@ Music Week

Master of melody enjoys life at the top

Music Week, 18 November 2006

With a Girls Aloud number one album in the bag, Brian Higgins talks about the art of creating hits

So, how did Xenomania come about?
I spent many years writing, recording and programming songs at a piano or a keyboard - that is where I learnt about song craft and arrangement. Then, prior to setting up Xenomania I spent two years as a session musician, programming lots of dance remixes, which taught me about record making. Xenomania was my attempt to combine all of these skills into one focused attempt to have a lot of hit records.

What do you think are your biggest skills?
I can write and hear a hit melody. When I met Miranda [Cooper, fellow member of the Xenomania production team], she had a take on lyric writing that I could never had and, as a result, I am not really a lyricist any more. She deals with all of that. I can hear a tiny bit of a musical idea and develop it musically until it is right.

For example?
It may be a beat and it may be a set of chords or a particular melody. For example, with [Girls Aloud's] Biology, I heard the intro and I knew that was a hit, although it was only five seconds.

A lot of the songs you write attract quite an adult audience. Does that surprise you?
I have no idea who buys the records I am involved in. You tend to view the world as you see it as an individual. I think I hear music now exactly the same way that I heard it when I was 14 years old, so I guess I am committed to trying to achieve that same rush of excitement or emotional connection that I identified with then. Generally speaking, I want to make music that young people love, but I can only hope that is being achieved.

Despite having written songs for lots of different artists, from Cher to Frank, you will always be associated with Girls Aloud - does that bother you?
It does not bother me in the slightest. I am very proud to be associated with Girls Aloud. That is just the way it has turned out. We have had a lot of success with Sugababes, but they were always a multi-produced entity. The bottom line is that Girls Aloud went around the same blocks [of songwriters] in order to find the second single. They came to us last and we delivered No Good Advice. At that point our relationship became permanent. Colin Barlow [who signed Girls Aloud to Polydor] said to us very clearly that we had the ability to deliver an indie sound for a pop band. It is now 13 Top 10 hits and has been the longest of our relationships.

Would you agree that your music is very British?
Virtually all my influences are British. I love The Beach Boys - Good Vibrations was a big influence on me - but they weren't a patch on The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I wouldn't understand a modern R&B record if it bit me on the arse. I like things that are up-tempo and exciting. [Cher's] Believe was an international smash, but when it was initially written I was into The Stone Roses and Madchester - that very British scene helped influence the writing of the song. Girls Aloud have a quintessentially English sound that is defined through the band.

Do you like any R&B songs?
Crazy In Love was an amazing record. The best of R&B is fantastic, but that is because they are melodically pop. [Justin Timberlake's] SexyBack and [Nelly Furtado's] Maneater are like European electronic records. I don't hear that much of a traditional US record; I hear them as electronic pop. To me [Outkast's] Hey Ya is a Eurocentric drum & bass record.

What is your favourite of the tracks you have done?
Biology. We were chasing the soundtrack of a film [with Girls Aloud] and doing that disrupted us creatively. It was making us miserable. Something had to come out and that was Long Hot Summer. It was made in a panic. It was a disaster record. I can't stand it. The reaction that set about resulted in Biology and I think that it is a wonderful record - so uplifting. It meant so much to us and it really set Chemistry up well.

How do you feel going into 2007 and beyond?
I have been with Miranda [Cooper] for 10 years, Nick [Coler] for seven and Tim [Powell] for 11. I admire these people enormously and they are my friends. If we are going to continue to be successful it is because we will stick together. Next year there will be a drive in the US, hopefully a new Girls Aloud album and a new Sugababes record, plus anything else inspiring. We are also moving down the road. With the Girls Aloud and Sugababes greatest hits, the new publishing deal with Warner/Chappell and moving, it is a new era. We see ourselves as wanting to be back at the beginning and to let go of what has happened to date. The minute we think that we have nailed it we are probably finished in this business.

Brian Higgins is part of the Xenomania production team - which also comprises Miranda Cooper, Nick Coler and Tim Powell - that has produced songs for artists including Kylie Minogue, Texas, Sugababes and Girls Aloud. Higgins also co-wrote Cher's international hit Believe. He has just extended his publishing deal with Warner/Chappell.

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