Donât Know Him? You ShouldâHeâs Scored Hits With Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taio Cruz And Others
A few years ago, Sandy Julien Wilhelm, better-known as Sandy Vee, was happily ensconced in his Paris studio, churning out hits at light speed for French artists-in some cases writing, producing and mixing them himself. ¶ But that was before his countryman David Guetta came calling. ¶ Impressed with Vee's aggressive yet buoyant dance-pop style-including "Bleep," a Vee original that interpolated Led Zeppelin and spent more than two months on online dance store Beatport's top downloads chart-Guetta asked him to team up in the studio. One of their first tracks together was "Sexy Chick," an international hit featuring Akon that spent 40 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 5 in February 2010. ¶ Extensive songwriting and production work on Guetta's "One Love" album (Ultra) and a relationship with Norwegian chart-topping duo Stargate led to work with other artists seeking the same sort of dancefloor lightning in a pop-sized bottle. Soon, Vee was learning English and relocated last year to New York.
Four of his productions are lodged in the upper third of the Hot 100: Taio Cruz's "Higher" (featuring Travie McCoy), Pitbull's "Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)" (featuring T-Pain) and former No. 1s "Only Girl (In the World)" by Rihanna and "Firework" by Katy Perry.
Vee, who's co-published by Ultra International Music Publishing and Dipiu and is administered exclusively in the United States by Ultra, co-wrote all four of those hits. During the past few months, he's logged studio time with Mike Posner, Kelly Clarkson, Ne-Yo, Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue. And on Feb. 13, he received a Grammy Award for best dance recording as a producer and mixer on "Only Girl." He was also an album of the year nominee for his work on Perry's "Teenage Dream" (album of the year).
When Billboard caught up with him, Vee was on his way to Los Angeles to hole up for a 10-day writing session with Stargate. For a man who had to miss Perry recording the "Firework" vocal to catch a plane to another studio session, jet-setting is part of the deal. But so is a work style that's just like his music: hard and fast.
When did you start producing?
I bought my first computer and mixing desk about 10 years ago. I learned music in high school-harmony, classical bass-and I played bass guitar with different bands, from rock to jazz. Then I met a friend who was a DJ and what he did was totally unknown to me, like from another planet. I remember I was 18, and four on the floor was big, which today is so funny. I decided to try synthesizers.
I like when you produce that you don't need anyone; you can do what's in your head on your own. When I was playing bass for bands and singers, I was just behind someone. But the idea of producing an entire song alone? That was OK for me.
How did you meet David Guetta?
I practiced and worked like crazy every day, 14 hours a day, and I got big success in France-on the radio but also some more very dancefloor-oriented club tunes. The big one was "Bleep." About that time I started to DJ a little. I was playing at [Guetta's] Fuck Me I'm Famous party at [nightclub] Pacha in Ibiza, and after our DJ set we were talking. He told me that I had a crazy sound and that we needed to do something together. A lot of people will say that and nothing happens. But with Guetta, two months later my phone rang and it was him. He came back with a song-"On the Dancefloor" with Will.i.am [off "One Love"]. Right away, it was magic. He was in New York two weeks ago, and we spent the whole week doing songs for the next album, and it's really hot. We already have the first two singles.
Now I'm very close with David and am very pleased about that. I have tremendous respect for him: He has a crazy life, crazy success, and is still just a simple, cool guy. After a gig he goes to the hotel and works on production, and wants to learn more. He's always working. When you've had as much success as he's had, and you're still working that way, wow. Watch out.
Does your musical training help you in the studio?
I can't understand being a producer without knowing music and harmony. I'm not very good on the keyboard but I'm a very good bass player, and I play a bit of guitar. I can use any of those to write a song and hear a different kind of chord progression. You have to learn music if you want to produce.
You also do your own mixing. Why?
For me, the way you make the song sound is such a big part of the song. With a different mix you can change the entire attitude of the song.
What's it like working with Stargate?
I learned sharing and collaboration from working with those guys. I spent so much time working alone in my studio, to then be with other people could have been difficult. It's hard to find people you're on the same page [with] in the studio.
I work very, very fast: I can do a song in one hour and mix it in three hours, finished. So if I work with someone, I have to go slow and take more time. When you know exactly what you want, you'd rather just translate it from your brain to your computer.
But with Stargate, and David as well, we can go fast-we don't have to waste time because we're all sure of what we want. You can get some doubt when you produce but you need to know where you want to go.
We can start a song in so many different ways-I might bring a sound, or they might have an idea. Then we'll add layers, like keyboard or strings. When we bring a song together I'm so proud.
Is there a place for live instruments in your music?
I played a real bass guitar on "Firework." I love to incorporate real instruments. But if you play that song with a band, it's hardly the same. It's strange-I love the song on its own, but I would miss the electronic stuff on it. I'm not talking about club or electronic or dance, because I don't really like that. I prefer electronic as a way to get it more loud.
Is there anyone you'd like to write for who you haven't yet?
I would love to do something with P!nk. I really like her attitude and her music, and it could be perfect working together. "So What" [written by P!nk, Max Martin and Shellback] is fantastic. Also, David Bowie, because I'm a big, big fan. He's such a crazy artist and important to music. But this will probably never happen. It will remain a dream.
Any favorite songwriters you'd like to work with?
I already work with the best: Ester Dean, Cristyle, Bonnie McKee. All the songwriters around me are really, really great.
But you know what? Doing a song with Max Martin would be awesome. He's the one. He's so talented, one of the best songwriters to me. He's always got the right melody, very strong. You can always keep a Max Martin melody in mind.
What will be the future sound of pop music?
I like some dubstep stuff, but can you imagine a dubstep song with a great top-line [melody]? I don't think so. I think the future will still be dance, but maybe go more totally electronic. What I would like to do is take more and different types of music and try to mix them with electro. I'm very interested in the mix of electro and urban, which in America is just beginning now. I'd like to work with urban artists and try to do something not too much dance, but to feed uptempo songs with an urban vibe. Anything with a melody is still pop, but let's see what happens with hip-hop and electro.