One of the few Indian origin artist to have achieved fame and recognition in the international music space is Savan Kotecha. For the ones unfamiliar with the songwriter, here are the names of just a few artists he has worked with, One Direction, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears, Ellie Goulding, Justin Bieber, Maroon 5 and the current pop queen Ariana Grande.
In this interview we discuss Savan’s remarkable journey from being a boy band aspirant to writing some of the biggest hits for the best artists and more.
Take us through the Savan Kotecha journey. Your parents worked at IBM. How did they react to your choice of profession?
They weren’t that happy to be honest. It was obviously more out of concern of the unknown. They didn’t know anything about the music business and all they saw on tv about it was sex and drugs haha. It took them a long time to accept it. But I was so obsessed and focused more on music than school so at some point they accepted that I wouldn’t go into college like my peers in the Indian community. And they let me live in the house still so that was very nice! It wasn’t until a number of years after me being successful where I think they really accepted it and realized I was fine!
What lured you to music? Whom did you idolise while growing up? Has your style been inspired by any of them?
I am not sure what lured me into music. When I was a kid I always loved dancing and I was obsessed with Michael Jackson. But I don’t remember ever thinking I would do music until high school. There was a night after we had just moved to Texas and I couldn’t sleep. I saw my sister’s old keyboard and I just took it out when everyone was sleeping and began playing chords. I thought it was fun and then kept doing it and started writing songs from there. My biggest idol as a songwriter during those times was Babyface, Bryan Adams and Richard Marx. I loved ballads!
How did you get your break? Any particular incident that made it all happen for you?
There wasn’t really a ‘big break’ moment. But I started getting great positive reactions to the demo tapes I would send out in high school. I eventually got invited to do a showcase in Nashville and a manager saw me there and introduced me to a music lawyer who introduced me to publishers and one of them signed me!
How was the X-Factor experience? Especially composing ‘Inside Your Heaven’ for Carrie Underwood?
Well the Carrie Underwood song was some years before my time on the X factor (she was an American idol winner and I co – wrote her winning song which was my first #1 in the US). I was asked to help out on X factor in 2010 by Simon Cowell who I was close to. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it but in the end he convinced me. It was probably the funnest three months of my professional life. And obviously life changing because we developed One Direction and those boys went on to take over the world. It was a very special time for me.
You have penned smash hits for everyone from One Direction to Usher, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. Is there any one song that you are particularly sentimental about or proud of?
I am really proud of “What Makes you Beautiful”, because it was the first time I was a part of developing and ‘breaking’ a band. I am very proud of the part I have been able to play in the journey of Ariana’s career. She’s such a special person to me and I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done together.
If you could have produced any one song in history, which would it have been and why?
Gosh that’s hard to say. I would have loved to have written something like Lionel Richie’s “Hello” or Boyz II Men’s “Water Run Dry’’. I just love those songs so much.
In today’s world of DIY, are you seeing more artists self-producing their material or more reaching out to composer / producers like yourself in an effort to improve their songs and stand out?
Yes and no. Sometimes when they have big hits on their own they want to continue doing that (which they should) but I do get the calls that people may need help with a follow up. I’m lucky to get those calls.
Any finally, when do we see you working with an Indian artist? Why hasn’t it happened yet? Have you heard any who have caught your attention
I think its just about finding or being presented the one that I feel I can really contribute to and that inspires me. I’m sure it will happen and its definitely something I want to do!
Text by Hardik Joshi