Lukas Graham on New Album '3,' Not Trying to 'Duplicate the Success' of '7 Years' & Why 'We Need' Political Songs

Rasmus Weng Karlsen
Lukas Graham

A lot has changed for Lukas Forchhammer between the 2015 release of his band Lukas Graham's self-titled U.S. breakthrough album and the release of their brand-new third album 3 on Oct. 26. The Danish singer/songwriter's two biggest achievements over those three years were the runaway success of the global hit single "7 Years," which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016, and the birth of his first daughter that same year. But he made certain that those major life changes didn't change his instincts as a musician.

"Before, we used to kind of step on top of past success to build ourselves bigger," Forchhammer tells Billboard's Pop Shop Podcast (listen below). "This time, we decided to look away from '7 Years' and decide we were starting from zero, because the size of '7 Years' doesn't really correspond with the size of our Blue Album [2015's Lukas Graham]. '7 Years' was the third or fourth biggest song in the world of 2016, and that is a massive feat coming from our tiny little country. So I think it was about not trying to duplicate the success, like not trying to do a follow-up of '7 Years,' but just trying to do the next chapter in the story of who we are."

There are some lessons Forchhammer took away from "7 Years," however, like how instrumentation can really influence the mood of a song. Forchhammer recalled how 3's lead single, "Love Someone," began as a melancholic piano ballad about the terrifying prospect of losing someone you love and instead took an upbeat turn thanks to swapping out the keys for strummy guitars and looking at the lyrics through a new lens. "It was a little slower and it was almost sad, and the point with 'Love Someone' is not to be sad," he says. "That's my biggest regret with '7 Years': People think it's a sad song. It's not! It's an empowering song. It's supposed to give you hopes and dreams and ambitions for your life, not think it's over before it started. The same thing with 'Love Someone': I want people to feel empowered by the fear of losing ... that because you're so afraid of losing, you're gonna win. You're gonna do everything you can to win. Take fear and put it behind you."

Another standout cut on 3 is "You're Not the Only One (Redemption Song)," which Forchhammer co-wrote with a group that included Dan Wilson (former lead singer of Semisonic, producer to Adele and others, and previous Pop Shop guest) and Amy Wadge (co-writer on Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" and more). The political empowerment anthem includes lyrics like "The time is always right to do what's right" and was inspired by the current echo chamber of discourse, where no one is truly listening to each other.

"To me, it was important to write a song about the conversations we're not having," he says. "Because people are just yelling at each other now in the political spectrum. No one's talking. It's all pointing fingers and yelling and getting angry, and I miss the days of constructive conversation, you know? When you sit down, you talk about opinions and you hear someone else's opinion. It's like everyone wants to hear themselves speak now, no one wants to listen. And it goes both ways. I'm not pointing fingers in any particular direction right now. Everybody's own name is the most important word in their life and everybody wants to hear themselves speak more than they wanna hear others speak, and until we change that basic perception in conversation, I don't think we're getting very far."

A conversation with Wilson about the classic political songs of John Lennon and Bob Marley (hence the "Redemption Song" title shout-out) prompted the idea. "We started talking about politics and oh, we need these songs, and we talked about who did he like when he grew up and who do I like, and he was like, 'Let's write a political ballad. And if it's bad, we'll not release it. At least we've tried to do something different, you know?' And we couldn't actually finish the song."

That's where Wadge came in. Forchhammer was originally working with the songwriter on a potential bridge for the 3 song "Lullaby," but she ended up bringing home "You're Not the Only One" instead. "As she opened her mouth and started singing the melody for that bridge, I was like, 'Oh my God, this is exactly it,'" he recalls, adding of both Wilson and Wadge: "Very humble people, by the way, maybe the most humble people I've met in music so far, very nice people."

Just as 2015's Lukas Graham was dubbed "the Blue Album," the new project is known as the Purple Album -- a perfect tribute to his now-2-year-old daughter with the violet-adjacent name Viola.

"The Blue Album was a lot about my father passing away and me having doubts about children and future and family, where the Purple Album -- because Viola, my daughter, violet, Viola, purple -- the Purple Album is a lot about the family love feelings ... the whole anxiety part about being a dad." Of course, there's the euphoria of parenthood too, says Forchhammer, who originally appeared on the Pop Shop Podcast in 2016, right at the height of "7 Years" mania. "Any new parent is completely dumbfounded by the pressure of being a parent, but also the joys of being a parent and having a little copy of yourself running around and imitating you," he says. "I mean, yeah, complete lifestyle changes, less parties, a little more early mornings and, yeah, I turned 30 since we spoke the last time, and I don't know what the fuss is about. I think 30 is great. 30 feels amazing."

Also on the show, we chat about Ariana Grande being named Billboard's 2018 Woman of the Year and scoring her very first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 song with "thank u, next," plus chart moves for Metro Boomin and Queen and news about Kanye West's delayed Yandhi album and the wildfires ravaging California.

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)

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