Simms, hailing from the south of France and currently based out of London, is signed with Universal Music Publishing Group and made his own SM Entertainment debut with Shinee’s track “Ready or Not,” which was later remade by Michael Mind Project, featuring Sean Kingston.
He has gone on to produce Trax’s “Oh! My Goddess,” as well as contributing to DBSK’s “Keep Your Head Down” album with “Our Game.” Oh, and Simms is also the producer behind that one little SNSD track called “I Got a Boy.”
We recently had a chance to chat with Simms about producing for Exo, how the composition for “Wolf” began, what he did with SNSD’s “I Got a Boy,” and the differences between the European music market and the K-pop market.
Seoulbeats (SB): So tell me about Exo’s “Wolf.” It’s getting a pretty large reaction, both from casual listeners and diehard fans.
Will Simms (WS): I wrote that song in Seoul. I went to Korea and we had a writing session where a few people from Europe worked with SM’s writers directly. We worked with Kenzie from SM and Nermin from Dsign Music. I kind of got the beat together, then we were trying to throw around some melodies. We had a few things, but we didn’t have a hook yet; we didn’t have anything that could catch the ear. So we got a little tired and frustrated, and then Nermin, out of nowhere, just laughed and as a joke said, “How about ‘Do the wolf, do the wolf! Awoooo!’?”
So I looked at him for a second, and then I said, “Hold on a second, this is actually a great idea. Why not?” It’s about having fun and we needed that fun element in the track, because at that point, the track was kind of hard, kind of serious. How were we going to do the fun thing with it to engage people? That was the perfect idea so we put it down straight away.
Then we played it to somebody from SM, and they loved it. We made a couple of changes and when we finished the song, we had a listening party and we played “The Wolf.” SM’s staff went crazy that night. They were like, “This is perfect!” We cut the song, and there you go, now it’s Exo’s single.
SB: Where did the inspiration for the song come from? It’s a pretty crazy song, there are a lot of elements, a lot of tonal changes, and a lot of attitude.
WS: Honestly, it just came. It wasn’t a thinking process, it just happened. We knew we were writing for SM and we knew we were writing for the K-pop market more specifically, which is like, “Let’s go crazy, let’s just go and see what happens.”
WS: Why not? (laughs) The wolf is a powerful creature. I’m sure a lot of people would like to be wolves if they could become animals. It evokes a lot of things in people because it’s such a strong animal.
SB: How long was the entire process of making this song?
WS: From having the first demo finished to putting the final touches on the track, it took the best part of about four months.
SB: Wow, a lot of work went into making this song.
WS: Absolutely. That’s what SM does, and I think they’re really amazing for that. When they believe in something, when they believe in a song, they really, really spend time to make sure they’re going to get it right. They don’t just record it and think, “That’s it.” They’ll record it, listen to it, analyze it, and then they’ll be like, “This could be better. We could change this. We could do it in a different key, so that we could get the most and the best out of the song.”
SB: Have you gotten a chance to watch the music video and the performances?
WS: I love it all. That’s one of my favorite things, is waiting for the video to see the style of the visuals, the choreography, everything. It’s always great fun.
SB: Do you think the visual performance of the song was a proper interpretation of the song as you wanted it?
WS: It is! The choreography, the looks on their faces, the colors in the video…it’s all really good. I think there could have been a little bit more wolves in it (laughs), a little bit more wildness, but for what they wanted to do — which was to show the boys perform — I think they did a great job.
WS: That was a funny one. That was done in Sweden. One night I started playing with a little idea for a beat and I didn’t think much of it. The next day, I was working with some other folks, and I just played it to them, and they were excited about it. We had the whole first part, the bit before the “Let me put it down another way,” and we had the whole rap part. The intro of the song right now as it is was originally the outro. We only had the beat for the second verse. We wrote the whole first verse, and we spent a couple of hours on it. Then we listened to it and said, “This is not good enough.”
The beat is really strong, but let’s put it the bin and start another verse again. Then it all fell into place. I said, “What do we do now? Let’s do something crazy, let’s try to change the tempo, and do something completely random.” That’s when the “I got a boy 멋진! I got a boy 착한!” verse came up. And that was it! It just went on from that.
SB: The flow of the song, from verse to verse, it almost plays with the listener’s ear, doesn’t it?
WS: Absolutely. Because usually, you can try to do that with the sound and it can come out very disjointed, but for some reason, this didn’t sound disjointed in a way where you didn’t want to listen to it. The disjointedness in this is almost asking you to listen to it.
SB: Did SM pick up this song immediately?
WS: SM picked it up immediately. At first there were talks of this song going to an American artist, with a feature from Missy Elliott, but then SM heard it and they wanted it straight away for SNSD.
Once we had all the parts, we sent the track over to Korea for SM’s producers. They added a couple of things, like the bass, and they arranged it in a slightly different way. Originally it was just three parts: it was the start of the verse, the fast part, and the part I call the “Missy Elliott part” [which begins with the “Ayo, GG!”]. They rearranged it in Korea to be what you hear it as now.
SB: When you work with these companies, do you feel like there is something they’re looking for in terms of crafting a strong hook or a repetitive chorus that makes K-pop, for the lack of a better phrase, K-pop?
WS: I do. They’re quite specific when they ask for hooks. They say, “We want a hook that’s a little bit rap-y,” or “We want a hook that’s chant-y,” or “a hook that’s really melodic.” In any kind of music that you do, you have to aim for the strongest hook that you can, but what’s good with K-pop especially is that the songs can almost only have hooks. The verse can be a hook, and then the pre-chorus can be a hook, and then you can have the chorus that’s the hook as well!
SB: I know you’ve produced a lot of music for the European market as well. Compared to your experiences making music for the K-pop market, do you think the “hook” culture is something that you feel the European market also demands? Or something that’s very specific to K-pop?
WS: I think this is something a little bit more specific to K-pop. In the European market, you can get away with that if you’re making dance music, but people there do tend to be a lot more song-based. You have to hear a verse, then you have to hear a pre-chorus, then you get the chorus, you know? It’s a slower build-up. The songs are crafted in a different way.
With K-pop, it’s much more, “Whatever goes.” You can be really creative. For a producer or a songwriter, you can just really let go. You don’t have to think about structure too much. You can try to invent something new. Every producer would like to come up with a sound that’s not been done before, and I think K-pop allows for that to be experimented with.
SB: Are there overlaps between the markets? A lot of people say that SM’s music, for example, would do really well in Europe.
WS: I think K-pop could work anywhere. People are starting to hear about it because it’s fun, and people want to be involved in it. I know there are a lot of K-pop nights in Europe, and people want to go to these things. Music is all about letting go and going crazy.
SB: I assume you’ve listened to a lot of K-pop music now that you’ve started producing for the market. Don’t you think that some of the K-pop music you’ve been hearing might be a little too sweet for the American or European markets?
WS: Definitely, but that’s just one aspect of it. Just like in Europe or America, some of the stuff there is too sweet to cross over to other territories. In every market, there are things that are too sweet, things that are too hard, so not everything is going to cross over. But the songs that have that little extra factor to them, that will sound new to people will cross over.
SB: So can we expect to hear anything else with you this year?
WS: Absolutely, it looks like I’m going to have a couple more songs come out this year for some girl groups, and I’m doing more work with SM too.
SB: Spill the beans! Come on, you know you want to tell us more.
WS: I can’t say anything more than that! I have to keep you guys guessing. That’s the name of the game.
(Images from SM Entertainment)