Fredrik Thomander has a vision. The Swedish singer/songwriter/producer with an impressive track record is one of the men behind Palma Music Studios. He spoke to David Holzer about his ambitions to put the sound of Palma on the musical map.
Palma Music Studios is hidden inside a tastefully grey building on the corner of two otherwise nondescript streets below Pueblo Español, the somewhat surreal collection of shrunken reproductions of famous buildings from all over Spain.
It looks like it fell from outer space.
The studio was created by Fredrik and his Swedish friend Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet. Johan, who also has a great love of music, collected the high-end analogue recording equipment used at Palma Music Studios. He has a house in Mallorca but lives in London.
One glorious summer morning a few weeks ago, Fredrik gave photographer Ida Carlsson and me a guided tour of the studio. It has an airy eight-metre Live Room that feels a little like a church and six studios named for famous musicians over three floors, including the Aretha, Mercury and Zappa rooms.
Musicians and producers using the studios have access to world-class equipment digital and analogue equipment. This includes a bronze microphone handmade by Didrik de Geer, one of only 35 in the world.
Artists also have the freedom to plug in their own laptops and work with the studio’s inhouse producers.
There’s a warmth to Palma Music Studios. This is literal in that it’s not absolutely freezing like studios normally are. It’s also figurative, thanks to Fredrik’s friendliness, enthusiasm and lack of pretension.
He remains a music obsessive, telling us a funny story about being on a family holiday in Ibiza and making a pilgrimage to the the studio where Judas Priest recorded their 1982 album Screaming for Vengeance. When you watch him on some of the videos of artists playing in the Palma Music Studios Live Room his sheer love of playing shines through.
Fredrik has, in fact, been remarkably successful.
He started out in the early 1990s as the singer and bass player for the Swedish trio Vildsvin (wild boar) whose music he describes as ‘like a Swedish No Doubt’. The band had two number three hit singles in Sweden and opened for Status Quo and ZZ Top among others.
Realising that he enjoyed being in the studio more than performing live, Fredrik began working with other artists in the studio he built in Stockholm.
Fredrik’s career really took off when he started working with boybands in the USA, notably Justin Timberlake and N’Sync. When boybands fell a little out of vogue in the early 2000s, he worked with European rock bands – The Scorpions being the best known.
He produced the first single to come out of the Swedish TV series Popstars, the forerunner of Idol, and went on to work with the artists that won for the next four or five years.
Out of the blue, a cover of a song Fredrik wrote shot to number one in Japan in 2006. He began working in Asia. This led to him producing and writing for K-pop stars for the next ten years. He also managed to fit in working in Los Angeles with his friend, Moroccan Swedish producer RedOne, known for producing among others Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez.
In 2012, Fredrik worked and played on Agnetha Fältskog from Abba’s album A, a hit across Europe and number three in Australia, and cowrote the track “Perfume in the Breeze”. (Incidentally, Agnetha’s former bandmate Frida has a house in or near Deià.)
‘After that,’ as Fredrik says with Swedish understatement, ‘I was a bit tired.’ He tried living in California with his family, wife Lena and his two daughters, but didn’t enjoy it. His mother has lived in Mallorca since the 90s so in 2013 the family decided to try the island.
Fredrik and his family loved Mallorca. ‘For me, it’s a combination of how everything looks and feels. It’s the climate, the ease of life compared to Stockholm,’ he explains.
In 2014, Fredrik and Lena rented out their house in Stockholm and moved here. The girls started at the Swedish school in Terreno. Fredrik spent his first six months on the island playing paddle tennis, sitting in cafés and not working.
‘I had no intention of trying to make a music career in Spain, he says but, as he puts it, ‘music found me’.
Some artists Fredrik worked with regularly decided it was time to make a new album. He asked where they wanted to him to go – his plan at that point was to be a traveling producer for hire. They said they’d heard he was on Mallorca and they’d come to him.
Fredrik borrowed an apartment to record in and, for a while, winged it.
Around this time, he was getting to know Johan Lundgren through mutual friends, and they were hanging out listening to music. Johan said ‘I have a studio in London but no clients. You have clients but no studio. Isn’t a coincidence? Why don’t we build a studio in Mallorca?
