Chapman Baehler
Madison Vain
April 07, 2016 AT 11:50 AM EDT

Lukas Graham Forchhammer has a backstory that’s practically made for a music biopic. Raised in Copenhagen’s self-governing hippie commune Christiania, where marijuana is openly sold, the singer-songwriter studied classical music as a kid, smoked his first blunt at 12, and was turned on to American hip-hop. “I knew we were different,” says Forchhammer, now 27. “[But] when I first heard rap, I understood that someone else was angry and afraid.”

You can hear that hip-hop influence on “7 Years,” the soul-pop single from his band, Lukas Graham. The track, which is No. 2 at the time of printing on Billboard’s Hot 100 and has earned 277 million Spotify streams, was inspired by his unconventional and tough upbringing, marked by the 2012 death of his dad. “I just started singing, ‘Once I was seven years old…’ when I heard the melody,” says Forchhammer, who wrote it with a crew of his friends. “Like, eight people ended up drinking wine and writing together for hours.”

That communal vibe is all over his group’s self-titled debut (out now). EW recently caught up with the charismatic frontman to discuss his unique childhood, touring the world, and why success won’t change him.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: “7 Years” is a massive success. How did you pick which memories to share? There’s one from seven years old, 11, and then future dreams from 30 and 60.

LUKAS GRAHAM FORCHHAMMER: Everyone was pitching in. People would be like, “What if you did this when you turned that?” After three hours we had a 10-minute song [laughs]. But my father died at 61. That’s why I sing, “Daddy got 61/ Remember life and then your life becomes a better one.” I just can’t see myself being old—it’s really f–king strange. The furthest I can see is me being 60.

Your father’s death is in a lot of other places on the album, like “You’re Not There” and “Funeral.”

Writing is very cathartic for me. I write about what happens in my life—and my dad’s passing was a huge blow to me. He was my biggest fan and biggest motivational force. He never pushed me into doing music, he just supported my choices. He was the supportive, cool dad and it’s really tough to be a half-orphan.

My mom is the coolest mom, but she’s just as proud of my two sisters as she is of me. And a part of me understands why a mother is equally proud of all her children, but that little boy inside me just wants my mom to say, out loud but even just to me, “I’m a little bit prouder of you.”

Rap was a big influence for you early on, what attracted you to the genre?

In the early ’90s, my cousin gave me a Snoop Dogg cassette tape and the rawness of the lyrics were something new to me. I grew up in a neighborhood that didn’t have any police and was kind of rough. When I first heard rap, I understood that someone else was angry and afraid.

There are communities around the world that are never free, because they don’t own their own bodies and there is a system holding them down. That’s what happened in Christiania. As a 10-year-old I would have to stop and empty my school bag out onto the street—[police] didn’t care I was only 10, they wanted to patronize us for being from that neighborhood. So you have this fear that turns into anger that turns into frustration and you can’t really express it. Rap music was such a beautiful outlet.

What do you think is the biggest lesson your upbringing afforded you?

The difference between kids in our neighborhood and marginalized kids from outside in the suburbs is that I didn’t know we grew up poor until I was an adult. Christiania has a lot of strong, nuclear families. It gave us a sense of empowerment and belonging and richness. We had so much love; we were never in doubt that we were wanted in this world. What we realized, instead, is that there are certain people that don’t want us in this world, and what you end up doing is saying, “F–k those guys.”

It can come off as arrogance, but it’s given me the ability to not give a s–t. This feels weird to say, but I don’t give a s–t about you or my lovely publicist. I grew up with nothing and I know that I don’t need anything to be happy. We were wearing second-hand clothing and eating leftovers and I was so happy. Five-star hotels and private pick-ups hasn’t changed that.

Something that isn’t on the new album is a traditional pop-love song.

Haven’t you heard “What Happened to Perfect?” [Laughs] I don’t know why but I don’t fancy writing love songs; I never have. And you don’t need another album full of them! Adele has three albums, there are plenty!

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