soulshock and karlin interview

We recently interviewed Soulshock from the production duo Soulshock & Karlin. The two Danish producers took the world by storm in the 90’s working with everyone like 2Pac, Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton. They landed their first number one smash with Monica’s “Before You Walk Out Of My Life” and the hits kept on coming when the 2000’s rolled around as they also worked with Keyshia Cole, Fantasia and JoJo. We talked to Soulshock about moving from Denmark to the US to work on music, some of his biggest placements as well as some of his work today with his artist Maya B.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about developing the Soulshock & Karlin sound in the early beginnings.

Soulshock: It was pretty hard because I was so dead on Hip Hop. It wasn’t until Teddy started combining R&B and Hip Hop. Karlin came in with his incredible magic. I would do the beats and he would play on top of them. That’s how we created our sound. We were really dirty on the beats like on “Before You Walk Out Of My Life” by Monica and then Karlin would play really Poppy type of chords. No one was doing that and it may be because of our upbringing in Denmark. We were really into melodies, so we just got into it. All of our songs had incredible melodies, but we also had so much Hip Hop going on underneath. We became the go to for a lot of artists that wanted to crossover without being cheesy. It just took off.

YouKnowIGotSoul: You scored your first number one hit on Monica’s “Before You Walk Out Of My Life”.

Soulshock: We met with Clive and I was scared because I got killed everytime I played songs for him. He would go “That is the most horrible song I’ve ever heard in my career” and start playing songs produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Babyface, LA Reid and Teddy Riley. I think he was testing us to see if we could handle it because most people would have cracked. We came back and played him “Before You Walk Out Of My Life” and he was like “I’ll take it!”. We were like “I think Toni Braxton is interested in this song”. Clive demanded the song and guaranteed a number one hit in the next month. We flew down and put Monica’s vocals on it. She was amazing. Her voice was so raw and her gospel runs were incredible. We loved that it had that street vibe. We walked out and we just knew it. We sent it to Clive and he didn’t change anything. It came out and we had a number one record.

YouKnowIGotSoul: You guys also did some work with 2Pac. What was that experience like?

Soulshock: it was interesting because as much as I loved R&B and we were in the studio with artists like Brownstone and I met my wife at those sessions, but I had so much Hip Hop in me. I kept telling my manager Randy Cohen to give me Hip Hop artists. We got a call back from 2Pac’s team and they wanted to record three of our beats. I was driving and I was like “What did you say?!”. The studio was in the hood, so I told my manager “Can you tell 2Pac’s management that we’re two white boys”. At the end of the day, we’re still from Denmark so when it got rowdy, we weren’t used to that. I didn’t go all the way to Compton and then I got a phone from 2Pac. He was like “I know who the fuck you are motherfucker”. I apologized and then he was like “I used to carry your turntables”. He was a roadie for Digital Underground so at one point, he had set up my turntable for a show that we did with them. There was no way I could put two and two together. He was like “Bring your white ass to the hood” and I was like “I can’t believe this is the same guy that carried my turntables”. *Laughs* It was on after when we got there. He had his shirt off, the Thug Life tattoo and bandana on. The studio was packed because he liked to perform and be pushed to the edge when he was rapping. He had a ton of people writing and not because he didn’t write himself, but he picked up energy from everybody. It was crazy because everyone had to leave their gun next to the mixing board where I sat. At one point, it was a stack of guns sitting there. I remember Karlin saying “I’m out of here”. *Laughs* The cool thing about that record is that he wanted to pay record to the East Coast. I know people call him a West Coast rapper, but he grew up in the East Coast. He started talking about his influences and I loved everything. We just created this record called “Old School” together. He kept inviting us back to the studio and we would hang out. He was so incredible being around. I’ve never met anyone like him before. Whitney is up there, but 2Pac was hard to describe. The next thing we did was “Me & Against The World” and he wanted some singing on it. We put Puff Johnson on the hook and he called me two days after like “That track is going to be the title track of my album”. I was almost crying because just coming from a small city in Denmark and to end up saying I have the title for a 2Pac record is very hard to describe. It was beautiful.

YouKnowIGotSoul: You guys also did “I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto”.

Soulshock: So with “I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto” and “Do For Love”, those were done after he passed away. Honestly when Suge came into his life, it took a left turn that I couldn’t keep up with. It got a little too real. 2Pac was super intelligent and we could have crazy conversations about things that no one would know about like books. When Suge came in though, it became gangster and it got too intense. I dropped out when it was Death Row. After he had got shot in Las Vegas, his mother Afeni Shakur called me and was like “I have a few records that need to be finished and I’m only letting people who knew him work on these”. She came up with these two huge security guys. We were using tapes back then because we didn’t have ProTools yet. Everytime we would put the the tape on and transfer it to our machine to make it work. the security would be like “Where is this going?”. It was an acapella and Afeni was like “Start working, I’m not leaving”. I first did a version that was a little more uptempo because that’s what Pac wanted. Then I asked Afeni if I could just do what I feel so I did something that was in half tempo. I thought it was just cool. My wife Maxee from Brownstone is singing in the hook. I thought it was just magic. Then we went to “Do For Love” and we were obsessed with A Tribe Called Quest. We went with something similar to that and it worked.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the song “I Love Me Some Him” with Toni Braxton.

