Vocalist and instrumentalist Jonah Nilsson has fans in high places including the great Quincy Jones. “He’s got soul, with one of the biggest ranges I’ve ever heard,” the producer extraordinaire says of the classically trained Swede.
Nilsson, who grew up singing in church, studied at some of Scandinavia’s top music schools before working as a session musician. His breakthrough came when he formed Dirty Loops with two muso mates who enjoyed messing around with classic pop tunes. The group’s funky, jazz-infused versions of much-loved hits were a sensation on YouTube and soon the boys were touring the world and working in the studio with renowned producer David Foster.
Nilsson is currently pursuing solo interests (Jones was so enamoured with Nilsson’s talent he signed him to his management team) and earlier this year released his debut single Coffee Break. iSing put ten questions to Nilsson.
When and how did you know you were going to make a living as a singer and musician?
There’s never been a plan B, so I guess I’ve always sort of known.
What were you and your Dirty Loops bandmates hoping to achieve when you shared your versions of Just Dance (Lady Gaga) and Baby (Justin Bieber) on YouTube?
We hoped to get a gig or two and have fun. When, to our surprise, things started to go well for us [and the videos went viral] we made it our goal to develop as a band and challenge ourselves to the highest of our abilities. We started by listening to different popular songs and stripping them down to only the melody. We then took that melody into our machine and what came out on the other side was something completely different.
What did you learn during your time with Dirty Loops working with Grammy Award winning producer David Foster at Verve Records?
Working with someone like David, who truly believed in us, was great. But only you can create your own success. Unless you as an artist are trying your best and understand your own value, it doesn’t matter who you’re working with.
What was the biggest challenge you faced after finding success?
Finding balance and time to do everything I wanted to do in life – and I’m still working on it. I think it will be a constant thing that sometimes is easier to overcome than other times.
What’s your vocal routine?
If I’m doing a show I do slow warm-ups – a lot of things to relax the vocal cords and gain flexibility – approximately an hour before I go on stage. And then every now and then I sing with a bit more power to see where I’m at in the process.
What’s your biggest singing-related challenge?
To be consistent in my performances and throughout the whole concert. The voice is a fragile instrument and even small things, such as not sleeping properly which can often be a problem when you’re on tour, can have an impact.
Before working as a professional musician, you studied music formally [at Betel College and the Royal Music Academy in Stockholm). How did this help you in your career?
I think it’s crucial in any job to learn your craft before doing it at the highest level. It [formal music training] was very beneficial. It meant I knew what I was doing and helped me to then go to places where I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s important to search for new ways to re-invent yourself.
You’re signed to Quincy Jones’ management team. How has this affected your musical and performance experience?
Knowing I have the best team in the world has given me the confidence to stand on stage alone. At Quincy Jones’ birthday concert at the O2 London earlier this year I sang a song I’d never performed in public before with a full orchestra. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was truly emotional and I’m so thankful that I got to do that.
What are the three key elements you need to sing funky, R’n’B soul?
You need vocal talent, knowledge about other instruments such as keyboards (this will create so much awareness) and you need to know what you want to express.
What’s next for Jonah Nilsson?
I’m working on a new album that will contain a lot of things from my roots, so expect a lot of classical elements as well as funky soulful tunes.