Music

Hippie Hitmaker Sarah Hudson on Writing for Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj

Music

Hippie Hitmaker Sarah Hudson on Writing for Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj

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Easily one of the hardest working hustlers in pop music today, LA-born songwriter Sarah Hudson has experienced a journey that’s unlike most—if not all—of her musical contemporaries.

At birth, Hudson was given a set of cards that ensured a life of artistry. Her father, Mark Hudson, sang in a ’70s boy band called, the “Hudson Brothers,” and her mother once danced onstage with icons such as the Beatles; Hudson’s aunt is Goldie Hawn, her cousin is Kate Hudson and she grew up casually surrounded by legends like Ozzy Osbourne, Cher and Steven Tyler—sounds quite different from your standard Gerber Baby upbringing in the suburbs.

At age 19, Hudson landed a solo record deal and crafted a killer pop album, Naked Truth, which her label decided last minute to shelf. “I’m a girl on the verge of a nervous breakdown; I’m all fucked up baby all ‘cause of you I can’t sleep, I’m in too deep,” Hudson wailed on the album’s lead single, “Girl on the Verge,” showing early signs of her innate talent for piecing together provocative lyrics with an alluring pop finish.

After a rude introduction to the music industry, Hudson created an electro-pop outfit called, “Ultraviolet Sound”—a project that Hudson says gave a giant middle finger to her past. Backed by a more gritty, synth-heavy sound inspired by Los Angeles’ underground scene, Hudson continued proving her lyrical luster on tracks like, “Gimme My Electro,” and, “Out of Control.” But after a few years of relentless hustle, Ultraviolet Sound parted ways, allowing Hudson to explore songwriting for other artists.

Since then, Hudson’s co-penned chart-topping hits like Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow,” and Nicki Minaj’s “Get On Your Knees.” She brings a free-spirited angle to the pop landscape, injecting lyrics and melodies with her dreamy, at-times magical spirituality. With a forthcoming solo EP called, Songs from the Sea, Hudson is without-a-doubt an artist you need to know now. We caught up with the LA visionary to discuss growing up around Cher, collaborating with Perry and writing with her BFF Ferras.

On getting started with songwriting: 

“I’ve been a songwriter since I was 14 or 15—it’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve always been an artist, as well, so for the longest time I was concentrating on my solo artistry. When we were making our last record as Ultraviolet Sound, I met an artist/songwriter named Ferras. We really hit it off and I started writing with him nonstop. I never really considered writing for anybody else, but I really loved getting into the mind of another artist—another perspective. It took me out of my own head. I started meeting more people in the songwriting community and working with more and more artists and it just started to grow from there.”

On Ultraviolet Sound: 

“My years in Ultraviolet Sound were really influential to me because I had just come off of being on a major label and making a solo record, which ended up never being officially released. I spent three years of my life making that record and then I was dropped right before it was set to be released—truly devastating. After that experience, I needed something that was mine—something that I had control over.

So I started a band called, ‘Ultraviolet Sound,’ which was sort of like a ‘fuck you’ to that time. It was like, ‘I’m going to do what I want now. I love dance music, I love underground culture and I’m going to draw from what really inspires me now and do this my way.’ It was a crazy hustle because we pretty much did everything on our own—especially in the beginning. Ultraviolet Sound helped me become a better songwriter, artist and performer—it helped me grow thicker skin and it really set my spirit free. It was six years of hard work and extreme dedication, but I look back on it all now and I wouldn’t change anything.”

 

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On her family: 

“My dad was in a group in the ’70s called the, ‘Hudson Brothers.’ —they had a really popular moment; they had a variety show; they replaced ‘The Sonny & Cher Show;’ they were killing it. He’d been doing music since he was a teenager, so it just comes naturally to him—he plays everything by ear. My mom is a dancer and performed with the Beatles, Roy Orbison and Gene Kelly. Kate Hudson is my cousin, Goldie Hawn is my aunt; I grew up with Ozzy Osbourne, Steven Tyler and Cher coming over for tea and writing at the piano with my dad—all these legendary figures, but it was just normal life to me. Obviously I knew I was going to be an artist and had to take the unbeaten path. Now looking back on it, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s incredible that I grew up around all of those geniuses.'”

On process: 

“I was very fortunate to have grown up watching my dad write and work in the studio. When I was 19, I was signed as a solo artist and had the chance to collaborate with some incredible, legendary songwriters like Desmond Child, Diane Warren, Eric Bazilian and Billy Mann. One of the things I learned is to put everything out there like a diary—create a story with raw emotions. If you’ve gone through something, it’s likely that someone else has felt the same thing and can relate.

