The single is the result of a unique collaboration between NEIKED, singer Anne-Marie, and rapper Latto. Each artist provided their own sense of style and ingenuity to the track, which reimagines Stevie Wonder’s classic “I Just Called To Say I Love You” into something modern and eclectic. Instead of calling to profess their love, Anne-Marie and Latto express sentiments of unhappiness to the person on the other end of the phone. It’s a refreshing, honest portrayal of how relationships evolve over time, and it was this interesting component that piqued Stevie Wonder’s interest. As NEIKED told me during our conversation, Wonder himself passed along his blessing for this single at every stage of the creative process. Receiving a glowing endorsement from one of the biggest artists in the industry was deeply meaningful to NEIKED, who have been working tirelessly since 2015 to establish the career they’ve always dreamed of having.
Founding members Victor Rådström and Mikael Rabus established the experimental group after becoming disenfranchised with the standard limitations of the music industry. The two set out to create NEIKED to allow themselves, and other artists, to create freely and authentically. Their acclaimed single “Sexual” served as the tip of the iceberg for the duo in 2016 — they now have several exciting projects in the work, in addition to their new single “I Just Called.” It’s clear from the way they discuss their music and their approach toward collaboration that the duo is passionate about creating something entirely their own. It is this passion, coupled with their unending dedication and incredible work ethic, that will ultimately propel NEIKED to the top of music charts across the world.
Speaking with House of Solo’s Sam Cohen, NEIKED discussed the process of collaborating with Anne-Marie and Latto, how they got started in the music industry in 2015, and how they know when a single is ready to be released and much more.
Congratulations on your recent single, I Just Called. I’ve had it stuck in my head for days. [Laughs].
[Both laugh]. Oh really? Nice!
It’s very catchy! As it’s a flipped version of Stevie Wonder’s iconic song, I Just Called To Say I Love You, I was interested in what inspired you to flip the original and change it into this different narrative where you’re telling your truth in a completely new way?
Obviously, we’re big fans of Stevie, and that original record, and have been from the beginning. And we actually heard from someone who said that Anne-Marie had an idea of doing a flip on it. So, it actually came from her. And she sent over the vocals of the idea with a completely different production — it was a sort of trap vibe for the record. And we felt like we could really do this, but we flipped the production as well. So, we felt like we could really do this in a different way, and then we started to produce the record, and eventually, we ended up with something that we felt was really good. And getting Latto on the second verse was like the cherry on top of that. That’s really how the record came about.
That must be such an interesting process for you two to figure out how to blend everyone’s individual styles together to create this finished product. Can you talk to me a little bit about how you mesh everything creatively to make one cohesive song?
In a way, it’s more about saying, “How do we add the NEIKED touch to this?” Before we think about the other artists, we start by first figuring out, “How does this sound like NEIKED?” For this, though, we already had Anne-Marie’s vocals, so it was pretty easy to produce that and see what felt good with the vocals that were already on the track. Then it was like, “Okay, how do we fit into that? How do we get a rap on this single that actually sounds good as well?” And I think, for some reason, the NEIKED sound works with all these different types of artists. We’ve done rap before, so it all ends up just making sense somehow.
I’m very intrigued by that because I’m not musical at all, unfortunately. So, it’s amazing to me to think that the two of you can hear a snippet of something and say, “This is how we want it to sound. This is how it’s going to represent us.” I think that’s fascinating.
It’s always a process at first to figure out what it’s going to sound like, but eventually you work it out by trying different things.
Is there like a moment where you hear the song and you know, “Okay, we’ve got it. We don’t have to keep tweaking it, this is it.” Or is it just organic to every single you guys produce?
I think maybe we have a hard time knowing when it’s finished — it isn’t always clear or precise. I think we could just keep going forever. But you know you need to stop when you’re sounding crazy talking about the single like, “Should we add something? Should we change something?” and it’s something so minor that no one else hears it. And when we’re at that stage, that’s when we know it’s finished. Otherwise, we’ll destroy it. So, when you almost go crazy, that’s when you’re finished. That’s when you’re done.
