February 09, 2011

Sandy Vee's Having a "Crazy" 2011 With Grammy Noms and Chart-topping Hits

By Brianne Galli

Sandy Vee

Sandy Vee
Photo by Anna Webber

Every time you're in your car belting out the epic choruses of today's biggest pop hits, you're singing along with to work of producer Sandy Vee. In his native France, Vee worked with fellow hit-making producer David Guetta on his One Love album, but most recently he was nominated here in the U.S. for two Grammys for his work on Katy Perry's "Firework" (Album of the Year) and Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)" (Best Dance Recording). And Vee's hits don't stop there, as tracks he's worked on take up residence all over the charts, like Pitbull's "Hey Baby (Drop It To The Floor)" featuring T-Pain and Taio Cruz's "Higher" featuring Travie McCoy. Playback caught up with Vee as he was gearing up for the Grammys and a "crazy" 2011.

You were recently nominated for some Grammys, what was your reaction when you heard about that?

You know, I've lived in America now [for] six months, so just during the six months I got two number one Billboards with Rihanna [and] Katy Perry. I think that for a producer to be Grammy-nominated, it's something just amazing. But if you're like me, European, it's more than amazing. So yeah, I'm very, very happy and currently working like crazy.

So when did you first become interested in making music?

I come from a family of musicians, so it was very natural. I started with the double bass and then I switched to the bass guitar, and I was practicing, like, 12 hours a day with just doing bass, bass, bass. And after this I played with a lot of different kinds of bands, different kinds of music from jazz to punk.

I started to meet some DJs. I was not very familiar with the clubs, weren't my taste, you know? But I first met some DJs, and I [felt] like, "Something will happen with this." I wasn't immediately interested in electronic music, so I started to buy some drum [plugins], a synthesizer, and then a computer. I got it all into my studio, and I started to learn [on my own] how to construct a song.

When you want to be a producer, you have to be good in [everything], which means the music, and you have to also be an engineer. So I worked a lot on the sound to understand the compression, equalization, all the steps of the mix.

Years go by in my studio box, working, working, and then I started to get some big, big success, first in France, mostly in the club scene. I did a little bit of DJing because I just felt it was fun, but one day I was wondering to myself, "What are you doing? This is not your place. Your place is in the studio doing songs."

How did you meet and end up working with David Guetta?

Three years ago I met David Guetta in Ibiza at the Pacha, when I was playing in the "F*** Me I'm Famous" party. We started talking about a song that was released that was number one on Billboard, and it was crazy. And then he told me, "Yeah we need to work together." And then [three months later] we worked together in the studio doing the One Love album and "Sexy B****," and that changed a lot of things. It was the first time there was this kind of club song on the radio, that jumped to the top of the [charts].

How do you use your influence from the French club scene to make music in America?

What I try to do in my songs is to mix different elements. I basically try to fill my music with some urban and pop stuff, and I try to put the little part of electronic inside my music. What I like to do is some club-inspired tune, but at least it's a real song. We can talk about the Rihanna "Only Girl" or "Firework," [and] we can say it's a club record, but it's a mix of different things, and this is what I like.

I can be very versatile. I can go work with Stargate on something down tempo, or with Ne-Yo, or on a very club track with David Guetta, or by myself, you know? I can do some pop/rock stuff [through] electronic sound, so this is very interesting for me.

Going back to "Firework" and "Only Girl (In The World)," your two Grammy-nominated songs, what was your inspiration in writing those songs?

I did both songs with Stargate, and it came very naturally. For Rihanna, we were talking about doing something with some Euro theme, and we had in mind to do something up-tempo but different, with a big, big, big chorus. We worked with Cry$tyle on this song, and she killed it. The first time I heard Cry$tyle singing I was like, "Wow, yeah that's dope." And with "Firework" it was different because Katy Perry was in the room with Ester [Dean] writing the song, and we just wanted to do something more pop, not so Euro club, and something beautiful. And I'm very proud of it because I think the song is beautiful.

