Daniel Caesar and Ludwig Lindell have been making music together since they were six years old. Decades later, they're still working together but under the joint name Caesar & Loui. They're currently signed to The Kennel, a music publishing, production, and management company based in Sweden. As with other songwriters and producers on The Kennel, Caesar & Loui write songs for pop stars all over the world. Recently, they wrote and produced new singles from LOONA, Red Velvet, and Girls' Generation. They touch on the process of writing those songs and more below.
Tone Glow: As you two know, a lot of people are involved in the release of even one K-pop single. And naturally, it's the actual members of a group who get all the recognition. One of the reasons I wanted to interview both of you was to shed some light on those in the industry who work behind the scenes. So to keep things very simple: who are Caesar & Loui, and how did you two meet? How long have you two been making music, both in general and together?
Caesar & Loui: Caesar & Loui consists of Daniel Caesar and Ludwig Lindell. We met when we were 6 years old in school and have been best friends ever since. We started making music together early on, in the beginning by just recording ourselves with a room-microphone and playing 4-hand synth—both playing on the same synth :). At the time Daniel took lessons in guitar and Ludwig in piano. When we were 16 years old we both applied to the same music high school in our hometown Linköping.
When we were in high school we really started getting into music and we wrote and played together in different bands. We also had our own projects at the time. Ludwig was really into jazz-piano and started playing with a trio. Daniel sang and played guitar in a rock/punk band called Blunk. We also had our own band at the time called Giano that we wrote and recorded/produced music for. It was mostly for fun, nothing serious but we really learnt a lot about Cubase (software that we used at the time for recording our music, we use Logic now).
After high school Daniel went to Santa Barbara City College (US) and studied production/songwriting/acting for one year. After that he applied for a production/songwriting school up north in Sweden called Musikmakarna. It was through Musikmakarna that we got in contact with our label The Kennel.
Ludwig took another path after high school. Wanting to be a musician, he applied for different schools in Sweden. He studied for one year at Skurups Folkhögskola, which is located south of Sweden outside of Malmö. At Skurup, Ludwig studied jazz-piano and played with different groups. Afterwards, Ludwig applied for the royal music college in Stockholm and studied there for three years (which was also for jazz-piano).
When Daniel had his internship through his school (Musikmakarna), Ludwig and Daniel teamed up and worked together as a team. We started off writing music for The Kennel before we signed there as songwriters/producers. During our first three years as songwriters we worked as a trio called D3O with our friend Olof Lindskog. After 3 years we decided to split up and Caesar & Loui was born. Olof continued working by himself with the name Ollipop!
Despite the split, you three still collaborate—as was the case with Netherlands-based Angela Vero on "Work It"—so there's presumably no bad blood here. Was there any particular reason for the separating? Both of you guys are working together under a single name so I imagine there's an understood synergy between you two. How are the dynamics of working on a song as a team? And in general, what would you say you individually bring to the table that the other half perhaps doesn’t?
We started working as D3O and it was a really good time for all of us. We managed to score a lot of cuts (cuts = released songs with artists) together and had some really fun moments! After 3 years we all felt like we needed to move on. The reason was simply because we wanted different things so we decided to split. And it’s no hard feelings after the break, we’re still really good friends working from the same house and we still write music together.
Since we’ve (Caesar & Loui) known each other for such a long time we have a really strong connection together. So after the break from D3O there was really no question about if we would continue as a team or not. We really trust each other and have always had the same goals in music/life so we’re probably gonna go on for ever! :)
Since we have different backgrounds, we have a wide range of skills together as a team. Daniel comes from a rock background playing the guitar and singing in different bands. So all the guitars in Caesar & Loui's productions are almost always recorded by Daniel. Ludwig on the other hand comes from a jazz/R&B background so he has a lot of knowledge about chords and of course playing the piano/synths. We are also both singers so we usually sing on our demos when we write music for boy bands and male artists. We also both produce, and it’s really nice for our workflow when we have a lot of productions to finish up.
Writing songs together is always different. Sometimes we come up with ideas on our own and then work together from the idea. Or sometimes we start from scratch. We also have sessions sometimes working with other talented songwriters and for those, we usually have tracks and ideas prepared for the sessions. We really like being prepared to make the workflow better. We both feel like when we write the best songs, the ideas come to us quite quickly. After we have the main ideas recorded we start to look more closely at the details of the song. Since we're both producers we can really go back and forth with ideas on the production, which can be really nice when we get stuck or when we just need some inspiration and push.
Sometimes we even split up and work alone or together with other songwriters. We just try to be open and let the inspiration flow. But for probably 99% of our songs we write them together.
