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Interview with CHRIS BRAIDE, songwriter for Pixie Lott, Clay Aiken, Diana Vickers, JLS - Aug 30, 2010

的 hate it when writers sit in a room and say, 然ight, I have a scenario - I知 in a bar and my girlfriend has just left me.樗

picture Having achieved renown in the UK as a top drawer songwriter-producer, collecting credits for an enviable array of No.1 artists including Cheryl Cole (UK No.1), Kylie Minogue (UK No.1), JLS (UK No.1), and Westlife (UK No.1), Ivor Novello and ASCAP-winner Chris Braide is now decamping to LA to devote more of his talents to the US market, and capitalise on kudos he earlier garnered by penning Clay Aiken (USA No.1) mammoth sellers 禅his Is The Night and 選nvisible.

On the eve of his westward expansion, HitQuarters talks to Braide about his first break in the USA, creating meaningful songs for pop reality shows, recent writing sessions with Diana Vickers, JLS and Pixie Lott, and career beginnings that saw a homeless 16-year-old taken in by future collaborator and songwriting legend Cathy Dennis.

You池e currently in the process of moving to Los Angeles. Are you heading over there to devote more of your talents to American artists?

Absolutely. And to do the same job as I do here [in the UK]. Use all my contacts here, but just spread my wings a little bit.

Was it prompted by anything in particular?

I don稚 know, really - just a feeling of wanting to expand. I was signed as an artist at Atlantic in the late 90s, and I always had a great time there when I was on tour in those old artist days. I always loved America, and I think my music has always felt a bit more ... international.

What is it L.A. has to offer you as a songwriter-producer?

Well, there痴 some fantastic people there. I have an American manager [Tim McDaniel], who痴 one of the best managers in the business - he manages John Shanks, Rick Nowels, Billy Steinberg

I致e been in the business since 1990 professionally, and that痴 twenty odd years beavering away in the UK. So I知 35, it just feels like a good time to do this.

You池e relatively unusual for a British songwriter in having achieved considerable success in the USA, how did you first get your break over there?

I was signed to East West Records here as an artist, and then Atlantic Records saw a show I did here and vice-president Craig Kallman signed me in New York. So I started going there and toured America with Jewel and people like that. So, then it was like, I really like this place. And people always seem really receptive.

Then I had a big hit with Clay Aiken called 禅his Is The Night, it was #1 American Idol, and it was followed up then by a song called 選nvisible, which was a huge record on American radio. It all started to happen from there really, late 90s/early 2000.

As someone that痴 established a very successful songwriting career, aside from songwriting talent, what characteristics do you think are important in pursuing a career as a songwriter?

I致e heard a lot of people along the way say, 的 really fancy doing what you do. They池e talented, but they haven稚 got that You have to be a worker, you have to be passionate, and you have to be prepared for serious disappointment, on a daily basis almost.

I致e seen things absolutely bombing the charts, and I think, there痴 no way that should have bombed, that痴 one of the best songs I致e written. And then other things that you didn稚 think much of go to #1.

Be prepared to absolutely knuckle down - maybe you get a shortcut occasionally, but it doesn稚 last.

What was it that first inspired you to start writing songs?

It was always a natural thing. All the artists I loved when I was a kid - Lennon/McCartney, Difford and Tilbrook from Squeeze, Andy Partridge from XTC, all those great English songwriters - all wrote their own songs and had a style. I致e never thought about it - I致e always just sat at a keyboard and started playing chords and singing melodies.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

Yeah, the first proper song was called 詮unny Five Minutes, and I wrote it with my brother when I was about 14. It actually ended up on a record that I made, which Mick Hucknall produced. I still like it actually - it痴 got a sort of charm about it, a nave charm.

When was it you decided to pursue a career as a songwriter for other artists?

When I decided not to be an artist anymore really. Because my record release at East West didn稚 take off like I壇 hoped.

I remember being at Mercury Records with Steve Lillywhite - this was my attempt to get a third record deal, and I知 28 and still up for it - and he wanted to sign me, but then said something along the lines of, 鏑et痴 just keep writing for a few months and get some more songs together. And I remember saying to him in his office, 泥o you know what? I had enough of this! I知 not going to be writing any more songs. Either put that out or shove it!

