Ludwig Göransson is a busy man. In 2013, he scored a critically acclaimed movie in Fruitvale Station, helped introduce the world to Haim, and worked with Chance the Rapper. He handled all of these duties while working at his day job scoring for two hit TV shows, Community and New Girl.
Ludwig is only 30, but his resume is as impressive as someone twice his age. What Ludwig is most famously known for is being Donald Glover’s (aka Childish Gambino) right hand man in the studio. He has been with the rapper since Culdesac, and has helped Glover mature from the divisive Camp to the stellar Because the Internet.
In this interview, Ludwig details how he first met Donald Glover, his origins in scoring, his work with Haim, and writing with Chance the Rapper.
You’ve composed for various TV shows and movies (Community, New Girl, Happy Endings, Fruitvale Station, We’re The Millers); how did you first get into composing?
I moved to LA in 2007, from Sweden. I always wanted to be a composer. I got into USC’s film scoring program, and it was a year graduate certificate program. I remember I had never been to the states before. It was a big change for me, a big step in my life. I didn’t know anyone. I was kinda scared. And I got into the school at USC, and all my professors were working in the business and I got some great advice.
Right after school I got a job, as an assistant for this famous film composer. His name is Theodore Shapiro, and he did movies like Devils Wears Prada, Blades of Glory; and the first movie I was his assistant on was Tropic Thunder. So I started working for him, doing a lot of guitar and tech stuff. Basically everything he needed. He was such a nice person, and a really nice mentor.
After two years of working for him he recommended me to the directors of Community. They called him [because] they wanted him to do it, but he didn’t have time. So he was like; “My assistant is really talented, and he can score the show.” So that was my first show under my own name.
Fruitvale Station was my favorite movie of last year. How did you end up scoring for the film?
At USC when I studied film scoring my first year, one of my first friends that I met was Ryan Coogler. He was in the directing program at USC. He became one of my best friends at school. He had done a student movie and he asked me if I wanted to score it. We met at a party. I remember I had done like 30 student movies and 29 of them were horrible.
It’s really hard to make a five-minute short when you’re a film student and the only movie that I did while at school that stood out was Ryan Coogler’s. I’ve done all of his short movies then and six years later we’re still best friends. He called me like “Hey man, I got this feature called Fruitvale Station that I’m writing and I want you to score it.”
What was your reaction when you watched the movie [Fruitvale Station] for the first time?
I started working on the movie really early. He sent me the script as soon as he had written it. I read it, and after reading the script I cried. I started writing a lot of music [for the movie] after.
As legend goes you first met Donald Glover when you were scoring for the TV show Community. What were your thoughts when Donald Glover originally approached you to help him with his rap career? Did you think Donald was a good rapper back then?
I remember he randomly wrote me an email in 2009 or 2010 saying, “Hey man I’m putting out an LP and I have eight songs and I need help to get them mixed.” I didn’t know he was a rapper.
I was like, “Okay, this is an actor trying to do music,” and I didn’t really know what to expect, but he sent me a song. I realized this guy is actually legit; he actually knows music. He can sing. He really knows his stuff.
I told Donald he should record some live drums on this, some instruments, and he was like, “Oh sounds dope, you should come by my house.” He was living in a loft at the time, he was like you should come down to my downtown loft and we should work together. I came over and we went through every song on Culdesac. That’s how our collaboration started.
Camp was a divisive album. Pitchfork infamously gave the project a 1.6. Sonically, how has Camp aged for you?
From Camp I didn’t really know in terms of production and music what the hell I was doing. We were both really… that was our first big project. We were just playing around. It was a discovery for us, that album. I don’t really listen to it anymore.
In terms of production I think it’s very cute. It’s not something I would do again. I definitely loved the album. I felt very nostalgic and heartfelt listening to it. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Based on that Pitchfork article, you can hear it in the critic that he mostly talks about how much he hates Donald as a person. He didn’t really talk about the music at all.
Like everyone, Donald just wants people to like him. I think he became a bit depressed after Camp because there were a lot of people hating him and I think that got into his head.
In an interview with Noisey, Glover states, “After I came off tour, we went to Australia and I was just super depressed. I mean, I tried to kill myself.” Did Glover’s depression affect your working relationship in any way?
We’re definitely close friends. I definitely feel like he’s been through a lot since Camp. Basically thinking a lot more about what he wants to say and thinking a bit more about life and what he wants out of his musical career. I think all that thinking made him depressed. In the end, all he wants to be… he wants people to like him. Like everyone, Donald just wants people to like him. I think he became a bit depressed after Camp because there were a lot of people hating him and I think that got into his head.
