Dj Buddy Beaverhausen: Hello, Sten. It's such a privilege and pleasure to have this opportunity to conduct this interview since I've been a fan of your remix and production work since the '90s. Let me start off by asking how you find the dance music industry has changed or evolved since you first became involved in it?
Sten Hallstrom: Thank you, love doing interviews so I can tell things people didn’t expect or knew. It’s very easy to just say it’s totally different and nothing like it used to be, but that would be too easy. It has of course changed dramatically in many areas, but the main difference is that there is no patience and no one wants to wait for anything. When I started, I had friends in London taping late night radio shows and sent over via regular mail so you you got the thing a week or two after broadcast, then listened to the shows, made notes and maybe - with a lot of luck - you got a record 2-3 months after. In some cases a year later. I remember Stockholm DJs having lists in their pockets in case they came to a second-hand store with a couple of crates of vinyl. Now you can find a mix online the same night it’s done. It leaks out of studios, friends, cracked drop boxes, you name it. And with the no wait and anticipation, the technology being available to a lot of people, we have a lot of music coming through and it’s hard to keep track of it. I do see many labels going back to proper A&R again, working the songs longer and I think this is a good development.
You currently reside in Stockholm, Sweden, where you were also born and raised. What kind of popular music influenced you growing up? And was there an "ah-ha!" moment when you heard something that made you want to become a songwriter, a musician, a music producer?
We do have a healthy music scene fueled by our free musical education; you basically sign up for piano or guitar and it’s done, but when I grew up it was pretty grim with rock n roll or super tacky pop blasting on radio. Then disco came and it was huge even though I was an up and coming guitar player at the time. When disco developed into new romantic and more synth, I started buying a lot of singles and, by the time my sister’s graduation party was happening, our dad felt he could save a buck and basically told me: Stone, you got records, you’re the DJ. I took it super seriously and bought a whole rig and, before I knew it, I was playing all the graduation parties that spring. As summer came, I started a club as I loved playing and that’s pretty much how I got into it. A few years later, me and five other Stockholm DJs set up a mix service called SweMix and we did re-edits of the hottest tracks and put on vinyl. Of course we got busted and had to get permission but magically survived and started signing artists. One of them, a dentist called Dr Alban got a huge hit with a song called "Hello Africa" and money started to flow in, but half of the crew wanted to remain underground so we split up and I started my current company, StoneBridge Productions.
As a dj, you perform at major venues all round the world. Where can fans catch you in the near future?
I will do a March tour of the US and so far I got New York, Miami, West Palm Beach and Cleveland locked in with more to come. I did an Australia/Asia tour around New Year and Chicago, Detroit, New York in December so spending a lot of time in the US right now.
Great! New York looksforward to having you! Can you tell us something about your new venture, Dirty Harry Records?
I felt I needed an outlet for filthy disco that is not chart driven - not that I would mind a hit there - but the main objective is fun tracks that brings back a funky element in a sterile environment. I started it with three mash ups using known EDM vocals in the breakdowns of funky tracks and the reactions were so great when I dropped them live that I decided to set up the label and sign original tracks. The first two, Alex van Allf - Gadgets and Atilla Cetin - Just Want Your Love have done very well, way over expectations and I got a bunch of really cool tracks coming this spring.
You really had your first major international success with your remix, in 1993, of Robin S's massive hit, "Show Me Love." What was it like to explode onto the scene in such a major way? And what was your career like before this breakthrough?
My first club hit was a rare groove track called Jazzy John’s Freestyle Dub that broke on the London scene 1990 and I licensed it to a tiny record shop called Zoom in Cammden. Then I got a call from Champion Records, who wanted to license tracks so I gave them Ann Consuelo's See The Day, another big club hit. A few months later, I called them and asked if they had any old shit in the basement that I could remix. They said, yeah, we got this Robin Stone, Show Me Love. Production is bad, but vocal quite good and I thought it was funny that we had the same name so I asked them to send it over. The rest is, as they say, history. The thing is I had no idea it was a hit as they were scared my remix fee was going to go over the roof so I was very surprised to see it on Top Of The Pops about nine months later.
You've produced and written for some major divas on the dance music scene. What was it like working with Ultra Nate ("Freak On") and Therese ("Take Me Away" and "Put 'em High”)?
I have, especially in the 90’s. Ultra is super cool and pro to work with and so is Crystal Waters that I still work with regularly. Therese used to be a pop singer so when I met her, she used a cover name so I wouldn’t say no, true story. She is a very good hook writer so it was the music that spoke.
