Photo courtesy of Oscar Görres
What Do Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Troye Sivan & Taylor Swift All Have In Common? Oscar Görres
It’s late afternoon in Stockholm, but the songwriter and producer Oscar Görres is as animated as a fresh cup of coffee. Gesticulating to get his points across and making faces more colorful than the rust-colored studio walls that surround him, the 34-year-old Swedish star is flanked on all sides by guitars, keyboards, synthesizers and a couch—the very same couch that’s been graced by the likes of Troye Sivan, Allie X, Sabrina Carpenter and more artists looking to inject their songs with Görres’ trademark blend of magnetic pop magic and left-of-center touches. Though he’s worked professionally behind the scenes for 15 years now, Görres has spent much of the last six years steadily making notches in his pop music belt, including credits with Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, P!nk, and later this month, Katy Perry on her just-released sixth studio album, Smile.
Chalk up some of Görres’ recent career glow-up to a cosign from the godfather of modern pop, Max Martin, who (with Shellback) scouted the young producer and songwriter early in his career and invited him to join a collective known as Wolf Cousins, whose members also include Tove Lo, Peter Svensson (of The Cardigans fame), and Ali Payami. It’s almost too easy to quantify the success of Wolf Cousins' nine songwriters and producers properly. But listing some of their recent hits comes closest to giving you a sense of their combined clout: The Weeknd's "Can’t Feel My Face"; Ariana Grande’s "Love Me Harder"; Taylor Swift’s "Shake It Off"; Demi Lovato’s "Confident"; Selena Gomez’s "Hands to Myself"; Sam Smith’s "How Do You Sleep?"; Normani’s "Motivation"; and 5 Seconds of Summer’s "Wildflower"—they did those, just to name a few. In pop music, there’s the minor leagues, and there’s the big leagues. Then there’s Wolf Cousins.
In addition to Wolf Cousins’ bulletproof track record, Görres has carved out one of the most successful and singular lanes of any member of Max Martin’s lineage. This week, he continues his fruitful partnership with Troye Sivan on the Australian artist’s In A Dream EP, which follows the massive success of their Bloom collaborations "My My My!" and "Plum." And earlier this spring, Görres helped pop disruptor Allie X take us to Cape God with a 12-track album that plumbed new depths for both parties.
"As soon as I had made one song with Oscar, I knew he was very special," Allie tells GRAMMY.com. "I felt that, for the first time, I had a producer who was taking what was special about me as an artist and really translating it into something. He brings a kindness, a knowledge of how to play every instrument prolifically, a sensitivity, a coolness and a confidence that was instrumental in me—for once!—taking a back seat in production. He is certainly one of the best."
"Oscar is the kindest, purest soul, and the control he takes in creative ideas and direction are like very few I’ve ever worked with," Sabrina Carpenter adds. "He makes me laugh—that’s half of what makes us working together feel like we’re not working at all. He trusted my vision, which is all I could ever ask for."
Here, over the course of an hours-long Zoom earlier this week, Gorres talks (in his first interview ever) about his humble beginnings, his goals for making music with and for other artists, writing for legends and studying under Max Martin’s tutelage.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
How did you first get interested in music?
I grew up in a very musical home. My dad is a musician. I started to play instruments very young with my dad. He even took me out on the streets of Stockholm to perform when I was 5 or 6 years old.
I was signed to Warner Chappell [as a songwriter] when I was 19. That was because me and my friend did songs in my parents’ basement. I didn’t know if I was any good—I wanted a reality check! My girlfriend at the time knew someone who knew someone working at Warner Chappell, so I was lucky enough to have a meeting there and get to play some of our songs. I was signed off of that. Tthey saw something in me that they wanted to develop.
Simultaneously, I went to the Royal College of Music to study jazz piano, so I was still on the "I'm gonna be a musician" path. But there was something about creating, writing and recording music—producing music—that felt right. It’s something that lasts. Sweden is a small market for pop music, so you can imagine the jazz scene here. [Laughs.] It’s not like New York. And jazz as a genre is small as is. I wanted the music I worked on to be heard and experienced by more people.
When you signed with Warner Chappell, was the next step being put into sessions to figure out how you operated?
It was a little bit like that! Working with people and being good in those situations is something you need to practice. They put me together with songwriters on their roster. I think I jumped on and produced a song that was released in Germany first—small steps. Then I worked with Swedish artists. It was a few years of building up my skills, and learning the craft—learning to be a better producer and writer.
Did you have a song or a session where things, after years of building those skills, really clicked into place?