I thought, it痴 a bit of a headache this, because I壇 made really great records but nothing happened with them because of bad management or whatever. It痴 hard to keep going back and trying to better the records. I decided I loved being in the studio more than being on the road.

What didn稚 you like about non-studio side of being an artist?

I never loved the whole 登n the road/being away from home/sitting in a hotel room in Oslo alone doing a phoner talking about your favourite colour part of it. Although I do love getting on stage - I do it with Trevor Horn now in this outfit we致e got called Oz.

While producing my solo album Dave Stewart said to me, 的t痴 great this, isn稚 it? I was like, 典his is amazing! And then he said, 釘ut when the record is finished, then it gets hard.

One of my heroes, Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout, makes records in his home studio, and he痴 got about five albums that have never been released. And when one journalist said to him, 展hy do you keep making albums and then never put them out? he said, 釘ecause the legwork involved with actually flogging it to the public is just so hard. [laughs]

So when you started on your new career path, did you start out by sending out songs to various A&R, making use of contacts you壇 built up as a solo artist?

Yeah, all the time. In fact, 詮unny Five Minutes was covered by Sarah Brightman and that was the first thing that ever happened and gave me an idea that the songs that I was writing for myself as an artist were commercial and had something universal about them. You can稚 imagine people covering XTC songs because they池e so avant-garde and strange, but my songwriting has always been quite direct. It痴 not subversive or odd, they池e just classic pop songs.

How would you advise a young songwriter to achieve that first rung on the ladder - say, if I壇 written a few really good songs that I want other artists to sing, then what should I do next?

I had someone do work experience for me recently and he asked me, 展hat do I have to do to get to your level? I said, 滴ow many songs have you written? He said, 擢our. And I told him, 的f you go for a meeting and play those four songs and they hate them all, what are you going to play then? You致e just got to keep writing! And don稚 be arrogant. Don稚 think you致e written your best things because you never have.

As a songwriter, what would you say your own career breakthrough was?

I think my career breakthrough was getting my first publishing deal at Zomba when I was 16 because that opened up the world to me.

I come from a small town in the middle of nowhere, near Liverpool, and music was literally just an acoustic guitar in a shitty old working men痴 club. You know, age 15, singing Frankie Goes to Hollywood covers [laughs].

The deal with Zomba - leaving home, buying a second hand car and driving to London - was the beginning really. The first place I ever lived in London was actually at Cathy Dennis house. She痴 one of my best friends and really helped me, because we were both signed to Polydor as artists, and I was literally sleeping on any old floor I could find, and she asked me, 展here are you living? And I said, 哲owhere. And she said, 展ell, I致e got a spare room and you can stay there as long as you want. I値l never forget that.

Writing 羨nything Is Possible for the winner of the first UK Pop Idol was quite a coup. How did the opportunity come about?

Simon Fuller was putting Pop Idol together and he loved 践ave You Ever, the song that Cathy and I wrote for S Club 7 that had been a big hit, and 全ay Goodbye, their final single.

Considering I知 not managed by him, Simon has always been very supportive of me. He said to Cathy and I, 鏑ook, I can稚 think of anyone better to write this first song than you two. Have a go and see what you come up with.

展e sat in Cathy Dennis house and wrote it at her baby grand piano in her front room, and recorded it on a little Dictaphone. We played it to Simon and he loved it. I remember Cathy calling me and saying, 添ou won稚 believe this, but that little song that we wrote in three hours is selling 100,000 copies a day.

How do you even begin to write a song that is potentially a Pop Idol 層inning song - were you both thinking we need to compose a song that somehow manages to be both triumphant for the winner and inspiring for everyone else?

Yeah, exactly. Like you say it was triumphant, and big and emotional, but I always try to make songs work outside of whatever they池e written for.

The American Idol song, 禅his Is The Night is a good example of that. It was written after 9/11, and there痴 a line in it, 摘very kiss is a kiss/you can never get back, and it痴 about saying, to whoever you love out there, just appreciate them. So it works on different levels, but it worked great for that show because obviously ... the winner, the night

I do enjoy writing songs to a brief. If someone says to me, 展e need an advert for a bank. Write a song about a bank. I can do it, but I don稚 love those songs as much as the ones that I致e written from the heart.

