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Excerpts from interview with Johan “Shellback” Schuster (from 2015)

His artist name Shellback is fittingly from professor Shellback in the Swedish cartoon Bamse - a logical and technical genius that has a solution for everything. And also a person that sleeps a lot at his workplace and may seem a bit absent. 

A more intelligible way to understand how Johan thinks is to listen to his works. “Shake It Off” with Taylor Swift was, together with Megan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”, the song that dominated the year of pop music in 2014. If you haven’t heard “Shake It Off” a hundred times you are obviously allergic to electricity.


Anyone who thinks there is a formula for pop hit records is a sloppy listener. The songwriters and artists that try to sound like the others on the charts can become successful - for a while - but they soon fall into oblivion. On the contrary, the biggest songs are those that break the norm, the ones that do not follow any rules other than gut feeling.

Shake It Off (billboard #1 for 4 weeks) didn’t sound like any other modern hit song at the time of its release. The song starts with a five second long drum intro - old fashioned acoustic drums - something that is unheard of on commercial radio.

It is Johan playing the drums on Shake It Off. It is also Johan playing guitar, bass, keyboard and shouting in the background.

Songwriting on Shake It Off is credited to Shellback, Max Martin (Johan’s discoverer and mentor) and Taylor herself.

Johan further explains:
-  Shake It off was the next to last song we recorded for the album. The other was actually Blank Space (billboard #1 for 7 weeks). With Taylor one can work very quickly, sometimes we wrote a song a day. When we met 6 months after our first session we felt like there was a type of song missing.

How do you know that?
-  Basically it’s a kind of pleasing frustration. How good everything feels. We’re home, we have everything we need. But, at the same time… a feeling of… something missing. Something that breaks from the other stuff. Something more light-hearted. Pharrell had just released Happy and that song was on our minds. When we worked with Taylor on the last album, which was the first time she didn’t write everything herself, we did We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. It had a different feel than her other songs. It had a more fun and flirty feel to it. We felt that maybe we needed a song like that.

-  Taylor usually has a solid idea when she comes in, but this time we had nothing. It is also uncommon for Martin and me to work that way. We usually come well prepared to a session. So we just sat there. What the hell do we do now? We started playing music to each other to get reference points. Someone that happened to be me said, how about doing something in the same tempo as Hey Ya by Outkast? Something faster and more drum based?

-  In the studio there was a drum kit set up and ready to go. I went in and played something just for fun. We later on used that very recording for the song. What you hear is played live. We really thought of it as a sketch - all right, now we have a tempo to work on - but it often happens that you keep the demo even though it isn’t perfect, since there is more feeling in it. Martin was humming something, Taylor was humming something else. There was a mellotron. I found a brass sound and started playing something really bad on purpose (duh duh duh, exactly what is heard on Shake It Off). Martin instantly said: “That is awesome”. If he had not said that I would have moved on and tried something else. 

-  What we had didn’t really feel like chorus chords, but just as we were packing up for the day Taylor wrote a falling melody that sounded really hooky. We still didn’t know what it was. Is it a chorus? A verse? Me and Martin listened to it in the car on the way home and we were shaking our heads. Is this good? Is it shit? The next day after we had slept on it, which is the best thing you can do, we realized that we had been humming it all morning. The rest of the song wrote itself very naturally. Taylor wrote the lyrics in 30 minutes.

It is an incredibly clever lyric, a comment to her life situation as a tabloid target.
-  She is a hell of a writer, personal and broad at the same time. And the speed of it is unreal. I don’t get how she does it. If I was to write about my life it would be the most boring lyric in the world (starts singing the Shake It Off melody): “I go to the studio every day…”

Time for a Coffee Break

“Continue Pouring Until Pouring is No Longer an Option”

  1. Sam Kalda
  2. Dunken K. Blithe from Your Coffee Guru on Tumblr
  3. Found on We Have Your Beard on Tumblr
  4. Found on Doll Meat on Tumblr
  5. Maori Sakai
  6. Found on Stupid Teletubbie on Tumblr
  7. Blank Papyrus

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