The Danish frontman's debut, Lukas Graham, is climbing the charts

By Jeff Nelson
Updated April 07, 2016 09:20 AM
Credit: Chapman Baehler

If Lukas Graham‘s name doesn’t sound familiar, his voice should: he’s currently got a No. 2 hit on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart with “7 Years,” a twinkling, music box-y jam about growing old that was inspired in part by his father’s death.

At 27 years old, the singer’s band – Lukas Graham – is already a staple in Europe, but he’s finally breaking big in the U.S.

With a soulful, sentimental self-titled album climbing the charts, Graham opens up to PEOPLE about his band’s success, growing up in a hippie commune – and why he’d rather live in an L.A. ghetto than a fancy house in the hills.

Read on for five things to know about the rising star:

1. He grew up in a hippie commune in Denmark.

Graham was raised in Christiania, a self-governed neighborhood of Copenhagen. Although the community is known for Pusher Street, a road where dealers pedal marijuana, harder drugs are looked down upon, and Christiania’s typically progressive residents are proponents of pastimes such as yoga and the arts.

“It’s a special place that was an army base that got abandoned and almost immediately got squatted by hippies and homeless people and criminals,” says Graham. “The government kind of left people to their own devices, like a social experiment, and the neighborhood started creating itself.”

2. He went to law school before pursuing music full-time.

Graham pursued a law degree, attending classes before he dropped out upon signing his record deal.

“I always saw law as a performance, just like being on a stage,” says Graham, who took interest in social issues from a young age growing up in Christiana, where he’s said police harassment is common.

“I just thought it would be awesome to be come a lawyer, especially being from a neighborhood seeing the police rough up so many people unnecessarily, people who haven’t done nothing. Growing up with kids from dysfunctional families and stuff, I just felt that some kind of difference could be done. And now I’m getting to do it with music instead.”

3. He prefers living on the edge.

When he’s not touring, Graham splits time between Los Angeles and Copenhagen (near but not in Christiania). But he says he misses his rough-around-the-edges roots.

“I’ll probably stay in Copenhagen … I can keep writing songs about my local community and about crime,” he says. “If I moved to L.A., I wouldn’t move to a ghetto neighborhood. I’d move to some posh, fancy place. I need to be close to where the magic happens so I can keep being integrated – boy, I used to be.”

4. He’s got a #squad, too.

The Danish breakout says the tight-knit sense of community he learned growing up has stuck with him in America.

“The loyalty from my neighborhood is basically the biggest thing that I brought with me into the music industry,” he says.

“When I got signed in America, the label wanted me to go to L.A. without my producers and without the songwriter, Don Stefano, that I’d worked with for 10 years, and I basically said, ‘Up yours!’ and brought all my guys over. And at the end of the day, the label came and thanked me because they didn’t even know that my guys are such a big part of my sound. I just write lyrics and figure out melodies: I don’t produce music.”

5. He has no interest in reaching Kardashian-level fame.

“We’re four guys doing this together, and we look at each other once in a while and be like, ‘This isn’t real,'” he says.

“I don’t really give a damn about celebrities. Reality stars can go hang somewhere else. I don’t want to be seen with them,” he says. “Fame wasn’t the driving force, money was never the driving force – I feel like it’s ripping off the fan-base once the musician becomes more important than the music.”