BEHIND THE HITS: A Guide to Songwriting with Sebastian Kole
By Anthony Cordi
Behind The Hits is a column brought to you by Pop Crave to highlight the work that goes into crafting perfect pop music. The artists we report on daily depend on talented songwriters and producers to bring their sounds and personas to life. Without these talented musicians working behind the scenes, there would simply be no pop to crave.
Sebastian Kole, a singer-songwriter hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, explains that the relationship between the artist and songwriter makes for the most authentic work. Kole boasts an impressive catalogue of artists that he has worked with, including Jennifer Lopez, Alessia Cara, and Fifth Harmony. In a recent conversation with Pop Crave, Sebastian opens up about projects new and old, and touches on the creative process of songwriting.
When it comes to working with an artist and choosing who you get to work with, how do you determine if they’re someone that you’d want to collaborate with?
I base it on conversation. I base it upon how can I work with them, not if I can work with them. I can work with anybody, right? … I base it really solely upon how open they’ll be with me, how honest they’re willing to be. I’ve had some artists that really just want to make pop songs, you know, or popular songs. If there’s something to them that they really want to express and that they’re really willing to open up about, then I like to open up with them. And then I’ll know that this will be a longer lasting relationship.
Someone that you’ve notably worked with is Alessia Cara on her debut album ‘Know-It-All.’ She went on to win Best New Artist at the Grammy’s, which is a huge accomplishment. How would you describe the time that you spent together?
Wow. That relationship … I knew from the beginning that she was very new to music, we kind of just depended on one another. She trusted me to bring some stories to life, and I had to trust her to give me things to bring to life. We were around each other and we did a lot of talking, a lot of just like ‘OK, tell me what you think,’ you know, ‘What moves you?’ ‘What’s important to you?’ Some of the songs on that album were filler, but most of them were drawn from actual experiences. It’s kind of like a Shakespearean character … we did a lot of talking to figure out ‘What’s the character?’.
You’ve also worked on “Bridges” by Fifth Harmony. How was it creating a song with one of pop’s biggest groups with such political undertones in our current society?
I attribute that song to a conversation that I was having with Lauren [Jauregui] at the time, who actually has become a really good friend of mine since then. Lauren’s a very social justice type of person, and honest. She wasn’t afraid to talk about it, and I wasn’t afraid to talk about it. It was good to be able to say things like that … whether people think it’s a hit or whatever, it’s really good just to be able to say what you think of as important.
Is there any word on whether or not you’ll be working with any of the Fifth Harmony girls on their solo projects?
I have some writing sessions with just about all of them! Dinah [Jane], Lauren [Jauregui] and I were in a camp in Bali a couple of months ago writing some stuff. You just never know how the album is going to turn out, but I’ve definitely been involved in writing things with them … I keep up with them all the time.
In addition to producing for superstar recording artists, Kole also released a debut album of his own called ‘SOUP,’ an acronym for ‘Southern Urban Pop.’
You have a music catalog of your own, your debut album is called “Soup.” How would you differentiate the creative process between writing for pop music and other artists and writing for music of your own? Or is there really any difference at all?
I try to create some kind of difference between them. I think the difference is ‘SOUP’ was a perspective album … It’s one thing if I tell you what happened to me, I’m gonna give you details about how I see it that no one else could, versus writing for someone else and you’re basically just trying to figure out how to transcribe their experience.
What do you think makes a song an ear-worm?
One of the things that I personally listen for in a song … rhythm, cadences, things like that. Of course production is still very much a part of it, but not as much as it used to be. It used to be a very producer-driven sound … I think people are starting to attach more to the characters in the song, so the lyrics are starting to stick out more.
Where do you think that music production is moving?
Weird thing is, I was talking to my baby sister about this yesterday. I don’t know … The internet changed music forever because it brought all these different sounds that you would have just not have ever heard … I don’t know where it’s going, but I think that the fun part of it is that you’re in a very creative space and people are able to express more in detail than they used to be able to.
Kole is currently working on his second album ‘Perspective: No.’ Get a glimpse of Sebastian’s music taste and some of his work below: