When I asked the platinum-hit songwriter Poo Bear (Skrillex, Diplo & Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now,” 112, “Peaches And Cream”) to tell me something the average person wouldn’t know about songwriting, he told told me something that felt (at least to me) like it would be pretty common knowledge: “Just because we see an artist singing all these songs doesn’t mean that the song necessarily came from that artist. Most of the time there’s a great team of people behind the artist that are working really hard, and lot of people wouldn’t know that. They just automatically assume that those words and melodies are coming from the artist. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t.”
It stuck with me for the next couple of days; having spent so much time around the music business, I realized I had a perspective a lot of people don’t. Of course something that seems like common sense to me would be mind-blowing to someone who sings along to “P.Y.D.” by Justin Bieber at the top of their lungs.
Poo Bear, born Jason Boyd, recently became the subject of Red Bull TV’s documentary, Afraid Of Forever, a film that seeks to shed light on the glamorous, yet seemingly underexposed world of professional songwriting through the eyes of one of the most accomplished hit-writers in the entertainment industry. It follows the tribulations of Poo as he seeks that ever elusive “placement” on a popular artist’s album after an extended period of time away from the top radio charts, coinciding with his impending marriage to longtime sweetheart, Ashley Joi.
The music business is a competitive game; too much time between hits could mean fewer placements for Poo, which means fewer checks at exactly the worst time for him. Despite having written huge smashes for everyone from Usher and 112, to Pink and Justin Bieber, in the industry, you’re only as good as your last hot single. The behind-the-scenes film will be compelling for music lovers seeking to understand the business more thoroughly, and it won’t take too long to teach you the ins-and-outs, either. Afraid Of Forever clocks in just under 60 minutes, covering topics as wide ranging as Poo’s writing process, his difficult upbringing, how publishing works, and Poo Bear’s apprehension over his upcoming nuptials. I sat down with him to talk about how the film came about, how he came up with some of his biggest hits, and how he feels about being a married man.
It was very cool to watch Afraid Of Forever and see all those little details about your songwriting craftsmanship, as well as get a look into your personal life. What was the process for beginning the film?
It actually kind of chose me in a weird way. They were doing a documentary on a bunch of producers and then when I met with them, I told my story and they came back like a month later like, ‘Hey, we were interested in doing a documentary just on you as opposed to doing it on everybody.’ I thought it would be a cool idea just to let people in the day in the life of a me, you know, and so people could actually see how cutthroat it is and just to see what type of ups and downs I had to go through in order to even get to where I am right now.
One of the big through threads was the song with J. Balvin. How is that song doing and how do you feel about how that song is doing?
That record won a Latin Grammy for Best Urban Album at the Latin Grammys last year, and all the songs are doing very well. That actual song that I did on the album hasn’t been released as a single yet, but you never know, it’s never too late. It was just really awesome being part of a Latino album, given that I’m not Latino. I was grateful and appreciative of Scooter [Braun, Bieber’s manager] for setting that up with J. Balvin, and then I was really appreciative of J. Balvin’s love and his friendship and his loyalty.
Do you have any other genres or cultures that you want to try to maybe dabble in?
You know what, man, I honestly I really love African music and I have really been trying to get into that as well. I love the rhythms and the cadences and the melodies, so that’s one of those things I would love to break into, into more African — like real original African — music. I’m already making records, I’m already making music in that vein and in that field, but I would love to really work with a real, authentic African artist that fits the bill. I’m excited about that.
What is your process when you start to sit down and write a song? Do you think of a hook first? Do you work out the verses? How does your process work? Walk me through writing a song with Poo Bear.
It starts off with chords, whether it’s from piano, whether it’s from a guitar, it’s chords. Then there’s the main idea. The main idea is the concept, then from the concept, I’ll come up with the hook around the concept. From there, I come up with verses and melodies to support my main idea. In doing so, I’m keeping it simple and effective, and making sure that it’s simple enough for kids to sing along, to but complex enough to inspire somebody and motivate somebody mentally, an adult.
It’s just about, you know, for me, it’s trial and error, it’s seeing what’s worked before and seeing what’s working now, and actually just making sure that I applied my formula. As long as I applied my formula and all the components of my writing process, as long as I’m thorough and I’ve done all my formulas, then the rest is up to the label and the marketing and the platform and the plans to roll it out correctly. Once I delivered a record that I love genuinely, all those components, those key components are involved, it’s kind of like I know that that formula has worked for me over and over again.
So, the title of the movie is Afraid Of Forever, the big storyline running concurrently to your song with J. Balvin was that you were getting married. How has that been for you?
Amazing. I love being married. I was afraid of being married and I got married and you know what, it wasn’t that different from being in a relationship, it’s just a commitment and the government is involved. Ultimately, it’s an amazing accomplishment, because it’s something that I never thought I would do, I never thought I would get married and settle down, I was never an advocate. I saw my father, you know, my family get divorced. I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t want to put anybody through that.’ So I was just thinking I’d never do it, but I just found somebody who was really cool who I wanted to have kids with and spend the rest of my life with. That fear turned into rejoicing; I’m really excited about my marriage and just being able to go onto that part of my life is cool, man. We’re going to have a little baby (soon).
I’m definitely going to call him Young Poo until he tells me not to, till he’s old enough to tell me no.
Being married and being in that relationship, has it had any impact on your songwriting?
Oh my god, definitely. Before we got married, before we got engaged, my wife broke up with me and I wrote a song called “No Pressure.” A few songs that came out were specifically talking about my relationship. I was grateful for my wife breaking up with me before we got engaged because I was able to turn that into great music and pain and write it. You write about experiences, and it connects with people immediately because everybody can relate to it.
Do you see any young songwriters or anybody coming up in the game right now kind of remind you of you or that you would say, ‘Yeah, check this guy out.” Who should we listen to now?
You know what, there’s actually a young girl that’s really dope named Starrah, she’s a songwriter and she did the “Needed Me” record for Rihanna and she’s really dope, man, like I wouldn’t say she reminds me of myself more so, she’s just really talented and I’m a fan of her work, and everybody should look out for her. I have love for her. She’s just one that’s kind of sticking out to me that’s really unique and dope and creative.
Is there anything you want to tell fans in advance of the movie being released and seeing the movie?
I would just want to tell them just to watch it and really let it inspire them, let it inspire you and let it be a testament to the fact that you can have literally have nothing, and be homeless, and be able to look up and suddenly be able to buy your mom a house. Don’t let fame be the motive in wanting to be in the music industry, let great music and the integrity of the songs be the motive and the drive. Don’t focus on being famous, instead focus on making great music and being able to turn it into a career that you can take care of your family and loved ones, man, and understand that everything is a blessing and we’re blessed to be alive, blessed to be awake, and every day’s a birthday. Happy birthday.
Watch Afraid Of Forever for yourself here on Red Bull Music TV.