The way Lukas Graham put together its breakthrough hit “7 Years” says a lot about how the Danish band works.
“It took 3 1⁄2 hours to write it, but it took 18 months to finally finish production on it,” says singer Lukas Graham (yes, the band is named after him), calling from Los Angeles, where they were taping an appearance on “The Late Late Show With James Corden.” “We had to figure out how the drums go, how do we switch up the piano, what should the bass be doing, the string arrangements, where do we put the brass in and, in the end, all the ambient stuff.”
All that loving care paid off, with “7 Years” hitting No. 2 on the pop charts, kept out of the No. 1 spot by Rihanna’s “Work” juggernaut. And it shows up all through the album “Lukas Graham” (Warner Bros.), which hit No. 3 on the albums chart and shows that Lukas Graham is no one-hit wonder.
However, that doesn’t mean the band — Graham, drummer Mark Falgren, bassist Magnus Larsson and keyboardist Kasper Daugaard — still wasn’t surprised by the success of “7 Years.”
“It was a one-take vocal,” Graham says. “The only thing I rerecorded was the end, because we put in a ritardando [a gradual decrease in tempo] for the last one to slow it down. It was all recorded on an $80 mic back in Denmark. For a song with no hook and no real structure to hit No. 2 in America is just phenomenal.”
Graham says he didn’t know the song would be a hit, but he knew it was something special. “The vibe in the studio was just amazing,” he says. “It had a heavy, resonating effect on everyone in the room.”
The heaviness was part of the recording process, as Graham dealt with the death of his father, Eugene, in 2012, from a heart attack. Because his father died at the age of 61, Graham stops the tale of “7 Years” at the age of 60.
Though Eugene Graham’s death informs much of the album, his son does his best to move beyond it, turning “Funeral” into more of an upbeat anthem for enjoying life. In “You’re Not There,” he sings the soulful pop number to his father, declaring, “It’s like you got the right to know what’s going on.”
“When my dad died, my world crumbled,” Graham says, adding that he knew he had to share those feelings in his songs. “We want to touch people and I had to share my feeling. That’s what being me was and I had to just do what I do.”
Graham says his upbringing in Christiania — an abandoned military base in Copenhagen that was taken over in 1971 by hippie squatters who continue to govern themselves — is what drew him to American hip-hop from a young age, especially “The Blueprint” from Jay Z. Lukas Graham pays tribute to him on “Mama Said,” where the band styles its chorus to sound like Jay’s “Hard Knock Life.”
“That album came out when I was 11 years old and it meant a lot to me,” Graham says. “What hit me in the gut about hip-hop was that someone else grew up tough enough to be angry at the entire system. That’s what it is growing up in my neighborhood with no streetlights and no police force. I knew how to mix a Molotov cocktail before I knew how to mix a Long Island Iced Tea. When you get frisked by the police at the age of 10 and they empty your schoolbag out in the street and kick your books around and calling you names because of where you live, you just get an anger towards everyone who is outside of your neighborhood. You get the idea that you’d rather get blamed for something you did rather than something you didn’t do.”
He says that growing up in Christiania will always keep him grounded, no matter how successful Lukas Graham gets.
“You are who you are at the core of everything, when you’re alone and no one’s looking,” he says. “How do you treat the guy who opens the door for you at the fancy restaurant? How do you treat the waitress? That’s you. Money is a magnifying glass. Success is a magnifying glass that sometimes shows the devil in people. But if you’re a down-to-earth guy, it still shows you and it’s hard to corrupt that. … It’s hard to believe in yourself because until you make it, you have to keep your spirits up. But now? We know we can do this our way.”