Stargate's Mikkel Eriksen and Tor Hermansen are not yet household names in the US, but, if their current success continues, that may soon change. They first stormed American pop and r&b charts early in 2006 with their work on Ne-Yo's breakthrough #1 hit "So Sick." After work with artists ranging from Rihanna to Lionel Richie, they closed out the year aiming for the top of the charts with Beyonce's stellar "Irreplaceable."
I asked 10 questions to look a bit deeper into what makes Stargate tick.
Q: What other producers, songwriters and/or artists do you see as your primary inspirations?
A: The artists that have inspired us the most are Prince, Stevie Wonder, Depeche Mode, Jay-Z, Brandy, and R. Kelly. Our favourite producers are Jam and Lewis, Quincy Jones, LA & Babyface, Dr Dre, Timbaland, Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins, Max Martin, and Jermaine Dupri.
Q: How did you first connect with Jay-Z and Def Jam?
A: We first met Ty Ty Smith, Def Jam A&R and longtime Jay Z friend. The same night we wrote "So Sick" with Ne-Yo. He must have listened to that song about 50 times! The next day he called our management like "OK, let´s do some business." Since then, our relationship with Def Jam and Jay-Z has been really strong.
Q: Can you describe, briefly, how the two of you work together on a musical project?
A: We always start out with a musical idea. Great effort goes into creating a solid melodic core. We both play the keyboards and program, but in general Mikkel plays the instruments and controls Pro Tools, while Tor has the executive overlook as well as lyrical input. However we both are hands on and have no rules or limitations. When we have some killer beats and musical starting points, we hook up with one of our favorite topline writers, who gets cracking on the lyrics and melody. We make sure there´s a lot of melody in the track, so it can inspire the writer. Together with the topline writer we work, often tweek and simplify the song, and never quit before we feel we've got a killer hook.
Q: What is distinctive about a Stargate production?
A: Our trademark is classic melodies with contemporary production. Simple and hard-hitting. Ne-Yo once said "Not too much, but just enough". We like that.
Q: Do you have a favorite musical project that you've worked on?
A: Obviously we feel strongly about Ne-Yo since that was our first big American release. It´s also an honour to get to work with great artists like Beyonce, Lionel Richie, and Rihanna.
Q: Is there an artist you want to work with that you have not yet had the opportunity to work with?
A: Ever since the first Brandy record hit the streets we´ve been dreaming about working with her. Other artists I think we could create magic with are Usher and Mariah Carey to name a few.
Q: What can we expect from Stargate in 2007?
A: We have many new exciting projects lined up for us in 2007. We are blessed to work with the best people in the industry, and we´ll definitely do our best to be present on the charts. All we can do is just continue having fun and create the music that we love. At the end of the day it´s the public that will decide.
Q: Do you have advice for young people who want to become pop music producers?
A: Go for what you´re feeling and what comes natural to you. Don´t try to copy the latest hot sound, then it will be too late. Believe in your own original ideas, and find people to collaborate with who share your vision. Finding the right management is also the key. Our managers, Tim Blacksmith and Danny D, have been invaluable throughout our careers so far, and we could never have done it without them. Of course you also have to learn your craft and get experience. To get results tends to take longer than you think, but never quit your dream.
Q: What do you like to do for fun outside of working on music?
A: When we´re not in the studio our main focus is our families. We both have wives and daughters who are here in New York with us. They are part of the team and give us great joy. Once in a while it´s also fun just to hang with friends or go clubbing.
Q: What do you miss about Norway?
A: Fresh air, clean water and our amazing nature, but most of all our family and friends.