Taking a step out of the studio, Swedish production duo TeoFrans are following their own creative path as Teddy Failure.
For Teodor Runsiö and Frans Torell, seeing their work given a new context is something they’ve put up with over the past few years. It’s just par for the course when you’re working behind the scenes, helping to shape the sound of others. “You don’t have any power over it. It comes back two years later with a video and artwork and it’s changed,” says Runsiö. “So now we have pretty much control over the whole thing.”
Runsiö and Torell grew up in central Stockholm. They both attended a performing arts school where they connected over hip-hop, most notably Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers”. Torell was studying jazz bass, while Runsiö was taking classical guitar. “It took some time before we started making music. At first we were just friends, hanging out, and then at the end of school we started to sit down and write,” explains Torell.
Runsiö already had experience in the studio, recording and mixing vocals for his friend, a young Yung Lean, while Torell was playing in different rock bands. Together the two balanced their interests and influences, writing and producing under the pop umbrella. They pushed their names together and became TeoFrans. “Everyone thought it was one person,” laughs Runsiö. “When they met us they were like, ‘Who is Teofrans?’”
For the duo, songwriting felt like a legitimate way to sustain a career in music. The songwriting scene in Stockholm was already lucrative, and the pair had plenty of contacts from school, so they began to reach out to everyone they knew. “After school, we just tried to hustle with all of our friends, like, can you come in and sing on this?” laughs Torell.
“I feel like every person in my contact book, I have a really embarrassing conversation where I ask them to come in and do demo vocals,” continues Runsiö.
“I hate going back on Facebook messenger to the old ones, it’s the worst,” groans Torell in agreement.
The hustle paid off, and in 2018 they had their first major label break, working on a track for Swedish singer-songwriter LOVA. It introduced the pair to LOVA’s then A&R, Holly Astera, who joined publisher Warner Chappell, signed TeoFrans and took over their management.
The duo began to establish themselves as a bright and promising force in the writing/production world, working with artists from around Europe. However, a part of them was curious about what lay in the spotlight. At the start of 2020 they began to experiment, writing for themselves. “We have always thought it’s really fun with the creative side and how things look and that kind of thing,” explains Runsiö. “For us, we always wanted to have our own project, but then it’s been hard to be able to focus on that. It just took some time to develop it.”
Luckily for Teddy Failure, an abundance of time was on the horizon. Even though Sweden’s lockdowns weren’t as restrictive as much of the Western world’s, the duo took their cue from the pandemic to shift their focus. “We cancelled everything and we just dug ourselves in the studio and just worked us two,” says Runsiö.
They escaped the city to Torell’s parents’ country house along with an old childhood friend and began writing. A few months prior they’d met an A&R from Sony at a Christmas party who’d declared her desire to work with them. To Torell and Runsiö it felt like cloudy fate. “It was really weird because we were really drunk, and then it was like weeks after, we were like, didn’t someone at the Christmas party mention that they were interested?” Runsiö laughs. “We weren’t sure if she said that or if we just made it up. So it took a while for us to have the guts to send anything over.”
Using an online name-generator, Teddy Failure was born, and the pair signed with Columbia Germany, releasing their debut single “Change” last autumn. A soft and melodic hit of sentimental pop, it slides vulnerable lyrics alongside laid-back yet vibrant production. For Runsiö and Torell, writing for their own project has pushed them to take a different approach. “In some ways it’s easier, because you can really sort out what you can relate to. If we write a song and it’s like, I can’t completely relate to this, then it feels like it’s off the table, in a nice way,” says Runsiö.
“But then the hard thing I would say is it feels like you’re so picky with the songs. You get so personally involved with them. I think that’s the hardest part, of being like OK now this is done, let’s not rewrite the lyrics a fifth time, or whatever,” continues Torell.
Their quest for authenticity has also meant that songs take longer to come into fruition. New single “Pure”, out today, was over a year in the making. “When writing for the Teddy Failure project we’ve taken a super long time with everything,” says Runsiö. ““Pure” was starting to be written in January 2020, but then we finished the production thirteen months later. First we did it and it was a completely different beat, it was like an indie song. And then we picked it up and re-wrote a lot of parts, and that’s been the way with most of these songs.”
The single combines sparse and stark production under a crisp and direct vocal, reflecting the pain and pleasure found in the limbo between childhood and adulthood with an original eloquence. The video, shot in Finland, recontextualises the song through the story of two brothers living through the winter. Despite the frozen snowscapes on screen, there’s a deep warmth and comfort in “Pure”, much like previous singles “Change” and “Summer Nights”. “We’ve been talking about that a lot, that it feels like you wanna come back to how it felt, listening to those songs when you were like, twelve, thirteen-years-old,” says Torell. “You get a special connection to those songs. I would also describe the music as nostalgic and a warm feeling in it. When I think about those songs, I get that feeling from it.”
The song ends with a delicate feature from British/Canadian artist ELIO, cleverly shifting the dynamic of the song and acting as a narrative response. “We worked with her when she was in Stockholm so we got to know each other then,” explains Runsiö. “She was talking about how she liked our songs and then we had that end part after the song where we didn’t know what we wanted there, but it just felt so perfect. It’s like one more perspective.”
As the western world starts to open up with opportunities for travel and live performances and things begin to get busier for Teddy Failure, how do Runsiö and Torell expect to balance their production and writing work with their new personas?
“That’s a good question,” laughs Torell, as Runsiö deadpans, “I think we’re going to have to have a meeting after this interview.”