Producer Ludwig Göransson Talks Childish Gambino Grammy Nominations & Scoring 'Black Panther' Film
Ludwig Göransson has been making music with Donald Glover since his days on Community. The Swedish transplant landed his first composer job in Los Angeles on the beloved show, and Glover was working on a mixtape. After inquiring if Göransson knew anyone who could mix the album, the producer said he would take a listen and was pleasantly surprised.
“When he first approached me, I was a little hesitant at first,” Göransson admits over the phone. “I viewed him as an actor -- but then he sent me a song, and it was amazing.”
The two began collaborating on what would become Culdesac and never looked back. Now, their efforts with Childish Gambino are being praised at the highest level: the Grammys. Their third full-length album, Awaken, My Love!, is nominated for the prestigious album of the year award, while its single, “Redbone,” is nominated for both record of the year and best R&B song. The duo will also be performing during the ceremony on Sunday.
Billboard caught up with Göransson to talk about the coveted Grammy honors, delve deeper into the making of Awaken, My Love! and discuss the intricacies that went into scoring Black Panther.
You’re nominated for three Grammys this year for your work with Childish Gambino, including record of the year and album of the year. How did you react when you heard the news?
It’s kind of crazy, because I’ve been kind of living under a rock this last year, working on Black Panther, so I knew the Grammy nominations were coming up, but I didn’t know it was going to be that morning. I woke up to a bunch of missed calls and was like, “Oh, it came out today.”
It was just such a nice little surprise. It was nothing we ever thought about while making the album, but I think it’s especially fun since Childish Gambino and the band -- these are people I’ve been working with for eight years now. Any time you have the chance to celebrate something with your closest best friends, it’s very special.
You’ve helped produce and write all of Childish Gambino’s albums thus far. Awaken, My Love! is quite the departure from his other work. What made you and Donald decide to change lanes for this project?
It’s interesting, because the band is a big part of our live show and has been from the very first tour we had with Childish Gambino. So any time we have soundcheck or a little time, we jam out. Every tour stop, we jam out together, play songs and explore different ideas. That was what was the beginning of this album. We got the band together for two weeks and just kind of jammed out. What you can hear is years of people knowing each other and playing together, and I think you can really hear that in the recording.
After we went into the studio with the band, Donald and I went back to our home studio with all the material, sat down and took all these experimental jam sessions and created an album -- 12 tracks -- of really experimental, weird stuff. Basically, just experimenting with everything we had. We made an album that was just really strange. [Laughs]
So we had this other album done, and we listened to it back and forth a couple of times and decided to change the path. It was really interesting music, but from everything on that album, we took “Me and Your Mama,” and that was kind of the seed. We thought that song was really great and thought, “How do we spin this song, take it further and make an album around that?”
Aside from your work with Childish Gambino, you’ve collaborated with the likes of Chance the Rapper and Pell and produced Haim’s debut EP and a couple songs on Days Are Gone. How does it feel to see the Haim sisters garnering so much praise?
Oh, I’m so happy. They’re so talented both as musicians and songwriters. They deserve all the praise they’ve received. I’m excited to have been able to work with them.
Are they a band you’d work with again in the future?
Absolutely. Any time I get a chance to work with artists that make me inspired and learn new stuff about music -- every chance I get, I’ll take. Every time I was in the studio with them, I discovered something new.
You mentioned that you’ve been living under a rock for the past year since you’ve been working on Black Panther. I’m sure every project is different, but what’s the typical process you go through when writing music for film?
It is different with every film, but the first thing I always do is research the film and what I’m doing -- what the movie’s about and how I can tackle every project in a new way. For example, with Creed, I went into a gym and recorded a bunch of boxing sounds and used that in the whole score.
For Black Panther, the whole movie takes place in a fictional country in Africa called Wakanda, and reading about how this country is the most technologically advanced country in the whole world, and it was never colonized, how would music sound in a country in Africa like that? So the first thing I did after reading the script was travel to Senegal and South Africa and went on different field trips, recording some amazing musicians.
All of the music in Africa is created for different reasons. Drum beats and rhythms are created for different things -- like, this is something you’d only play at a funeral, so how do you use that so you can use the sounds in a culturally appropriate way in the film as well?
It’s really cool to hear that you took the time to do the research and even traveled for the project. That’s impressive.
It was such a fantastic project to be a part of. So that was kind of the skeleton of the score, but then the big challenge was, how do you infuse the African music with a 150-piece orchestra to make it sound more cinematic -- it’s still a Marvel superhero movie -- and still have it feel African?
You’ve worked on numerous notable films, television shows and albums. What’s the next goal you hope to achieve?
I think at this point, after putting out Awaken, My Love! and working on Black Panther -- those were both huge projects -- what I really need to do is take a little time and do something for myself. Every now and then, as a composer and producer, it’s important to write music for yourself. Clear your palate and think of the ideas you’ve had that you haven’t been able to utilize, and try to get them all out.
You did release your own album, How to Find a Party, a few years ago, so are you thinking about doing something else like that?
Yeah, it would be an experimental album under my own name just for myself, just to get something out there out of me that I’ve been sitting on for a long time.