Christoffer Lundquist to be honored with first ever Sir George Martin Award
Christoffer Lundquist, a multi-talented musician, composer, producer and lead guitarist for Roxette, will receive the Sir George Martin Award when it is presented for the first time ever at a gala event on May 2 in Malmö, Sweden. The award comes with an impressive 100,000 kronor stipend, which converts to about $15,700 USD or €11,300 EUR.
Martin, knighted by Queen Elizabeth and often cited as the fifth member of The Beatles, is best known as the producer of their recordings at the Abbey Road studios in London. He himself was honored last April with an honorary doctorate degree from Lund University and its Malmö Academy of Music. Sverker Svensson, head of the academy and a member of the award’s governing board, told The Daily Roxette in a telephone interview that it was in conjunction with the bestowing of this degree that Staffan Olander, a retired banker and close friend of Martin, came up with the idea of creating an endowed award. He arranged for his former colleagues at Öresund Savings Bank to sponsor the award and it was determined that it would be presented annually to a producer, composer, arranger, conductor or musician who either lives in Skåne (the southernmost province in Sweden) or has worked on his or her musical endeavors there.
Christoffer, as many readers of The Daily Roxette already know, runs his own studio – the Aerosol Grey Machine Studio – in the remote village of Vollsjö. Svensson said that “one of the reasons Christoffer was selected for this honor was that with a great passion, he made his studio into a Scanian version of Abbey Road.” Christoffer has produced hundreds of records there with both Swedish and international artists. Besides Roxette and Per Gessle (for his solo projects), a few of the other names he’s worked with include Ed Harcourt, Bo Bice, Wilmer X, Diamond Rio and, of course, the other members of the band Brainpool.
“He really deserves this award,” Svensson said with enthusiasm, “and we’re happy to be giving it to him.”
“When I was his age,” Martin said in a statement, “I was in the middle of producing Sgt. Pepper for The Beatles, but nobody took any notice of me until much later. I wish to cheer his success and wish him well for his future.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Christoffer, in his hotel while on tour with the band in Russia, and The Daily Roxette’s managing editor, Lars-Erik Olson, spoke at length about his being selected to receive this award, his life-long involvement with music, Marie’s recovery, and the Charm School world tour. We thought you’d find it interesting to read a transcript of almost all of that telephone interview.
Christoffer: You know, actually, the story is amazing because when I was I think four years old, my aunt played her Beatles records for me. And she was kind of the black sheep of the family because the rest of the family only listened to, you know, Doris Day… or whatever.
TDR: Doris Day. I’m old enough to know who Doris Day is…
Christoffer: So she was the representative of the young generation and she played Beatles records for me when I was four years old. And I remember vividly because it was such a fantastic thing and I was hooked immediately.
And I also got… I got a tape recorder from my parents when I turned four, and you could record on it.
TDR: When you turned four?!?
Christoffer: Yeah! I got a little, you know, a cassette tape recorder… like one of those small things.
TDR: Yeah… but four years old?
Christoffer: Yeah! And the thing was my mother had another one and I really quickly discovered that you could play music on one of the machines and set the other on record and add sounds and they would blend together on the new machine.
And the thing is, just prior to when they told me I was going to get this prize, my daughters found a cassette from 1974 when I was four years old with me playing drums on a lamp for 45 minutes. The entire one side of a cassette belonged to Beatles records only.
Christoffer: And it doesn’t stop there, because this guy that you spoke to… George Martin’s friend… he had radio programs in the late ’70s when I was seven or eight where he played like outtakes and solo stuff from the Beatles and all that stuff was totally unavailable then so I heard it for the first time from his radio shows.
TDR: I didn’t quite realize this about you, and perhaps I’m reading between the lines, but were you what we might call a “gifted and talented” type child when you were that young? Sort of almost a child prodigy?
Christoffer: No, no I wouldn’t say so. But I was certainly… I was very single-mindedly into music and also music recording, arranging, like the whole picture. I was like that really, really early.
TDR: Really early, yeah…
Christoffer: But then my parents didn’t really recognize it or care too much about it so I didn’t do much. I borrowed the same aunt’s guitar and learned to play on my own. And just kept doing that. But certainly not a child prodigy. Nothing fantastic at all.
TDR: Are you entirely self-taught then as far as music…? You never went to this Musikhögskolan or… ?
Christoffer: No… no… never.. not a single lesson actually.
TDR: Not a single lesson, wow, and now you play how many different instruments?
Christoffer: Oh… I buy them and then I learn them… that’s the strategy. By now I own very many of them.
TDR: But in addition to guitar, you play woodwinds and brass…?
Christoffer: Yeah, sort of… I’m cheating a bit, but good enough to use it on records. It’s not like I would be a great saxophone player in a jazz band or anything, but I can play like sax arrangements and flute solos and stuff on records.
TDR: So how did you find out about this award?
Christoffer: This guy that you spoke to, Sverker from Musikhögskolan, he called and told me.
TDR: So he called and told you himself?
Christoffer: Yeah! And it was very much like that … “What?!? What are you telling me?? Totally unbelievable if you ask me. Fantastic!
TDR: It’s not a small amount of money.
Christoffer: No, it’s a small fortune.
TDR: Yes, exactly. Which now that you’ve had some time to think about… are you going to take that money and use it for some special project… or will it just go into your family’s general fund?
Christoffer: The answer is really boring. We’ve got a leaky roof.
TDR: You’ve got a little complex there… you’ve got the house and the studio.