For me the difference between 羨nything Is Possible and 禅his Is The Night is that 羨nything Is Possible was written as an assignment - we did it because we池e professional. 禅his Is The Night was written from the heart. It was a beautiful song that Simon [Fuller] heard and said, 典his is perfect for that!

You致e also been working together with Cathy recently in writing with Pixie Lott

Yeah, we致e just written three songs for her new album or the repackage.

How do you approach a session with a singer/songwriter?

It depends really. The three of us just sat in a room and I just start a track I start from a beat or play some chords. Cathy and Pixie really like to have a track to start writing melodies over the top, and then the lyrics - and build it like that.

It痴 different for everybody really. I just wrote and produced two tracks for JLS new album, and two of the guys came in to write. Rather than start from scratch with three people in a room, I just try to get a skeleton of a song together before they arrive to be certain we have something to get our teeth into.

So I had a skeleton of a song together with gaps and missing lyrics and things, but essentially the vibe and idea were there. They really liked it fortunately. If they壇 hated it then it would have been a different story. And it was easy; I started at 10 o団lock Saturday morning and at 19:00 we壇 done it, finished, and it痴 on the album.

A superb recent track by yourself is Diana Vickers 禅he Boy Who Murdered Love. Can you talk us through how that track was written and recorded?

A similar way actually. I壇 got a skeleton of a track I壇 started in the morning and already had the 鉄hot, shot, shot, shot, shot like a bullet idea and the title. I壇 literally had the title lying around for years. There was a song I壇 always loved by ABC called 禅he Night You Murdered Love. I always felt that was a fantastic title for a song. I suppose it was inspired by that, even though I don稚 think I was consciously thinking of the ABC song.

I remember lying in bed thinking, Diana is coming in and they need a single. I felt the 鉄hot, like a bullet thing was a great hook, and then I thought I could use 鉄hot, shot, shot, shot, shot, like a bullet/You池e the boy who murdered love. That works perfectly. She loved it and totally got into the spirit of it, and helped finish the lyric off. We壇 sometimes bounce ideas back and forth, and it was all kind of quite theatrical, you know, 鄭nd the roses change from red to black.

Do you find it easier writing together with the artist because in getting to know them you have more things to work from?

I like writing with the artist because it痴 more interesting. I like writing with other songwriters, but then it痴 a bit like, 展ho we池e doing this for? What痴 this for? None of us are artists here!

Once you致e got the artist in the room it痴 like you can make the record as you go. I never do demos, I always produce tracks as if they池e going to be on the record. It痴 a different mentality. As a kid, when I had 4 and 8-track machines, I壇 always tried to make them sound like records. So, when you got the artist in, you池e halfway there - you致e got the voice on the track. As soon as the voice is on the track I say, 鄭ha! I can see this now.

Also, with somebody like JLS or Diana or whoever, you can write in a more interesting way. I could never write 禅he Boy Who Murdered Love with another songwriter and pitch it for lots of artists because it痴 too obscure, too strange. When the artist is there and they池e a bit quirky then it痴 more fun. It痴 like, 鏑et痴 write a song about flying swans.

If I was trying to write a single for a new girl group or a boy band that I don稚 know a great deal about, what would be a good place to start? For example, for the girls, would something sassy and streetwise be a safe bet?

I致e written stuff for The Saturdays and each time the songs have been quite classy and acousticy. I wrote the title track 舛hasing Lights on the first album, and one of the reviews said, 典his is the stand out track because it doesn稚 sound like the rest of the record. [laughs] I don稚 know if that痴 a good thing or not, but they were saying it sounds more adult and more acoustic and compared it to Natalie Imbruglia.

Everything I do I just try and make it have some sort of substance, so it lasts, so it痴 not just a throwaway thing. I always want to look back in ten years and go, 典hat still sounds great.

For the up and coming songwriter, would listening to what痴 big in the charts at the moment be helpful?

Absolutely. Somebody once told me, 哲ever stop listening to the radio. Once you stop being plugged in, you lose touch. Even though I don稚 actually go out and buy new records, I知 searching all the time. I see things on iTunes and Spotify, read magazines - I致e got the radio on constantly in the car when I知 driving somewhere. Even though I might be just flicking constantly, you need to absorb it.

What things should I not be doing when writing to pitch - for example, should I avoid too much minor key melancholy?