One of the clearest moments I can think of is: I started this idea eight years ago—not that long ago, weirdly enough—which felt good. I was almost embarrassed. It was a little funky. It had jazzy chords. I sent the idea to Shellback. At the moment, Wolf Cousins weren’t even formed, but we knew of each other, even though we’d never worked together. I sent it to him and he was just amazed. Two hours later, he had a melody on top of it. All of a sudden, a world opened up. Later, we recorded that song with Maroon 5 as "Feelings." It’s one of those moments where I was like, "Ok, this is something. Maybe I can do this."
Of course, the moment where I was signed was also the biggest, "This is something of worth" moment. You need to believe in yourself to create things. When you spend a lot of time on them, you don’t know if they’re even anything of use. Then someone tells you, "This is of use. We want to invest in you!" That’s amazing. I feel like I still don’t know what I’m doing. [Laughs.] But that’s also a healthy feeling. You don’t want to buy into your own mythology.
When you had that Maroon 5 cut and started working with Shellback, is that what started opening doors to markets like America?
Having your songs released in the U.S., the biggest market… that’s always been my dream. The first time I went to L.A., I went there just to feel the energy. Ever since that first time, I felt something special—walking on Sunset, all the clichés. It’s the city of dreams, and broken dreams. "Feelings" and "I Wish" by Cher Lloyd were the two songs that felt like "This is gonna be a door-opener."
All of a sudden, you have something of worth that you can get a work visa off of. I think you need the help of someone that can give you a hand and help you take those steps. It’s so hard when you’re not that well-connected and you don’t have the infrastructure. You need to know people. It’s not like back in the days when you could write a song in your basement and you send it to someone. Those things can happen, but now it’s more relationship-driven.
In Wolf Cousins, we were all scouted mainly from Warner Chappell and from some smaller publishing companies. Max and Shellback had this idea, and had their eyes on us for a couple of years. When they felt like it was time—"Ok, now we can try to pull this off!"—they formed this group of people. I think that song was my ticket in. I haven’t asked!
I have to imagine you were a fan of Max’s before meeting him.
It’s almost surreal. Even though he’s from Sweden, people don’t recognize him on the street here, really. You build this story, this legend of this man, where everything he touches becomes gold. But when I first met him, it was years before. He helped me with a song, because he just wanted to be nice because I worked with someone, Alexander Kronlund, on a track. Max swung by the studio and wanted to help. That was… super scary. But that’s more from my side, because he’s a very normal man—with great taste in music! [Laughs.]
I don’t know if I’m worthy. He is so much about the music, to put in the work, to leave no stone unturned. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You work hard, and it takes time. His passion for music was the most striking thing about him. To me, he is a warm, loving person that cares—a music nerd, essentially. Everything that you imagine, that you thought might be so scary, "Oh, how am I worthy"—all of a sudden you jump into this process where it’s all about the music, and there are no egos! He’ll say, "Maybe we should do this—what do you think?" [Feigns shock.] "What do… I think? Uhhhh..."
With Max, you switch focus to what you’re trying to achieve and what you’re trying to do. All of the other things fade away. But when you say it like that, it’s still surreal to actually be a part of this with him. Working with the people I literally saved articles about from Swedish newspapers—"Oh, Rami [Yacoub] programmed the drums for this Number One record with Britney Spears"—like, I still have that piece of paper cutout from the article! It’s very, very cool. Now they are my friends and my extended family.
But I guess it’s always like that: you build up ideas about people with great power and great knowledge and great success and achievements. Then you realize, they’re normal people that are just very passionate about something.
What other lessons have you taken away from working with Max?
He is very good at creating a safe environment in the room, so people become the best versions of themselves, so you can make all the mistakes, so you can try the crazy ideas and stumble over the happy accidents that can become the core of the song. That’s a very helpful lesson—you can use the accumulated energy in the room, in a way, to let people shine. Create a great environment. Write things. Make all the mistakes. And, maybe later, fix things! Then you can rework things and work on the arrangements. If you just stop the flow to fix things in the moment, the energy falters.
Max is great with people. He makes you feel great. The first time I was in a room with him, he made me feel like I could do something. There were no differences between us, essentially. He asked for my opinions. The thing with him that I think is so cool is that he has great taste. A lot of people talk about how our team has formulas, or steps to follow when we make songs. I don’t know who said that or came up with those things, because there are no structures or magic tricks. That’s totally made up. In his case, I think he follows his gut feeling.
