Bloodshy’s voyage throughout the music industry mimics that of a mythological shapeshifter. Chalk it up to whatever’s in the magic water of his native Sweden, which has birthed fellow pop greats like Max Martin, Swedish House Mafia, and Robyn.
“I also think that bands like ABBA have played a big role in making [Sweden] big. Sometimes Sweden has been fresh and stood for something new,” he tells UPROXX. “And other times it’s made the biggest cheesy pop songs. But sometime in the ‘00s, there were studios everywhere. Everyone was cooking up beats and writing melodies. I feel like when it’s very dark and you’re very much inside, creating in the studio is appealing. I wanted to escape and be in my own little bubble.”
Born Christian Karlsson, Bloodshy first emerged as one-half of production and songwriting duo Bloodshy & Avant with Pontus Winnberg. The pair’s breakthrough was Christina Milian’s self-titled debut album in 2001, producing top 10 singles “AM To PM” and “When You Look At Me.” From there, Bloodshy & Avant worked with major pop stars, including Madonna, Hilary Duff, Jennifer Lopez, Sky Ferreira, Kylie Minogue, and Katy Perry.
But their most prominent work was that with Britney Spears. Beginning with 2003’s In The Zone (including the Grammy-winning “Toxic”), the producers helped bolster her sound for nearly a decade: 2004’s Greatest Hits: My Prerogative, 2005’s Chaotic, 2007’s Blackout, 2008’s Circus and 2011’s Femme Fatale.
Bloodshy continued to redefine himself. In 2007, he and Winnberg founded indie-pop band Miike Snow alongside American musician Andrew Wyatt (who later won an Oscar for co-writing A Star Is Born’s “Shallow”). In 2013, Bloodshy formed Galantis as a collaborative project with Swedish DJ Linus Eklöw. The electro-house duo refreshed the genre while dominating the festival scene worldwide. Along the way, they earned a 2016 Grammy nomination for “Runaway (U & I).”
The duo has released a string of singles since last February’s Church album, and its latest is “Heartbreak Anthem.” Shared today (May 20), the motivational anthem features Little Mix and David Guetta, whom Bloodshy previously worked with on 2015’s “Bang My Head.” “A good friend of mine works as an A&R with me. He’s also a producer/writer and tight with David Guetta,” he says of the song, which was born out of a London writing camp. “So he came to the idea to ask David if he wants to jump on it. He really liked it and started to work on drop ideas. It kept on taking different shapes and forms for a long time until the final product.”
Below, Bloodshy goes down memory lane with UPROXX about his punk beginnings, working with pop all-stars and the state of dance music.
Can you take me back to that time when you first discovered music as a teen?
I definitely came into the music industry from being in the subculture of skateboarding. When you were a skateboard kid, everyone was doing some sort of music. But I started in punk rock ‘cause it’s very easy to get into. There are like three different chords and you don’t need to be a very amazing singer to be able to get straight into starting your band. I love that culture still today. It meant so much to me, but hip-hop came into the skateboard culture in the early ’90s.
So I started to rap and make beats really when I was like 15. With punk rock, when you had the guitar, a mic, and somewhere to rehearse, that was it. You didn’t need anything more. But for hip-hop, you needed a sampler and a drum machine. That opened up so many new things because those tools were just so new and so exciting. I guess making beats just spoke to me. I continued to be a rapper for a bit, but more and more, I started to give away my beats to other people.
Really early on, I got the chance to remix Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life.” That was one of the first gigs I got and I was really proud of that. That was the beginning of everything. I was taking any work that I got because even though I was a beatmaker, I was still writing melodies. So when I got the chance to do both, I jumped on that. Whoever was knocking at my door, I was just giving it my all. I never left the studio. I basically slept on the floor and ate ramen noodles. [laughs] The struggle was beautiful though.
There’s a lot of producers who throw anything on a beat to make a quick hit. But you make sure the melody is perfect first.
Because I was so engaged in writing melody, I found out that a great beat isn’t a great song. You can force a melody on top of it and it won’t be a beautiful combination. As much as I like hip-hop, I still wanted everything to sound like a great song, even if the beat wasn’t even there, even if you have to play it on a shitty guitar around the campfire.
I couldn’t play a lot of chords, so I used the sampler as my tool. But to come up with a melody, I didn’t need anything but my voice and ideas. I kept on sharpening that to not be scared just because I wasn’t a singer. I also believe that when you’re not a great singer, you have to work even harder to get a great note [in order] to pass in a room with people that can sing. You really have to bring your game. Otherwise, they’d be like, “What is that?” But in the writing session, that shouldn’t matter. Unless the artist is with you writing it, the great melody is what should be the winner.
Speaking of melodies, you and Avant have created some of my favorite songs for Britney Spears. I love the way that you guys flipped that Bollywood sample on “Toxic.” It is a major pop song, but the sound itself is pretty terrifying.
No one else, as far as I know, was making songs that way. But that day I had probably 10, 15 ideas going and I was playing around with different types of Bollywood strings. The one we used was the only one going on a loop [begins singing “Toxic” melody]. I was thinking, “How do I make this into a song?” It’s kinda annoying but there’s also something brilliant about it. Slowly it was this procedure when you’re [chipping away at] something like Da Vinci. But it wasn’t like, “Oh my God, this is the one!” There were other songs done the same day. But this one also wasn’t made for Britney.
From what I know, “Toxic” was first pitched to Janet Jackson and she didn’t want it. And then to Kylie Minogue but she didn’t respond, so Britney ended up taking it.
