Gaffa: "From rough diamond to polished hit maker"

Many people raised their eyebrows when Darin was one of the participants in last years’ Så Mycket Bättre. A cat among the ermines - or more a youngster among the rockers. What many don't know is that Darin the latest years has ran before everyone, both commercially and creatively. GAFFA found out what really happened.

JIM BEANZ is a typical American super producer in leather jacket and sunglasses who always tweets in caps-lock. Of course he has worked with Timbaland. Last winter Darin hung out in his studio in Philadelphia and wrote his new album Exit. He doesn't have that much on the songs, he chooses his sounds very good. Which I like, it feels very fresh.
Still it sounds as great as it would have been as much sound as possible, he says.

Darin uses English adjectives approximately as much as the media people did on ZTV in the beginning of the 90’s, there are much "vibe", "style" and "feeling". In a studio in Hammarby Sjöstad, he changes sweater while his assistants feeds him with candy and takes some Instagram-teasers for the fans. He looks tired, says that he has been up since 6 o’clock and "started working right away". It's afternoon, he waits for emails about changes of the mastering/recordings and tells us about what it was like to record with some of the world's greatest producers, like Jim Beanz.

We started with going out and have dinner. Me, him and my manager. Then we went to the studio, hung out a little and talked. He had a pretty big studio, two houses, so he did a round tour and we played some billiard. Then we started out. I switched from being in his studio in Philadelphia to sessions in New York in one week. He was very nice to work with, most of them were.
I was in Los Angeles for 3-4 weeks, where there were different studios. Sacha Skarbek had one, the Jackie Boyz had one. Sacha showed me a piano and said "this is the piano that Adele did Someone Like You on", then he started playing on it.

When Darin during 2012 was in the tv shows Så Mycket Bättre and Tack För Musiken, two productions where music veterans will tell about downs, drugs and number one's Darin was in a strange context. The ones who were busy with other things in the 00's missed when Darin went from being only an Idol participant to becoming one of Sweden's best hit makers who'll release his sixth album.

I haven't just had positive feedback. Especially not in the beginning. That was something I thought was hard, but it is also something that made me stronger. I have always just gone on. And that's probably what it's like for everyone when you get famous, that you don't only get positive response.

Darin has much experience of sharing his own songs with other artists. His career started already in his early teenage years.
When I was 14 I started writing for others, not for myself. I went to Viksjöskolan in Järfälla and there a few producers had a studio in our community youth center. We had concerts once every half year, and they heard me sing. That's how it all started. We began writing and had many different projects. Two years after that I got a record deal.

How did you learn to do handcraft? Did you analyse how songs were build?
- In the beginning I mostly went by feeling. The structure wasn't like I write today, I have also learned pretty much form the other songwriters I've written with in the past years. But it still was made by feeling.

Can you paint pictures when you write with someone else?
- Often we sit in the studio and click with each other, you feel comfortable and have fun. I'm very much into melodies. I often have ideas there. When I worked with Sacha Skarbek in Los Angeles, he said that I should start with melodies, while he sat by the piano and took some chords. Then we clicked and got feeling. Five minutes later we had a song, Surrender, the third track on the album. It's one of my favorites. A quite strong ballad. I wrote the lyrics later in Sweden, and recorded it in London. It was the last song we recorded.

People often focus on that you're a good singer, that you look good, you're good at dancing etc. And your stuff often sells very good. Have you ever thought, "when will they see through me, when will everything fall apart"?
- I've been through that. Even three times. But people forget things so fast. That's something I think is weird. I haven't always been at the top, you can't be that. It's something I've learned during these years that you must go down to get up again. Not only with the music but also personally, life in general.

When was that?
- The fourth album, Flashback, which until now has been my favorite album. But it was a period when I changed record label too. That album wasn’t staked at for 100% either. The first single was staked before I changed label and that went well.

There are a pretty big age difference between Darin and the others who were in Så Mycket Bättre and Tack För Musiken.
- But I started out very young, and now it's been almost 10 years since then. I forget that sometimes. Most people start out at my age, a little younger.

But you felt that you belonged there?
- Yes I did. I was a little "what are we gonna talk about for two hours", but it went well. I'm happy with it. There aren't many context where you can talk about music in that way. I didn’t know that much about everyone, I learned a lot. It was a very special week, so incredibly intense. I often hang out with my old homies, it's not every day that I hang out with other artists.

