Earlier in the year, in our first annual scandipop awards, we awarded ‘Best New Act of 2008’ to Star Pilots. Here’s what we said about them;
We’ve written about Star Pilots quite a few times already on this website, so regular readers will already be familiar with them. We love them because they make the kind of dance music that went out of fashion around three years ago, but that we, and many others, still absolutely adore. So kudos to them for going against what’s ‘in’ and just getting on with making jolly fantastic dance music! Their first single ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ is set for UK release through Hard2Beat later in the year, and they’re participating in this year’s Melodifestivalen with a song called ‘Higher’. So we’re going to be hearing a lot more from them in the coming twelve months. Thankfully!
Three months later and ‘In The Heat of the Night’ has been getting substantial airplay and reactions in the UK, and ‘Higher’ has become another huge hit for them in Sweden, after managing to progress from the toughest Heat in Melodifestivalen history! We spoke to Johan Becker, the voice and songwriter behind the group, and bombarded him with an assortment of questions that Star Pilots fans want answered! And here they are;
scandipop: How are you Johan?
Star Pilots: I’m good thank you, I’m just on the way to do some signings at a shopping mall in Linkoping.
scandipop: I’m sure you’ve been a very busy guy recently!
Star Pilots: Yeah, we’ve been so busy doing all kinds of stuff, gigging and everything. Although we haven’t really agreed on how to do the gigging with Star Pilots (laughs). I know they’re rehearsing something right now, but it’s all a bit chaotic at the moment. Hopefully we can sort something soon though.
scandipop: Ok. Well the first thing I wanted to ask was how does a guy go from singing heartfelt ballads and playing acoustic guitars, to making massive club anthems like ‘In The Heat of the Night’ and ‘Higher’?
Star Pilots: (laughs) Well that’s because of the love of eighties music. I’m a big fan of all sorts of music so long as it’s got some qualities to it. And I grew up secretly liking Duran Duran, and even Howard Jones, and all these great bands from the eighties. And along with that I really like hard rock bands too, all kinds of music.
scandipop: So in 2004, you won Sweden’s Fame Factory (an X Factor, Idol type show). Tell us about what happened in your career after that?
Star Pilots: Well after that it was a lot like what I’m doing now. Lots of gigging around Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia. And I released an album with The Wallstones, which was really Beatles-esque. And we performed at the Melodifestivalen in 2005. So I’ve really kind of thrown myself off a cliff, not knowing where this club scene would take me. But actually, ‘In The Heat of the Night’ and ‘Higher’ are not typical club songs. They’re more like traditional pop songs produced in a club way.
scandipop: Yeah, I can see that. So will you be concentrating on Star Pilots for the foreseeable future or will we be seeing a comeback from Johan Becker anytime soon?
Star Pilots: I think, as it looks right now, if we can all get along…..we don’t have any problems with each other, me and the guys, we all get along really well….but they’re from one camp and I’m from another camp, and there are a lot of people around us right now who are not agreeing on how things should look and how it should be done. But luckily we’ve only released two songs so far, and both of those have become hits in Sweden.
scandipop: Yes, well you managed to progress from what I would say was the toughest Heat in Melodifestivalen history! Were you expecting to or did it come as a surprise?
Star Pilots: Well we didn’t think about the competition too much, it’s always weird to compete with music. But we knew we had a great song, and the image is pretty strong too……
At this stage our phone connection cut out, so the interview was resumed the following day!
scandipop: Hello again Johan. How was the signing yesterday?
Star Pilots: It was great! It was me and Sarah Dawn Finer. It’s a thing that most artists do these days, to keep up the sales of singles and albums, to go around these big shopping malls and perform one or two songs and then do a signing.
scandipop: Well it’s worked so far for you because ‘Higher’s has just spent a third week in the top 10 hasn’t it?!
Star Pilots: Yeah it has, and it’s been added more and more every day to important stations. So I think it’s gonna be one of the bigger hits from this year’s festival. And that’s perfect!
scandipop: Yep, it’s just what you want really isn’t it?!
Star Pilots: Yeah. That’s why I had a lot of confidence in doing this song….even though we knew it was going to create havoc in the press with the pilots thing! So, I’m really happy. And what’s wonderful is that both kids and grown ups love the song. I never noticed with the kids before, but when you watch the performance on youtube and stuff, with the helmets and everything….it’s almost like a video game!
scandipop: And the kids had to choose between you and their old favourite, Amy Diamond didn’t they? And they chose you – so you must be doing something right in their eyes!
Star Pilots: Yeah that was an interesting thing. I kind of sat down and tried to calculate it….Amy Diamond has got a lot of kids who really love her…but, now so do we! (laughs). And I felt really good about that.
scandipop: So now that you’ve already had two big hits in Sweden, will an album follow?