Soulshock: It’s funny because we were all so inspired by each other. I was definitely inspired by Devante Swing at the time. The snare had to go a certain way because that’s what Devante did and it was so hot. When Andrea Martin came in and wrote that song on top of Karin’s guitar, I was like “This is crazy”. We also did “Before You Walk Out Of My Life” together. When Toni Braxton did that vocal, I started crying. I had never heard a vocal like that. It was absolutely amazing that she could sing like that. She was just an angel and she knew what worked. I remember leaving the session saying “That’s the best vocal I’ve ever recorded in my life” and I still feel that way today.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the creation of “Heartbreak Hotel” by Whitney Houston, Kelly Price and Faith Evans

Soulshock: We wrote that with Tamara Savage and that was her first song. We took the song to Clive and he instantly wanted it. We had some drama with that because TLC wanted it too. LA Reid wasn’t super happy with us because it was the second time we had done that because he also wanted “Before You walk out my life” for Toni Braxton. We flew to New York to record that song. We had been in with a lot of people, but going in with Whitney Houston was another level. We drove to this mansion in New Jersey where her and Bobby Brown lived. We drove to her place a few times and her assistant Robin would say “Sorry, she isn’t available today”. One day the gate finally opened and the house was incredible. There was an indoor swimming pool and a recording studio in one building and she lived in another. We stated setting up and we were just waiting for her. She had bought her neighbors estate just to make it her home studio. Her and Bobby came in and I was a little boy from Denmark. I was just so blown away. “Heartbreak Hotel” is a complicated song to sing because she has to bounce with her vocals. She just wasn’t used to that. She did one take and it was awful. I looked at Karlin and said “I’m not telling Whitney that the vocals were bad”. Whitney stopped and was like “Listen, you guys wrote this song .Just tell me how to sing it”. She went in again and it was horrible and then she left. Kelly Price came in the next day and blows everyone away. Faith comes in and her voice was so magical. We had the whole record, but the only problem was that Bobby Brown was doing the “This is the Heartbreak Hotel” part and Clive didn’t want him on it. Clive also told us “Don’t come back until I’m blown away by Whitney’s vocals”. We went back into the studio and told her what Clive said. We played the song and it was quiet after. Whitney went back in and nailed it. It was so incredible. At the end, I got Whitney to say “This is the heartbreak Hotel” once and looped it so Bobby wouldn’t be on it. *Laughs*

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the remixes you guys did like Brandy’s “Brokenhearted” with Wanya Morris.

Soulshock: We loved doing remixes. We grew up at a time where every song in Europe would have a remix. We really sat with the vocals and Karlin was the guy who nailed it everytime. He would sit with the vocals and re-approach the song with new chords. Once I heard that, I would get so inspired on the beat. We pretty much did a new song with Brandy. We flew to Philadelphia and recorded at Boyz II Men’s studio. Wayna and Brandy went into the studio together and they had a good connection. We just caught that moment when she was singing. She was another one with an amazing tone. I think our approach was to take the remixes very seriously and trying to make it better than the original.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about creating JoJo’s debut single “Get Out (Leave)”. The beat switch in the chorus could have come off as corny, but you guys managed to make it sound good.

Soulshock: It’s interesting because the mix that came out of that record is the original demo mix. It was so gritty. Everytime we mixed it, it lost a little bit of the Hip Hop element and then it became a little cheesy. I remember JoJo showing up at 12 years and we were like “Uh okay”. I told Karlin he could do the vocals and I was just standing outside. Then I heard her sing and I was like “Who is singing?” and I looked over and saw JoJo. She was this little girl and I was like “Where did you learn how to sing like this?”. I feel like that song worked because of her vocals. Even the Rock element wasn’t really Rock. It was like the Hip Hop version of Rock. That record blew up. That was one of my big hits. It also opened a whole side we hadn’t really worked with. We started working with a lot of Pop acts and honestly, wee weren’t very good at that. We did a lot of records like that we lost a bit of our soul. We didn’t feel it as much.

YouKnowIGotSoul: What are you working on today?

Soulshock: I am working with Maya B who is our new artist. She’s inspired me to go into the studio again. Getting me into the studio wasn’t easy. She brought me back into working until 6 AM and making beats from scratch. She thinks completely outside the box and she’s hard to define. I wouldn’t even put her in an R&B box. She is a singer/songwriter that constantly inspires me with what she writes on top of our beats. It takes a while to get people to understand who she is, but I feel like this new record “Sink” featuring SAINt JHN is special. She’s 20 years old, so we’re having fun with her sound. I have a whole new respect for people like Clive Davis because artist development isn’t easy. We don’t want to create just an artist, we want to create a legend. I still get really inspired working with artists but they have to inspire me. I’m a little more spoiled now. We’re getting into developing artists a little more. We also bring new producers in. We tell them to not rely on loops and just play it yourself because it’s more fun.