The Kennel is based in Sweden and does indeed make songs for Swedish artists, as was the case for C&L with The Fooo. However, The Kennel has songwriters and producers who work with artists from around the world. Can you discuss your experience with The Kennel and explain what the process is like for getting songs for these international artists? For example, are record companies often coming to The Kennel to get a song written? Is there a pool of songs that artists/companies are free to choose from? On your Facebook page, you guys mentioned that it was your dream to write a song for SHINee back in 2013 and eventually did last year with "Wishful Thinking". Do you two have significant say in the artists you want to collaborate with?
Almost every time we write music for artists, we have some kind of connection with the label the artist is signed to. That connection is usually made through The Kennel via email. Then we get an email explaining details about the artist, maybe some links to their previous releases, and an explanation for what kind of songs they are searching for at the moment. Sometimes we have meetings directly with the artist/management. And sometimes we get the contacts on our own via networking and so on.
For example, with The Fooo we had a meeting with their previous manager and talked about what kind of music they were searching for at the moment. After the meeting we got into the studio and started working on songs.
We write a lot of songs each year and of course not every song will find an artist straight away. So all of these songs are available in our catalogue for artists to try out if they want. These songs are handled by our creative manager Pernilla Svanström who works at The Kennel. Her job is mainly to send songs and handle the contacts to score the best artists as possible. And of course we can pitch these songs ourselves if we think we have a suitable artist for the song.
We can of course request artists that we wanna write songs for but as we mentioned before, it’s really important to have a good connection with the label/artist first. For example, take the SHINee song "Wishful Thinking" that we wrote with Andreas Öberg. We wrote that song aimed for the Korean/Japanese market but didn’t have any specific artist in mind beforehand. Since we have good connections in South Korea/Japan via The Kennel, we managed to get the song to SHINee and they liked it. This is different with all the songs we write, sometimes we have a really clear picture of which artist we wanna aim for and sometimes we just write a song that we like.
How would you describe the Korean/Japanese market, and how would you say it differs from others you write for? And similarly, what keeps you interested in writing songs for this market?
What we’ve always thought was really interesting and fun with the K-pop/J-pop market was the variety of styles and sounds in the music. It feels like the labels are always looking for something fresh and new; they're not afraid of taking chances. If we compare this to writing for the Western market (US, UK, etc.), it feels like a music style will stay longer on the top charts and the leads (leads = what the labels are looking for) for artists refer back to the same songs for a longer period of time.
Also, what we really love about the K-pop/J-pop market is the effort put into the songs' videos and choreographies. It was the first thing that we really fell in love with when we heard/watched our first K-pop song!
It feels like the K-pop market especially has a really global and viral spread right now. And every year it grows a little bit more. We feel like it’s a cool journey to be a part of and also, of course, it gives us a lot of opportunities to get our music out. Since we have both the K-pop/J-pop world and the US/UK market to write for, we tend to always find a home for our songs!
You two wrote Girls' Generation-TTS' "Stay" as well as f(x)'s "Spit It Out". Like many other songs you've written, those definitely felt like they were chosen for the perfect artists. Did you have these artists in mind when writing these particular songs? And do you recall what the influences and inspirations were for them? And more broadly speaking, when writing songs for Korean artists, how often would you say you're taking influence from other K-pop versus pop that comes out of America or Europe?
Both of those songs were written specifically for SM Entertainment and their artists! We had the girl bands in mind of course when we wrote those songs. SM are really good at picking songs for the right artists and making them their own. But we thought—let’s just write good songs for the girl-groups at SM. We have to mention that both of these songs were written as D3O, so Ollipop is a writer/producer on the songs as well!
For "Stay" we had the idea of making a future disco beat with a big chorus. We wrote it with Kennel writer Hayley Aitken, who has an amazing voice, so we were really able to get the vibe right for the song! We thought it would be fun to make a disco type of drop after the second chorus. We kept the piano in focus with typical disco chords and had an R&B-ish melody on top of that. It feels like the song has a really special vibe with those elements put together.
”Spit It Out” was actually one of the first songs we wrote together as D3O. Our inspiration for the song came from hearing Girls' Generation's ”I Got A Boy” for the first time—we thought the sounds and the melodies were so special and cool.
Inspiration comes from all different genres for us. Especially for tracks, we have a lot of producers that we follow and listen to. For example we love productions from The Struts (Tove Lo, etc.), Skrillex (Justin Bieber), Mura Masa, Diplo, etc. And of course we follow the latest K-pop trends for inspiration. But basically we just take inspiration from any great music we hear.
