Despite Max Martin’s vast success as a producer and songwriter, the 21-time Billboard 200 chart-topper is not much for the spotlight.
A recent interview with Sweden’s Di Weekend is Martin’s first time speaking at length with a magazine sine 2001 and covers a range of subjects from his songwriting tactics to his first instrument (the french horn) and his undying love for Kiss and other “cheesy” artists.
“I’ve never been cool,” he said in the article, which was translated to English from Swedish. “My tastes have always been pretty cheesy. I like Def Leppard. At the same time, my tastes might be pretty universal, I don’t know.”
Here are some of the things we learned from Martin’s rare interview:
Martin’s real name is Martin Sandberg and he didn’t have any hand in choosing his pseudonym.
Martin’s mentor Dag Volle (better known as producer Denniz Pop) gave the young musician his first introduction to working in a studio setting. Martin recalled writing on a record in 1994 where, without first asking, Volle credited the track as “produced by Denniz Pop and Max Martin.”
Nowadays a Swedish children’s book sits on Martin’s work desk by author Barbro Lindgren called Max Blöja — translated to Max Diaper. Martin explained, “I was sitting around with my friend Alexander Kronlund discussing which names could possibly be worse than Max Martin. We concluded that Max Diaper was one of them.”
Why doesn’t he give interviews?
“Because my life is so much easier without the attention,” he said. “I’m not on social media either. I don’t do anything like that. I meet people who have so many problems related to that kind of stuff. ‘People think this or that about me’. But those people wouldn’t have those problems if they, like me, hadn’t read it. I want to keep it simple.”
This — among other things — comes from a healthy love of Prince, from whom he’s taken many cues.
“I thought it was so cool that all you knew about Prince was about his artistry and music,” he said. “Early on, Dagge (Denniz Pop) and I did an interview for some weekend supplement. We left the studio and did the interview in a cafe somewhere. Right away, I realized how wrong it all felt. ‘What am I doing, sitting here blabbing away? I should be in the studio. That’s my place.’ Then, for two weeks, I was anxious about what it would say in the paper. One upside of saying no is that nothing happens. If you say yes, stuff can happen, if you say no, you don’t need to worry.”
Elsewhere in the interview, he noted extensively studying Prince’s songwriting, saying, “There was a phase when I and people around me listened to Prince a lot. A lot. We took Prince-fandom to the extreme. The insights we gained proved helpful. Absolutely not like the fundamental ways of making music. Sometimes you hear rumors like ‘They’ve figured it out!’ But it’s not like that. It’s about understanding and learning, putting a toolbox together.”
He lives in Frank Sinatra’s old house.
After splitting time between Los Angeles and Stockholm for years, Martin and his family now live primarily in Los Angeles, where they own two houses. One of those used to be Frank Sinatra‘s (with a separate apartment where Marilyn Monroe used to stay) and has now been converted to include six recording studios where he works with his frequent collaborators.
He loves Kiss.
“I remember my older brother coming home with a Swedish magazine called Poster,” he said. “Remember that one? It had posters you could unfold. They were two-sided so you could take your pick. On one side, Kiss — the iconic image with the band up on Empire State Building. On the other side of the poster, a weird band out in the woods, who called themselves Led Zeppelin. To me, the choice couldn’t have been easier. Kiss, this is my life! I’ve always chosen the most colorful, the one that crackles the most. Zeppelin never made it up on my wall…. The thing that was so great about Kiss was that they thought worldwide. Arenas, the Alive! album, the attitude. The fact that they had such a grand scope was so great.”
He hasn’t always been on top and blamed Pharrell for ruining his success with his “super cool beats.”
“I’ve learned that things change,” he said. “The whole boy band thing almost turned into a stock market crash…. Then, there was a period when we thought that Pharrell and the others came and ruined it all for us with their super cool beats. My first thought was: people are idiots for not understanding how great our stuff really is. Then, in the end, I realized: the world has moved on, we’re the ones who’re stuck in one place. So I started listening to other kinds of music. I spent a lot of time in New York and worked with artists who never really got anywhere. Then things took a new turn with ‘Since U Been Gone’ [by Kelly Clarkson].”
Sometimes a song can become more than a song.
Martin has learned the importance of music first-hand, surely several times over. But recently, he saw his song “Roar” with Katy Perry become an anthem for kids surviving cancer, taking on a meaning far beyond what he and the pop superstar could have conceived in the studio.
“When pop culture can influence things in any way, when a song becomes something bigger than just a song, that’s the greatest thing to me,” he said. “I saw the video where the whole staff of a children’s hospital sang ‘Roar’, and it was a reminder for me. I have a tendency to belittle what I do. I think it’s a consequence of trying to keep the ego in check. I go, ‘What the f— are we doing all day when others are working for equality, Syria, battling cancer.’ But then something like this happens; a song finds its way outside the studio and comes to really mean something to people. It’s not every time that I’m proud of a tune, but I am when it comes to a song like Roar.”
Read the full interview here.