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Norway's New Pop Sensation Donkeyboy

Hailing from Norway are new pop sensation Donkeyboy. Their debut album Caught in a Life has sold 120,000 times in Norway alone since the release in October of last year, and Donkeyboy are now emerging to wider acclaim through the album's release in the UK and other European countries. Climbing steadily the European charts, Donkeyboy is possibly the greatest Norwegian export since A-ha and Röyksopp, so keep an eye out for these young songwriters!

Tell us a little about your backgrounds, and how you started playing in a band?
We grew up in Drammen, a 30-minute drive west of Oslo. Being brothers, the two of us [Cato on guitar and Kent on keyboards] started playing and got together with our neighbor Thomas who play drums early in 2005. But the actual band Donkeyboy started later in 2005, and in 2006 we also got Peter [guitarist] and Alex [bassist] on board. The first demo song we made was called “Broke My Eyes” which we submitted to NRK P3's Urørt competition for unsigned bands and the track ended up in the final in 6th place overall.

Donkeyboy have had an incredibly successful year since your first Caught in a Life album was released in October 2009. Has this sudden success changed your lives?
The biggest change has been that it has made it possible for us to work full-time with our music and leave our previous day jobs behind. It´s also been a very busy year with a lot of concerts and tours as well as a lot of of promotional work. Other than that we're pretty much the same guys as before. But it's kind of funny that our first single “Ambitions” was pushed out of first place of the Norwegian charts after 52 weeks by our own second single “Sometimes”. And topping the Swedish charts with “Ambitions” was also a special moment — something that really doesn't happen very often to Norwegian bands.

When did you start making music, and why did you choose Cubase as your preferred software?
As brothers we used to play acoustic guitar and piano together and used an old cassette recorder to record some early ideas. Our neighbor owned a copy of Cubase, so back in 2003 we started using Cubase SX1 on a PC as well. So I guess you can say we stumbled onto Cubase by chance, but we really do prefer it to the other DAWs out there. It's rock solid and very intuitive to work with.

How do you typically write songs, and what musical influences affect you the most?
We have our own recording and rehearsal studio at home running two identical setups with a Mac Pro and Apogee Ensemble audio interfaces together with Cubase 5, UAD cards and VSTis. Typically we start out programming some basic ideas to get a song up and running, and then we bounce ideas back and forth. Sometimes a vocal part and melody finds itself almost instantly, and other times it requires more hard work. We might have a track more or less sorted out and know that there's a brilliant melody to be found that would be perfect for the song — we just have to find it. So, the main vocal parts are often laid down later in the recording process, but most of the recordings are actually done in our own studio which also has a small vocal booth.

As for musical influences, we listen to a lot of different bands and music, but two long-time favorites are AC/DC and Tom Petty as well as Fleetwood Mac. The success of A-ha in the mid '80s was also a big inspiration while growing up, so playing support on their UK tour in the end of 2009 was a lot of fun! But artists like Robyn and especially the production of her recent single “Hang With Me” are also a source of great inspiration.

How did you end up working with Livingroom and producers Espen Berg and Simen Eriksrud? And what were the most challenging tasks during the work on the album?
We contacted Espen Berg after the NRK P3 Urørt competition and after another band called Delaware from Drammen recommended that we get in touch with some producers. Espen's name came up as he had produced Norwegian pop band Briskeby, so we sent him some demos. Espen listened to several demo tracks but really only liked the first “Broke My Eyes” and wanted to hear more demos. Kent also started hanging around the Livingroom studio and one thing led to another.

The most challenging aspect of working with Simen and Espen was agreeing on the same things after working 15-hour days for several months in a row. Simen was also involved in parts of the song-writing, so getting our ideas in sync with Simen's and Espen's opinions could sometimes also be difficult. But in the end we usually found the right mix of ideas and ended up agreeing on things. Both are really professional and excellent producers, and we're really happy with the result and the whole process of working with them.

Do you have any favorite virtual effects and instruments?
The two general effects that we use a lot are Compression and Delay, but without overdoing it. The new FM8, Massive and the older Pro53 soft synths from Native Instruments as well as the new Steinberg HALion Sonic workstation are among our favorite VSTis! We also use the UAD cards and especially the LA2A, EMT140 plate reverb. The new UAD Tape Echo is also much used as we have two external UAD cards to free up some CPU in the Mac Pro. HALion ONE included in Cubase 5 is also something we use a lot as it is quick and easy to use, and especially the percussion sounds and other HALion ONE sounds often end up in the finished tracks. We used to have a Tube Tech CL1b outboard compressor but traded this in for studio time back in the early days, so these days we mainly use software — as well as a selection of good pre-amps in the studio.

How do you feel about the new channels for online music services like Spotify, Wimp and digital downloads through iTunes, etc.? How do these affect young artists and other bands?
We really like iTunes and other download services a lot as it gives you instant access whenever you need or want to buy music without being close to a record store. The problem is obviously that there is less money around for artists and bands, and even though services like Spotify are a great idea it currently generates too little revenue for the artists. In particular young bands and new artists without a huge back catalog of albums receive only pennies even though a song might have been streamed and listened to thousands of times. Time will tell, but if more people got onboard and signed up for these new streaming services then the revenue stream would increase and this would be a win-win situation for everyone. In the end, anyone doing music also has bills to pay, and living off gigs and merchandise alone is hard.

So what's the next step for Donkeyboy, and what are you currently working on?
We're currently working on the second album, so most days we're focusing on the song-writing process. A rather unexpected thing happened in the UK recently, where the 2009 X Factor winner Joe McElderry's first new single is a cover version of our own first single “Ambitions”. This is now getting massive radio play in the UK which we think is pretty cool!