Samuel Brandt and Tobias Danielsson of Swedish production duo NOTD sit down with Atwood Magazine to talk about their bittersweet collaboration with Nightly, NFTs, their myriad influences, and the moving process of taking a songwriter’s emotions and translating them into music.
Stream: ‘”about you” – NOTD & nightly
Wherever you’re at and whatever you feel, you should still be able to listen to our songs and connect to them.
Any form of art has the ability to transport, to pluck us from a monotonous routine and drop us into a world of emotion.
It can heighten what already exists, excavating the root of our feelings and laying them bare for us to see and experience. No art form can accomplish this more immediately and viscerally (at least in my opinion) than music. It makes sense considering it is what I spend hours and hours writing about every day.
No matter what you are feeling, a song has the uncanny ability of intensifying it, of making it the only thing that matters. Not just one thing either. Emotion is a swirling spectrum of the indescribable. We can be happy and sad, angry and lonesome, caught in bittersweet revery and bursting with euphoric frustration. Have you ever heard a song that makes you feel all those things at once?
Fans of Swedish production duo NOTD might recognize that sensory seesawing that permeates their brand of electronic music. Infused with the late summer tranquility of most chill house music, it nevertheless brings something to the table absent in most club-ready hits. Since 2017, the partnership of Samuel Brandt (aka Severo) and Tobias Danielsson (aka ToWonder) has turned out track after track of understated dancefloor bops that move the heart as well as the hips. A murderer’s row of talented vocalists have lent their stories of loss, nostalgia, and yearning to songs that breathe their sorrow even as the bass keeps thumping.
It’s hard not to dance when NOTD drops on the stereo, but it’s even harder not let their music under your skin. From the knife-twisting voyeurism of “I Wanna Know” to the loss of self of “I Miss Myself” and the standing on the precipice of “Never a Good Time,” each song holds multitudes beneath its thumping beat. Even their more joyous numbers hum with electricity. Their collaborators are not just pretty voices to make the music go down easy, they are storytellers brought to life through song.
Lyrically, there’s so much expression there and you can really feel that,” says Tobias. “I feel like that plays a major part in how we produce and perform these songs. You know there’s something special there and you want to bring it out.”
The duo’s latest single “about you,” a team-up with Nashville alt pop band Nightly, continues that tradition wholeheartedly.
Leading with singer Jonathan Capeci’s striking and mournful vocals, they shine a spotlight on the intrusive memories that can derail us months or even years after a breakup.
I was good, I was fine, thought I made it out
Found some new things to do to distract myself
I was unaware, you could take me here now, now, now
The solemn, spacious intro gives way to an indie pop ballad heightened by NOTD’s epic production. For all intents and purposes, this is a band wringing their emotions on jangling guitars drums beating like a broken heart. But NOTD infuse it with a pop sensibility that keeps it on its feet, moving from side to side even as Capeci’s voice weeps.
As much as the song embodies the duo’s ethos, it stands as somewhat of a sonic departure from the bulk of their work. Their production remains distinct with booming drops and lush choruses, bolstered by irresistible synths that have become their trademark sound, but this time out the incorporation of Nightly adds a more organic flair. In bringing all that makes NOTD together, they do not just integrate sounds in the current wave of EDM, but influences from all over. This includes an affinity for rock and alt pop. “I think a good song is a good song,” continues Tobias. “It could be from band-type music to dubstep and everything in between. You get inspiration from everywhere you look.”
That philosophy goes all the way back to the beginning. The pair met via SoundCloud in high school when Sam stumbled upon Tobias’ music. He immediately fell in love with it and invited him to collaborate on a shared project. The rest is history.
But from that meeting, they originally incorporated more of what they dub “band music.” “We’ve both been playing instruments for a really long time,” says Tobias. “We wanted to experience that side of the music again.” That returning to their roots shines on both “about you” and “Never a Good Time” – their recent team-up with The Band CAMINO. Admitting they have been fans of both Nightly and The Band CAMINO, they wanted to feature that spirit of organic interplay that comes with playing in a band. “When we started doing live shows, we had drummer, and we played guitars and keys,” recalls Sam. “I always felt that the music we were making at that time didn’t play out that well when we were playing the guitar. This time we wanted to incorporate that more into music from the beginning.”
