Thomas G:son – a Eurovision phenomenon
The coffee jar is empty, so Thomas G:son rummages in the kitchen at home in Skövde, a small town in central southern Sweden. “A disaster,” he says ironically, flicking toys out of the way with his foot. G:son’s third and youngest child, 16-month old Vide, is still on a morning nap and like every home with small children, the floor is littered with cuddly toys and lego bricks.
Name: Erik Thomas Gustavsson
Family: Partner Maria, children Wera, seven, Vide, 16 months, and grown up son Charlie, 23, from a previous relationship
Lives: House in Skövde and working apartment in Stockholm
Career: One of the most industrious songwriters in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest: 43 Swedish entries and 32 for other countries. Three of his songs, “Lyssna till ditt hjärta” with Friends, “Evighet” with Carola and “Euphoria” with Loreen, won the national Swedish event. “Euphoria” went on to win the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
Current projects: Eurovision Song Contest 2016 where he will be competing with songs for Georgia and Cyprus.
G:son’s fame comes from somewhere a long way away from this domestic scene. It comes from his role in the Eurovision Song Contest. And for almost twenty years, fans of the show, which means pretty much everyone in Sweden, have seen him on their TV screens when the events in the green room are being broadcast. This is where the songwriters wait with the singers before going on stage. G:son is always there, always with the same long, blond 80s hairstyle and a big smile.
“But I want to win, I always want to win”
He has written numerous songs for the entrants of Eurovision and its national preliminary competitions, including “Rollercoaster,” performed by Swedish pop group Dolly Style for this year’s Swedish song contest. Unfortunately, it was voted out in the second round of the Swedish qualifying heats. But G:son has also written the songs for two other competing countries, Georgia and Cyprus, which have made the Eurovision semi-finals.
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest is being held in the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm. “Eurovision is nothing like as big in any other country as it is in Sweden, with heats and semi-finals,” G:son says. And although he is sad that he has not written the successful Swedish entry this year, he says this is not a catastrophe. “I had a feeling we wouldn’t go all the way this year. But I want to win, I always want to win.”
75 songs for Eurovision
He explains that to be successful at Eurovision, many things have to gel: the singer, the song, trends, the zeitgeist, serendipity. “I never know in advance if everything’s spot on.” Although, he adds, when Loreen first sang the song “Euphoria” in a studio in Östermalm, Stockholm, he knew straightaway that they would win the 2012 event. And they did.
G:son has written 75 songs for Eurovision, 43 of which have been for Sweden. No other Swede can match that total. It is quite a success story for a kid who grew up in rural Sweden with a sawmill in the garden and parents who hoped he would one day work in a bank. “I never imagined things would turn out like this,” he says.
Today, on his bookshelf alongside countless cookbooks sit various awards he’s won. He’s particularly proud of his Music Publishers’ Award as it’s a sign of recognition from his peers.
He doesn’t have a musical background. His father was an estate agent, auctioneer and owner of the local sawmill. His mother was a nurse. As a teenager, G:son and his brothers woke early each weekend to help out at local auctions. His father held the gavel and his mother kept the records.
His auction experience influenced his view of people. He’s not easily impressed but can talk to anyone and everyone. And this flexibility is one of the skills that has helped him to cooperate with the different artists he writes for while at the same time pursuing his own ideas.
One song a week
G:son writes about one song a week on average but says he doesn’t know how the creative process works and doesn’t want to know. The briefs from clients can be very uninformative but a melody will pop up in his home studio sometimes very quickly or sometimes very slowly. “The trick is not to think, or try not to think about not thinking.”
G:son has written everything from Swedish “dance band” and rock songs to power ballads, “but never tried hip hop.” He feels it’s important that he likes the song whatever the genre – to be able to stand up for it. Otherwise, it won’t be good.
Hard rock background
G:son started his music career in the late 1980s with a hard rock band called Masquerade that released four CDs and toured Japan. When they returned to Sweden they got a reality check, playing to tiny audiences in clubs with strip lighting in the ceiling that couldn’t be switched off. When the band’s drummer managed to sell his drum kit in the middle of the fiasco of a performance, it was a clear sign that it was time to pack it in.
“It was a matter of survival,” says G:son. “Some of the band went back to college but what was I going to do?” He got a job in a warehouse and started writing dance band songs. His brother Magnus built a studio as an extension to the family home and G:son started making the right contacts. In 2001, his first Eurovision entry for Sweden, “Listen to Your Heartbeat” performed by Friends, came in fifth.
He never did get that job in a bank. Although he did go to an interview at one arranged by his dad.
“I turned up in a leather biker jacket with long hair. Obviously I didn’t get the job,” G:son says, running his finger through his long tresses.
But he does still live in Skövde, with his partner Maria and their two kids. His mother, brother Magnus and Maria’s family live there too. G:son and Maria have an apartment in Stockholm and he takes the train there once a week to write songs with other lyricists. But everyone knows him in Skövde and says hi to him in the streets and asks him about this year’s Eurovision.
G:son has proved to himself and others that you can not only survive, you can also be successful writing songs. “Part of me always wants to move forward,” he says. “I want to make more and better hits. Another part of me thinks life is good the way things are. But you can’t just sit here and feel satisfied.”
Text: Marie Branner