Peter Svensson has continued to deliver the goods for 20 years. First as guitarist and songwriter in The Cardigans, who are one of Sweden’s most successful, globally popular bands, and then as a songsmith for international artists such as The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, One Direction and Ellie Goulding. According to Alexander Kronlund and a host of others, Svensson is one of Sweden’s most sophisticated songwriters. Not bad at all.
“It feels great to have another chance as success. It's really nothing you can take for granted. I have always thought as long as I write a hit every five years, I’m happy. So anything beyond that is a bonus,” says Svensson.
“The rush you get when you succeed – when everyone’s listening to your song – it’s so amazing that you want to experience it again. It’s almost like a drug. And then it feels fantastic to feel it again and again.”
“It's an incredibly valuable confirmation. I feel honoured to be included in the company of songwriters who have been awarded the Platinum Guitar [among others, Laleh Max Martin, Robyn, Benny Andersson and Per Gessle – Ed.]
The STIM Platinum Guitar is certainly not the first award bestowed on Peter Svensson. He has amassed an impressive collection of Grammis Awards and Rockbjörnen Prizes over the years. Together with his band members in The Cardigans, he was inducted into the Swedish Music Hall of Fame in 2017.
And lest we forget... He was voted Sweden’s sexiest man in 1999 and 2001, by the magazines QX and Elle, respectively. According to the Elle jury, Peter’s sensual lips were a decisive factor, whereas QX was enamoured of his deep gaze, cool style and five o'clock shadow.
Which of your accolades do you most cherish?
“(Laughs) Well, being voted Sweden’s sexiest man turned into a fun topic of discussion. It was a long time ago. But, of course, it was pretty cool. All the awards have been truly flattering, but the STIM Platinum Guitar is definitely the most awesome,” says Peter with an obsequious glint in his eye.
Sure, the gaze is still there. The lips as well for that matter. But the stubble has grown out into a full beard.
But how did it all start? From where did Peter Svensson’s interest in music originate?
“I was around six or seven. And I’m talking about real music, not Trazan & Banarne or The Jungle Book or the like. I was inspired by a few of the older guys and started listening to hard rock – AC/DC, Kiss and Motorhead.
But it perhaps more the visual image of the music that attracted me. The whole look of denim jackets with patches and the awesome album covers.
“I remember the feeling when I went with my mom to Domus department store and bought my first vinyl. I chose the one that looked the coolest – Motorhead’s Iron Fist.” I guess it was fortunate that it was also a good album.
“My dad made a cool guitar for me out of plywood. I stood in front of the mirror singing Kiss songs. It was cool.”
At the age of eight he started playing guitar in the music school run by the municipality.
“It wasn’t all that fun, something completely opposite to my dream of being a hard rocker. One by one, my friends grew bored and quit.”
Soon enough, Peter was the only one remaining. His instructor phoned his parents and asked them to make sure he continued with the lessons.
“I don’t think he saw any particular talent in me, I think that because I was the only one left he wanted to keep his job.”
Young Peter agreed – but on one condition: he wouldn’t be forced to learn notation. Instead, he brought along his cassettes containing hard rock and stellar guitar intros to the lessons. His instructor listened to the music and showed Peter what to do. And his instructor kept notation aside.
“Everything fell into place. I started writing my own songs and developed a sound. Eventually, I also began discovering other music where melody played a more central role, and I think it was then that the songwriting floodgates opened for me.”
Peter supposes his first song was in the vein of a traditional Swedish drinking song.
“I recall borrowing the stanza from Vad blåser det för vind i dag? Brännvind and created a song out of it. In retrospect it seems a bit strange. I was barely twelve at the time, so that can’t be right?”
Peter came into his own when he started attending a music academy in Jönköping.
“That’s when it exploded. Music took over my life. I lived for music.”
He met Magnus Svenningsson and they formed The Cardigans.
The band’s debut single Rise And Shine was released in 1994.
