Daniel Fridell is a Swedish musician with a long-standing music career and history of playing with Scandinavian acts like Eric Gadd and Eagle-Eye Cherry. He’s also signed to Epidemic Sound, and I stumbled across one of his tracks through an add for the Swedish film streaming service, Draken. After playing his music on repeat for some weeks, I finally tracked down Daniel via social media and we did a phone interview about his career and work with production music.
– Hi Daniel. Nice to finally speak after discovering your music on Instagram. Let’s start by talking about your background. How did you get into music?
Growing up in Helsingborg, I was involved with music from an early age. I started off banging pots as a toddler, and at age six was given a ukulele to keep me busy. I learned how to play it in an afternoon and the drums came soon afterwards. I had a lot of free time as a child to practice different instruments and teach myself music theory, so my father and I would jam whatever songs he knew once I got older, and that was pretty much my beginnings.
I later went to music school for drums and by age ten moved on to classical piano and percussion. My teachers were great at inspiring their students, so once my piano instructor saw my interest in jazz he sent me to learn from a musician in Helsingør, Denmark. I’d go there once a week to learn the basics, in addition to playing in bands and symphony orchestras in school.
After high school I did a five-year music teaching program at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Denmark and became a producer once I graduated. Today I play drums, guitars, bass and percussion.
– I see. And when did you get your start as a professional musician?
Well, I’ve been a professional since the age of six when I played my first paid gig with my uncle. We’d play at old people’s homes or private parties and would also busk outdoors. We even played on Go’morron Sverige, which was a classic Swedish TV show. One of their producers spotted us playing on the street and invited us to Gothenburg in 1987. I was seven at the time.
– Very cool. So when did you start working with record labels like Playground Music and Universal?
My first label-related productions were Jonas Rendbo’s “Sweet Dreams Guaranteed” and Callmekat’s “Fall Down“. I played on and mixed those records, and they both came out on Playground Music.
My focus is on being a producer and musician so many of my label relationships were created by others. I met the guys at Playground Music through my work on the Jonas Rendbo album, and the Universal release came through Phase 5. We produced an album together but he was the one shopping it to the majors.
– It seems you’ve been part of about fifteen bands since 2004, with the latest one being Eagle-Eye Cherry’s. How did you end up playing with him?
That came about thanks to a Danish tour with Eric Gadd in 2010. I moved back to Sweden once the tour was over and became a music teacher 2011, but I played with Eric again a few years later when he had gigs in Sweden. That’s how I ran into the bass player in Eagle-Eye’s band, Sven Lindvall. Sven would later ask if I wanted to tour with them for a month and I accepted his offer. Some time after that, Sven and I would become a production duo at Epidemic Sound.
– Your debut album is called “Soulrebel“. How did that come about?
“Soulrebel” is an album I made whilst living in Copenhagen in 2009 but it wasn’t released until 2019. I took it to different labels and tried to get a release but was told they couldn’t sell instrumental music and also needed a single. So the album stayed on my hard-drive and gathered dust for ten years. The only person who had it was Jonas Rendo – he listened to it for years before deciding to set up a label to release it. Once we had that in place, I was later able to put out my Columbian music project, Cumbiasound, so it turned into a great outlet.
– Where was “Soulrebel” recorded?
I used to work for King Kong Studios in the 2000s so it was recorded at their facilities in Copenhagen. I was a single musician with no family at the time, so I’d stay late and record my music once everyone went home at night. There were a lot of songs that didn’t make the album, but my eight favorites are the ones you see on the tracklist.
King Kong still exists but is owned by different people now, one of whom is Tor Bach Christensen. He’s my favorite mastering engineer and works on all the Cumbiasound stuff.
– Let’s talk about how the different elements of the album were recorded. Can you elaborate on the following categories?
Drums: That was a 60s Slingerland with a giant kick drum. I don’t remember the exact model but it was made of wood and covered in stainless steel. The mics were whatever I could scrape together – I had a Sennheiser 441 on the kick and a Sennheiser 421 as an overhead that was pointed at my foot so it picked up the snare and kick. My mentality was to just record stuff and get it into the computer, so I wasn’t picky about mic placements.
Bass: That was a 1973 Fender Jazz Bass. There was no amp, so I recorded it line-in.
Guitar: I mostly used an 80s Fender Telecaster Deluxe that was made in Mexico, and I also had a Gretsch Baritone. Both were plugged directly to my interface and processed with the Logic Amp Designer plugin.
