Meet Lukas Forchhammer
Family: Partner and baby daughter Viola
Career: Actor in the Danish movie series Krummerne; formed Lukas Graham in 2011
The lights are dimmed and the stage at the House of Blues in Boston is completely dark, but for a spotlight on the fully dressed mannequin placed at the drum kit. You have to look twice to make sure it’s not just a person sitting very still. Later tonight, the drums will be thumping, the lights flashing and the crowd going wild for Lukas Graham, the breakout Danish band currently taking the US and rest of the globe by storm with their massive hit “7 Years.”
But for now, it’s quiet. And dark. Anders, Lukas Graham’s tour manager, guides me through the twisting hallways backstage to the green room, where I’m scheduled to meet Lukas Forchhammer, the 28-year-old Copenhagen-born uber-talent who leads the band.
He’s late. Which is fine. That’s what rock stars do. So I do what any self-respecting journalist would do – I snoop. Let’s see – bottle of expensive rum with limes? Check. Plenty of imported beer in the fridge? Check. A million bottles of water? Check. But there’s also a fridge shelf packed full of fresh cold-pressed juices. Isn’t that a little healthy for a rock band? On the counter are three or four packs of Wasa cracker bread (“healthy” and “multigrain”) – not exactly party material. I poke my head into the bathroom and that’s when it’s confirmed that I’m dealing with a very different kind of operation here. There, I find a young man fiddling with some clothes on a rolling hanger. It’s not studded leather jackets or ripped jeans or anything glittering or resembling a stage costume. He’s hanging baby clothes to dry – pink and gray onesies, tiny white shirts and cute little outfits.
“It’s for his baby girl,” the man says, as he rolls them to the corner out of the way and walks out of the room. (I find out later her name is Viola and she’s four months old.) And thus begins the unexpected journey of getting to know Lukas Forchhammer.
He has every reason to be a gigantic pain in the ass if he wanted to. He and his bandmates are currently touring the world, riding high on the huge success of their first album and hit singles “7 Years,” “You’re Not There,” and “Mama Said.” They played live at the US Grammy Awards show (and were nominated in three categories), on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show and on the talk shows Ellen and Good Morning America. They’ve been on the cover of Billboard magazine. They do live videos from Facebook’s headquarters. Their social channels are overflowing with comments from adoring fans from their Danish homeland and all over the world.
But, over the course of a single afternoon, Forchhammer proves to be wise beyond his years, genuinely interested in connecting with the people around him, authentically humble, quick to smile and make a joke, happy to explore topics and answer questions honestly, while graciously moving around the venue for photographs. All without a PR person jumping in to adjust his responses or a stylist fixing his collar or messing with his hair.
So, tell me what it’s like to be making it big. How does it feel to be a famous artist?
Well, first of all, I’m not an artist. Artists make money after they die. I am an entertainer. I’m a lyricist. I’m a songwriter. I’m a performer. I’ve never looked at what I did as being art, but that’s because I’ve been doing it since I was 12. I just don’t like the “artist” label. It’s a stigma. Artists make excessive demands and are childish and annoying and infantile.
And what’s the point of fame anyway?
Fame killed most of the people we like to listen to. We never did this to become famous, we do this because we can’t not do this. We play music for a living. This is what we do. We love it. Fame is like that unfortunate byproduct of being a successful musician.
OK. Let’s talk about what it means to you to be from Denmark and how that impacts your songs.
Well, I wouldn’t call my artistic approach even remotely Danish. Several different Danish bands are making it outside Denmark now for the first time in a while, and everyone’s asking us, ‘Are you coming from a specific Danish genre?’ And, there really isn’t a scene going on. It’s funny that it’s happening so organically, so independently. For me, definitely Christiania has been a big thing [Christiania is a creative, progressive “hippy-bohemian” neighborhood in Copenhagen formed in the early 1970s by activists wanting to form an autonomous community.] It still means a lot to us, not just as children from the neighborhood, but also as children from Copenhagen. Look, I’m just a guy, which is kind of hard to be when you’re doing all this stuff. That’s why Christiania is a good place to be from, because when you grew up in a house without a bathroom and you have to walk a mile to take a shower in the communal bathhouse that was nudist and unisex, you learn things about human beings. You learn things about yourself. You learn to be very well-rooted in where you’re from. I knew that a happy life had nothing to do with money, because we didn’t have any growing up.
You’ve recently become a father. How has that changed your life and your career?
Unlike a lot of young men my age, I’ve always known I wanted to be a father. I remember having this idea when I was younger that I didn’t want to have a girlfriend if I couldn’t see her being the mother of my children. So I didn’t have one before the one I have now. My first and my last, I would like to think. I think it’s way easier than people have made it out to be. There are certain things you just don’t get to do as much, but my family are with me now on tour. We’ve been physically together for five months. That’s never happened before, because I was touring. Five or six weeks would be the most I ever spent at home. I had to leave the baby being changed to come to the interview.
You talk a lot about your “boys” and your connection to the people you grew up with. How has this influenced who you are as a performer and writer?
I don’t actually play any instruments at all. I write lyrics, I make up melodies, but I have my main guys I work with. They are all other Danes I went to school with. I’ve known Stefan and Rissi and Pilo (all famous Danish producers now), since I was young. I wouldn’t have gotten the record deal without them. When I started writing the first American release, the first worldwide record release, the label wouldn’t pay to fly Stefan and Rissi to LA. They didn’t want to pay for a house. I bought my boys plane tickets and rented two extra cars and a massive house in the Hollywood Hills. We just started from there. Just because we wanted to do it our way. I’m not my sound. I’m not my music. I am my songs. I am my lyrics. I am my story. I am aware that I am a product, but I am not the music.
Can you tell me about your creative process and where you go for inspiration?
I write almost every day. After the baby arrived and when we started touring a lot and traveling a little too much, the creativity wavered a little, but I can choose to sit down and be creative. I don’t know a lot of writers who can do that. I can just decide, ‘Okay, I want to write something.’ It would usually be fairly good. Then, sometimes you hit that inspiration of a “7 Years” that just flows. Three-and-a-half hours later, the song was finished. It was just a stream of consciousness. I’ve been writing so much for so long. I remember hearing Eminem say once that he wrote every day, because when he has to sit down and write a hit, it’s not hard because he’s already writing.
What’s the most magical moment of your career so far?
We performed at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people this past summer. We walked straight out of that show, drove to a local airport and flew on a private jet to Aalborg in Denmark to play our own 90-minute show in front of 15,000 people. Four hours after walking the off stage in England we’re on a private jet with so much gear you couldn’t use the bathroom. We were kneeling at the back of the plane, pissing in bottles, trying to relieve ourselves. Two hours later we’re in Aalborg. I opened the door and there are police standing right there, and I’m like, ‘Why are we getting searched?’ They’re like, ‘No, we know you’re late for the show. We wanted to get your passports done now.’ I’m thinking, ‘Are we at the level now that the police show up just so we can get our passports checked easier? We’ve made it!’
And made it they have. Back at the House of Blues, we’re wrapping up our photoshoot outside the venue. Forchhammer’s posing in front of a wall of blues legends, looking comfortable next to icons like Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson. He mingles and chats comfortably with fans who are already starting to stand in line for the show. They nervously approach and he appears genuinely happy to engage with them, sign autographs and snap a few selfies. He shakes hands and hugs them like he’s known them for ages. And then he calmly turns and walks back to his tour bus. Back to his family and his home on the road. Back to the journey that has really only just begun.
Text: Devin Wilson