Then Johan began to get serious. Fredrik told me, ‘Johan read in a British newspaper that Palma had been voted the greatest place in the world to live in. Being in the travel industry, he said “How do you make the best city in the world better? You build a studio.” I said, OK I get it. But I’m not building a studio. “Someone will,” Johan said.’
At the time, Fredrik was looking for a plot of land on which to build a house for his family. One morning he drove past the spot where Palma Music Studios stands today. As a joke, he sent a photo to Johan with a message saying he’d found a great place to build a studio.
The joke backfired. Johan thought the plot looked perfect. When Fredrik said he was joking, Johan asked him to find out if the plot was available to buy. Two days later they bought it.
At first, Fredrik’s attitude was that they weren’t obliged to build a studio. This could just be a fun investment. But he and Johan started dreaming about what a studio for the future could look like: combining the old way of recording with the new in their favourite place in the world.
It took 11 months to build Palma Music Studios. The first recording session was in November 2017. Since then it’s been full on, helped by being able to draw on Fredrik’s huge network and coverage from the international music industry press.
‘We enjoyed purpose mixed with pleasure on this beautiful Island, with Fredrik relentless until the Holy Grail was found!’
Kim Wilde, Artist, Songwriter, Producer
Fredrik also began reaching out to local musicians. ‘It took me a year before I realised the Mallorcan music scene was very much alive and that there were plenty of talented musicians here,’ he says. ‘Now I always try to employ musicians from the island when international artists come over. We have our favourite strings and woodwind players, our favourite bands. I’m very happy about that.’
Everything was going swimmingly until covid-19 hit. But, enterprising as ever, Fredrik saw an opportunity and grabbed it.
Every other year, Fredrik is a guest lecturer at Stanford University in San Francisco teaching songwriting. He always imagined there would be an educational element to Palma Music Studios.
In the first year the studios were open Metallica producer Flemming Rasmussen gave a three-day masterclass but after that the studio took off and became super-busy. Classes were put on a backburner.
But lockdown meant that artists weren’t travelling to Mallorca to record. Fredrik began offering online classes in songwriting and music production.
Classes have been running since May and are set to continue. They cover vocal recording at home, songwriting and music production at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
‘What has amazed me, time and again, is Fredrik’s effortless ability to productively coax the best out of the musicians who work with him and to inspire young songwriters.’
Mark Applebaum, Professor, Stanford University, CA
Fredrik is also reimagining what Palma Music Studios’ Live Room might be. ‘I want great artists to come here and make amazing music,’ he says. ‘But what if they don’t have a budget to record in a studio and anyway can’t travel? I started thinking about online concerts. It’s been proven that people are willing to pay for great content and some artists are making a lot of money for one concert. For me, the idea of interacting with my favourite artists online – them playing my request, for instance – is actually a step up from the live experience which is often standing in a huge crowd, drinking warm beer a long way from a bathroom, and listening to bad sound. If we can offer a better experience that wasn’t there before, we might be onto something.’
Like so many of us who have found our home on this island, Fredrik is in love with Mallorca.
‘There’s a special energy here. It’s certainly a magical place,’ he says. ‘So many magical things have happened since I moved here. I keep meeting people that blow my mind, who’ve come here looking for something other. We have this in common.’
I mention the amazing nights I’ve had in Deià, especially in Sa Fonda, where it’s not uncommon to see hugely famous artists jamming with local musicians, united by their common language.
‘That sounds fantastic,’ Fredrik says. ‘I absolutely love the mountains and it’s one of the reasons why I live here. I could see myself moving to the Tramuntana in the future.’
Fredrik’s love for Mallorca extends to being keen to do what he can for his adopted island.
‘We could make Mallorca into a creative hub,’ he says. ‘My feeling is that a lot of big music is going to come out of this place and in future you’re going to hear something and say, “that sounds like it was recorded in Palma”. Liverpool has a sound. Nashville has a sound. Berlin has a sound. Why can’t Palma have a sound?’
Find out more about Masterclasses at Palma Music Studios here. Who knows? You might end up writing the next K-pop multimillion seller.