The list of 2017 Grammy Award nominations, revealed in December, was filled with a handful of dominant and expected pop royalty, most of them female and in need of only one name. But then, there was a name that popped up three times among the Beyoncés, Adeles, and Rihannas: Lukas Graham.
That name, as fans well know by now, does not denote a single person, but rather a group of four Danish young men who tickled our ears for most of 2016 with the ubiquitous single “7 Years,” a raw tune with heartfelt lyrics, soaring vocals, and a cultural presence that ultimately scored Grammy nods for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Pop Duo/Group Performance.
Frontman Lukas Forchhammer not only lends his first and middle names to the band — he also serves as a flesh-and-blood personification of the multifaceted charm its music delivers. He grew up honing wrong-side-of-the-street smarts in a Copenhagen-area collective, while simultaneously developing his ethereal soprano as a classically trained choirboy. As one might expect, he’s an equally flexible conversationalist, tossing well-thought-out opinions on everything from music to politics in quick order.
Yahoo Music sat down with the singer to get his thoughts on this year’s Grammys, the band’s next direction, and his very favorite event of 2016.
YAHOO MUSIC: You’re up for three Grammys next month. How many musicians from your country have been nominated for Grammys?
LUKAS FORCHHAMMER: Eleven Danes have been nominated, three have won, and the most prominent Grammy was won for best rock ‘n’ roll piece in 1962 — by Danish composer/piano player Bent Fabricius-Bjerre with the melody “Alley Cat.” The funny thing about that story is he didn’t even go to the awards ceremony, because he was up against Elvis Presley and he was expecting not to win! So when he won, he was in Denmark. He jokes about it still, he’s like 92 years old now: “Well, that would have been the highlight of my career, but I missed it!” [laughs]
Hopefully you plan to be there this year!
We definitely going to be there, just to experience an award ceremony — for not one, not two, but three Grammys! We’re very satisfied with just being nominated. It feels very, very heartwarming to be voted by peer-by-peer voting.
Given what an explosive year you’ve had, did those nominations actually come as a surprise?
I was very surprised. But also, two months before our nominations, I became a father. So that’s like the biggest and most crazy thing for me to happen in 2016 — having a little daughter. The Grammy nominations were like icing on the cake. I’m driving through eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, in the tour bus with my baby girl, and I’m getting the news of being nominated for these Grammys — it was a little too magical of a moment. It was one of those moments: “Something’s gotta go wrong in the next hours, otherwise this is too crazy great.” [laughs]
Plus, the unreality of it all must have been magnified by that fuzzy, sleep-deprived new-parent stage…
You don’t get much sleep, but there’s also so much love, all these love hormones. And all these thoughts about the future and your own childhood. And then suddenly three Grammys on top of that while you’re touring America [laughs], it’s an unfathomable feeling. I didn’t know that you could add on to that wonderful feeling of being a parent.
“7 Years” is a standout song in the Grammy categories it’s nominated in. What do you think is the main element of its appeal?
Speaking in hindsight, it’s always easy to figure out what is the good part of a song or why are we listening to it. But it’s also a very dangerous path to go down. I think very simply the song is so different from everything else on the radio that it stands out naturally. But also it talks about a subject that is so close to heart — it talks about family, and dreams, and ambitions as you’re growing older. It made it very understandable to the musical audience. It’s not very pretentious.
It’s also unique in that it really doesn’t have an easy hook. Rather, it has a prolonged buildup, which you don’t find often these days in pop music.
It’s all a hook. If you think further back, to like folk musicians — if you take a Woody Guthrie song, “This Land Is Your Land,” the way the melody keeps repeating itself… It is basically back to country ballads. It’s what we would call Bise in Danish — a basic folk structure where the retentive melody makes sure you remember what you’re supposed to be singing. I just like different song structures and styles, being a classically trained soprano soloist, growing up with a lot of folk music, rock ‘n’ roll, British invasion bands, rap music. I just find it annoying that people say, “Oh, but a song has to sound like this, grow like this.” Why does it have to do that? Why can’t we change the structure because we feel like it?
In one interview earlier last year, you mentioned that you don’t even think “7 Years” is your best song.
I don’t, but then again, it kind of changes — which song I’m happiest about performing or singing or just listening to myself. I’m a very prolific writer and I think I have better songs in me to come, definitely. Now that I’ve become a father, I’ve got this new dimension to love, life, and my writing.
Do you ever worry, then, that “7 Years” might become the centerpiece of your career, given its tremendous popularity?
I think that if we let ourselves be afraid of a song like that [becoming] the paramount experience of my career, then it will be. If I let it control us, it will be a problem. But instead, I think we’ll just brush it off and keep going.
