Max Martin may be one of the most important names in music of the last 20 years, and yet he’s far from a household name. Most nonmusic junkies don’t know him, and even many who say they are still don’t. Adele had to Google him after she wondered how Taylor Swift got that sound on “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and kept being told the Swedish producer Max Martin. He’s a behind-the-scenes pop-music wizard, having produced and written some of the genre’s most successful and best songs of the last couple decades for a murderers’ row of its biggest stars. As a songwriter/producer, he’s got more No. 1s than anyone besides the Beatles and George Martin, and just got inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, so why isn’t he as immediately recognizable? For the last 16 years, he’s avoided almost all press. Barely an interview or crumb about his genius — save for some quotes in a Swedish documentary about the famed Cheiron Studios — until now.
Martin granted his first extensive interview since 2001 to a Swedish site last year, now translated to English, where he talked about everything from Pharrell’s rise nearly making him obsolete to why he’s glad EDM has faltered. But he also defends his decision to remain anonymous, and we can all blame the master of elusiveness, Prince, for it.
If nobody recognizes you, if nobody cares, it’s easier to avoid getting carried away. That’s way harder if you’re a famous artist. I’ve seen many examples of when things have gone really wrong … That, too, goes back to Prince. I thought it was so cool that all you knew about Prince was about his artistry and music. Early on, Dagge (Denniz Pop) and I did an interview for some weekend supplement. We left the studio and did the interview in a cafe somewhere. Right away, I realized how wrong it all felt. ‘What am I doing, sitting here blabbing away? I should be in the studio. That’s my place.’ Then, for two weeks, I was anxious about what it would say in the paper. One upside of saying no is that nothing happens. If you say yes, stuff can happen, if you say no, you don’t need to worry … I don’t think most people who listen to music are that interested in all the work that goes into making it. It’s the artist you like.
There’s plenty to chew on in this comprehensive interview — best to savor it for the next 16 years.