In some ways, Canadian crooner Matt Dusk wishes he was Scandinavian.
That’s because they make the best pop. Dusk, who spent the past few years on an international search for pop tunes to cover on his new album, spent a lot of time listening to work developed in Nordic countries. His goal was to re-envision hit songs from around the world, applying his crooner vocals and modern pop production in a kind of globalized musical translation project.
“(Scandinavian) beats and melodies are always amazing; the lyrics, not so much … Timbaland’s been going over and getting ideas from those countries (for years),” explained Dusk. “The Nordics are just amazing musicians, and I figured if Timbaland can do it, I can too.”
After combing through some 1,700 songs, Dusk chose a few for his new album, Good News. Many came from the Nordic region — not surprising, given its influence on North American pop artists from Rihanna to Beyoncé.
“If a song is No. 1, there’s something in it to make the song soar — something in the production that makes it really good,” he said. “What that exact thing is, is different for every song.
“Love Attack is a song you wouldn’t expect from me, but it’s what moved me. I loved the crazy synth sounds and the beat. It was first pitched to me as a demo, and was only half done at the time, but I loved it and played it non-stop.”
When arranging the songs, Dusk and his co-producer Ron LoPata punched up those elements they liked and built over stuff they didn’t. The result was an album that draws on a range of styles, from jazzy piano to post-millennial hip hop. But despite this scope, Dusk’s classic vocals (he trained with Oscar Peterson and holds a BFA in music) anchor each song. For example, Love Attack’s final version includes 19 layers of vocals and distorted, synth-heavy production, but the vocals stay smooth and natural: no reverb, overdubs, or autotune.
“I didn’t set out to re-invent the wheel,” he said. “It was more like taking the classic Ford Model T and turning it into a Ferrari. Take that original design, and improve and update it to make it original.
“In the 1940s and ’50s, publishing houses would put out songs, and 90 artists would cover them, and come up with 10 different standards. The best would then rise to the top.”