These two songs are at the top of the charts, what do you think it is about them that made them so popular? What makes a hit record to you?

If you take both songs, they are totally different. And that's what I like. If we talk about "Only Girl," it's simpler, with more space, and the chorus is just amazing. With "Firework", the song is so beautiful, what Katy Perry and Ester Dean wrote on the song is amazing, also the lyrics.

We can talk about the lyrics of "Only Girl." I think that every girl in the world loves the lyrics. [laughs] So the way you construct your song is so important, and the way you make your song sound. I compose, I produce the song, sometimes with Stargate, sometimes by myself, but I mix all of the record, because I try to bring something a little bit different. A lot of American dance/up-tempo music I had heard sounded so mean or cold. And I want to make my music sound warmer by keeping a lot of dynamic. It's not conventional sometimes the way I make [a song], but I love this because I really want to add something more to the sound, like signature, you know?

"Firework" is a good example of this because it's a real song, but the way it's produced and mixed makes the song change. You can take "Firework" and play it with a band, you know? I spent a lot of time mixing this song and tweaking, spent a lot of time to find the right sound, because I don't like to use generic synthesizer, because everybody has access to this. This could seem stupid, but I think that a bass drum or snare drum can be a very big part of the song. If there's something special, you can just be crazy on the snare drum, and if you change it, it's not the same. So every stage is very, very important, so I spent a lot of time tweaking, finding the drums.

You worked with David Guetta on the "One Love" album, which was very, very successful. What was it like to work with him?

I used to do a lot of underground stuff, and now I'm doing real songs. For example, at the moment I'm working with Enrique [Iglesias] or Mike Posner and what I do is very pop. And with David Guetta, of course, we work on songs, but it makes me keep my feet in the club scene. It's good to spend time with David. For example last summer [we] traveled to Europe, because he was [DJing] everyday, and it was very exciting because you're on stage in the booth, and you can feel the energy of the club, and this is very, very important. I keep focused on the club scene with David, because David is a DJ. We try to find a good mix to keep the song for the club. If "Firework" was a song for David Guetta, I think we would have a problem because he would not play the song in a crazy party at three in the morning, but he can play "Sexy B****."

It's [harder] because America [is] not ready for too much underground sound. It's more urban, pop. We did a song with David called "Getting Over" with Fergie. It was OK, but I think that the song was a little bit underground, it was a bit hard for the radio. So we try to find a good mix to get the songs for the clubs and for the radio. It's a lot of work because you have to experiment a lot. [laughs] A lot.

So what are your plans for the future?

A lot of crazy, crazy new songs. I can't say more now, but there's some crazy songs already being played for some great artists. So I will let you know very soon. [laughs] With Stargate we'll move to LA during the Grammys, we take West Lake studio for two weeks, and two rooms with a lot of writers with our new songs, so a lot will come from this session. David Guetta's album is on the way and I can tell you that we've already got the single. So I'm very happy because after "One Love" we had to be different, do something very different and try some other featuring that would make more sense for [this] album.

By myself, I just did, with Taio Cruz, a song for Kylie Minogue. I spent a few days in the studio with Mike Posner, and, oh my god, you know, I love Mike Posner. [laughs] He has a crazy voice, and we did two songs together, and we are working on some new ones. I talked with Benny Blanco, I think he's very, very talented, and we're talking about [working] with Mike Posner.

What I learned here in America since I arrived is to share and collaborate, and I love this. You know, I spent maybe ten years of my life working alone in my studio. So today, by collaborating with people like Stargate, it's really good for me to not feel alone and to share music and ideas. So this will definitely happen, I'm doing some stuff with Enrique, [Iglesias] and after I'm back from LA, we'll spend a week with Taio Cruz in the studio working on the next album, and a lot of new projects. It's going to be a big, big crazy year. So much excitement, so many people to work with, so much talent.