A Conversation With Pop Mastermind “Sir Nolan”
From social media to Justin Bieber, the BMI hitmaker talks candidly about how he got a handle on his career.
U.K.-bred Nolan “Sir Nolan” Lambroza may not have been knighted by the Queen yet, but he’s quickly earning a place in pop music’s royal court. At just 26, the Berklee graduate has scored a handful of Top Ten hits, notably Nick Jonas’ triple platinum “Jealous,” which he co-wrote and produced, peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart; while his co-writing and production on Selena Gomez’s “Good for You” also helped it top that same chart and go multiplatinum in the U.S., Canada and beyond. Lambroza has a special talent for re-working things – whether it’s an artist’s existing image or a pre-existing track – but he’s just as skilled at creating hits from scratch. One of his very first placements, “Feel This Moment,” for Pitbull with Christina Aguilera, became a global smash; and he turned Rita Ora’s “Poison” into a No. 3 hit in the U.K. Whether he’s making singles for groups, like he did for Fifth Harmony on “All In My Head (Flex)” or writing for solo artists including Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson and many more, the pop prince clearly has a long reign ahead. BMI caught up with him in between work on upcoming projects for Enrique Iglesias, DNCE and Selena Gomez, to name a few.
What made you want to pursue music – and go to Berklee College of Music? Can you walk me through your journey after Berklee, and how you got your first placement?
Although I liked sports, I wasn’t a fanatic about them. I remember getting piano lessons when I was younger. I didn’t love practicing the lessons, but I loved sitting down at the piano – a really old wooden piano. My parents realized, ‘He loves to play music!’ I would never be that great at structured learning and wanted to do things on my own. Being in school allowed for me to be that best version of myself in a structured environment. I did a summer program in high school surrounded by like-minded people. There I felt more at home, although I was 3,000 miles away. I started Berklee while still in school [in the U.K.] The timing overlapped. I was going to class Monday to Wednesday then had to fly home to do exams. That was a nightmare flying back and forth every week. I was excited and just wanted to get right into [music].
I got the first placement toward the end of my last year. I did a whole bunch of internships, at Sony and elsewhere. Nasri (BMI songwriter and Toronto native Nasri Atweh) – he was with BMI with partner Adam Messinger. One day I followed him on Twitter. When I graduated from college, I was looking for any opportunity, any break, emailing like crazy trying to find any partner. I saw that he tweeted one day that he was looking for songwriters. I hit him up on Twitter. His brother invited me to the studio. I played a track. They liked that I was a real musician. We got started working and I worked 24/7. My first placement was on Justin [Bieber’s] album Believe. (Including “Believe” and “All Around the World.”) I eventually signed a publishing deal with Messengers. I didn’t think it would happen. I came out here [to Los Angeles]…It was so hard I – I couldn’t figure out how to meet people. I went to Casey [Robison] at BMI. I had no clue where else to go. I was just thinking, ‘This is never going happen.’ So to work with Justin Bieber starting out, I’m very thankful.
In an era where many producers are entirely self-taught, how do think your classic training helped you?
I think being a musician can help you communicate better with songwriters, musicians and artists. It helps you understand the language. I was self-taught as far as Pro Tools and Logic. Being a musician helps you have the right sensibility for which pieces go where. I switch in between brains. One is my music theory brain, and the other is the pure inspiration brain. I start with inspiration, see what comes out, go that route first, then finish records… My music theory brain helps me tie up the process.
You had a worldwide Top Ten Hit with “Feel This Moment” before turning 23. Can you talk about how that song came about, what influenced it, and how making such a big hit so early impacted you and your creative process?
That was with Adam Messinger. I think we sent a song to Pitbull that he liked; they wanted another one. Someone suggested he always liked the A-ha chorus. (From the group’s 1985 hit “Take on Me.”) One day Nasri was in the studio, and played this chord that just happened to be the same. Adam and I ran with that – we sent it over. They loved it. They got Christina, which was great because she sounded so amazing. It was definitely a good learning experience – the creativity, so many alterations, sections being done and redone, multiple communications. You have a rapper and a singer, everyone all over the world. It’s a lot of communication and trying to bring it all together. It was such a great opportunity and experience to have with the guys that essentially mentored me.
You’ve become a go-to hitmaker for pop stars. What do you think makes you so incredibly sought after? How would you describe the Sir Nolan sound?
Well first, thank you. I wake up every morning feeling like I’ve done nothing, so thanks. “Feel This Moment” – I didn’t get the work [afterwards] I thought I would. With Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” the work started pouring in. I did that on my own. You had an artist who’d never been in the mainstream Top 40 [as a solo artist]. There was this stigma around him being a Disney kid. I went in the room with Simon Wilcox…there were no boundaries or barriers on what could happen. We just wrote the truth based on Nick’s life and it came together. It was great – bigger than all of us thought. It was essentially breaking a new artist. People didn’t think he could have a hit with a different vibe. That’s what made me a go-to person. I proved I could finish a record…bring them something original and fresh that was a completely collaborative effort. That’s where things started happening. Then “Good for You” for Selena – she’s another one that was looking for a mature new sound. I helped bring that together. That solidified my record.
Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” was such a big breakout hit, and helped fans see him as an entirely different artist than they’d known in the past. Was that deliberate? Can you talk about how the process worked?
It was very organic. It was one of those sessions where I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. It’s important to hear the artist’s side of story. I didn’t know where his head was at. I just assumed it would be more mature. I assumed he was ready to talk about real issues. When we got there, I found out he had this great R&B sensibility. We really collaborated – we could talk about chords, melodies, drum patterns. He was a fantastic collaborator. One day he said he’d get jealous when at a club with a [female friend]. Simon [Wilcox] picked up on that really quickly; it’s something men don’t talk about – being vulnerable. She felt it was important to showcase that. We finished and said, ‘Hey, this is a really good song.’ I was surprised they chose it as a single. It worked out pretty great.
You’ve been known for famously altering Selena Gomez’s already great “Good For You.” Tell us about that process.
“Good for You” is one of those songs I was lucky to be part of with Justin Tranter, Nick Monson and Julia Michaels… essentially the song was more a vibe record, slower tempo, it took it’s time. That was the purpose. The new purpose was to be a hit record; I’m all about the purpose of the record. I thought it had potential to be something epic and huge. Selena re-cut her vocals. I wanted to add sounds, re-imagine it while keeping the integrity of the song. That’s important. You don’t want to lose that. Similar to Nick, she wanted to rebrand. In my mind the song was already big. It was sexy and sultry and all I had to do was exaggerate that to be as full as it could be. To allow it to say, ‘This is who I want to be now.’ I was able to push it to the max without holding back.
You’ve said that heavy metal was a big influence growing up. What other unlikely inspirations do you draw from and how are you able to weave those into pop music so seamlessly?
There’s a limited amount of time per year for listening to new music. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of heavy metal and hard rock, but every year I’m discovering legacy artists that I haven’t gone through their discography. Recently it’s been a lot of R&B and gospel. I think I spent a whole year listening to Prince every single day. Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel recently. They’re amazing and visionaries in their own way. I actively look for something to be inspired by. There’s so much I missed or skipped over, I try to go back and find records that I can be newly inspired by.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Let me think. I wear the same thing every day – T-shirt and jeans and hoodie – every single day. Whether it’s somewhere nice for dinner or the coffee shop. I only have one look. I’m not sure that’s interesting, but that’s something about me. I lived in Sweden for a year. I won Battle of the Bands in high school. I try to keep a pretty low profile. I love cooking. I’m super into it. Secretly, my dream is to beat Bobby Flay. I’d be more proud of that than if I had a No. 1 record. I wish I could sing. I’ve tried singing my whole life. I took singing lessons. I suck. I can hear perfectly. My ear is good. But my voice doesn’t correspond.
How much has social media played a part in your work and career? What advice would you give both aspiring songwriters and people who’ve been in the music business a long time about social media?
I have a couple thoughts. It’s very important. The way I got my start, I tweeted Nasri, that’s how I met him. [Social media] offers this great ability to directly communicate with someone. However, Simon [Wilcox] has this saying: you can’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone’s highlight reel. Sometimes it can be disheartening. It can distract you from being the best version of yourself. It’s incredibly useful and not useful. It’s a great tool, with the reach now. If there’s someone I want to work with who I can’t get to, I just tweet them. That’s an amazing thing. It’s just a balance with social media.
What do you enjoy about being part of the BMI family? How’d the relationship get started?
Samantha Cox at BMI signed me in 2010. BMI is so important to me. When I didn’t have anything or nothing to lose I reached out to BMI. That was the first email I sent. They opened my world. Casey Robison is still a good friend. He introduced me to Barbara Cane, she introduced me to my manager Lucas Keller and I had more success. BMI has been instrumental in mentoring me, giving me a home.
You’ve created hits for the biggest names in contemporary music – Selena Gomez, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Pitbull, to name just a few – as well as groups. How does the process change or differ when you’re creating a hit for a solo artist vs. a group?
With a solo artist you get to have a lot of one-on-one time with a person. You can dive deep into what they need; there’s trial and error. With a group, it has to become a collaborative decision. You have to say, ‘This is what we want to do.’ It’s fun to work as a group. It’s challenging but fun. You have to find everyone’s strength. You get to write records and be part of multiple people’s shared success. You find ways of producing that showcase multiple people, like, ‘This person has great voice for this part,’ or the pre-chorus. Solo is a more emotional experience, more soul searching.
What’s next for you?
I told you, beating Bobby Flay! That’s what’s next. I have no expectation of going solo. I work best behind the scenes. I always say my job is how to present someone else’s vision in a palatable way. The next thing I’ll be doing is continuing to work with great artists and songwriters, to find ways to inspire. I’m excited to see current projects to the finish line…working with up-and-coming artists and songwriters – these are the things I’m excited about.
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