Keys/Synths: I had a 1980 Rhodes Stage 54, as well as a Moog Rogue, Juno 60, Nord Electro 2 and the Nord Modular G2, which is one of my favorites.
Vocal Mic: I used the Sennheiser 441, which is my favorite vocal mic.
Console: The studio had an eight-channel TL Audio Tubetracker M1. It was a popular piece of gear back then, though it’s been discontinued. We also had a Universal Audio 6176.
Converters: We had an RME converter, but I mostly used the MOTU 828 Mark II. It’s not the best soundcard but I liked it a lot, and it was upsetting when I had to move on from it after getting a new computer without a firewire socket. You really have to work hard to make your mixes sound good with those soundcards, whereas newer ones like the UA Apollo make your recordings sound too good, and that can make you lazy when it comes time to mix.
Plugins: The album was mixed in-the-box using plugins from Logic and Universal Audio .
– I’ve heard that all your current music is recorded with your home setup. Can you walk me through some of the gear you have there?
Converters: My current studio is in my basement and my converter is an Antelope Orion 32. It’s reminiscent of the MOTU in that it doesn’t color the sound, but offers better quality in terms of clarity and detail.
Drums: My drum kit is a John Grey Autocrat and it’s actually the one that I had at six years old (laughs). I’m unsure if it’s from the 50s or 60s because of how abused it’s been by multiple owners, so I’ve been working to restore it a bit.
Bass: My bass guitar is a Peavy Jazz Bass with flat-wounds and I use a piece of foam to dampen the strings. It’s not the best bass out there, but it fits my drum kit and works for my sound.
Keys: I have a Rhodes Mark 1 from 1975, which is actually the first keyboard I bought as a teenager. My synths are all the same as the ones on “Soulrebel”, expect the Moog Grandmother.
Guitars: I bought the cheapest Harley Benton I could find on Thomann, which was the HB-35. I needed a guitar at the time and wasn’t prepared to spend crazy amounts, so I settled on that.
Outboard gear: I recently picked up a stereo 1176 compressor from IGS Audio, an affordable brand that are very picky about their components. There’s a US company called Iron Age Audioworks that makes the Portia Street Stomp; it’s a box with two transformers for saturating your signal, and I have one of those. My Roland Space Echo is in bad shape but I haven’t dared fix it because I don’t want to lose the current sound; it distorts a lot and makes ghostly noises, but that’s how I want it. I might buy a newer model though so I have a cleaner option.
Console/Preamps: I have a Tascam M-216, which is a console with lots of character. I also have the Gyratec-IX, which is a tube preamp from a Danish company called Gyraf Audio.
Plugins: There’s a company called Neold that recently released a plugin called Warble. It’s a really nice tape emulator that I use a lot. I’m also subscribed to Plugin Alliance, so most of my mixing is done in the box.
Mics: I have an Sennheiser 421, a cheap TSM ribbon mic from Thomann, and of course an SM57. I also have two Electro-Voice 635As, which was used by artists like Elvis and James Brown in the 70s. They don’t have a lot of bottom end so I use them on hi-hats, leslies and as overheads. I have a pair of RØDE NT5s which I use as room mics or overheads, and for drum toms I use a mic from Beyerdynamic.
Bass: I prefer to go line-in to the Tascam M-216 because it sits well in the mix, but I have a big Jazz Chorus 80 amp. It has a 15-inch speaker and works well at low levels.
Guitar Amp: I’ll either use the Jazz Chorus or a small Park amp. It was a gift from a studio owner in Copenhagen who gave it away because he thought it sounded like crap, but I love it. It’s a small 10-inch speaker that’s perfect for studio use, with a fat sound even at low volumes.
– Cool. Now let’s talk about your work with Epidemic Sound. How did you get in involved with them?
That came about from the Eagle-Eye Cherry tour since his guitar player, Coma Svennsson, had been working with Epidemic since the company was founded. We were having drinks one day and I complained about not liking my day job, so he offered to speak with the guys at Epidemic about having me compose for them. Over time, all the other band members like Sven and Niklas Gabrielsson ended up working for them as well. It’s been a great transition because it lets me have a calmer life; I used to have a teaching job that was half an hour from home, and I’d be back by 8pm when the kids were already asleep. So it was a bit stressful and Epidemic Sound turned out to be a great alternative. It also allowed me to get better as a producer and mixer. I never used to care about the technical aspect of recording. Even when I did Soulrebel, I just placed mics wherever and turned stuff up in the mix if I couldn’t hear it, rather than making cut with an EQ or levelling things out with compressors. So making production music has been great for improving my skills.
