughs], so I started doing that. And from the singing I got into the writing.
So when did you actually first start writing then?
I think I recorded my first song in the studio when I was 12 or 13. I booked a studio - my parents paid for it - and recorded my first self-written song and the day after decided, if I want to go and do it again, it’s going to cost me - or them - another 200 bucks, so I’d better start my own studio.
Which is what you eventually did when you set up the music production company GEMINI Music in 2000 ...
I wanted to have control of everything I do, every take I sing, and I thought I can’t pay all this every time I want to change something. I started my own company because I had to send invoices for everything I do and I wanted to do production as well.
I started out as a session singer, doing backing vocals for several national and international artists. I studied at the conservatory of Amsterdam. I studied vocal performance, and I got my bachelors in 2000. I always sang in bands, and I was trying to make a living as a singer, meanwhile I was writing songs with myself in mind, because that was the only reference I had.
After so many years doing backing vocals for so many artists I got into this backing vocals scene. I started out with cover bands and stuff like that, and then I developed into doing theatre tours and club touring with all these other big shot artists, which was really cool because everything is well organised and the money is good, but then I always wanted to make the next step. I didn’t want to do backing vocals forever.
When did you move into professional songwriting?
In 2003 I cut my first song for Hind, she was third place in Dutch Idols. And through that I got to know the business better because I was confronted with publishing and those kinds of things.
So did that cut lead to you signing with Universal Publishing?
After that first cut I was working with a few people who recommended me to Universal Music. Obviously, I was still publishing free, so everybody was calling me like, “Hey, we should meet! I’ve got a proposal.” “Do you want to be a writer for BMG or do you want to be a writer for Universal?” So at that point in my career I decided to go for Universal and stayed there five years.
You were a staff writer there - does that mean you were working under contract for them?
Yeah. They got the whole publishing at that point. And I didn’t have a lot of credit, so I couldn’t get the best deal I wanted. Also, I was so new that I didn’t know what was the best deal. So, for me, I learned a lot during those years about publishing.
While under contract with Universal you secured the the Ch!pz song ‘1001 Arabian Nights’, which was an early break for you. Can you explain the background to that cut?
I co-wrote that song in 2004 with Tony Cornelissen. Universal was in contact with the label Glam Slam and they were looking for new songs for the second album, and we got that song over there and they liked it. But they said, “We want a different production because it should sound more now. So, could you get another dance sound?” So, we changed the dance sound. We did another demo, sent it over, and they took it, and it was the first single, and it was one of the biggest songs of Ch!pz. It was a huge hit here in Holland. And after that, they had a deal for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and it was Top 5 there as well.
What other cuts did you have around this time?
I had two tracks on an upcoming artist at that time called Do, and she also had a single that was a Top 10.
How did the success of the Ch!ps song benefit your career?
After that I knew it was possible to get cuts in other countries. So from 2005 I decided to focus on Germany because that was the closest. I’d go into Germany, go to songwriting camps and set up meetings, and connect with people through MySpace or Facebook or whatever I could get my hands on.
I would approach people with my credits and try to convince them to write with me, “This is what I did, let’s write a song.”
I got some cuts in Germany but it wasn’t big in 2005-2006. I had a hard time not getting things cut. Also, because I was focusing on another country I didn’t get things cut in Holland, and that cost a lot of time and money.
So even after your hit song credits you still found it hard?
Yeah, it was still hard after two Top 10 hits. Where you would think, maybe people are going to call you. Well, they’re not. In Holland it doesn’t work like that.
What made you decide to leave Universal and start up your own publishing company (SongKitchen) and what are the advantages in that for you?
For every writer you have different steps - not only as a musician but business wise too - you want to develop, and at the end you want to keep as much [publishing] as possible and say how it’s going to be done.
My first deal with Universal was like a starter deal, and after so many years and a few hits I grew out of that deal. That’s how I learnt about publishing. I was reading a lot about it - I read books by Eric Beall (Making Music Make Money) (HQ interview) and stuff like that.
I see this as a serious business and want to make a good living, and so need to make sure I’ve got my business together and know how it works. So I knew from the start that one day I wanted to start my own publishing.