How comfortable were you in that role with TV cameras?
The first days I wasn't used to it. Especially when you sit down and eat, haha, "damn now I gotta eat a little more gallant and not throw it in", I thought. But after a few days I got into it. It got more comfortable, but I was also more tired and then it was easier to say what I thought of. Which is a positive thing, I think. Mostly we just sat down and talked. We talked so sickly long. One lunch was three hours and dinner was three hours but you get to see 7 minutes.

Darin's influences make a quite symptomatic picture of what was played on MTV once. Bombastic solo artists that was painted up as multi-talents and sat the agenda for that time. Superstars like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson always come up when Darin is going to list his favorites. In the same way, he is a child of his time when it comes to mix genres completely.
Everything has became one. House, r'n'b, pop music. You can make a reggae song and it's pop. You can make a guitar-alternative song and it's pop, as long as there is a catchy chorus. That makes it more okay to make new things and also easier for radio and clubs to play different kinds of music which can be good.

Darin Zanyar, a teenager from Stockholm's west part, who with his hair thatch, braces and soul voice was a rough diamond in Idol 2004, was taught to be just that kind of a successful artist. The music industry had a lot of anguish then, and tried to create genuine music and have artists' names on coffee mugs. Darin has always been more interesting in his expression than other Swedish male solo artists who makes big ballads or dance hits. He has always been quite confident, but without a macho attitude. Darin is like a D'Angelo or Usher apart from that he doesn't take his shirt off to show his abs.
In Fredrik Strage's book Fans from 2005, when Darin came second in Idol, there was a scene where some teenage girls describe the atmosphere in their school. Darin is nerdy and gay, says the boys.

I was 16 when I started. It didn't feel natural on the first album. On the second album it was almost the opposite. It was the "new rough style", when I started doing a bit more urban style. Yes... I don’t know.
Darin is quiet a few seconds and goes on:
It still feels like it has suited the music that I have done. But then I have changed at every album. It's hard to compare all the eight years. But I don't know if I would like to stand and take my shirt off, it's not my thing. But it doesn't have to do with the r'n'b thing. There are r'n'b stars who don't do that.

Many pop stars today start to look more like entrepreneurs than artists. The rapper Dr. Dre, who hasn't released an album since 1999, had the biggest income last year. This by selling earphones. MTV has also gone down that road, last time they played music videos was when the king of pop died. For Swedish culture workers it's popular to cook food on TV, make their own wine and "open themselves up" in entertainment shows. But Darin isn't on Let's Dance even though he surely would give his dance trainer a tip instead of the situation reversed. And on Darin's website you can only buy a black, pretty boring, hoodie. He confesses that he has gotten requests about doing more television, commercials and selling products. And he would say yes - if it was something that he really liked.

I choose what feels good for me as an artist. I see myself as a musician and try to keep doing what I'm doing. That's why I do it, I didn't start with this for being famous. I didn't see that part of it. It's the same thing with all the tv-shows I choose to do, I do what I think feels right. About this with music shows to do or earphones, if that feels right, but I see what you mean. There is lots of stuff that I could have made as much money as possible on, that I have declined.

The songwriting maybe was more of your thing?
Yes, exactly. The songwriting has always been the big thing for me. I haven't really done it to the fullest, I have just gotten a publishing company and then there's a part of the publishing deal to write to other people. It feels good, that's something I can consider doing in the future.

The background to the new album and the cooperation with american producers costs. Darin chose to trash his new album completely - to start over. To Aftonbladet he said last fall that he hadn't felt bad that the album wasn't good enough, but "when it comes to the music I am a perfectionist. It has to work out. Now the international market is important to me".
There were many good songs there too. But it didn't feel like the right style for me right now. It was a tough decision, but I started over. Then I signed a publishing company deal with BMG Chrysalis. Which was completely right in time because then I could go over to the USA and write with people over there.

A publishing company deal in the music business means that he now takes a big step to also becoming a frequent songwriter to others. He has already cooperated with Max Martin, RedOne, Jörgen Elofsson and Billy Mann, but now he gets more international. Darin, who has won both Swedish Grammys, Rockbjörnar (Swedish music awards) and had songs at number 1 on the top charts and platinum sellings, seems satisfied.
I went down to their main office in Berlin and had a meeting. I said that I wanted to work with them and them, and then they fixed that, he says.

In a press release Thomas Schrerer at BMG says that "Darin isn't just a fantastic pop artist but also a talented songwriter for these times music in different genres" and that they look forward to promoting him as a songwriter and artist in Europe, USA and Asia.

- My favorite album so far, and it feels good to say, is the new one. Jim Beanz has cooperated a lot with Timbaland and I have listened to Nelly Furtado much, among others. I wanted to do something in that style but 2013, says Darin.

Translated b Nathalie Pentler.