In conversation with Awards Daily‘s Shadan Larki, Savan Kotecha, Rickard Göransson, and Fat Max Gsus, the Oscar-nominated songwriters of Husavik (My Hometown) discuss balancing melody, charecter, and comedy to write the ultimate power ballad.
For Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, songwriters Savan Kotecha, Rickard Göransson, and Fat Max Gsus were tasked with creating a song that could fit squarely within the Will Ferrell absurdist comedy, honor the legacy of the biggest music event in the world, and act as the emotional climax of the film. A tall order. Even for a trio of men with writing and producing credits that span genres, decades, and the biggest names in music.
‘This was the one song that took a minute to crack,’ says Kotecha.
Their efforts and revisions eventually led to Husavik (My Hometown), a ballad for Rachel McAdams’ Sigrit—a song that serves as an ode to home, a declaration of love, and the basis for a riviting Eurovision finale.
Nominated for Best Original Song, Husavik is the only contender to come from a comedy. It’s also the only contender to play a role within its film’s plot, pushing it’s charecters forward— a rousing, emotional, can’t-get-it-out-of your-head tune that not only matches, but wildly exceeds the task at hand. In any year, Husavik would be a worthy Eurovision winner. And a terrific Oscar winner too.
In a Zoom call with Awards Daily, Savan Kotecha, Rickard Göransson, and Fat Max Gsus detail their songwritting process, including honoring the film’s charecters, and one very excited small-town in Iceland.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination! How did you all find out that you’d been nominated?
Rickard Göransson: It was very, very surreal. I was watching the announcement live at five in the morning here in L.A. And I obviously started screaming and calling and texting everyone. What about you guys?
Savan Kotecha: We were in the studio in Sweden and got a link that worked and I caught it right before, and yeah, It was crazy. I ran and started screaming down the hall to Max and started banging on the door. I didn’t have the key to the area of the studio where he was. I think I scared him. People were running out, going like, ‘What’s going on, what’s going on? Where’s the fire?’ And then Max came out and I was able to tell him.
Fat Max Gsus: I saw just this crazy happy, over-excited Savan. It was really unbelievable, undigestible news. It took me, like 24, if not 48 hours to understand that it had really happened. It just kept sinking in deeper and deeper. And here I am, it’s still sinking in.
SK: You were shocked. I was like, ‘Aren’t you more excited?’ And I was kind of thinking that I should be more excited for you. You were like, ‘What?’
AD: How familiar were each of you with Eurovision before coming into this?
RG: It’s always been a part of our lives in Sweden growing up. We watched it since we were young. It’s an amazing thing. It’s an amazing show they put together.
SK: I came in as an American. I came to Sweden in the early 2000s, and I saw it for the first time, and it was like the Super Bowl. I remember everything shut down and people were having Eurovision parties like they have Super Bowl parties in the States. And at first, I was like, ‘What in the world is this?‘ It took me a couple of years to sort of get into it. And then I fully understood it and appreciated it. And yeah, it’s a pretty amazing event. All these countries come together.
FMG: It’s unavoidable here, really. It’s just a huge thing and all the songs basically own the radio whenever it happens.
AD: You’ve all spoken about how one of the hardest parts of writing Husavik was finding the right tone for the song. I wanted to hear more about that because ultimetely this is a Will Ferrell comedy and those movies have a very specific tone. But you also needed to write something that fits the mold of an Eurovision song. That’s a very tricky needle to thread.
SK: Right. It all started, really, with conversations with [director] David Dobkin. I was executive producing the music for the film. I had a lot of discussions with him about the other songs, but this was the one song that took a minute to crack. But also, we knew it was the heartbeat of the movie in a sense because it’s the conclusion of this moment where Sigrit finally expresses what she’s been feeling. They planned to make it a comedic moment in the shooting of it, but we always knew that the song needs to have some heart.
Throughout all the songs, and especially this one, one of our goals was to pay tribute to Eurovision. And the idea was, what makes a Eurovision song? And to me, especially as an outsider, It was like, well, there could be over-the-top productions. There can be things that sound like they were Google translated to English. But, at the core, most of these Eurovision songs have a really strong melody. So we wanted to make sure that our song had a great melody. And then lyrically, you can kind of play a little bit.
But for Husavik, we definitely followed Sigrit’s character journey. We treated Sigrit as if she was an artist that came to our studio. And she confessed all of the things that Sigrit feels about Lars; what would we write? She has a naiveté about her, so it feels like she would write about whales and seagulls. You know what I mean? It would just be honest like that.
RG: Absolutely. Like you said, Savan, the song was very much written for her in the movie. And the song was very much shaped by the characters and the script. When we realized that the song could carry the ending, the song ended up shaping the script and the character.
It all just morphed into this ending where instead of a comical ending, it became this heartfelt moment at the end of the movie, which was amazing to be a part of. It wasn’t like we saw the scene once and wrote a song. There was a relationship between us, the director, and the characters to really shape it into something perfect.
