Oliver Nelson is a Swedish producer who is known for remixing some of the best pop artists in the music industry: ranging from Tov Lo, Kesha, Whitney Houston, Ella Henderson and more. While he has amassed acclaim for his remixes, it is his original tracks that also scream originality and talent. It’s no wonder that popular EDM producer Kygo has sung many praises for Oliver Nelson’s skill as a producer. It’s inevitable that he’s blowing up in popularity and crowds around the world are eager to see his performance.
I had a chance to talk with Oliver Nelson in late December 2017, just after he finished up a trip to London where he was working in music sessions with various writers and musicians. When we spoke, he was about to head to Seoul, with his best friend and talented producer Tobtok for several nights of shows during the holidays. He was also preparing for his January tour to the United States.
In our discussion, I noticed how he speaks about his art humbly and with gratitude. That being said, I sense ambition and a perceptive shift in his approach to music as he is broadening his horizons musically and expanding his reach internationally. He started producing by working alone from the comfort of his own home studio. Now he’s travelling the world to collaborate with other people. This new way of making music seems daunting, yet he’s eagerly up for the challenge. Today, Oliver Nelson releases a new rendition of “99 Red Balloons,” a collaboration with Tobtok featuring River.
Are you in Stockholm right now?
Yes, I just arrived real late last night! I’ve been in London for eleven days doing sessions. I’ve been working a lot recently so I am tired right now, but I’m really happy in terms of what I get out of it. [There have] been some amazing sessions. I have a lot going on making new tracks. Just been writing new music lately.
Is it your own music or is it a remix? I know you’re an expert remixer! What kind of projects are you working on lately?
A lot of the sessions are my own projects and I am working with different writers for my music. It can be whatever we can pitch to other artists, it doesn’t have to be my project. I’ve done a lot of new remixes recently. Some have come out and some are still to be released really soon. Two I made with one of my best friends, Tobtok.
Imagine you had only one piece of gear or musical instrument that you could make music with. What would it be?
Oh wow! That’s a hard question!
I asked this question to Manatee Commune last year he initially picked a laptop.
I have a Prophet-12 that is my main synthesizer. It’s one of those big ones you can’t take with you.
What is inspiring you lately? You said you spent over a week creating music in London with different artists.
Of course seeing all these people because I am quite new to doing sessions. I’ve been working a lot on my own, in my own studio. Having all these people around me has given me a lot of inspiration, just using different, amazing brains in the room and not just my own head.
Miguel’s new album has inspired me lately. The kind of sounds and how he sings has really turns my brain on when it comes to music making.
I think Miguel is incredible! Would that be a dream collaboration to work with him? Maybe do a remix of one of his tracks?
With your remixes, I consider them unique and at times even better than the original version. How do you approach these remixes?
Doing a remix, you get a lot of stems: drums, bass, vocals and everything. My goal is just to use the vocals and then build my own track around that. Every time I start a remix, I never have an idea what I should do or how it should sound initially. I play around with the vocals to see what kind of sounds I am going to use as I go along. The main goal is to make something different than the original, something I can stand behind that feels like a whole new track built from the ground up.
I think it’s interesting that you’re stripping away what was given to you (in terms of stems) and you are focusing on the vocals. The vocals are an element that characteristically make the song identifiable to listeners. That being said, I’ve heard remixes that don’t use the vocal stems at all.
Even if I love the original and the original sounds, it’s more fun for me to play with the vocals and see what I can come up with. Sometimes I’m not even listening to the original, I’ll listen to it after I’m done remixing.
That’s fascinating! Can you give an example of a remix you did where you didn’t listen to the original?
Yea! My Ella Henderson Remix – “Ghost.” I think I was in a real hurry when I did that remix and I downloaded the stems and I didn’t even have time to listen to the original. I put the vocal in my DAW (digital audio workstation) and just started playing around. It was a totally different feeling from the original. I think it was a mistake for me to do that!
I think it was a good mistake and learning opportunity!
I’ve done it a few times after that and it works out great! But after that, most of the times I listen to the original. I just don’t want for it to sound the same as the original. But it could be dangerous not to listen to the original.
When I ask some artists about their inspirations or what music they are listening to recently, some artists tell me that they are so immersed in creating their own music that they don’t listen to other music right now. That being said, what are you listening to lately?
I am one of those people [who] listens to everything. It’s not just my own genre of music. It can be 70s or 80s music. I always go back to old music like Toto or Steely Dan. ABBA is a big inspiration! [There’s] a groove there and the sounds are warm. It’s just easy to listen to! It’s clean. I listen to all that and new stuff, as well. I try to keep track of new releases and playlists on Spotify. I also listen to Arcade Fire, Cut Copy, Prince, and every kind of music genre.
I know you’re an internationally touring artist, but I would love to know more about the scene where you live, in Stockholm. Do you recommend I check out any particular artists from Sweden?
It’s cool that music can be shared across the world and collaborations can even happen from different parts of the world these days. But it’s also special to recognize the unique aspects of one’s music community.
I’m not too great at keeping track of all the Swedish artists to be perfectly honest and that’s a shame! We have a special thing going on here. We have a lot of artists trying new things, especially in the pop and electronic music genres.
To wrap up, you have the tour of the US in January. Any other plans for 2018?
I’m releasing two new tracks with Tobtok. We’ve had a lot of luck with labels wanting it, so we are really excited to release it soon. One is coming in January; the second track is coming in March. We are really happy and excited about them!