I don稚 think so! I love melancholy. My first album is called 銑ife in a Minor Key, so that should explain that [laughs]. I mean, some people would say that a lot of my style is in the A-tree, but it痴 not downbeat. Melancholy can be epic.

I just did a track with these two new guys signed to Atlantic called Domino Go!, and it痴 all minor key, but really epic and it makes you feel good. It痴 called 銑egendary, and it痴 going to be huge.

If I知 pitching a demo to labels then regardless of type of artist or style, is it always wise to stick to your basic guitar-vocal or piano-vocal in order to get the song across most effectively?

Unfortunately not. All the time I think, that痴 a piano-vocal and it痴 really strong, but unfortunately it痴 getting harder and harder to present things in a simple way now. They almost have to be mixed and mastered at Abbey Road for people to even think about doing it. It痴 a crazy situation because a song is a song, and if it痴 a great song it can be produced any way, but unfortunately people need it on a plate now. It痴 a bad habit we致e all gone into.

If you are writing for artists and are searching for inspiration, where do you tap into? Do you draw on experiences and feelings from your own life?

When you lived for 35 years, you致e had a bit of experience of love and disappointment and happiness [laughs], so I definitely draw on real things now. Particularly when I知 doing my own stuff, it痴 all about real things, and I like to get it off my chest that way, and I always encourage artists to write like that, even if you池e 18. You must have been heartbroken, so use it!

I hate it when writers sit in a room and say, 迭ight, I have a scenario - I知 in a bar and my girlfriend has just left me. I cannot write like that. You made it up and it痴 just nonsense. Let痴 write about something real. It痴 always better, it痴 always more emotional, and emotion is the one thing that a song needs, whether it痴 happy, sad or whatever, otherwise it won稚 work.

Is it right that you are involved in the writing for Cheryl Cole痴 upcoming album?

I wrote a song on 3 Words called 船on稚 Talk About This Love, and that痴 a very emotional song. She said to me, 的 really relate to this. And I don稚 know if it had something to do with her personal situation at the time, but

So how did Cheryl come to hear and then record the song?

I got a phone call from her A&R guy at Polydor, and he said they壇 heard this song I壇 written with Nikola [Rachelle] Bedingfield, Natasha痴 sister.

Nikola was trying to be an artist but it didn稚 work out, and so she knocked it on the head. But all these songs she壇 written with me were still lying around, and one of the labels was Polydor. They壇 heard Nikola痴 song, thought it was fantastic, and remembered it, and called me and said, 鏑ook, I really want to do 船on稚 Talk About This Love with Cheryl. Can she come down and stick a vocal on it? So Cheryl came down to my studio.

Not to be corny, but it just almost sounded like Cheryl had written it, and that was because she really related to it lyrically.

How do your projects usually come about?

My wife, Olivia, runs my day to day in the UK , the diary is constantly being filled up with interesting things. Tim McDaniel is my manager, and we've been working together since February. Mel Redmond and Janice Brock at my publisher Sony ATV are incredibly supportive. All in all I am very lucky to have a great team and because I致e been writing and producing for twenty-odd years now, I致e started to get a reputation especially in the UK. People know they can trust me, they know I知 not going to turn in a piece of old crap. Some songs are better than others, but I値l always deliver.

What other artists have you been working with and are you due to work with?

Domino Go! is the most recent one - they池e an Atlantic band. I知 working with Sarah Harding next week from Girls Aloud and that痴 really exciting. She could be really big.

I致e also been doing this strange little project with Trevor Horn, which is so odd and off the wall, but a lot of fun. It痴 very like a very old school album.

I致e also just written and produced an album of my own stuff, but under the pseudonym Hello Leo. That痴 really exciting and I致e got quite a lot of people interested in it. It痴 a synth pop album, and the whole concept is that it痴 meant to sound like it was made in 1980, because all the bands that influenced me like Buggles, New Musik, M, Graham Parker, Sparks, Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys all those one guy at mic and one guy at synth duos. I just thought I知 going to do my own.

When will you be setting up camp in LA?

I知 just finalising my visa now, so it should be end of September/beginning of October, fingers crossed.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

Next week: The songwriter spotlight trio concludes with 'Evacuate The Dancefloor' songwriter Allan Eshuijs

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