More recently, you two wrote "Singing in the Rain" for JinSoul of LOONA. Blockberry Creative is a rather new label so I'm interested if they were the ones who first got in touch with The Kennel. Its release seemed perfectly timed too, coming after the moody electropop of Kim Lip's "Eclipse". I know you stated that you'll have songs written that won't be used until later but how much time was there between writing this song and its eventual release? And how much time, on average, would you say there is between any song being written and its release?
We came in contact with them when they said they wanted the song. We don’t know the whole story about how The Kennel came in contact with them!
The song was written during one of our own camps called "Camp Awesome". We had it together with our dear friends Ollipop, Cage (producer/writer at The Kennel) and Oneye (producer/writer at The Kennel). The idea of the camp is to write great songs together during a whole week and end it with a listening party. It’s a really fun and creative way of writing songs and all of us can come in and give feedback during the process of the song-making. This song was found rather fast by LOONA, it took only a few months until they wanted to record the song.
On average we would say it takes about six months to up to a year before a song gets cut. But it varies a lot, we’ve had songs laying around for two to three years before finding its home and sometimes it happens right away!
I find the song super exciting because it seems to take sounds from the post-dubstep scene of the early 2010s but also feels right at home in the landscape of K-pop today considering the more contemporary dance music sounds that have existed since 2015. I'm thinking of stuff like LDN Noise's work with SM as well as last year's "Promise (I'll Be)" and "Think About You" from 2PM and Jun. K, respectively. Can you discuss what you two were aiming for with this song?
Actually the song is a mashup of two different productions. The drop part was made by us like 2-3 years ago. We actually re-produced the idea right before the camp! The other part of the production (verse-beat and the part before the drop) was made by Oneye right before the camp. During the session of making the song we thought, let’s put the productions together, and it worked! After that we top-lined the track and came up with the title "Singing In The Rain". I think the main idea of the song was to create something groovy and danceable. It felt like LOONA really understood that, the video and the dance moves looks great.
Red Velvet's "Red Flavor" is a massive hit and it is, in my opinion, the K-pop song of the summer. I feel like you don't really get a sense of how propulsive and joyful the song really is until the song slows down with Wendy's final line. Even then, there are a lot of details in the song that I feel like are easy to miss. What was the process like for writing this song?
This one we wrote by ourselves. It was actually aimed for the UK band Little Mix since we had a meeting with one of their A&Rs at the time. But we felt like it could work for the K-pop market as well! The song started with the track and the low voice you can hear in the intro and during the chorus. After that we just wrote the melodies and played around with the track. The result was the song "Dance With Nobody". It was the original title before the lyrics were translated into Korean. We hired our good friend and great singer Ylva Dimberg (writer; f(x), Girls' Generation, Taemin, etc.) to sing the demo of the song and you can actually still hear her background vocals in the pre-chorus! Finishing this song actually took a little bit longer than usual. We took a break from the song for a few months before finishing it just to listen to it with fresh ears. We’re really happy with how the song turned out. Red Velvet and SM did a really good job with the song!
Both "Singing in the Rain" and "Red Flavor" feature interesting vocal snippets. In the former, you have the vocodered bit that first appears in the second chorus and in the latter you have the titular line that sounds like someone slurring their speech after a few drinks (which, coincidentally, fits in nicely with the video!). Were these samples? Or were they things initially sung (by the members, by you two) and processed later?
Both of the voices that you refer to are recorded by us. The "Singing In The Rain" voice is actually from the demo version of the song. It’s Ludwig's voice pitched down to make it sound like some kind of a robot. In "Red Flavor" it’s Ludwig's voice recorded through an iPhone microphone and then processed through Logic with a bunch of effects. The "Red Flavor" voice was inspired by the song ”Run The World (Girls)” (Beyonce, Major Lazer).
You two helped produce "All Night", one of Girls' Generation's brand new singles. It's especially exciting because the song and album were released 10 years after they debuted with "Into The New World". To further commemorate this anniversary, SM released a "Documentary Version" of "All Night" that finds the girls reminiscing on their time together. The girls also handpicked some songs from their discography for an Apple Music playlist. What significance does Girls' Generation have to you two specifically? And if you had to choose one or two songs that hold special significance to you, be it from their Korean or Japanese releases, what would they be and why?
Girls' Generation was one of the first K-pop acts we listened to. So they kind of introduced us to the K-pop style. We thought it was really cool how they could have such a big group but still make it work. The choreographies and the harmonies in the vocals were really new to us.