Call it back to basics, call it an evolution – whatever it is, it works. And it is merely a taste of what they have in store in 2022. Sam and Tobias dropped a limited NFT collection for “about you” a couple weeks back and have promised a full EP dropping soon.
Sam brings it all together: “Wherever you’re at and whatever you feel, you should still be able to like listen to our songs and connect to them.”
Sam and Tobias of NOTD sat down with me to discuss their storied history, the process behind their winning production formula, and the joy of tapping into a songwriter’s emotions. Read all about it below:
Stream: “about you” – NOTD & nightly
A CONVERSATION WITH NOTD
Atwood Magazine: I’m sure you get this question all the time, but I want to go back to the beginning. I know you two met on SoundCloud when you're both in high school, but what led you to decide to make music together?
Samuel Brandt: We started on SoundCloud, doing different projects and putting out music and trying to get some recognition. And I found Tobias’ music on there. I immediately fell in love with it, reached out to him on Facebook, and asked if he wanted to do something together. He was down. We started working together for fun and we really enjoyed it. We had a good connection, so we kept working and I asked if wanted to do a duo together.
At the same time, I saw on his Facebook that he was at the high school that I was eventually going to attend (I’m two years younger). So, I moved five hours from home to start there and then we met and kept working.
Tobias Danielsson: Also, we had nothing to lose. We just thought it was fun to make music together. And that was all we had — go to high school and make music.
What were those first sessions like creating together?
Tobias Danielsson: We worked together during the summer over the internet sending stuff back and forth. The first song we did together, we released under a separate project, and id was made completely on the internet. On the day that song got released we actually met for the first time in high school.
Samuel Brandt: That’s actually how we still work. Sometimes we just work over the internet. And now that we know each other and can meet in real life, we still like the process of sending ideas that way.
So in a way, you were pretty lucky during the pandemic. Did it affect the way that you work together at all?
Samuel Brandt: Not really. I mean we couldn’t travel and do sessions with other artists, and Zoom sessions weren’t something we really vibed with. So, we didn’t do a lot of sessions during the pandemic.
Tobias Danielsson: Luckily, you can send stuff back and forth over the internet now. The song we just released with Nightly was just completely made over the Internet with ideas bouncing back and forth. A lot of times that’s been our process. We often won’t meet the artist we’re working with until the song has been released.
Speaking of collaborations, is there any method to you deciding who you want to work with?
Samuel Brandt: Usually, we make the song first and then find a singer, either from a session or we get recommendations from the songwriters. So, when the song is pretty much done, we brainstorm who would fit on it. What we are listening to at the moment and stuff like that. I wouldn’t say it’s a specific method. Just listening to the song and finding the right fit.
Tobias Danielsson: Sometimes, like with Nightly and The Band CAMINO, those were artists we really wanted to work with. We reached out to them because we’ve been big fans for such a long time.
I actually wanted to ask you about that. ''about you'' is the second single in a row where you've chosen to collaborate with a band instead of an individual singer. Is there something specific that inspired the shift toward groups?
Tobias Danielsson: We’ve both been playing instruments for a really long time. Sam has been playing since he was very young. I picked up guitar when I was like, 14. And we’ve been playing in like bands and stuff, listening to band music growing up. We wanted to experience that side of the music again.
Samuel Brandt: When we started doing live shows, we had drummer, and we played guitars and keys and all that kind of stuff. I always felt that the music we were making at that time didn’t play out that well when we were playing the guitar. This time we wanted to incorporate that more into music from the beginning.
Gives it a more organic feel, yeah?
Tobias Danielsson: Exactly.
I think a good song is a good song. It could be from band-type music to dubstep and everything in between. You get inspiration from everywhere you look.
