Producer on Fire

By
Mark Small

You created a distinctive military beat for the end of the song “Some Nights.”

That was something I programmed. It’s amazing how successful that song was. We loved the music, but the band didn’t pick that as a single. After we won the Grammy, it was played on the radio, became popular, and was released as a single. The song has a great hook but doesn’t fit the mold for a radio single. I’m really proud that our music made an impact on how music of this era sounds. For me as a producer, there was a long time when everyone wanted to make a dance song. Mumford and Sons, Miguel, Gotye, and Fun. have made an impact with different sounds. It’s kind of exciting to be part of that.

What was your take on working with the Rolling Stones?

They were awesome to work with—so vibrant. I soaked up a little of what they are all about. They called the work I did “radio mixes,” but I went into the studio while they were tracking with Don Was, the album’s main producer. We took the files and worked with Mick and Keith separately on how we could modernize the music without it sounding like a remix. To me the “radio mix” of “Doom and Gloom” has all the Stones’ energy and sounds like it is part of music of this era. There is a little stylization to it. They don’t wear the clothes they wore back in their early days, so why should they have a production style like that from their early days? They wear clothes that are cool now, and I took that approach to their music. Being a producer is similar to being a fashion designer. Clothes should make you look and feel good, be the ultimate you. The production should be hip, contemporary, and speak to the times now.

How many album projects do you do in a year?

I try to be productive, but I also try to limit my work to things I really believe in. Last year I worked on tracks for Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and Pink. We squeezed a lot in. This year is more about finishing my album and picking another artist that I think could be special or different. I don’t want to have a quota or anything like that. I value quality over quantity.

Now that so many people are asking you to produce their music, do you just pick the best of what’s offered?

It’s not always about the best, it’s about what clicks. The guys in Fun. and I just clicked. I look for things that will ignite the best in both the artist and me. I try to make it easy on myself by finding someone with a vision who knows what they want to do and needs help in making it all come to life. My job as a producer is to help them realize their wildest dreams. Anyone can make a song, but it’s about creating magic. You don’t always create it, but you have to keep trying.

I want to work with artists, writers, and producers that can push me and that I will learn from. In life, you want to be around people who will push you to set the bar higher.

Can you talk about your upcoming solo album?

I record and sing all of my own demos and that’s how my solo project came about. I started writing songs under the alias Billy Kraven so that I’d have an alter ego. I like projects to have a point or a concept. Naming a song is very important. It provides a catch phrase and sets the tone for the song. So having the name Billy Kraven gave me a tone and concept.

Is it true that you will offer the album for free?

I will probably post it online. A lot of music acts have taken advantage of the Internet as an access point. People get excited if something is good and offered for free, they will often end up buying it and then other stuff that you are creating. Lana Del Rey, The Weekend, and Odd Future were all put out on the Internet. The good stuff rises to the top.

For me, it’s more about getting people to hear it. I’ve had some of these songs for a while and I’ve gotten good feedback about them. It will be fun to release my songs with me singing. It will be a more pure vision of what my emotion for the music is.

I’ve heard that you’re playing all the instruments on the album too. Will you put a tour together for it?

Playing live is an important part of being a musician and promoting a record. It’s a different visceral experience having people react to your music right in front of you. As a producer making records, you can get isolated in the studio. I always try to keep a connection between live music and the record. The music should translate to a live performance. I like to put things on the record that people will react to in a live show.

It was cool playing live with Kanye and creating the show, and entertaining the people. You want people to leave your concert breathless. I’m looking forward to putting together everything I’ve learned—the lighting and the whole presentation for my project. I will probably start out in 100-seat halls, but you still have to put on a show and build from there. That’s exciting to me.

Do you envision your future more as an artist or a producer?

It’s not like I’m going solo, I’m just making another musical statement that happens to have me singing. So I’ll have to do some different jobs that I’m not used to doing. But it’s fun to be nervous or scared about music after getting into a groove producing or writing. It keeps you alive when you challenge yourself. This record is also an opportunity to express myself without an artist or another producer. I get to control the whole vision. 

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