I write in many different ways: Sometimes I have a lyrical concept that I bring into the studio; sometimes it’s a melody and sometimes the producer will have a track that I get inspired by. Starting from scratch inspires me the most—sitting down at a piano or guitar with someone and letting it completely flow through us. To me, that is true channeling.  I’m also very visual, so once I become inspired, I always start to see a video or scene in my head. Everything inspires me: Movies, books, art shows, magazines, things my friends say, my heartbreaks and triumphs—I’m constantly trying to fill my arsenal of ideas.”

On Katy Perry: 

“I knew Katy for years just through the music scene and mutual friends. She is one of my friend Ferras’ best friends, so when Ferras and I became friends, we all started hanging out. Writing with Katy is a very inspiring experience that’s similar to writing with Ferras—we just click. There are certain people you collaborate creatively with where everything just flows—this symbiotic relationship. That’s what it’s like with her.”

On co-writing “Dark Horse:” 

“It was my first time writing with Katy, Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Cirkut all in the same room, so I felt extremely blessed to just be there, working with such geniuses. We wanted to write something empowering, visual and unforgettable. I’m very influenced by magic, crystals and mystical items, and I always set up an altar before I write, so maybe that helped us conjure up the story behind, ‘Dark Horse.’ The story came to us fairly quick and was a complete collaborative effort. Katy put such a stunning visual behind the song with the video and that really brought it to life.”

On co-writing “Black Widow:” 

“Katy asked me to come into a session she was in with her and Stargate. She already had the title, ‘Black Widow.’ She’s really an amazing writer and her ideas are so solid, so it’s easy to write an incredible and inspired song. We wrote that hook kind of with the same idea as ‘Dark Horse’ about a fierce-as-fuck female—‘you can’t mess with me because I’m a strong woman who will “love you till it hurts.’” Then, Iggy came in and did what she does best, making the song come to life. It’s so much easier when you’re working with amazingly talented people because you can have fun with it and you throw around different ideas.”

On co-writing “Get On Your Knees:”

“Katy and I came in on this dope idea for a hook that Dr. Luke, Cirkut, J-Kash and Chloe Angelides had started, and then Nicki proceeded to write her brilliant verses. We all wanted to write something really sexy and again, this idea of a female figure owning it. There are so many strong, female artists out there right now, so it’s definitely an inspiring concept for writers like me. Ariana Grande ended up singing the hook, so that was really perfect—she sounds amazing on it. It has always been a dream of mine to help create a Nicki Minaj song, so that was pretty epic for me.”

 

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On Ferras: 

“He is a pure genius, poet and my muse. When we met, we connected on such a human, spiritual and creative level. We are influenced by a lot of the same artists like Tori Amos, Elton John, Bowie and Madonna. There’s something magical that happens when we write together—it comes from a God place. It’s effortless and unexplainable; we just have a really special connection. In addition to writing for other artists together, we are finishing up his record now and I’m really excited for people to hear it. He is an artist that needs to be heard.”

On spirituality: 

“I was raised with the idea that there’s always a higher power—something bigger than me. I really do believe that there’s magic out there: Angels and spirit guides. I don’t think I could do what I do everyday if there wasn’t. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like the music is coming from me—I believe in messengers and vessels, and I believe that all creative people are vessels for God, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think I could have one without the other: my spiritually without my music or my music without my spirituality—they are symbiotic.

As an artist, you have to have faith in something because there’s going to be that time when you’re sleeping on the floor and you’re eating ramen—you can’t fucking afford anything or even see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you’re still doing your art for a reason larger than yourself. You are still fighting to be heard.”

On her forthcoming EP, Songs from the Sea

“I’ve had these songs for almost five years—I’ve just been holding onto them and never giving them to anyone else. These are my songs; this is my expression; they’re so close to my heart. I got so caught up in making music for other people that my own stuff took a backseat for a minute. About two years ago, I decided I had to get these songs out there. I started working with this incredible producer and friend named Nico Stadi, who has helped me bring them to life. I’d be hustling on other people’s projects, but then I’d take maybe a week to go into the studio and work on my EP—it was like my secret getaway.

It’s six songs long and I wrote most of them with Ferras. It’s pop music, but it’s very ethereal and spiritual. I’m very influenced by Enya, Purity Ring, Stevie Nicks, Portishead and there was an album that Madonna released back in the day with all her ballads. That was a big influence for me on this EP, too—just beautifully written songs with an ethereal escapist feeling to them. I’m calling it Songs From the Sea because it literally feels like you’re swimming in an ocean—and I’m a mermaid.”

On Madonna: 

“Madonna and I had two sessions booked for Rebel Heart, but she ended up having to reschedule. It never ended up happening and I was so bummed because not only has she been one of my idols since I was little, but I feel like I have a vision for her, and I wanted so badly to present it to her. I’m not totally moved by her latest music, to be honest, but I would really love to work with her in this phase of her career—it would be a dream. I would want to create a Ray of Light number two.”