That's something love about the NOTD sound. All these different influences you throw together. There's elements of rock, 80s pop, tropical house, alt pop. You can dive in anywhere. What artists inspired you in creating this unique brand of electronic music?
Tobias Danielsson: It’s a lot of different artists. I think a good song is a good song. It could be from band-type music to dubstep and everything in between. You get inspiration from everywhere you look.
A lot of your recent music from ''Cry Dancing'' to ''Never a Good Time'' and ''about you'' contain a theme of “letting go” and how difficult that can be. Why has this been an area of exploration for you lately?
Tobias Danielsson: We weren’t too involved with writing the lyrics for the songs in those songs, specifically, but when we’re in the session, the meaning behind them comes out. Lyrically, there’s so much expression there and you can really feel that. I feel like that plays a major part in how we produce and perform these songs. You know there’s something special there and you want to bring it out. You’re taking what the singer is feeling and translating it into the music.
I noticed that even if these songs seem really sad, there's an exuberance and happiness in the actual music. is there a reason why you decided to take this tough subject matter that somebody is going through and translate it into something fun and upbeat?
Samuel Brandt: I think it’s because me and Toby have different taste in music. I’m the emotional guy and Toby is more into upbeat, happy music. So when we do it together, it kind of becomes both. I think it makes our music more relatable. Wherever you’re at and whatever you feel, you should still be able to like listen to our songs and connect to them.
Tobias Danielsson: Yeah, I feel like our different styles of music create that bittersweet, nostalgic feeling when it mixes with the vocal and lyrics.
It's a hard feeling to describe It's nostalgic, yet it's also sadness that you lost something, but happiness that it happened. And you're able to dance at the same time.
Tobias Danielsson: That’s a good explanation.
We're in our third year of the pandemic right now, but in a lot of ways, it seems like we're settling into a new way of being. Is there anything that that you that has changed for you in the way that you approach your music in the past two years?
Tobias Danielsson: Not really. Since we live in Sweden, we never really were in a lockdown. Nothing really changed more than that couldn’t travel. And in that way, sometimes it was very hard to find inspiration. Traveling, seeing new parts of the world and meeting new people always gives you a lot of inspiration.
Otherwise, we just spent a lot of time in the studio really focus on the craft and trying to evolve the sound.
That's a very good point about getting inspiration from your surroundings. And I do think that, as someone who lives in Los Angeles, that's something that we lost out on in a big way in the past few years. So, I saw that you're releasing a collection of ''about you'' NFTs. What inspired you to get into the NFT space?
Samuel Brandt: We’ve been into it for quite a long time because we’re both computer nerds and love exploring new stuff. It’s this really interesting thing that’s going on, and our manager taught us a lot about it.
Tobias Danielsson: And we love the creative processes. So I feel like the NFT space and this era as a whole has so much creativity there. You can really be yourself.
And what value do you think NFTs add to the experience for fans of NOTD?
Samuel Brandt: I feel like people will be able to connect to the art in another way. For example, if you get one piece or a collection, you feel connected to the artist in a different way than you would if you just played them on Spotify.
I feel like the NFT space and this era as a whole has so much creativity there. You can really be yourself.
So a more direct kind of interaction than then just streaming?
Samuel Brandt: Exactly.
Tobias Danielsson: And when you buy an NFT, it’s part of a limited edition. You have one of the 50 or 100 ever made. To know how to make money with NFTs like that, you can quickly learn online.
Samuel Brandt: You really feel like a big part of it.
What is up next for you? What can we look forward to from noted in the rest of 2022.
Tobias Danielsson: We’re working on an EP with a bunch of brand new songs that’s going to come out this year, which is very exciting.
And finally, for fans of Atwood Magazine's Tunes & Tumblers podcast, how would you describe the sound of NOTD as a drink?
Tobias Danielsson: We need to pick that drink. You know what I’m talking about?
Samuel Brandt: Our favorite drink is amaretto sour. So, it sounds like that to me.
Stream: “about you” – NOTD & Nightly
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