What’s actually involved with having your own publishing company? Are you pitching songs and actively seeking new projects yourself?
Yes, I’m pitching songs, and signing writers for tracks too - I’m working with songs every day anyway so why not pitch songs for somebody else?
I’m not the standard publisher, because I’m coming from a musical and not a business background - I’m a songwriter and I want to help people get their cuts. I’ve got a big network, so why not?
Through your success with Cascada you’re now associated in the UK and US as euro pop and dance. Your music and influences are much broader than that, so how are you using this network to broaden GEMINI’s ‘musical horizon’?
Just looking into a lot of international networking. I’m going to London next week to do a few sessions, for example, and I’ll be in Hamburg at the end of the month to do a songwriting camp there.
I’m trying to be in different spots and get my name out there, and just meet people. It’s a people’s business, so I think it’s really important to meet the people you want to work with.
As you say it’s a people business, so can we talk a little more about how you actually broaden your contact network. For instance, how did you first meet the Xenomania songwriter Niara Scarlett?
Niara I met at a Universal songwriting camp in Germany.
And how about the British pop producer Ian Masterson?
Ian Masterson I met through Victoria Horn - she’s a very famous writer from LA and also based in London. I was doing a session with her and she said, “Let’s get a producer in. I know Ian. Let’s ask him.”
Talpa Music, who’s doing admin for my publishing company, set up the co-write for me with Notting Hill Music, where Victoria is signed.
Once you’re in contact with the people, it goes really fast - everybody knows somebody else again, so it’s always funny to meet new people through the people you already know instead of through a publisher, which is more official.
How did you first come to work with the up and coming artist Wynter Gordon?
That was this year. I was in New York for writing and Zack [Dekkaki] set it up, he’s my spokesperson and the international A&R manager and works for Talpa Music. He set up the meeting with Atlantic. He said like, “My writer is coming to New York - have you somebody for him to work with?” And they said, “Let’s get Wynter Gordon in there.” That’s how it happened with Taio Cruz as well.
Are you able to reveal what you have been working on with Wynter Gordon?
We’ve been working on a very cool dance track. I can’t say too much about it, because I’m always a little bit cautious with saying things that are maybe not going to happen because in this industry you never know until it’s released.
Do you have any idea when you’ll find out?
I have no idea. You never know. I’ve been happy so many times and then it didn’t work out, so I try to let it go and go on with the next project, to keep me from being disappointed again.
What other artists and producers have you been working with recently or are you due to work with?
Obviously I’m working with Yanou again soon for Cascada. I’ve been working with Klaus Derendorf from LA. He did Josh Groban and stuff like that. I’ve been working with Phrased Differently Publishing and the songwriter, Hiten Bharadia They have a lot of cool writers there. And we have a lot of songs on hold now, which are hopefully going to happen.
I’ve been working with Michael Jay, who’s a writer from LA and had major cuts for Celine Dion and Eminem, Andre Lindal, one of the producers who worked for Stargate, Greg Ogan, who works for The Writing Camp, and Curtis Richardson. He did tracks for Rihanna, Joss Stone and J-Lo.
What is it you are working on with Paul Harris, Ian Masterson and Lady V?
We’re working on a track for Danni Minogue, but I have to check what the status is actually. Ian is doing a lot with Danni, so that’s why we decided to write for her.
What artists, producers or writers would you like to work with?
One of my favourite writers is Max Martin. He’s still killing it every time. I just heard this new Adam Lambert song, which I really love. He’s a really big inspiration for me as a writer. And it doesn’t matter which style, he’s just so versatile.
We interviewed Chris Braide last week who is moving to LA to further his songwriting career stateside. Do you have any plans to move to the US?
That’s pretty likely, yeah. We’re looking now if we can live for one year in the States with the family. Depending on visa etc, maybe from September 2011 on. I think you need to keep contact with the people in your network otherwise it’s out of sight, out of mind, especially in LA, it’s all about stardom over there.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
Read On ...
* Songwriting Chris Braide on writing meaningful songs for pop reality shows
* Rising songwriter Nicole Morier on writing with Britney Spears