In an interview you did for Rap Genius, you stated, “I hadn’t seen Donald in a while and I felt I had something to prove in terms of being creative and coming up with new sounds if it was gonna be good enough for BTI.” Do you constantly feel this need to creatively challenge Donald, when you get together?
There was this time when after Camp and after touring I felt like he secluded himself from everyone and everything. And I know he wanted to experiment a lot more with Because the Internet, and work with different people. He didn’t really talk to me about how involved I would be. If was even going to be on the album.
I felt like he definitely wanted to take a step different from Camp. I felt like I wasn’t going to be… musically he just wanted to experiment. I definitely felt like I had to prove myself in terms of maturing my sound, and also through different production stuff and different music, because he hadn’t really heard that side of me either.
“Telegraph Ave.” is one of the highlights off Because the Internet. How did the song come together?
Donald was living in the mansion in the Palisades. I just came up there probably three or four days a week, and [was] sitting with him in the studio thinking creatively. We turn our backs to anything else, close the door to the studio and we’re very closed to music. We really didn’t think of anything else. I remember just starting on the chords. We really didn’t talk about what we were trying to do. We were just improvising and experimenting with sounds and chords, what came out of that song was kind of a nostalgic feel. That’s what similar to Camp. The nostalgic feel to the song.
Throughout Because the Internet, Glover showcases his singing ability. At this point do you think Donald is a better rapper or singer?
I think his singing on the album is really amazing. In terms of how it sounds. It just sounds so much better than Camp. You can definitely hear his voice growing a lot. It got a lot better and stronger. I think lyrically it’s another step more interesting.
Will you be touring with Donald on the Deep Web Tour?
Yeah, I’m the music director for the band. So I’m studying the whole music side of the band. I’m going to be on most of the shows.
Haim has gone on record stating that you were integral in helping them find themselves in the studio with their first EP. What was the process like working with the sisters?
I met them through my manager at Roc Nation. We have the same manager. When I first met them, I invited them to my house and I just saw them jamming out in my kitchen. I was just jamming with them and started vibing out with their music. I was very keen on working with them.
They had these like garageband demos. The demos were really amazing. I just saw what I could add to it. We recorded all the songs from scratch. What I contributed to the sound was making it more punchy and introducing more low frequency elements, and really making their songs bigger and fuller.
Recently you were in the studio with Giorgio Moroder, did he give you any words of wisdom?
Definitely, he’s a legend. Me having a day with him, I was almost pinching myself. Just sitting in the same room as him and listening to how he worked in the business and his history and all of the things he’s into.
How was working with Chance the Rapper? Do you have anything planned with him for 2014?
He opened up for Childish Gambino’s tour two years ago, and that’s how I met him. So when he was in LA recording his mixtape, Acid Rap, he contacted me. We had three days in the studio together and we made “That’s Love,” which is on Acid Rap. I wrote that with him.
Chance The Rapper is a person who really knows what he wants. That’s something I love with producing. I love being in the room and getting the vibe with the artist I’m working with.
What’s writing with him [Chance the Rapper] like?
We had three days in the studio and we finished three songs. We finished “That’s Love” in like eight hours. Chance The Rapper is a person who really knows what he wants. That’s something I love with producing. I love being in the room and getting the vibe with the artist I’m working with. Making stuff from scratch, instead of having beats ready and starting with an already done idea. I think when you’re both in the room together and you put your minds together, that’s how something amazing can happen. That’s how we did BTI as well. We always started from a new plate.
We also did another jam called, “Electric,” that’s a big hit. Hopefully, we go back to that next time we work.
Are there any other musicians on your bucket list that you would love to work with?
I’d love to work with Frank Ocean. I really like his music. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Kanye, because his producing talent. It’d be really inspirational to see him. Another one of my big idols is Kurt Rosenwinkel. He’s a jazz guitar player, and he’s really instrumental. Q-Tip actually produced one his albums. Music-wise he blows my mind.
Are there any projects you have on the horizon?
I’m scoring two movies right now. One is a horror movie called The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Which is fun because I haven’t really done a horror movie before. It’s by the same guys who do American Horror Story. I’m doing Joe Carnahan’s new movie, Stretch, which is an action movie. A part from that, Coogler is writing the new Rocky movie. It’s very early in the game. We’re good friends, and we’ve been kicking some musical ideas around because the earlier you can start, the better.