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Inside Track: Olivia Rodrigo 'Vampire'

Songwriter & Producer Daniel Nigro By Paul Tingen
Published April 2024

Olivia Rodrigo's chief songwriting and production partner is Daniel Nigro.Olivia Rodrigo's chief songwriting and production partner is Daniel Nigro.

Guts has cemented Olivia Rodrigo’s status as a major star. Her chief songwriting and production partner is Daniel Nigro.

In January 2021, Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Drivers License’ was a global hit, going three times platinum in the UK and six in the US. Rodrigo, only 17 when the song was released, proved anything but a one‑hit wonder, because several more multi‑platinum songs followed that same year, ‘Déjà Vu’, ‘Good 4 U’, ‘Traitor’ and ‘Brutal’. They all appeared on her debut album Sour, which also went multi‑platinum. The album and breakthrough hit won her three Grammy Awards, plus four further nominations.

Inside TrackThese spectacular achievements were facilitated by Daniel Nigro, who co‑wrote eight of Sour’s 11 songs, and produced the whole of the album. Nigro had already enjoyed hits with Sky Ferreira, Freya Ridings, Caroline Polacheck and Conan Gray, but the success of Sour took his career to an entirely different level. And when Rodrigo and Nigro started work on the singer’s “difficult second album”, they did indeed find the going difficult.

“It was a hard process,” admits Nigro. “The first half of making Guts was difficult because there’s that constant voice in your head saying, ‘It’s not good enough!’ or ‘How are you going to beat this?’ There was a lot of pressure as we had Sour in the back of our minds, a body of work that was finished, mixed and mastered. And next you’re working on songs in your studio, listening back and going, ‘Well, that doesn’t feel as magical or special.’

“This was in the beginning. But with real hard work and real dedication, the special songs started to show themselves. If you keep showing up every day, some good things happen. I can remember days in the studio where I didn’t know if I could get through it, having been up all night with my baby and me being exhausted. Some days you fight through and nothing good happens. Some days you fight through, and then, all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Wait, did we just come up with something that we like?’ This started to happen more and more.”

The hard work paid off, and Rodrigo and Nigro managed to deliver another hit album. Released in September 2023, Guts reached number one in dozens of countries, contained the multi‑platinum hit single ‘Vampire’, and received six Grammy Award nominations, including Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album.

Sour And Sweet

Olivia Rodrigo’s success did not come entirely out of the blue. She had enjoyed lead roles as an actress in two Disney+ series, Bizaardvark (2016–2019) and High School Musical: The Series (2019–2022) and, as her character in the latter series, had enjoyed a hit with the self‑penned song ‘All I Want’ in 2019. Despite this, she was unknown to Nigro when he first encountered her in 2020.

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album Sour was a huge global hit.Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album Sour was a huge global hit.“A friend in the industry was curious to know if I had been working with Olivia, because she was following me on Instagram, but I had never heard of her before. Most of the time when somebody asks you to listen to something, you go ‘OK, whatever,’ and you move on. But when I listened to her song ‘Happier’, which had a 30 second video, I got the chills. I remember thinking, ‘What a clever concept, that’s really good.’ She had so much conviction in her voice and so much passion. As real as it gets. I reached out to her, and after many months, because of the pandemic, we ended up finally meeting, and ‘Happier’ became the first song we worked on together.

‘Happier’ was later included on Sour. Nigro, from his side, was at a point in his career when he was seriously starting to get into production, after having been an artist with the indie rock band As Tall As Lions, and a songwriter for the likes of Sky Ferriera, Kylie Minogue, Billy Idol, Lewis Capaldi and many others. By the time he started working with Rodrigo, Nigro had just enjoyed his first production successes, also co‑writing and playing many of the instruments, with Freya Ridings’ song ‘Castles’ and Conan Gray’s album Kid Crow (2020), which had gone to number 5 in the US.

Sowing The Seeds

Nigro wrote and recorded most of Sour and Guts at his own Amusement Studios (see box, later). Nigro describes their process: “Often Olivia comes in with a seed, like a chorus or something. Some days she comes in with just a lyric concept. She could be like, ‘I want to write a song with this title.’ And then we go from there. The great thing about working with Olivia is that everything is done from scratch. It’s usually just her and me with a guitar or a piano. We sit in the room, talk about it, and try out different ideas, and see what happens.

“The song is the most important part, and to be honest, most of the time we initially don’t think about the production, or what the sonic landscape of a song should be. It’s always about the song, having a great chorus that we both really like. From there we can dress it up however we want. Sometimes we write a song and I go ‘OK, cool. I know what this is supposed to feel like,’ and then I produce it and it works great, but sometimes she might question the arrangement or production, and I have to go back and try again, and again. It can take a few times for a song to find its identity.

“Olivia has strong opinions on the production, and doing it is a team effort. It’s a happy accident that my skill set happens to match her sonic tastes. She loves live guitars and live drums. At the same time, there’s tons of programming. On the first record all but three songs were predominantly programmed. But for Guts, Olivia really wanted things to be more organic, and have more live instruments. For example, ‘Bad Idea Right?’ has live drums, but the kick and snare are programmed. With most songs I program the drums first, and then a drummer enhances this by pulling and pushing.

Dan Nigro: People call me ‘Nudge Nigro’, because half the time I’m messing around with the feeling of programmed parts, to add human-ness by nudging things in the timeline. It’s surprising how much it can change a recording!

“The drums on ‘Ballad Of A Homeschooled Girl’ are entirely live, apart from a snare in the background that I added later, to get it to sound exactly like I wanted to. Olivia likes the push and pull of live instruments. I can create that in the box as well, but massaging the parts takes a long time. It’s days of work. People call me ‘Nudge Nigro’, because half the time I’m messing around with the feeling of programmed parts, to add humanness by nudging things in the timeline. It’s surprising how much it can change a recording!”


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