“Runaway (U&I),” the breakout 2014 hit by Swedish dance duo Galantis, hit like an open freezer on a sweltering summer day – instantly refreshing, frosty-cool. Riding high on unapologetically major-key synths and pitched-up vocals, the summer anthem added an organic touch to the undeniable earworm qualities of the best Scandinavian pop.
That’s unsurprising, given Galantis’ pedigree. Members Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw have long straddled the line between Top 40 success and cognoscenti cool. Karlsson has both written mega-hits like Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and played in Miike Snow. Eklöw, meanwhile, penned Icona Pop’s “I Love It” while playing tech-house as Style of Eye. After “Runaway” and a self-titled EP, Galantis’ debut full-length comes out this June, and its spread of songs similarly nods to multiple musical worlds. Though it has its shares of big, celebratory bangers, there are equal moments of relative introspection – and some selections that come from relative left field.
Take their new single, “Peanut Butter Jelly,” which you can hear below. It’s a retro, funky slice of disco revival, with the kind of unforgettable, sing-along vocal hook destined for clubs, parties and spin classes near you. We caught up with Karlsson and Eklöw to get the scoop on professional pop perfection, songwriting in a world of dance “tracks” and the new album.
What’s different about writing for one of your own projects versus writing a song for a different artist?
Christian Karlsson: It feels completely different. It’s like designing a house for someone else that you’re not ever going to live in or visit or anything. It’s like, “OK, this is fun. We’re gonna build something – cool.”
And then if you’re building something for yourself, you have to stand behind your music, forever. It’s such pressure on yourself.
You have to stand behind the music you write for others, though, don’t you?
Karlsson: I stand behind it as a producer and a songwriter, of course, but I’m not the artist. Sometimes people have been trying to buy a song that’s a Galantis song and you have to be like, “Well, this is not something I would give away.” It’s different.
You have said that your songwriting process is different from that of other electronic artists. How so? And how does that make a difference in the finished product of your songs?
Karlsson: We write our songs on piano or guitar. A Galantis song sometimes has been only on a piano for two years before we even start putting a kick drum in it. Most dance acts, I don’t think they write like that. I think they make a “track.” There’s no Galantis song that starts with a beat or a track. So I think that in itself makes it different in that category of music.
Eklöw: Afterwards, we build the songs into our little universe we have in our minds.
So let’s talk “Peanut Butter Jelly.” This song has a lot going on – the synths, the vocal effects. When you’re starting with the naked version of a song, how do you know when it’s time to stop adding things?
Karlsson: That’s the key to making great music. I meet so many amazing, talented people making music that I feel like sometimes their downfall is when they don’t know when to stop. You’re sitting in your studio, you’re hearing this song going over and over and over again, and I think it’s very easy to get lost.
One thing that’s very good is to play your music for others, in their studio or home. It takes like 10 seconds to realize something is wrong.
Eklöw: If we would play an early version of the album for you, we would hear it through your ears. It’s really weird. It’s just a feeling you get, especially if you know the person well – you really get a vibe of what he or she is hearing.
“Peanut Butter Jelly” has a very retro, disco feel, and it’s different from “Runaway (U&I),” your first big, breakout hit. What else do you think will surprise your fans most about the album?
Karlsson: I think “Peanut Butter Jelly” is a big surprise. I still feel it sounds very Galantis in there, but it definitely is one of the stand-outs in terms of being what you’re saying. The core of the record, of course, in general, is a little bit more in the tone of the EP and “Runaway.” It’s a lot of emotional stuff, big songs – and, yes, some surprises, which are hopefully good ones.
What appeals to you guys about writing those big and uplifting songs?
Karlsson: I think there’s always something really happy and something with a twist in there in our songs. It’s never just, like, “Everything is great.”
You know those comedies where you don’t laugh but you just like the movie? That’s like the songs we write, I think.
What’s the movie equivalent of your music, then?
Karlsson: Maybe, like, The Life Aquatic. There’s some beauty in it, and it feels good.