That’s a good way of stopping yourself, too, so you’re not up all night like, “What if we just tweak this one thing and see what happens?” [Laughs].
[Both laugh]. We’ve done that a lot of times! Lesson learned, lesson learned.
It seems like it’s all a learning process to figure out when you need to step away from it and let it be the way that it is and accept it as that version. And obviously that’s going well for you guys! I think you have some pretty good instincts, even if it takes you a little while to get there.
Yeah! Hopefully. You haven’t heard the stuff we’ve never released though where we’ve actually destroyed stuff. [Everyone laughs].
It’ll be a new creative vision! That’s what’s nice about creative projects, you could release those versions and be like, “Yeah, that’s definitely what it’s supposed to sound like.”
I think what’s really intriguing about I Just Called is that you got Stevie Wonder’s blessing to flip his original song to create your own version. What was that like for you two when you found that out? Did it put additional pressure on you, or did that free you to be more creative?
First of all, having him give his blessing was a really, really big deal. It was huge. And it also helped us know that we’re not disrespecting his record. He feels like he can stand behind this record, and I think that’s the biggest thing. There was some stuff, like when we said we wanted a rap feature on it, he obviously felt like we couldn’t do anything really provocative. And we had to find people that were actually down to take on the challenge of writing a really cool verse that wouldn’t include these things he didn’t want on there. But once we did that, and that also got his blessing, it was crazy. I think, overall, to get everything together and know that he’s stoked about the song, it felt like a really cool kind of privilege.
He’s such an iconic artist, and it’s nice to know that you were okay to do it the way you wanted to. I feel like sometimes when you’re sampling something from someone and you don’t know how they’re going to feel about it, that obviously puts you in a tough position. Because you want to honor the original while doing your own thing at the same time.
Yeah, exactly. We’re not trying to do something that’s already been done before — we want to give everything a fresh spin.
I really enjoyed that this track was a completely different take on Stevie Wonder’s version, but it was great that you were able to do it in a way where the lyrics weren’t disrespectful. It’s a different way of sharing your truth, and of being honest with someone. Because you don’t always love someone, sometimes you have to tell them the hard thing.
It’s a close, thin line between love and hate.
Absolutely. I think it changes all the time, and you guys did a great job of capturing that as well. You started the group in 2015 as a way to release music independently so you would have the creative independence to do what you wanted to do with your songs. What do you think has been the most challenging aspect of going about your career this way, and what has been the most rewarding?
I mean, the original story is really wild in terms of how we got here. We started the project because we came from the songwriting side of things, and the publishing side of things, we were just so sick and tired of it. You have all these records, and you pitch all these records, and you do records for other artists, and you always need to be in the hands of the label. They say things like, “This won’t fit the artist,” or “The lyrics are wrong for the artist, the sound is wrong.” And we also felt that all the artists were so limited because there’s such a framework around these pop artists where they need to do the same sound over and over. They need to have the same type of music all the time, and everything is very framed. So, we said, “What if we just start an experimental pop project?” And the idea was like, “Let’s drop records in any language. Let’s do it ourselves, and let’s never, ever sign to a major label.” And that was the first real starting point in terms of doing things ourselves.
We hadn’t dropped anything ourselves before, so we just called Spotify. We called the radio. We said, “Okay, we have to do something that’s interesting and fun.” So, our plan was to start with a Swedish song we dropped, and then we ended up doing a French thing as well. And then, the third record was Sexual, and the plan was not for it to go that fast. That ended up becoming a major, major hit, and that’s really when we started to break ourselves into things in terms of radio plays and Spotify. We didn’t even think about it much — we just called people and said, like, “This record is doing really well. Can you guys help us out by playing this?” And everyone started to help us out. And, eventually, the record started getting added to commercial radio without having a major label behind it. And then our phones just exploded. We didn’t answer people for two months. We said, “We’re not going to answer any emails.” And the record kept growing and growing until eventually people called us so much and clogged our email. So, we said, “All right, we really need to go around and meet these major labels.”