It may be too soon to ask, but do you have an idea of where you want to go with your next album?
I don’t ever really do that. We’re not the kind of guys who sit down and say, “We need six songs that sound like this, and then two in this direction.” [“7 Years”] was just a sneak peek into my life between the ages of 18 and 20, and 30. The next album is going to be my life now as a parent, a touring musician, and a citizen of this world. I’ll probably be a little more political on the next record, probably talk about some gender politics, role model politics, maybe have a song about how are we communicating with each other. Because, to be honest with you, I find most of our public communication and media communication is so ugly that it really sickens me to my stomach.
Touring America during the period preceding the presidential election must really have sickened you, then, given the extreme vitriol being hurled around.
The political conversation took this turn because the political elites failed to recognize there is a world outside the major cities. And it’s the same in Europe, and Denmark — political and economic elites keep forgetting at the end of the day a democracy is a lot of things. And you need to take into consideration what goes on in rural parts of America and Europe. Small hillbilly towns also need to be heard. It happened too much in American and European history that we dismissed the poor white population as being stupid and ignorant. But the fact is that they are very much there, and they’re a huge part of political life.
You have seen a lot of this firsthand growing up and getting into your share of what some would term juvenile delinquent acts, yes?
I have indeed seen a lot of it firsthand and participated in a lot of juvenile delinquency firsthand. And I would have to say that juvenile delinquency comes from a society and culture that is not valuing what these young people have to offer. I mean, if you look at all our celebrities, they’re supposed to look young and act young and be young, but we’re not letting our young people be young. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids, but everyone’s getting Botox and fake tits.
It’s interesting, because it seems the natural musical outlet for a rebellious childhood would be a genre like punk, or gangsta rap — something with anger. Lukas Graham isn’t anything like that.
I spent so much of my life being angry, being afraid, and feeling downtrodden and sorry for myself — be it the way that the police treated me as a teenager, or the way schoolteachers treated me in primary school and high school, or be it the way other kids’ parents looked at us. Because of the way we spoke, everyone knew where we were from, and we just weren’t welcomed everywhere like most normal kids were. When you grow up like that, at some point you become either permanently angry, festering, or you switch it up and do something about it.
Speaking of switching it up, a totally different topic: How are you managing to balance fatherhood and a musical career? It must be difficult.
No, not at all. I find it very easy to balance work and my child. But then again, I’m from Denmark — my girlfriend went on maternity leave for a full year from her college. She’s basically getting a state-funded scholarship, which everyone in Denmark gets for a certain amount of time when you study. So for a full year she’s getting $600-800 a month while she’s taking care of the baby and on tour with me. The system that we grew up in Denmark facilitates parenthood and bonding with your child. Fathers in Denmark can choose to do paternity leave up to eight months. So my country is definitely making it a lot easier to be a new father.
That’s wonderful, but, still — a career in entertainment has logistics that are just naturally challenging to blend with parenting.
I grew up in a world where I saw everybody making hindrances for themselves. Everything becomes more and more problematic: “Oh, we can’t do this because of that… oh, this is going to be difficult.” Or else you just do it and make it work. Make that decision to make your life easier rather than more difficult. Make that decision to facilitate things rather than not. And, it’s my girlfriend who makes sure that I can do this. If she wasn’t in on it — if she wasn’t prepared to facilitate me being a father — it would be very difficult, and I wouldn’t see my child for three weeks at a time. So I’m very grateful that she wants to go on tour with me and live this lifestyle for a while. Ask me again in a year when she’s back studying her masters, and I can’t just bring the baby on tour.
“7 Years,” as well as the rest of your album, was largely inspired by the death of your father. What do you think he would have thought of these songs if he had been able to hear them?
I think he would have liked them — that I took a turn and started writing more personal lyrics. Real songs about real life. I think he’d be very proud of what we achieved. But it’s a Catch-22 question, you know, because if my father hadn’t died when he died, I wouldn’t have written the songs that made me travel all around the world. We can’t get everything. And it’s OK. [There’s] a lovely Japanese proverb written as a haiku: “You can’t catch all the falling leaves in the autumn.”
Back to the Grammys. Is there any one of your three nominations that you would most particularly like to win?
Song of the Year definitely would mean more — I mean, I don’t even dare to hope for one — but Song of the Year, because it is in celebration of the writing process and the creative process leading up to the song being released. I like to be acknowledged for the fact that I write my own music, and that I have a hand in the creative process. But any of the three, I mean c’mon! It’s winning a Grammy!
What if you win all three?
If we get all three, I’ll shave my head. On the Grammy podium. [laughs]