Star Pilots: Well yeah, I think an album will follow, but I don’t know yet how much I’m gonna be a part of it. We haven’t really sat down and talked about whether I’m gonna be involved in the whole album. But I’m definitely gonna release an album of my own as well, under the name of Becker.
scandipop: Ok. And is that something you’re working on at the moment as well?
Star Pilots: Yeah I’m talking about it with some of the biggest producers in Sweden.
scandipop: And which musical genre is it gonna be?
Star Pilots: It’s gonna be the same genre. It’s gonna be the same kind of feel to it. Because with the Star Pilots, like I said yesterday, there are a lot of eighties rock influences, and it’s kind of a cool way of doing it in a fresh club way. But when I think of club music, most of it isn’t vocals, it’s more just beats, I think ”thud, thud, thud”. And that kind of club music doesn’t appeal to me as much, as when you try to make a traditional pop song in a club way. Because I’m more a traditional kind of guy when it comes to songwriting. I wanna have a clear verse, a clear bridge, and a clear chorus.
scandipop: Well yeah, the scandipop club night and website, we’re all about pop music that just happens to sound like dance music, or vice versa. It’s the best type of music……And now of course Star Pilots are coming to the UK! Did the UK label approach you guys or was it the other way around?
Star Pilots: Well the A&R guy at Hard2Beat, the guy who signed September, he was the guy who helped out with my first record deal in Sweden in 2001, so we already knew each other. And when he heard ‘In The Heat of the Night’, he was like ”this is great, this could work abroad”. And he’s the perfect man for this, especially after September has been doing so well, I think he’s the right man for the job.
scandipop: Well like a lot of other Scandinavian music around at the moment, there has been a good buzz about you guys on internet sites and internet forums outside of Sweden, since ‘In The Heat of the Night’ was a big hit there last summer. Were you aware of that?
Star Pilots: We were aware of it yes, we had a really excellent review from popjustice.com, and that was really wow, it was great. I don’t think I’ve ever had a song of mine being played on UK radio. The UK has always been really really difficult I think – it’s very very trend sensitive. A lot more than in Sweden. And one thing that goes well in Sweden doesn’t automatically go well in the UK.
scandipop: Well it’s definitely good timing for you guys because in the UK we’re starved of good pop/dance music – it’s previously been so uncool, that not a lot of labels release it anymore
Star Pilots: Well everything comes back in a circle I believe. Perhaps that type of music has become so uncool, that now it’s actually cool! (laughs). But nothing gets me more happy than when I hear great melodies with a great beat to it, and if you can dance to it then that’s great too. And what’s also really interesting I think, in the UK and in the states, is that club music is often more considered a gay type of music. Which is….to me….I couldn’t care less whether a song is a hetero song or a gay song…..to me, I hear a good song and I don’t label stuff. I’m proud if it appeals to the gay community and I’m proud if it appeals to the straight community as well. But here in Sweden we don’t think of music as being gay or not gay.
scandipop: Yeah, in Sweden you’re more just interested in a song being good. You don’t care if it’s cool to like it or not. Do you think a large reason for the success of the Star Pilots is that the music is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously?
Star Pilots: There was an era in the early eighties where there was a lot of ”anything is possible” and ”we’re aiming for the sky” attitudes in making music. Like the Top Gun soundtrack, which this whole thing is inspired by with the image and the positivity in the music. And I think in these times, when the world is in a crisis, it’s nice to hear fun music, uplifting music with a drive to it. It gets you going. It’s really great if I can make people happy with my music and with my songs. But it also comes with the style….in a style like this you can’t sing about dark issues, it has to be something easy to understand…like ”we’re all out having fun, trying to get a one night stand”…whatever, it’s party!
scandipop: ‘In The Heat of the Night’ has received quite a bit of airplay on BBC Radio 1 now. What are your expectations of UK success?
Star Pilots: Well…I hope that if it can be a hit here in Sweden, then it can be a hit anywhere in Europe. And nothing would make me happier than if it could be a hit in the UK. And Swedish music right now, since the whole Mamma Mia thing became so big, it’s opened a lot of doors to Swedish music and Swedish melodies. (laughs)….not that I would ever compare my music to Abba’s music, but I think that Sweden is again on the map. And the big king Max Martin is still putting out the best songs in the world right now.
scandipop: True. And of course Stargate are writing and producing for the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Chris Brown too. So why do you think that so many pop fans in the UK and from all around the world are turning to Scandinavia to provide them with good pop music?
Star Pilots: We have something over here….I think Scandinavians, and especially Swedes, have something unique when it comes to creating good melodies. Plus the eyes of the world were looking to Sweden after Abba had all that success. And I think that Abba have inspired so many talented songwriters here over the last 30 years.
scandipop: So when is ‘In The Heat of the Night’ gonna be released in the UK, because we haven’t got a release date yet.
