Lukas Graham Is Making Their Own Rules

When this Danish band (yes, Lukas Graham is a band, not just one guy) discovered their songs didn't even need a chorus to break into the worldwide charts, they quickly saw the power of trusting their instincts. Here, lead singer Lukas Forchhammer tells us about the unconventional track that lead to their big break.

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When Lukas Graham's lead singer, Lukas Forchhammer, comes into Sweet HQ with bandmates Mark Falgren and Magnus Larsson, he immediately offers everyone a piece of salty Danish licorice. This band may be rapidly shooting up the charts, but the newfound renown clearly isn't making them forget their roots.

"All these songs are already written; they're already there, floating around in this thing called the universe." —Lukas Forchhammer

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Forchhammer and Falgren formed the group as a folk outfit 10 years ago, while they were still attending high school together in the small Copenhagen neighborhood of Christiania, but by 2010 the band had officially taken shape under the name Lukas Graham. They were promptly signed by Copenhagen Records in 2011, garnering acclaim in Europe and eventually signing with Warner Bros. By December 2015 the band was playing their breakout hit, "7 Years," on Conan; the following March, Lukas Graham was the 20th-most-popular artist on Spotify.

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While it may be tempting to loop Lukas Graham in with other soulful chart-toppers like Adele and Sam Smith, the Danish band's self-titled album, released in the U.S. this past April, spans a broad range of styles, from the decidedly upbeat "Mama Said" to the more poignant "Better Than Yourself (Criminal Mind Pt. 2)," which borrows a melody from Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Ending on a triumphant, cathartic note with "Funeral," the album's examination of life, rife with themes of family and age, comes full circle.

With touring planned through April of next year (with just a one-month break in December), Lukas Graham is taking the world by storm with music that's relatable, emotionally honest, and catchy as hell.

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We sat down with the band to talk about its rise to fame, songwriting, and how much better lunch is when accompanied by a good record.

You allude to personal experiences throughout the album and seem to draw a lot from your own life. Is that your major source material for songwriting?

Lukas Forchhammer: It's not like I sit down and say, "Today we're going to write a song about my life." It's more that all these songs are already written; they're already there, floating around in this thing called the universe, which is just made up of dust and energy. What we are is receivers.

You reference specific ages many times over the course of the album—is there a reason why that's a theme you keep coming back to?

LF: When I heard the piano line for "7 Years," the first thing that came to mind was, "Once I was seven years old." Everyone in the studio that day thought that was a great way of starting the song. By coincidence, seven rhymed with 11, so then we kept going with ages. It's easy for people who don't know us to hear the song and put themselves into some kind of context with it. You were seven, you were 11, you were 20. When we wrote it, I really don't know what made it so special. To me, it's the melody—the way the melody builds and doesn't build, really. It doesn't go anywhere.

No one could accuse Lukas Graham of taking themselves too seriously.
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There's no hook.

LF: Exactly. It just came as a surprise to all of us. Suddenly, one of our best songs ever had no hook.

"What we had to do was wait for the right moment to release our songs and our music."

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What's it like having such a personal and unconventional song as your breakout hit?

LF: We never wanted to be on the hot 100. Seeing "7 Years" go up to number two for three weeks, and stay on the top five for seven weeks, that was a pat on the back. It reminded us that...our goals were true, our dreams were true, and our ambitions were correct. We didn't have to change the packaging to fit America. We didn't have to change the songs to fit the world. What we had to do was wait for the right moment to release our songs and our music.

"I think, in terms of energy on the record, it's Dr. Dre's 2001 that is the most influential on our musical sound." —Lukas Forchhammer

Could you describe the feeling of the album as a whole?

LF: I'd say, if you're happy, you could listen to the album. If you're sad, you can listen to the album. If you're grieving. If you're celebrating. There isn't really one set vibe—maybe coherence. Feeling that you're a part of something.

Up next: Lukas Graham is headed to San Antonio, Texas, for a show on July 30.

How did you try to achieve coherence by putting together the record?

LF: The way I structure an album is by looking at vinyl. Every record has to be in two parts. Halfway through, you need to be able to stop listening for half an hour, and then continue listening. That comes from listening to vinyl at the house while cooking.

"It's nice to know that you can do these things with a song that doesn't fit the bracket."

What kinds of records did you listen to the most while making this album?

LF: There's an American bluegrass band that aren't together anymore, unfortunately, called Crooked Still. Shaken by a Low Sound is their record that I was listening to a lot. Caleb Klauder's Dangerous Mes and Poisonous Yous. I think, in terms of energy on the record, it's Dr. Dre's 2001 that is the most influential on our musical sound. The way everything is driven by bass, drums, and keys is very much a Dr. Dre thing.

How have you grown as a band?

LF: I think we've gotten better at telling each other when we're on each other's nerves, which is a very important thing when you travel around the world for two, three hundred days a year together. Then you just go and have holidays together, too.

Follow along with Lukas Graham on Snapchat @lukasgraham.

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