As a young producer/songwriter, you’re very close to things. He is really good—which comes with experience—at taking a step back and seeing the whole thing. He paints with a bigger brush. "What’s the drama here? If this part is very crowded, maybe we need something to balance it here. The energy needs to come down. If you listen to this 20 times, you'll realize we need to work on this passage here."
He’s good at pulling back and looking at a song from a mile away.
Yeah! He’s very versatile, but watching him, I was like, "Oh, this is how the pros work." You can switch focus. You can be granular: "What’s wrong with the bass line? What’s wrong with the kick drum?" Then you can zoom back and say, "Ok, how does this feel? What’s the function of this part? How do we make this part as strong and as clear as possible?"
He also stresses the importance of vocals. That’s one of the big things he’s taught me: work hard on the vocals. Sit there. Do a lot of takes. Let the lead vocal flow naturally. Spend time on that. There are no shortcuts to that. You need to work hard on it. Back in the day, it was just a matter of doing more takes, more takes, more takes. Now we have tools so you can easily comp and make the best version of a vocal take. But essentially what you hear in a song, you hear the vocals, you hear a kick drum, and some music. If you don’t get that right, the rest of it doesn’t matter.
What intentions do you approach sessions with? How do you go in and leave with the best possible work?
I always have an idea of what it could be. "What if this artist did this? What do I wanna hear this artist do?" Most of the time, as a producer in the room, you’re responsible for getting the energy going. Everything comes from deep conversation. In terms of getting a vibe going, you as a producer need to bring something that sparks something else. I never come unprepared, but I like to start everything from scratch. Maybe that’s the benefit of playing instruments—you play something and it’s more like creating on the spot.
One thing I wanna be good at is tuning into the room. Like, "Oh, people are reacting to this!" You can feel when you’re doing something, playing certain chords, when people feel like it’s special—without even saying anything. You do it a lot of times, you have a lot of sessions, and you become good at feeling that energy and what people are reacting to.
With that said, it’s hard. You want to follow the energy, but you also have to steer it, but you don’t want to box anyone in. It doesn’t feel right to say that I help people do their thing and I’m not part of it, because I am, of course. Sometimes I do more than steering. Like when we did “Easy” on Troye’s EP, that morning I had that [sings the verse melody] on my synth. Troye came into the room, heard it, and that started something.
Let’s talk about that creative collaboration with Troye. He’s someone you’ve returned to work with on his new In A Dream EP. How did you two first meet, and why do you keep returning to that relationship?
Troye and I met as a booked session. He came to Sweden for a week or two in 2017, and was meant to work with a lot of people. The first day was nice, and the second day was a good session, but sometimes you need the release of, "Oh, we’ve got something." That came on day three. Day two was close, so he canceled his session the next day. We weren’t supposed to have the third day, but we had it and that’s when "My My My!" was written. He’s just a wonderful person to be around. He has that impact on people. Creatively, he’s very open. He’s very receptive. He always comes to the studio inspired by something: "There was this movie, or this novel, or this coffee shop where the vibe was cool!"
Somehow, he finds an angle. He’s very good at verbalizing and putting his feelings into words. That’s very inspiring to me—an artist who has visions and ideas and brings things to the table. It’s not like you’re meeting him and he’s like, "Ok, what’re we going to do today?" He’s not like any other artist to me. That’s why we keep coming back to each other, because we have a lot of fun together. We find common ground, where I get to be free and he gets to be free and we can create something together.
For his new EP, he came here last year, and I don’t think he was ready for a new album. He didn’t have a plan for "a new big record!" Maybe that’s a sign of the times, too, that artists just want to make music and put it out as a quicker process. This project captured something that he’s been going through since last summer. We just started working.
The first song that felt like we were on to something was "Take Yourself Home." That’s one really cool thing as a songwriter and producer, to create these relationships with artists. You get to develop something together. You feel like you have your thing going. He knows that when we’re working, we have something special.
Plus I imagine there’s something fulfilling for both of you in the ability to return to a collaboration time and time again, because you each know how the other works, and the walls have already come down. It’s probably easy to get back into the swing of making art again much more quickly.
It’s less of the speed dating you have to do in this industry—which can be amazing. But I love that, too, when you just jump into something. Oftentimes that’s when you stumble upon an idea that becomes something. And since it’s the first time you meet, you’re doing a little extra. You want to be the best version of yourself. That versus all the things you were saying about being comfortable with someone… having that trust that I can have a bad day and it’s ok, we’ll come back tomorrow and do another song, a better song? That’s special.
Have you found that one-day magic with anyone recently?