FMG: Yeah. I remember starting to write it with Rickard, and we’d been writing for a while and we’d been shooting some shots and we kept missing. We were in a rough patch. So from that, we already had sort of a dramatic or sad tone going in. We could really like relate to where Lars and Sigrit were in their struggle to write music.
RG: Yeah. That’s funny. We’d never talk about this, but it was a struggle.
FMG: It just wasn’t right at first. Like what are we doing wrong? Why is this happening?
SK: There were some good tries though. And then we ended up with Husavik.
AD: As you said, with Husavik, this wasn’t a senario were you were shown a scene and asked to write a song. The song helped shape the ending of the film. How did that come about?
SK: You know, the first draft of the script I read was quite different than the final movie. It was still very good and really funny and got me wanting to do it. They kept talking about this Speorg note that Sigrit’s mom talks about at the beginning of the movie— that was constant in the original script. Like, Sigrit’s going to hit the magic note at the end of whatever the end song would be. And then everyone would bust out into an orgasm in the audience when she hits that note. That was the idea.
David Dobkin was very insistent on the female voice of the movie being the heart of the film. When I got involved, Will [Ferrell] was the only actor on board, but when they cast Rachel [McAdams] and as her character was developing and with how sweet Rachel is and how much heart she was going to give that character. It really pushed us, and it changed the script a little bit and pushed us into like, ‘Oh no, we have to earn this dramatic moment at the end.’
David was insistent that we could shoot a comedic ending and we could shoot a dramatic finale, but we can only use a dramatic one if we earn it, you know? So we knew that as we were developing the song.
Then once we had the skeleton of the song, David was like, ‘Oh, I could see where this could go. And then, you know, all of a sudden there’s a scene where Sigrit is writing it in the hotel room. That’s an emotional scene, where she’s writing and Lars hears at the other side of the door. That’s one of the ways the song changed the movie.
And just that ending and the fact that she was finally able to tell Lars everything she was feeling. And Lars also completed his journey. Because he finally realized he needed to let her shine.
And that’s why Lars isn’t singing much in Husavik because it’s really Sigrit’s moment.
AD: You’ve all written songs for other artists. How much of yourselves and your personal journeys do you put into your songs versus thinking entirely of what an artist would say in this moment?
RG: I feel the more you can relate yourself [to a song], the more heart you can pour into it. I think Husavik was pretty easy to pour your heart into because the story is something that many people can relate to— looking for happiness in the wrong places. You think you need the big house or you think you need the money or you think you need a lot of things in life. And then you end up realizing that the fundamentals of life are often the things right in front of you and the people you love. We took that into the writing process. I always strive towards creating emotions, even just with melody and guitar, with or without lyrics. I want to be able to make people feel something. And with the slight touch of comedy with the lyrics, the whales and all that, it’s still so credible because it’s Sigrit who is singing it. This was, absolutely, a very fun project to work on. But we treated it like writing for any artist. Like, okay, what would she sing about? I think that was the key to making it credible as a song.
SK: it’s what the artists would sing about. But you also try to find your own truth in that. I think those are all the best combinations. Or if it’s an artist that you sort of just bond with and connect on a human level, then it’s easier for you to help them express their vision, you know?
FMG: It’s a special thing. And also, with the comedic element to it, it almost gets a little truer to life than when you’re writing a more traditional pop song. In real life, when there is tragedy, there are always little rays of comedy. And when you’re experiencing a great period in your life, there are always these little rays of tragedy to it as well. So writing a serious song for a comedy film, in a weird way, it was even more relatable.
AD: This song means so much to the people of Husavik. The town of has been actively campaigning for the song and there are videos of them reacting to your Oscar nomination brimming with excitement. What is that like for you to know that your work means so much to the people of this small town?
RG: I mean, honestly, it’s like my favorite part of this whole thing.
RG: It’s so heartwarming that they love us so much. And they’re so happy that we wrote a song about their town.
SK: That probably the largest layer of excitement. We are so honored to be nominated, but now we really want to win for Husavik. We were lucky enough to speak to the mayor of Husavik yesterday.
FMG: He was the coolest guy!
SK: When you hear what this meant to the town and what it still means to the town. They’ve opened a Jaja Ding Dongbar.The kids in church are learning Husavik and they sing it.
FMG: They’re singing it at the elderly home!
SK: They plan to let the kids off school the day after the Oscars because it airs in the middle of the night. I don’t think any of us thought that when we were writing a song or working on the film that this would become so big. That our song would mean the world to a town of 2000 people.
RG: I’m so happy that they embraced it. And, obviously, it’s so sweet of them to start this grassroots campaign for the Oscar. It’s fantastic.
AD: Have any of you ever been to Husavik?
RG: No! But we’ve all said that it’s going to be our first trip when we’re allowed to travel again.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is streaming on Netflix. Husavik (My Hometown) is Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song.