An excerpt from an interview with songwriter and producer, Patrice Wilson, which appears in the February issue of the magazine. Read the full piece on believermag.com
THE BELIEVER: What is the formula for these songs that are “viral material”? It seems to me like there’s a lot of name repetition. Nobody would hear “Friday” and wonder, What’s the name of that song? Whether you want it to or not, the word Friday just kind of burrows into your head.
PATRICE WILSON: All the songs I write have something in common. There are catchphrases. In “Thanksgiving,” there’s the “Oh, oh, oh.” In “Friday,” there’s an “Oh, oh, OH!” in the beginning part. You have plays on words, like “Ch-ch-ch-chow mein” [in “Chinese Food”].
The key to it becoming popular is to keep it very simple and have repetitive words. If you have a simple word, and you stay with that word, people might think it’s cheesy, like, “That’s the stupidest song I ever heard!” But subconsciously you’re singing the song in your head. Or you might be doing something and thinking, I love fried rice, and you don’t know why you’re singing the song. Keep the format of the song simple. Too many words and it’s too hard to remember. With fewer words, you can hear the song one time and kind of remember it the next day. I don’t try and make the songs sound simple and ridiculous. It’s just my style of writing.
BLVR: You say that it’s ridiculous. Would you confess that sometimes the lyrics and the hooks are catchy to the point of seeming like a bit of a joke?
PW: I got married six years ago. My wife is my biggest critic. She’ll look at a song and go, “Are you serious? This is ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense.” I wrote “Friday,” and I was so excited, like, “I got a perfect song!” She was confused. She’s your standard Spokane, all-American girl. She knows when something doesn’t make sense. In the early stages, she’d get on it and go, “This is not a good song.” Since then, she’s realized it’s part of me. This is how Patrice writes songs. Sometimes she’ll say, “Why don’t you sit down with some writers, with a pen, and spend the whole day writing a song?” I don’t write that way. I write in the spur of the moment. I have something in mind, and I start freestyling, and the words are just there.
BLVR: Is it true you wrote “Chinese Food” in thirty minutes?
PW: Pretty much. Thirty minutes. I wrote it last year, before my birthday. I was going to write it for myself. I wrote it, played it for my wife, and she said, “Are you kidding me? Rhyming broccoliwith Monopoly? What kind of Chinese restaurant has Monopoly?” But that was based on a real Chinese restaurant I’d go to on Hollywood Boulevard. I loved their chicken wings. And I noticed they had a little play area with board games for kids. So when I wrote the song, I was thinking about that restaurant. I took the song to my team and said, “Hey guys, listen! This is the new viral song!” Of course, I’m their boss so they have to say, “This sounds great!”
BLVR: You obviously have a sense of humor. The “H.A.P.P.Y.” video opens with the sketch where you’re a villain and people are blaming you for ruining pop music. When you’re that silly about it, do any of the artists, or their parents, worry that they won’t be taken seriously? Is there any hesitation that you’re maybe going to turn their kids into a joke?
PW: I have met loads of parents who back out, and that’s OK. But after “Friday,” I had an option. I could have changed my style. I could have gone and done Top 40, more-serious stuff. But there’s no way. Unless you’re signed by a major record label, if you want to release a Rihanna-style song it requires millions of dollars. I had the option to go do something different. I decided, I’m already known for “Friday.” It’s impossible to change. So I’m going to do it more. And I’m going to do it the best. Even if I’m the guy who’s known for writing the worst songs in the world, at least I’m still known. As opposed to other producers who release one hit and that’s it. I’m never going to be a one-hit wonder. That’s why I get really happy, doing it three times in a row, doing the whole viral thing. Even if it sounds goofy, or people don’t like it, well, somebody likes it. People are still talking about it. It’s too late to change now.