– Do you know what your biggest media placements have been with Epidemic?
To be honest, I don’t know. “Zone Out” was quite popular in the web player, but I don’t know what it was licensed for. It’s quite rare hear for me to hear my own production music. It’s only happened twice: once when buying clothes in Kappahl and another time when I saw a YouTube video of someone doing an arts project.
– Your first release on Epidemic Sound is the one that caught my attention. Tell me about “Sunkissed“.
“Sunkissed” was my first EP on Epidemic Sound. It was all done in my home studio in Malmö, but was originally made as five standalone tracks. As you know, Epidemic usually orders one song at a time and assembles their own releases afterwards, so nothing was composed with an album in mind. They’d ask for a track in a certain genre and shared a Spotify playlist with songs to take inspiration from. For “Sunkissed”, some of the artists were George Clinton and James Brown, so I’d just jam to my own ideas until something good came of it.
(Below: Original ad through which I discovered “Sunkissed”)
– Let’s walk through some of your early Epidemic tracks, with a focus on different production categories:
Drums: I think those are programmed drums. The kick was taken from a prior recording and the rest was played on my keyboard using one-shots.
Bass: I think it was run through the Jazz Chorus amp and mic’d with the AKG D12. I know it’s a guitar amp, but it has a lot of low end especially when used at low volumes.
Strings at 00:58 and 1:04, etc – Those are staccato strings from the Miroslav Vitous: String Ensembles CD that was released in the 90s. It was one of the first ever orchestral libraries, and until recently the only string samples I had. My uncle that I busked with as a kid lives close by, and I always ask him to record real strings for me in his studio, so I never bothered to upgrade my string libraries. The ideas was inspired by Raphael Saadiq, who did similar fills in his music.
Wah Guitar During Hook – It’s a wah, but since my pedal wasn’t working I had to use Logic’s Auto Filter with an LFO setting.
Horns: Those are just Logic’s Studio Horns.
Dog Cover Art – Epidemic Sound they have their own graphic designers, so that was their take on what the art should be. It’s a bit random but I didn’t have anything to do with that (laughs).
Drums: The drums are a loop that were cut from a drum take on an unreleased track, so I imported it from the older session and reprocessed it. All my drums are recorded through the Tascam M-216, but I ran this loop through the M-216 again just to turn up the distortion. That’s why the snare sounds crushed like a LinnDrum.
Intro Rhodes: My Rhodes was being repaired at the time, so what you hear is my Nord Stage 3. The guy who made those samples is a Swede called Frederik Adlers. He’s a legend in the Rhodes community and was a keyboard tech for Joe Zawinul from the Weather Report. He lives near Gothenburg and runs the Rhodes Service Center, which is where I take my Rhodes for repairs. On this track, I used his custom-made Nord samples called MKI Nefertiti, which is a sample of his own Rhodes from the Nefertiti Jazz Club.
Synth Stabs at 2:00 – That’s probably the Nord Modular G2.
Piano at breakdown – That’s the Nord as well, probably one of the upright samples.
Drums: That’s just Addictive Drums; I think it’s the Vintage Dry kit. I also like the Fairfax because of the Gretsch kick and I also use a lot of the Reel Machines in my production music.
Bass: That’s my Peavey, using the neck pickup only.
Guitar: That’s my Harley Benton from Thomann.
Organ: That’s the Nord Stage 3 through the Tascam M-216, which makes a big difference to the sound.
How You Use The Tascam: It has sixteen channels and the first eight are for recording drums, with the signal going from the channel’s direct out to my Orion 32. The next eight channels are sent to the busses, and then to the master channel and stereo outs. So I can distort the output at each stag and it helps glue the sounds together. The M-216 really shines when you have multiple layers of distortion on top of each other, coupled with a high-end interface like the Orion 32.
– Thanks for talking to me Daniel. It’s been great to learn about your music. What’s next for you at this point?
I’ll mainly be focusing on my full-time project, Cumbiasound. We’re working on our fifth album and hope to release it this summer. I might also do a physical release with Underdog Records in France, and the guys from Eagle-Eye Cherry’s band have a separate group on Epidemic called Tage, for which we’ll be releasing stuff on a Stockholm-based label called Paalsund.