Cher, Britney Spears, Debbie Harry, Jennifer Hudson! Quite an impressive divas list. What was the experience of remixing for these iconic women like? And who would you love to remix but haven't as of yet?
It used to be very important to have a bucket list like that. People followed their favorite artists and there was always a lot of speculation who would remix the next single. It still is to a certain degree, but now it’s more about having the right name attached to a song to get the right exposure. I love remixing a good song like Sia's "The Girl You Lost." It was a pleasure from the start to end and not the easiest mix to do, but we both loved the result. Another unexpected hit was Texas' "Inner Smile" remix.
Your remix work for Ne-Yo's "Closer" got you a GRAMMY nomination and, in 2012, you received a BMI Songwriter of the year award. What feelings did these awards or acknowledgements conjure up for you?
I was really surprised with the Ne-Yo nomination actually. I think it’s a Swede thing as we are taught to not stand out in a crowd or think we’re special. It didn’t fully sink in until I was sitting there in LA next to Morgan Page and Moto Blanco, who were nominated in the same category. The BMI award for Jason Derulo was a huge victory as people have ripped off my bass line from "Show Me Love" for 20 years and this was the first one I got writer's credit for. It felt really good I must admit.
Did you watch this year's GRAMMY Awards and, if so, can you share some of your opinions about that event?
I did see parts of it and thought the Daft Punk show was interesting. Not that it was Stevie’s best performance, but the joy and general vibe was awesome. Of course the nominations are always a bit random, but I have been told it’s generally when they oversee something big years earlier and sort of pay back with more nomination later.
Before there was Daft Punk, there was a distinct funk-soul-disco element to much of StoneBridge's sound. Could you tell us a little about the aesthetic or style you attempt to bring to your productions and remixes?
I just do them with my flavor. It’s hard to say where it comes from, but Chic and Nile Rogers are definitely [people] I have been inspired by my entire career as is Jam & Lewis. Being an analytical Swede, I have of course reverse-engineered Show Me Love many times to figure out the magic and at one point it dawned on me that it’s really all about a combination of three notes. Still, I never calculate like that, I just play with the vocal and see what fits, then I make an executive decision if it’s going to be a groovy or more clubby mix.
You attended university at Frans Schartau in Stockholm where you were a Marketing major. Have you been able to apply that background to what you do in the world of music; kind of marrying art and industry in a sense?
This was before I was a DJ or producer. It was sort of seen with a sneer to only do two years in high school, so I signed up for that to get a better degree. It was actually really good for two things: I learned business English and got an insight in marketing and accounting.
In recent news, you're going to be working with Sobel Promotions. Any specific projects planned at this point?
I was introduced by a common friend, but haven’t been presented the whole picture yet, so we will start working the Dirty Harry label as it’s brand new and a clean slate.
Can you tell us about your radio show on Sirius/XM and how has internet radio changed the music business and what do you think is the future of terrestrial radio?
It’s satellite radio and they were smart going to Detroit getting the receivers into most new US cars so it’s a driving thing. I get so many messages from people driving for hours loving the show as it’s three hours with a replay for West Coast. I do put it on Soundcloud the day after broadcast so it’s both radio and online. I think terrestrial radio along with regular TV is doomed in the long run. With streaming services, who want someone to dictate when to listen or watch? I see Spotify and the likes cleaning up inside 5 years so it’s good to be on top of it now.
What do you think the role and importance of major record labels is in today's musical climate and how do you feel about the fact that many artists choose to be indie?
It’s the same thing now as it was 30 years ago. To get wide mainstream distribution, you need majors. They are so big that they can dictate terms and get the media on things. We choose to be indie as we have principles or a specific taste that maybe seem less commercial or mainstream. The ideal world is to be an indie with a hook up to a major on certain projects. I license tracks to majors sometimes if I see the track has wings, but I’m just too small to take it all the way.
Is there anything we haven't covered, Sten, that you'd like to shout out to our readers around the globe before we conclude our interview?
Oh, I have a tendency to ramble on so I think you got most of it covered and yes, definitely: Hi everybody! Stick to your guns, if you love it, you know there will be someone else loving it too!
Good to hear! Thank so so very much for talking with me and to Our City Radio. We look forward to your work in 2014 and beyond, and to moving on the dancefloors to your music.
Thank you - my pleasure!!!!