One song in a day that turned out really fun and great was working with Sabrina Carpenter. We did a song called "Bad Time." We just jumped on it. As a producer from Sweden working with an American artist, you think, “Can I be here? What can I do? What can I contribute?” But you go in with that energy like, “OK, I’ve got one day. I have to do my best. I have to give it my all.” It’s that feeling! It becomes like sports. You have a limited time.
I was so hyped that day. It was all done in a day, I think. I worked so hard on that. I remember sending it to her and she was like, [shocked voice] "…. Did you do this already?" That was a really nice experience. Of course not every session goes like that. Maybe when you’ve proven yourself a little bit, in the industry, when you’ve gotten your name out and people want to work with you again, you can get more time. That’s always preferable—to make the mistakes and also to explore the more obscure stuff. To push boundaries a little bit. "This is your sound—but can it be this, too?" Maybe you don’t want to waste taking a wild chance, a leap of faith, when you just have one day. Maybe you end up doing more safe stuff when you have limited time.
One artist you did have the time with is Allie X, whose album Cape God you produced. How did that partnership come about?
We met by accident. I was working with Troye on Bloom in Los Angeles in 2017. I heard a song at the gym on my Discover Weekly playlist, and I said, "Oh, I like this, what is it?” It was Allie X’s "Paper Love." I mentioned that to Troye and he said, "Oh, that’s a friend of mine! I should bring her to the studio. Maybe she could come tomorrow." She came the day after and that was the day we wrote "Plum" [for Troye]. That was our first connection. I knew very little of her artist project and what her songs were like.
When she came to Sweden, we were supposed to work a week, kind of randomly. It was just writing—me, Allie, and James Ghaleb, who’s a friend of mine. No one knew if we were writing for her, or to pitch, or for someone else. And Allie is hilarious. She can go crazy and jump around the room and throw cushions and make weird noises, and she can be super deep in conversations. She’s super intelligent.
We had a guitar and we started jamming. She said something like, "I have a line: 'I want to be near fresh laundry / It’s been too many years of not folding.'" Me and James were like, "…right." But we found something! "Fresh Laundry" was the first song we did. It was a crazy week. We worked almost around the clock in six days. We ended up with "Fresh Laundry," "Rings a Bell" and "Regulars." We had a week in L.A. too, and after that, she asked me to do the whole thing.
Working with Allie has been very liberating, because she is so in favor of me being creative and trying weird, obscure stuff. She’s willing to stretch things and push a little bit, musically. I come from jazz, with chords and chord progressions and modulations between keys and songs. I felt that this was a way for me to stimulate that side of myself. Sometimes you can feel boxed in. Some pop artists just want to do their thing—and that’s great. Some artists are more open. There’s always a balance between that and what the music needs. I felt, working with Allie, there was more space to evolve these things musically.
My job is to make the music sound like their world. Sometimes they think they know what they want it to sound like. All of a sudden, you stumble over something they didn’t see coming. Then that becomes the core of it. Allie had no idea that the Cape God sound was going to be that. It’s something that happened when our worlds collided. I think in those cases, that’s the producer’s biggest role. You help the artist to create their vision, sonically.
You worked with Britney Spears on "Hard to Forget Ya" on Glory. Hers is one of the most iconic, singular voices in modern pop—you can’t ever unhear it. How do you even begin to produce those vocals?
Tell me about it. When I started making music, one of my main goals was to have a Britney Spears song. That was like the last boss in the video game. [Laughs.] The song was actually written during the first songwriting camp in Las Vegas for Warner Chappell. Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels, Mattman & Robin were all in the room next to us. Two of the songs—my song and "Do You Wanna Come Over?"—were written on the same day. Karen Kwak [the executive producer of Glory] was coming over the day after to listen to both of the demos. It was such a fast process.
For some reason, I had that rhythm [sings the melody of the song’s chorus] when I woke up that day. I brought that into the room. Both Chi and Blu, from [songwriting and production duo] Nova Wav, and Ian Kirkpatrick and Edward Drewett were all there. I knew Karen was coming over so I said, "Can we do something for Britney? Just for fun? She’s an icon, she’s amazing, let’s just do it." So we did.
Working on that song, there were a lot of things to fix. The foundation was great and felt really Britney, like something she could do. It felt great. But I took it home to Sweden and worked on it, and Ian worked on it too and sent me files. The Nova girls were out in the countryside and they sent me voice notes. It was a puzzle making that song, but we got it to work, so I sent it to Karen again. Then we didn’t hear anything. All of sudden, we heard: "Britney wants to record it. She loves it."