Star Pilots. I think it will be sometime in April. But I’ll check for you. They’re still deciding on what kind of video they should do for it.
scandipop: I’d suggest sticking with the Top Gun theme – it’s worked so well so far!
Star Pilots: Yeah absolutely. But I have my fingers crossed here that everything falls into place. Because there’s often small things that have to fall in place for something big to happen.
scandipop: And do you have any plans to come to the UK at the moment?
Star Pilots: I would love to come over and do club gigs and shows. I think there are discussions with different people who could make it happen, with tour dates and stuff.
scandipop: And do you have any plans to visit anywhere else in the world?
Star Pilots: I think it’s gonna be released in 16 different countries over the summer. That’s usually what happens; if a song has been a big hit in Sweden, it takes a year to get all the right connections and to get it going, to be played elsewhere in Europe. But I have high hopes for ‘Higher’ too. It’s a really good pop song with the eighties vibe and the eighties lyric to it.
scandipop: Well yeah, so far it’s done well – three weeks in the top ten! And it’s the hardest time of the year to get a top ten hit in Sweden!
Star Pilots: Yeah absolutely. I’ve got high hopes.
scandipop: Many people have accused ‘Higher’ of sounding very similar to ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ by Boy Meets Girl. Do you recognise the similarities yourself?
Star Pilots: Yeah, I can recognise that some notes touch that melody. But when we wrote the song we had no…….I mean, I know a lot of other songwriters are listening to hit songs and they’re trying to copy the sound as much as they can….but I’ve never worked that way. This melody came spontaneously. But the song as a whole, isn’t similar I don’t think. And I think it’s impossible today to write a song that doesn’t hit some other hit song.
scandipop: Exactly, pretty much all melody arrangements have been used now, so there’s bound to be some similarities.
Star Pilots: Yes, we didn’t have any intentions to rip that song off, it just happened to touch the same notes. Which is unfortunate though. When we found out that it sounds a little bit like that song, we sat down and though, ”shit, do we have to start changing notes”? Because we really didn’t think about that song when we wrote it…(sings the first chorus line of both songs!)….of course it sounds like the notes are touching, but the rhythm and the song as a whole, is definitely not that other song.
scandipop: Yeah, to be fair, it’s only really those two lines that sound similar. Ok, so you’ve already covered ‘The One and Only’. Do you have any plans to cover any other songs? Or are there any that you’d like to cover?
Star Pilots: I’ve been looking at some old Journey stuff. Journey had some great songs that haven’t been covered yet, so I’m looking into that a little bit.
scandipop: Ok. Well thank you very much for your time!
Star Pilots: Thank you! It’s strange doing interviews in English!
scandipop: Well hopefully you’ll have more requests for UK interviews soon, as it takes off here. And hopefully radio airplay will increase soon too. There is a high profile radio show here, called ‘Floorfillers’ on Radio 1.
Star Pilots: Yeah, I’ve heard that they’ve been playing the song.
scandipop: And they’ve been playing so much Scandinavian music recently. They play around five every week. The likes of Star Pilots, September, Velvet, Ercola, and just last week he played Agnes too.
Star Pilots: I love that Agnes song ‘On and On’, it’s just so good.
scandipop: It is, but her UK label are going with ‘Release Me’ as the first single.
Star Pilots: Cool. Actually, my A&R guy in the UK told me that one of the big stations in the UK had an issue with ‘In The Heat of the Night’ because they said it was too gay!
Star Pilots: Yeah, they said it was ”too gay for our audience”. And I thought ”shit, that’s so old fashioned”. Why should that be a negative thing? How can something be too gay for their listeners?!!!
scandipop: So who was it?! Was it Galaxy? Capital? Kiss?
Star Pilots: I can’t really remember. But he told me that this one really big station said that ”this song is too gay for our listeners”, which sounded so backward. I think it’s really silly. But I know they have the same kind of attitude, especially in the states….I have American friends, and they’ve told me that what Americans sometimes think is that as soon as it has a club beat, then it’s gay. (laughs). I don’t know, it’s a totally different culture. Rock music and hip hop acts are the ones that really make it big in the states. But this kind of euro, club music has started to do well again in the States, with September and everything.
scandipop: Yeah she did really well over there, she sold over 300,000 units of ‘Cry For You’
Star Pilots: And that shows that people are coming back around to the idea of melodies. There have been too many acts that have forgotten about melodies. They’re more about beats and melodies in the states for quite a few years. So it’s good for us Scandinavians that are good at creating melodies, that the market is opening once again.
scandipop: Well thankfully there are people like you crusading for pop/dance music!
Star Pilots: Absolutely! It’s been such a wonderful journey to dive into this scene and to be a part of something that has a special unique sound.
And that last sentence from Johan brings us back full circle to exactly why we love Star Pilots so much! Long may they continue!