You’re the first one to have the full story correct. [laughs] Actually reminded me about it. I always tell the Kylie story, but I flew to London to meet Janet and I played her the song. Later on, I had to make a big decision between continuing to work with Janet or start working for Britney. I chose Britney, and not because I was a bigger fan of her, but I just felt like I had more stuff that would fit her whereas Janet had a very strong plan of what she wanted. I sent [“Toxic”] to Kylie’s team as well and they didn’t get back to me [in time]. They did later on though and wanted the song, but then I already gave it to Britney.
A lot of fans, including myself, see Blackout as her best musical moment. There’s “Radar,” “Freak Show,” and “Toy Soldier.” But “Piece of Me” was a huge statement for her.
There’s so many layers to the story with me and Britney because there were different times in her life. But I totally agree with you, Blackout is a standout pop album. I’m very proud of being a part of it because I also loved the other work on it like Danja, T-Pain… it’s an amazing album. But it’s interesting because it was made when I think she was down and not in a good headspace at all. I think everyone that worked on the album was trying to help her come back in whatever way we could, which was with music. I was told by everyone at her label: “Whatever you do, don’t write anything about what’s going on with her. Just write other stuff.”
I was like, “I have to write ‘Piece Of Me.’” I just wanted her to come back and they said, “I know we told you not to, but this is really good.” And she really liked it. She was in there working really hard on the vocals and everything. But there were different types of journeys. Sometimes it was spending a lot of time in the studio with her or being with her on tour and making music on the bus. But around the Blackout album was a very different time for her. So it became a very different time for me as a producer and writer as well.
I think around that time you formed Miike Snow and that indie sound was completely unexpected. Why did you want to branch out?
Because there was something that I was holding inside all the time. Coming from punk rock and hip-hop where I was expressing myself, and then going into being a writer-producer where I worked for other people. I was just pushing down what I wanted to do. I was still making the music, but [I was told] “This is too left.” I put it in a drawer basically. Then at some point, I was like, “This is a big drawer of stuff here. How do I create a vehicle for the music?” It was a combination of being a little bit fed up being told by everyone in the industry that they wanted another “Toxic.” They wanted me to basically repeat myself. There wasn’t anything that appealed to me to do that. I always want to change what I’m doing and explore making music. So Miike Snow was kinda like my way of saying, “It’s been a good ride. I’m doing something else now. And I don’t care if no one listens to it.”
That was your middle finger to the music industry. [laughs]
It was actually. [laughs] And it felt really good to do that at the time. I was so proud of me, Pontus [Winnberg] and Andrew [Wyatt]. We really didn’t care if anyone would hear it. Like maybe we put it out on MySpace since that was the thing at the time. Also [I was] coming from being a top producer-writer going to the bottom again because we were a brand new band. We weren’t telling anyone who was in Miike Snow. We were like, “Let’s do some shows and be the first act of three in venues for a hundred people.” We were in a van going around and putting together all these gear for every show, which took hours.
There were like 10 people there who all hated our music ‘cause we were opening up for bands that didn’t really sound like our music. But we loved it anyway. We learned something from every show and what we wanted to do for our next steps. It was the same way I think about music: “How do I create the next sound for pop?” All three of us let ourselves just have the craziest ideas, then we just went for it.
So I know you’re busy with Galantis, but can we get a new Miike Snow album soon?
Absolutely. We’ve been working this whole year in the pandemic, although it’s been a little tough cause we’re usually in the same room together. We have been a little bit, but also sending a lot of stuff back and forth. But I’m back in Sweden after 10 years, so I’m now with Pontus again. Back to where it all started.
You’ve seen the evolution of dance and pop firsthand. Now we’re in an era where hip-hop has taken over because of streaming, but dance still has a stronghold on music festivals.
During my time in the music industry, hip-hop has had very big highs and lows. But pop and dance haven’t had such dramatic ones. But I don’t like trying to change my style just because it’s trendy, but a lot of colleagues of mine are jumping on hip-hop now. I like to stick to what I want to do. You’re absolutely correct because the stock never went down in the festival scene.
It went down in streaming because hip-hop [dominated] so I guess it took people’s attention. And it makes sense ‘cause dance is very easily the favorite for a lot of people in a big stadium maybe over hip-hop. It depends, I guess. But dance music has been so engaged in making big shows for a long time and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Even when I wrote “Toxic,” it has a lot of dance elements to it. It actually won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording and I was surprised because I didn’t think about it as a dance song.
And to go back to the whole story of Miike Snow kind of giving a finger to the industry, for every show, [fans] wanted an after-party and a DJ set. And that’s where Galantis was born because I didn’t have enough dance music for those sets. So I wanted to create more music.
Can you recall any fun studio moments with an artist?
It’s funny, you have a working relationship with someone and you’ve done a lot of music and then you end up being friends because the music never came out. Like I worked a lot with Ricky Martin a long time ago and then nothing came out, but I became good friends with him.
But other than that, I think one of my most memorable moments in the studio was working with Madonna [on 2005’s Confessions On A Dance Floor] because she was probably one of the most hands-on huge artists. I didn’t expect her to be listening to everything in the production. She was like on me, sitting behind me being like “Hey hey, wait!” [laughs] She’s amazing and such an inspiration being in a studio with her.
I’m curious how you balance all of this. Miike Snow, Galantis, and Bloodshy the Producer are three completely different entities.
I actually just make music every day. To be honest, a lot of the time I’m working on something and I think it’s Galantis, but it ends up being Miike Snow later on. Or I give it away, like “Bang My Head” for David Guetta. I like to say you can dress up a song in different types of clothing and it will fit different projects. So I try to not think about what the song is for. I let it go where it wants to go.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.