I couldn’t be there to record her. I was devastated. It was in a hurry too. I think it was one of the last songs she recorded for Glory. But I got the vocals in. One of the things I remember so strongly is her voice has this frequency, that tone that defined my teens. I couldn’t work on it for the first half hour, because I was literally shaking. I was shaking! I feel embarrassed to say this, but I was like, "It’s her. It’s her. It’s HER!" Working on that song and on the vocals… [shakes his head in disbelief]
I had to go back and ask her to re-sing some parts, and I sang a couple of ad libs and said, "Can you do that?" She did and then I felt like, "I can’t believe Britney Spears is singing my words and ad libs back to me." The younger version of myself and myself as a grownup were just over the moon and up in the clouds.
You also netted a song with Taylor Swift on Reputation, "So It Goes…" Did that connection come through Max?
I’d just become a father. I was not in the room when the melody and the lyrics were written. Max and Shellback did half of the album with her in L.A., and I had done this [instrumental] track—which is weird too, because I don’t do tracks. No one really does tracks on our team now. But I’d started that idea. Shellback was looking through things on his computer, listened to that track, and Taylor reacted to it. "Oh, what’s that? That’s special. I haven’t done anything like that. Can we do that?"
So they were vibing and doing melodies, and Taylor had the lyrics. She wrote everything quickly. I woke up—this is the funny part of the story—and someone is FaceTiming me at 6:30 in the morning. I’ve just had a child. I was up all night and my eyes were bloodshot and my hair was crazy. I saw it was Shellback and I ignored the call, put my phone away, and jumped into the shower. My girlfriend is like, "Can you answer your phone? Someone’s calling you constantly, it’s Johan [Shellback]! Can you just take it?" I got out of the shower with a towel wrapped around me and I texted Shellback like, "Ok, it’s 6:30 a.m., I am so tired, I’ve been up all night, and I just got out of the shower. Can I call you back later?" He said, "No. Call me. Now." [Laughs.]
I called him back and saw this girl on his couch. She goes, "Hi! It’s Taylor! How are you?" And I’m presenting myself [in a towel] after a shower… it was a very unpleasant picture for her. She goes, "We just heard the track. We had the melody. The lyrics are like this. I can read you the lyrics! I had this idea. What do you think about that?" And I was like, "…yes!" It was a very strange songwriting session for me, but I’m very thankful for that. It’s the one FaceTime call I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
You've also produced two songs on Katy Perry's new record, Smile—"Teary Eyes" and "Not the End of the World." How did you get those cuts?
JKash [Jacob Kasher] brought me onto this project. This was in April. Everything was shut down and I couldn’t travel. He said, "We have this song, ‘Teary Eyes,’ maybe you could help with the production? We’d like something extra." I don’t remember what it sounded like or what I was supposed to do, but I was sent all the files and then I basically did my thing, together with the other producer, Andrew Goldstein, finding the balance and the final sound. Once we had that done, and it turned out really good, we did the same with the other song. In those cases, it’s more like enhancing things. All the parts are there. All the chords are there. The melody’s there! It’s the exciting part—and a little bit the scary part—of being a producer. It’s not like you go to school and you have this diploma or certificate that says, "Now you’re a producer. Go out into the world and produce!" Everybody has their own ways and learns it by just doing. How do you make your song sound great? It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you end up with a great product.
What you do in those cases is, you get files and then you do it the way you wanna do it. It’s hard to collaborate because there are no rules! I was happy to play a small part on those.
You mentioned that landing a Britney song was one of your goals. Do you have other similar career achievements you’re dreaming of?
When it comes to fascination with vocalists, those tones that resonate in the body, I definitely want to have a Rihanna record. [Laughs.] I love the music she’s been doing lately. It’s so amazing. Bruno Mars is one of those too, someone who wows me. He’s doing his thing. It’s so fantastic to watch him in his element, and I think we’d have a fun day jamming in the studio.
To me, success is being able to do this at all. The next song you’re doing and working on, the feeling it gives you when it hits you right, when you get it to sound right or when you nail it—"Oh, there it is!"—and you can blast it and it feels good in your body… that’s success to me. Every time that happens, it’s success. If I can get to feel that, hopefully someone else in the world can feel that way too.
I’m still pinching myself, like, “Wow, I can do this. I can support my family by making music.” How cool is that? If I can do this in five years, that is true success. I’m 34 now. I’ve actually been in this industry for 15 years, but I haven’t been on this level for 15 years. Things take time. A lot of people fall off along the way. It’s not a fair industry at all. So I’m very humbled and very thankful and grateful that I can be doing this… but a Rihanna record would be nice. [Laughs.]