We did that around 2016, and we signed that record because we couldn’t take it any longer because we felt like we needed someone to make that final push if we wanted to be as big as possible. So, we did sign a deal with a major label for that record. But after that, we went back to being independent. And now, we’re in this middle ground where we’ve had some hits, and it’s hard to do some of these things. People expect us to keep delivering big records as well, but we still want to be independent and to be able to drop stuff that’s pretty unexpected. We’re in this hybrid mode now where we drop some stuff ourselves because we want to keep that NEIKED weirdness to it. And we haven’t fully shown that yet, but we’re going to show that in this next cycle of music. Sometimes we give records to major labels if we really feel like they fit and people really want to work on them. And I think that’s a really good setup for us, because we’ll never leave the experimental side of it. People will see that later on in this cycle as well.
That seems like so much to balance between trying to figure out how to promote everything yourself, and then how to bring people in to help you promote the things you can’t promote yourself. Because you only have so much time every day where you’re then having to answer emails, make music, promote your work, and create social media posts. You’re doing all of these things at once, which is a lot!
It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too. That’s probably the biggest challenge for people, and for everyone to understand, is that we want to do the commercial side of it but also the non-commercial side of it as well. And I think that’s the reason why we haven’t really done many interviews. This is the first interview we’re really doing. We’ve been so far off from everything, commercially, like speaking about the project, but we feel like this is what we need to do to explain why we do things like this. So, it’s good to speak to you, Sam, to get this out.
I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and to reintroduce yourselves through interviews. I always want to give people the opportunity to talk about whatever they’d like to talk about and explain things in a way that utilizes the interviews as a moment to share the message they’d like to share. So, I’m happy to be the middleman here! [Everyone laughs].
Thank you, we appreciate that. We really like being an experimental pop project, but we also love bringing forward new vocalists and artists, and to be the platform for that. So, it’s not always that we need to be the center of every release, but it’s more about giving a platform for new people to use to see if we can help them break into the industry. But we also want to work with the biggest artists that we think are really great as well. So, being able to be that platform for these projects is what we really want to do and keep doing in a bigger way so we can bring forward these new faces and these fun new artists. And we don’t want to be limited to languages, either. It’s really fun to tap into different territories and drop something with an artist from another country, because that’s how you really can make something completely new happen. It’s so easy to fall into old patterns in this world, when you’re in this sort of commercial landscape.
I’m sure it helps in terms of you being able to be freely creative, because you don’t know if someone is going to bring something to the table that you’ve never done before that might spark something creatively in you guys. And to have the opportunity to do that in different countries, I think, is incredible, because you don’t usually realize how someone might be a really big artist in China, but we wouldn’t know that in the U.S. It would be nice to bring that all together, so then you’re opening people up to all kinds of music.
Yeah, exactly. I think what we always can do is take a flavor from wherever — India, or a completely different territory — and we can help make it Western by using production to do that, and to introduce a melodic sense into everything in a really fun way. It’s just about wanting to be that bridge for people, and wanting to experiment with different cultures and different music.
I think that’s incredible, and it’s definitely something that’s interesting for your fans as well, because they never know what to expect. I feel like that’s not really common in music nowadays — it seems like a lot of people get stuck in that cycle of having to produce things in the same general style.
And that’s a challenge as well, obviously, when you’re in that major system. But that’s why it’s so important for us to have the other side of things as well, where we can control that. I think that will make more sense when we’ve dropped some albums, and when people hear that music and see the whole picture of everything and how we try to keep the integrity of both sides.
Absolutely, because you want to make sure you’re maintaining your integrity, while also allowing whoever you’re collaborating with to produce something that feels authentic to them and their music journey as well.
That’s incredible. I know you were mentioning new music earlier, so I was wondering what you could tell us about what’s next for you two after this new single, I Just Called, takes on a life of its own?
There are some big things we would like to say. [Everyone laughs]. We’ve got some fun stuff coming up, though. We have a lot of different things in the mix in terms of who we’re working with — some really big artists and some smaller ones as well. We’re super excited to work with everyone, and we can’t wait to be able to discuss it more and get the music out there.
I’m really excited to see where this is all going to go and what everything is going to sound like when you guys are done!
We’re excited too. We’re figuring it out, but we’re excited.