Christoffer: It’s like an old, really small farm for poor people. So there’s a house that we added to over the years and decided the old barn and stables… that is the the studio.
TDR: So you’re going to fix the roof with this money?
Christoffer: I will… or at least half of it. It’s gonna cost three times that amount I’m afraid.
Christoffer: Yeah, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to do it without this award actually, so it was kinda a bad situation because it’s leaking in a bad way.
TDR: What was your first reaction when Sverker called you?
Christoffer: I mean, of course, my mind was totally blown away. It’s just “wow!”
TDR: And now that the initial shock has worn off, how do you feel about having been selected?
Christoffer: Oh I’m just totally flattered and honored. It’s beyond imagination… for me. It really is.
It’s not only… I mean, I was this total Beatles nerd for all these years, but initially I was attracted to the obvious stuff with George Martin’s work… you know, the whole sound picture and the wonderful arrangements and his way of just arranging the songs in totally different styles but still making it glued together somehow.
But, over the years I’ve more and more come to appreciate what is for me maybe an even more important quality about his work which is some kind of recklessness about music. It’s not important [that it be perfect]. There’s a lot of humor in it. There’s a lot of mistakes left in the takes. It’s so organic and so alive and so… it’s just, yeah, the human quality, that’s the thing about it. And that’s sort of buried in there, I think. But for me that’s what makes great records instead of just good ones.
TDR: And now, you’ve been working… well, I think the first time I met you was here in New York when you were just beginning to work with Roxette…
Christoffer: Yeah, I think that’s [right]… yeah, on the weird American tour.
TDR: Yeah exactly, that one. And now you have an enormous impact and influence on what’s going on. So what you were just talking about… with what you’ve noticed with George Martin’s work… that’s had an impact on how you work and how you’ve worked with the Roxette recordings?
Christoffer: For sure. I think so, yeah. But that idea that I just talked about… that is an idea that also Per and Marie and Clarence sort of agrees with a lot and we try to work like that as much as we can.
It’s sort of a challenge. Because you can easily be tempted to try and make everything correct and right and control it… instead of letting the life in the music just be as it is.
And especially with modern digital recording techniques it’s so easy to take control of the music and just erase everything that is irregular, organic, human…. what actually makes the music, what makes it breathe. And we very actively try not to do that when we work. Which is kind of the opposite of what modern, contemporary pop music sounds like. You know what it sounds like. It’s just autotune and it… it sounds like robots.
TDR: Right. So you did most of the mixing for this latest Charm School album?
Christoffer: No, I mixed four of the twelve tracks.
TDR: Four of them. Which four?
Christoffer: I mixed the first single, “She’s Got Nothing On,” “Speak to Me,” “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Big Black Cadillac.”
TDR: And who did the others?
Christoffer: Ronny Lahti, the guy who mixed Room Service and Mazarin as well..
TDR: And then Tom Coyne with Sterling Sound here in New York who did the mastering… I think many people – including myself to a certain extent – don’t fully understand what mastering is. What does the mastering process do?
The mastering, I think back in the days of vinyl records, it was really… a craft. Because what you did was you had to make the music fit into the grooves and be as loud as possible and to to that, you had to have a great knowledge. You had to cut out certain frequencies and compress the music in a certain way… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And now it’s not really like that any more. What you do when you master now is you add a little bit of EQ… a tiny bit… sometime not even audible to the average listener… and then you compress it and limit it to make it sound louder.
TDR: To sound louder…
Christoffer: And that processing where you compress it and make it louder, that’s where you ruin the music the most. That’s where you actually kill the last dynamics and just make it sound like a sausage of sound.
TDR: Unless you know what you’re doing… or even if you do?
Christoffer: There’s a loudness war going on. And there’s like an inflation of loudness in records. And people… everyone wants to be the loudest. So if they release a new single and they hear that “well, Madonna’s single sounds louder, we want ours louder please!”
[We both laugh]
And the only way to to this is to take away the dynamics, so it’s the same level all the time. So the music dies.
And this guy at Sterling Sound didn’t do that. We talked about it and he was totally into our concept and he mastered it beautifully I think.
TDR: So now the tour is underway. How do you feel about this?
Christoffer: I mean, this is also totally amazing. There are… I don’t know how many gigs there are booked and Roxette are back and it really feels like the world wants to hear Roxette again. Everyone really feels the difference compared to the last tour – 2001. There’s so much more enthusiasm and demand and curiousity about Roxette and it really affects all of us. And of course the obvious… I mean Marie’s amazing comeback.
TDR: It’s miraculous, really.
Christoffer: Yeah, it’s really a miraculous recovery. It really, really is. And also, her personal strength… the way she has been fighting for this and not giving up. The whole thing is mind-blowing to me.
TDR: What can fans who go to the concerts expect?
Christoffer: Well, we’re playing really, really great songs and singing and playing live… with as much energy as we can possibly muster!
TDR: Now your family, will they join you on the tour at all? Occasionally? From time to time?
Christoffer: Yeah, from time to time…. very, very little and no long trips. My kids are 8 and 11 years old now and they’re in school. I think they will appear when we sort of play close to home. You know, the leaky roof.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In keeping with The Beatles theme, here’s a video from 1996 of Christoffer playing “My Sweet Lord” on Swedish TV4 with his band Brainpool, backed up by some band called Eggstone and – surprise – Gyllene Tider on tamborines!
Photos: Thomas Evensson/TDR (top); Michael Buslaev (left)