"We are a band with no interest in making it sound pretty, or nice, but with an interest in making it sound good."
There are artists who chase fame with such ruthless intent that when it arrives, they become someone else, someone their real friends don’t recognise anymore. Then there’s Lukas Graham.
The 23-year-old singer and songwriter from Christiana, in central Copenhagen, is a bona fide chart sensation in his native Denmark, with three huge singles and a No. 1 album in the space of just a few months (and now also the world, thanks to global smash "7 Years"). But he’s exactly the same Lukas Graham that he was before it all started.
“I’m the guy standing on stage and sitting in the studio,” he says, “and I know for a fact that I’m not doing anything differently than I was a year ago. Apart from a little more experience in handling the stage and the audience, that’s it.”
Maybe it’s the Irish blood, from his father, that gives Graham his feisty, no-frills attitude, but he doesn’t hold back. “People just mistake friends and fans,” he observes. “There’s a distinct difference, and if you don’t know that difference, you’re just f***ed, because you’ve got people that look up to you in a way you cannot understand.”
There’s no danger of that happening to the man who was given the nickname Luke The Duke by a friend he was with in South America. Graham and his band are part of a coterie of some 15 friends who’ve literally grown up together, many back to early school days, and they wouldn’t take any precious popstar behaviour, not that he’s likely to offer any. “Your friends just see you as you,” he says. “They might be proud of you, and happy for you, but they’re still going to do what they can to make sure you don’t change.”
So Graham’s incredible new success is all the more reason to celebrate one of the hottest names on this year’s charts, who’s already expanding his audiences far across Europe. So far, the tally includes a No. 2 debut hit with ‘Ordinary Things,’ a No. 1 follow-up with ‘Drunk In The Morning’ and another top five single in ‘Criminal Mind.’ All of them are on a self-titled debut album crammed with intelligent lyrics and ridiculously catchy melodies, which has devoured the Danish chart, racing straight to No. 1 in early April.
“Our first-ever concert was May 4 last year, so you could say it was a rapid rise,” he laughs. “I guess I just had this idea that I’d rather have a lot of people knowing the music and not knowing my face, and I think that’s worked out rather well for us.” That “rapid rise” has included 50 gigs in just two and a half months, not just in Denmark but also Germany, Sweden and Norway.
“The first songs on the album were written in 2009 - the first single ‘Ordinary Things’ and one of our ballads, ‘Before The Morning Sun,’ and another song called ‘Red Wine.’ We started talking to the label around 2010. Our first concert was a showcase for them, basically, and they liked it.
“But it’s been more of a cooperative release, rather than the label going ‘This is what we want you guys to do, change your clothes, blah blah. I know what I’m comfortable with.”
Well before his recording success, Graham was well used to a media life. As a young boy, in the first half of the 1990s, he starred in a successful movie series, and did plenty of voiceover work. But there was always music. “My dad went to a Catholic boarding school, so I guess he sang his share of song, and my mum’s a music teacher, we’ve always sung in the family.
“But on top of that, I’m a classically educated soprano soloist from [the celebrated] Copenhagen’s Boys Choir. After that I started getting into the theatre and doing the voiceovers for cartoons. So I’d had a lot of practice in the stage life, using microphones and singing acappella.
“When I was about 12, I had this dream that I wanted to become either a lawyer or a pop star. I ended up studying law until I got my record deal, and I was still expecting to get my masters degree in music rights. Eventually if we get time...”
Alongside that education, Graham was learning some important music history. “The classical music was just what I did when I was in school. At home, I listened to a lot of rap and hip-hop, but I didn’t have the money to buy records, so I used to listen to my dad’s old ones, like The Who, the Beatles and a lot of old school rock ‘n’ roll guys. From back when music was actually music played on instruments.”
Even in a young and upcoming chart act, there’s a world of practical knowledge. “The producers and the band on stage have more than 100 years of combined musical experience,” he says. “Everybody’s been doing this since before they were ten. So instead of saying practice makes perfect, practice makes better.”
Lukas and his bandmates developed what he now calls their ghetto pop (“because it’s not that poppy, it’s basically pop music mixed with all the black genres”). Word began to spread, vocally and virally. “All of our concerts, when we played small and medium venues, were sold out, even before we started putting out our YouTube videos.
“We put out the first one, and two weeks after that we were playing for 1500 people. We played eight concerts in a week and filled loads of big open spaces. With the videos, we just decided if we’re going to put something on YouTube it has to be one-take, and the footage has to match the audio. It was very real.”
Even with all the attention, “very real” describes everything about Lukas Graham’s life. “We’re just four regular guys,” he says. “If the men see us getting a little bit of female attention, they’re like ‘We can let those guys have a bit, they deserve something, because we’re not walking around like Don Juan. We’re just us.”
The attitude is as natural as the artistry. Combined with a great band and fresh production, it all makes Lukas Graham a unique talent for 2012 and far beyond.