That same year, Peter Svensson became a member of STIM. The first payment he received was for a whopping 461 Swedish kronor.
“(Laughs) Yes, it was in all probability welcome money. I probably lived an entire month on it.”
But the payments soon became a lot more substantial.
The big breakthrough came with Lovefool in 1997. It was also a hit internationally, topping the charts in the US, UK, Japan and other countries, and was used on the soundtrack to the Baz Luhrmann film Romeo & Juliet. The song has also appeared in episodes of the TV series The Office and Beverly Hills 90210, and the chorus was interpolated in Justin Bieber’s Love Me.
“I normally find it difficult to answer the classic interview question: ‘Which song are you most proud of?’. But if I had to answer, I would probably say Lovefool. It was a massive hit and it was important for us.
“There are also loads of other songs of which I’m personally proud – they may contain intelligent or distinct solutions – but which no else appreciates much. That’s how it goes. Some songs are hits, others aren’t. And sometimes it’s hard to know why.”
Hot on the heels of Lovefool came several acclaimed albums and international hit songs. Such as the album Gran Turismo which included the global hit singles My Favorite Game and Erase/Rewind.
The Cardigans toured all over the world and soon became on the most successful Swedish bands ever. They have sold more than 15 million records worldwide.
Peter Svensson was the band’s musical powerhouse. He composed most of the group’s songs, while Nina Persson and Magnus Svenningsson wrote most of the lyrics.
“Truthfully, I find it somewhat difficult to separate the music from the lyrics. When I write a song, some words or phrases form part of the melody. Sometimes it’s the chorus or first verse, and it is often these songs that have found success – when the melody and the opening lines are integrated from the start.”
The Cardigans released their last album, Super Extra Gravity, in 2005.
“We didn’t disband, we considered it more of a hiatus. But we just haven’t ended up working together since. I hardly worked for a long period, I focused my energy on my family and my home. I worked on a house and other DIY projects.”
Requests started coming in for him to write songs for other artists.
“Composing music for other people initially demanded a lot of time and consideration. It is often said that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. During that period, I think I spent at least 5,000 hours getting it to work.
“It was not straightforward at first. But now it’s almost second nature. I had an underlying confidence in myself due to all the radio hits we had with The Cardigans. People enjoyed my music and that strengthened me.”
Today, Peter resides in Stockholm but travels frequently to Los Angeles and works in various circles within Max Martin’s labels.
“When I’m there I can work more or less day in and day out for two, three weeks. Then I return home and focus on the problems that have arisen while I was away. It works well.”
He writes songs for myriad artists, and has had successes with the US number-one singles Can’t Feel My Face with The Weeknd, Me Too with Meghan Trainer and Love Me Harder with Ariana Grande.
Out of a team of songwriters, it is usually Peter Svensson who creates the melodies.
“It’s often quite free and can differ depending on the group of people. But melodies are my forte, so that’s often how it is.
“I think that I have my own sound and melodic style. A personal expression that emerges in all the songs I write, irrespective of the artist. But it took a while before I recognised my personal sound as the common thread, even when composing for others. I went through a period where I tried to adapt to others. But today, in hindsight, I can see that the true successes came when I reverted to my own melodic style.”
“I’ve probably written at least one song on each guitar.
There should be one in each room of the house. I usually come up with one little idea whenever I pick up a guitar and jam a bit. And then I’m suddenly sitting there with a melody line that I like. I then record it on my smartphone and hope that it can be used later on.
“I wish I was a little more organised, but not deciding that ‘now I’m going to work’ seems to work for me. But when I get inspired, I can work around the clock.
Organised or not. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that it works. And very well.
“It was actually only a few years ago that I actually realised I could make a living by writing for others. Then it all fell into place. Before that I was basically just keeping myself entertained.”
Written by: Pia Runfors
Photo by: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin
Peter Svensson’s association with STIM
Number of songs with STIM: 205
First registered song: Seems Hard
Most radio airplay:
My Favorite Game
Can’t Feel My Face