Meet Joel Little, the producer behind every track of Lorde’s debut album “Pure Heroine” — yes, including the Hot 100-topping “Royals,” which he also co-wrote. One might say he’s doing the Lorde’s work, but that joke has already been made (along with a lot of other Lorde puns; see below), via the tagline of Little’s official Tumblr.
@lordemusic would that be a peasant surprise?
— Billboard (@billboard) October 30, 2013
But you could soon be hearing a lot more from Little, an Auckland, New Zealand-based musician who typically works out of the Golden Age studio, but lately has been embracing the globetrotting approach. While he chatted on the phone with Billboard, Little was taking a break from a London studio session with Sam Smith, the man responsible for the ethereal vocals on Disclosure’s “Latch.” Little talked about his work with Smith, future plans for recording with Lorde, his pop-punk backstory, and much more.
Bilboard: Tell me about your recent studio time with Sam Smith.
Joel Little: We’ve just been writing! He’s working on his album and I’ve always been a big fan of his voice and his songwriting so we found some time to get together. Whether or not the songs will make it on the album (I don’t know), but it’s been a good time.
We get into the room together and talk about what we’ve been listening to and what we feel like working on. I’ll just start by putting a beat together. Sometimes I have things, like starting points in songs prepared, and we’ll go through those, but if there’s nothing getting us particularly excited, I’ll just make something. We’ll play around with a few chords until he finds something to sing over the top and we’ll take it from there.
Watch the official music video for Lorde’s “Tennis Court”:
Since Lorde’s music has taken off, I’m guessing you’ve been getting many more requests from people wanting to work with you.
It’s definitely opened some doors. Having a hit song makes people take a bit more notice of you. There’s been all sorts of different things coming in. What’s most important to me is just working with people who I’m a fan of, or whose voices I think are great and I can do something interesting with. There’s probably more requests than I can take on, but that’s a nice position to be in.
So who are some of the other artists you’ve been working with?
When you’re doing the writings sessions, you never know where it’s going to lead and you never know with albums… I don’t talk about it particularly until I know what’s going on. But I’ve been in the studio with this duo called Broods from New Zealand who I’ve been working with for the past few months. They put a song out recently which has been getting a bit of buzz. I’ve been doing some writing with Daniel Johns from Silverchair. He’s working on his solo record. I’ve always been a fan of those guys, so it’s been really cool to do some stuff with him. This week, I’ve been with Sam (Smith) and I guy called Kwabs who’s great. And a girl called Jetta, who’s also great. She’s another one of (Lava Records president) Jason Flom’s signings.
You’ve really branched out since your time fronting the rock band Goodnight Nurse in the early 2000s. Tell me more about your evolution.
Yeah, from starting out in a pop-punk band back in the day? I think I’m just a late-bloomer. At the time, that was the only kind of music I listened to; so that was naturally the type of music I made. As my tastes expanded and I started discovering other types of music, I started getting interested in making all sorts of of different types of music. That’s when we packed the band — when it started to feel like a slightly unnatural situation. We just went into the studio and started experimenting.
Listen to Little’s old band, Goodnight Nurse, cover Kelis’ Milkshake”:
Who are some of the producers that inspire you?
There’s all sorts of producers I’m a fan of. I really like James Blake’s stuff and Burial. Have you heard of Sohn? He’ great. Two Inch Punch is great. I’ve always been a fan of Dr. Luke. Then there’s the more hip-hop producers, like Hudson Mohawke, Hit-Boy, and those kinds of dudes. I’m a big fan of those producers and I’ve always been kind of fascinated by how they approach things. I’m always looking around for interviews and keeping an eye out for whatever they might be releasing.
When I first heard “Royals,” it made me think of the Neptunes. Are you a fan of theirs?
Oh man. Of course. I’m a huge Neptunes fan. It was more hip-hop based, obviously, but I loved the way those guys did the minimal thing really well. They made some bangers but managed to do it without overcrowding the songs. Those guys are legends for sure.
“Team” was a beat that I had floating around. I thought I’d be able to do something cool with it, but every time I started playing around with it, it didn’t feel quite right. I was at home and I did a melody for the intro section, where it’s just a double a cappella of her voice. It popped into my head and I was like, “I can do something where it starts off super slow and dark and it’s just her. If we can find a way to loop he last little bit and speed it up, then it will be a bit of a twist.” So I went into the studio with that idea, had her put the lyrics together for that intro, and it went from there. I’m proud of that song; it’s a good one.
With “Tennis Court,” up until that point, she would bring lyrics and we would take inspiration from there as to where to go with the music. But this was one where I started putting the music together and we came up with melodies over the top, and she wrote to the melody. As she was developing in songwriting, that became more of an option. That song was one where we had everything except the chorus. She was sitting in the back of the room while I was working on the music and she was saying, “I think I’ve got a chorus idea.” I asked, “Can I hear it?” and she said, “No, no, no.” She wouldn’t sing it to me and then once she had it, she basically sang the entire chorus as you hear it now. I was like, “Holy shit, this is seriously good.” This was the first time she had this fully-formed, amazing idea for a chorus. This is, I don’t know how long into the process, but it was when I was like, “This girl is going to be an amazing songwriter, or has turned into one in a really short amount of time.” Then I just added the “yeahs” and we tweaked a couple things here and there.
Have you still kept up with her since the release of the album?
Yeah, of course. I’m catching up with her tonight. We’re both in London. We just text and it’s been a crazy ride with her. It’s changed both our lives quite dramatically, so there’s a connection there and we’re just looking forward to making more songs when we can both get in the country at the same time.
So I’m guessing there’s more coming from you two?
Yes, of course. I think we’re gonna get together before the end of the year for a couple of weeks and start playing around with some ideas.