David Saint Fleur gets excited talking about “Heartbreak Anthem,” the new song by the Swedish DJ duo Galantis, French DJ David Guetta and British girl group Little Mix, for which he was a writer and producer. “It’s on fire,” says Saint Fleur, a Worcester native and Burncoat High School graduate who currently works as a music producer and an A&R executive for Warner Music Group. “It’s breaking every record … It’s never done less than a million (streams) a day since it came out.”
His enthusiasm is understandable, seeing as the song is currently exploding on the Billboard dance and electronic music charts and on streaming services, but it would also be understandable if he were a little jaded. After all, he’s had hits and worked with big names before, including Bebe Rexha, Dolly Parton and 24kGoldn. But no, his excitement and enthusiasm for the song and the people he worked with to put it together is evident the moment he starts speaking.
“I come from Worcester,” he says, “I remember where I was when I first heard the name David Guetta. I was standing in the Greendale Mall. A friend said he was going to David Guetta, and I was like, ‘who is that?’ … I was 21. Now I work with him every day.”
But “Heartbreak Anthem’s” road to success took more than enthusiasm. To pull so many headlining names together to create a song took more than a year of work and coordination, all born from the two basic needs: The desire to put Galantis and Guetta together on a record, and the most basic driving force in the record industry: The need for a hit.
“We need a big song,” says Saint Fleur, “so I went to London and did a massive writing camp at Tilleyard Music, the biggest studio in the world.” Saint Fleur said he worked to organize the session with Tilleyard’s head of publishing, Jason Sharpe, with whom he had organized an earlier camp for Guetta. How a camp like this works is 40 or so songwriters and music professionals were brought together to create songs from 50 original tracks from Galantis. From that, the group hashed out around 40 songs, of which Saint Fleur felt “Heartbreak Anthem,” one of the last songs they did, was the strongest.
Which is funny, because the only rule that Galantis DJ Christian Karlsson had put forward was, “no heartbreak songs,” and the songwriters were clearly having a little fun writing something that was meant to be an anti-heartbreak song.
“I thought it was funny,” says Saint Fleur. “But it’s also (expletive) genius.”
A pop song like “Heartbreak Anthem” always comes with a large number of “writers” on the credits, but they all have a role in the song’s creation. The original tracks were created by Karlsson and his partner, Henrik Jonback. In the original original room, songwriters Christopher “Vodka” Tempest (who worked with Saint Fleur and Worcester musician Sam James earlier on the Bebe Rexha song “Beautiful Life”) Yk Koi & Lorenzo Cosi (who work together as SONDR), and Sorana Pacurar (who co-wrote the Chainsmokers’ song, “Takeaway.”)
Saint Fleur brought the song back to Los Angeles, and shared it with Galantis, who loved it, but the song wasn’t quite ready. He had Thom Bridges create a house music version of the song, and Johnny Goldstein made a disco version. Those versions were given to Guetta, who preferred the disco version, which became the base of the final recording, although the vocal chops from the house version were also retained.
“David Guetta works like a starving artist, man” says Saint Fleur of Guetta’s work ethic. He says the DJ took the song and worked it some more, including adding the drop which is one of the song’s best hooks. Saint Fleur says Guetta actually sent him back four different versions of the song, but getting someone to do the main vocals was tougher.
“Went door to door,” says Saint Fleur. “Bebe Rexha? Pass. Miley Cyrus? Pass. I talked to every pop artist in the world.” Little Mix was singing a different tune, though, and that proved to be a double stroke of luck, as the band was coming off a wave of publicity from dropping from four to three members and for a much heralded win at the Brit Awards.
Vocal producer Raphaella had each of the three singers – Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall – sing the entire song, and then they chose the best verses from each take for the final record.
“We took the best person for each section,” says Saint Fleur. “Nobody beat Perrie in the chorus, but everybody murdered their part. No one was better than Jade in the verses. It just made sense. Everything just came together. I was like DJ Kahled on this whole thing. I got in the studio with the producers every day, four hours a day.”
It’s a dizzying process, making what seems like a simple pop song, and this is only the barest outline of the process. Still, Saint Fleur positively brims with joy when he recounts each step of the process. He’s come a long way since his days producing recordings for local rappers in Worcester, and he seems grateful for where the journey’s brought him.
“I’m like a big kid,” he says. “Now I work with the biggest artists in the world. I’ll never get jaded.”