He writes the songs

DUNCAN GREIVE
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2013
Nash
MIKE COPPOLA

SONGWRITER: Terius Nash, AKA The Dream, has penned the hits of some of pop music's biggest stars.

Rihanna
MARCO DEL GRANDE
RIHANNA: Her smash-hit Umbrella was Nash's first major hit as a writer.

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Terius Nash peppers many sentences with references to his friends Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber. He says he pays for everything in cash, gets a massage every single day, and thinks his job makes him "like a reporter in Kuwait".

He claims to travel everywhere in a MayBach supercar. Short and slightly pudgy, he voluntarily compares himself to Michael Jordan. Statistically, the likelihood of anyone claiming all of the above being a delusional fantasist is high. Only Nash isn't crazy. And he's not lying.

Because Terius Nash, also known as the extraordinary- though commercially unsuccessful - R&B singer The-Dream, is the songwriter responsible for the signature hits of Beyoncé ('Single Ladies'), Rihanna ('Umbrella') and Justin Bieber ('Baby').

Those are the biggest hits of three of the biggest artists in the world. The trio,who all play Auckland within eight weeks of each other later this year, were transformed by Nash's songs; their trajectories fired into the stratosphere by the way those singles managed to encapsulate their character, attitude and potential in three magical minutes.

"I literally just become them," Nash says of his songwriting technique, "and be an extension of what it is they're trying to say, at a time when they don't know the right or the best way to say it."

That approach, of working alone with the artist to draw something out of them, is somewhat atypical in contemporary pop. Take Miley Cyrus' recent hit 'We Can't Stop'. It's a slow, slightly druggy ode to partying. But if you thin kit sounds a little like Rihanna, you'd be right - it was originally written for her, but sold instead to Miley.

If you listen to contemporary pop radio, and megastars like Jessie J, Katy Perry, Pink or Kelly Clarkson, you're hearing songs written by the likesof  Stargate, Dr Luke, Max Martin and Bonnie McKee. All are to a certain extent interchangeable. Old-timers complaining that it wasn't like that in their day are wrong, though. It's basically a decentralised version of the songwriting factories which operated in New York in the '50s and '60s at locations like the legendary Brill Building, where Neil Diamond and Burt Bacharach got their start.

The aim, then and now, is to write songs which could be sung by pretty much anyone - the sentiments are universal. Nash, though, favours a different approach. He hunkers down with an artist, one-on-one, talking with them until they hit upon a theme or emotion which can be drawn out into song. "It's very hard for me to write a generic song that could be sung by anybody," he says. "I really love customising certain songs for certain people. No matter what weight that comes with it - whether it comes with it not being a number one on the Top100 or whatever. I'd rather write someone a career defining record."

Nash was born in North Carolina in 1977, but relocated to Atlanta when he was three. His mother died when he was fifteen, and he was raised by his cement-mason grandfather. "He had these hands, these building hands, and you get to a certain age andy ou can't straighten them out anymore," recalls Nash of the man whose relentless work ethic he inherited.

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He first attracted songwriting attention with 'Me Against the Music' for Britney and Madonna, but for the most part he has since kept to a relatively small circle of predominantly black R&B artists. His first major smash as a writer was Rihanna's 'Umbrella', and the pair seem to have hit it off - he's now written 15 songs for the Barbadian pop star (performing in Auckland on October 6), who he believes nails his melodic intent most purely.

The pair have made a lot of money together, but being around her has its downsides, too ."She'll just come up to me, and look at my ring or whatever it is, and say, 'Oh, that's real nice! I want that.'You know? So either I have to get her the same ring made, as I've done before, or necklace or something," he says benignly. "Basically, I just gotta give it up."

That's probably not the hardship it might be for others (he has reportedly earned over US$15 millionfor 'Umbrella' alone; 35 Beyoncé, Rihanna and Mariah Carey songs have featured the credit T Nash in the fine print.)

"My personal things, I have to own them outright. I can't deal with the bossman hanging over my head, thinking that I owe something back. Whether I'm living in it, dressed in or driving in it - I can't deal with that," he says. "I guess I'm old school."

That includes the $500,000 sportscar he's being chauffeured in during our interview. He keeps one Maybach at home in Atlanta, and another in New York. Despite occasionally grandiose statements, Nash is thoroughly charming, and very open. He has a high, melodious voice, which he attributes to the piano on which he first learned to write songs. "There was only a certain section of the keys, closer to the high pitch, that actually worked."

While that speaking voice might be a little disconcerting in conversation, on record it is captivating. Over the course of his albums he has deployed it to create a sound-world all his own: featherlight production, thrusting sexuality and a suburb sense of humour, rare in song - even if he occasionally came off looking like an asshole in deploying it.

"Hear my words for their worth/ Ain't just tryin'to get in your clothes," he sang nobly on 'Rockin' that Thang'. He rhymes "two in the morning" with "all night patronin'", making a verb of a luxury tequila brand. 'Kelly's 12 Play' is an entire song dedicated to his love of having sex while listening to, uh, R Kelly's 12 Play album.

His fine new album IV Play (Def Jam/Universal) was delayed more than two years through a now-resolved dispute with his label. Thanks to his songwriting, he's able to keep busy. This year his work has featured onThe Great Gatsby soundtrack, he's spent time in Paris working on Kanye West's acclaimed Yeezus, and written a stunning confessional named 'Dirty Laundry' for his current tour-mate, Rowland.

While we talk he's being driven from a TV appearance in New York to a concert in Boston, cramming media interviews in en route. All the same, he's working less than he used to. Almost alone amongst his generation of R&B artists, on IV Play, Nash sticks doggedly to his soul music - and critiques the trend to EDM, or electronic dance music.

"I understand why my [solo] records don't get played," he says. "I refuse to do something that's not me as an artist. I'd rather wait till this type of sound comes back into style. Or something else dies out. Because everything works in phases, and we've been shown that over time. Right now, it's EDM time. That's what people like, and I can't argue with that - all I can do is make my next record."

- Sunday Magazine

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