If we had to pick two songs we would pick "I Got A Boy" and "The Boys". "The Boys" was probably one of the first K-pop songs we heard and we were really amazed by the cool production and the well-made video for the song. We also really loved the harmonies in the vocals! Especially in the intro of the song when the vocals are alone.
"I Got A Boy" was written by one of our Kennel writers "Sarah Lundbäck Bell" so we got to hear the song in its early stages. We thought the style and the tempo transition were really cool! The song really inspired us to think outside the box and, as mentioned before, we wrote the song "Spit It Out" after we heard it.
Was "All Night" another song that you had specifically written for SM? Tiffany's rap in the second verse and the synth ornamentation in the bridge bring to mind "Stay", funny enough.
We wrote the song together with our friend Olof Lindskog a.k.a. Ollipop! We thought it would be fun to bring back the old team (D3O) so we sat down and wrote the song "All Night" specifically for SM Entertainment. The song came to us pretty fast and we had a really fun time making it. The idea of the song was to mix two styles together. We have the 80s analogue synth bass line in the verses with playful melodies on top. It leads into the chorus that has more of a trap sound to it and a powerful melody that leads into the hook "All Night". This gives the song a special vibe we think. For the demo vocals, we asked the amazing Hayley Aitken (Kennel writer). She really took the song to another level!
We think we subconsciously took some inspiration from "Stay" when we wrote the rap. Usually when we write the rap parts we just freestyle and sometimes we maybe use the same rhythms as another song we've made. For the instrumental part we also just freestyled the lines in the synths. And yeah, it reminds us a bit of "Stay" as well!
Both "Red Flavor" and "All Night" feature lyrics that were written by Kim Yeon Jung aka Kenzie. Were you ever in contact with her during the process of writing/producing the song or afterwards? Or was it more so that you had the song sold to SM and then she essentially took over and changed the lyrics? You stated that "Red Flavor" originally had a different title—did "All Night" have a significantly different title/lyrical themes beforehand as well?
She's a really good writer and a wonderful person. For these two songs we didn't have any contact with her during the process. We just sent the tracks and she took over with the lyrics! However, we have worked with Kenzie in South Korea once before! "All Night" was actually the title we had for the demo version. So in this case they kept the title.
You two have visited South Korea multiple times. Do you have any memorable stories of meeting and working with any of the artists there?
We have met a few artists while being in Seoul! One of the strongest memories was when we were writing songs at SM entertainment and we were told that Girls' Generation had a meeting outside the studio. We were supposed to wait until the meeting was finished. But after a few minutes we were told to go out to the meeting room and we were introduced to the whole group. It was a really special moment since it was our first time in Seoul. We also met EXO at a TV performance (when the song "Growl" was big). It was really cool since we really love EXO!
Are there any artists, be it Korean or not, that you still haven't worked with but would love to in the future? And any particular reasons why?
In Korea we would love to have a song with EXO someday. Just because we love the songs they are releasing and their skills in both dancing and singing are just flawless. Our dream is also to release big songs in the US. We don’t have any specific dream artists in mind, more so collaborations with writers/producers. One of our biggest dreams is to work with Max Martin and Shellback!
Aside from the songs you've written, are there any recent K-pop songs that you've really enjoyed?
We really like NCT's song "Cherry Bomb". The song has a really nice swag to the beat and the dance moves in the video are crazy good! We also love the M8 part when the chords go into more R&B vibe!
And are there any songs you two have coming that K-pop fans should be looking forward to?
Not at the moment! But we're planning on going to Seoul this fall, so we'll probably get some nice songs out of that trip. :)
I just want to thank you so much for taking part in this interview. Is there anything you would like to add?
No actually not! Great questions and thanks for wanting us to participate in this interview! :)
Caesar & Loui K-pop/J-pop
4minute - Whatever
VIXX - Hyde*
Shinhwa - Scarface
Boys Republic - What Up
WA$$UP - Nom Nom Nom*
4minute - Wait A Minute
Super Junior - Swing*
f(x) - Spit It Out
C-Clown - Let's Love*
Girls' Generation-TTS - Stay
Taemin - Pretty Boy
Zhou Mi - Why (Color Blind)
TVXQ - Special One
Boys Republic - Pump
BTOB - Giddy Up
SHINee - Wishful Thinking
Pentagon - Pretty Pretty*
Shinhwa - Super Power
EXO-CBX - Girl Problems
EXO-CBX - Diamond Crystal
LOONA/JinSoul - Singing In The Rain*
Red Velvet - Red Flavor*
Girls' Generation - All Night*
*lead single/has a music video