Producer on Fire

Musical ability and imagination plus technical finesse in the studio have turned Jeff Bhasker’s career red hot.
Jeff Bhasker ’99
Jeff Bhasker ’99

Since 2008, when Jeff Bhasker ’99 began working with Kanye West, his career has been in overdrive. Bhasker stepped into the spotlight as West’s touring keyboardist, then became his musical director, and then went into the studio with him as a cowriter and producer. In many ways, West served as a mentor for Bhasker, and Bhasker returned the favor by helping the rapper develop a melodic, keyboard-heavy pop sound on such songs as “Amazing” and “Love Lockdown” on his 808s & Heartbreak album. Bhasker snared the first of his first three Grammy Awards in 2009 for cowriting “Run This Town,” a hit collaboration for Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna. Two years later he won again in the Best Rap Song category for West’s “All of the Lights.”

Last year was a banner year for Bhasker. He cowrote and/or produced tracks for Alicia Keys (“Girl on Fire”), Bruno Mars (“Locked Out of Heaven”), Taylor Swift (“Holy Ground” and “The Lucky One”), Pink (“Just Give Me a Reason”), the Rolling Stones (“Doom and Gloom”), and more.

But his most significant project of 2012—producing, cowriting, and playing keyboards for the Some Nights album by Fun.—almost didn’t happen. The then-unknown band had to jump through hoops to recruit Bhasker (who at the time was busy with A-list artists) to produce the group’s sophomore outing. But for Bhasker, the gamble paid off big time. He applied his rap and hip-hop production sensibilities to the band’s pop, rock, alternative, and even theatrical leanings to create a blockbuster album.

There is lots of magic in the tracks. The album’s lead-off single “We Are Young” surged to number one on the charts and was further energized after it was placed in a 2012 Superbowl commercial for Chevy and in an episode of Glee. Ultimately the music and the group were nominated for six Grammys and had wins in the Best New Artist and Song of the Year categories. (The win in the latter category netted Bhasker his third Grammy.) Significantly, Bhasker’s nomination in the  Producer of the Year, Non-Classical category for Some Nights prompted a flood of requests for his services.

“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.”

To realize Fun.’s musical vision in the studio, Bhasker availed himself of a coterie of Berklee alumni, including Andrew Dawson ’01, Pawel Sek ’00, and Ken Lewis ’91. Bhasker’s manager Neil Jacobson ’99 (see “Bhasker’s Copilot” and “Fun. Behind the Board” on pages 15 and 16) was also key. The sessions took place in Bhasker’s antithetically named Enormous Studios and Andrew Dawson’s SoundEQ facility as well as bigger studios in Los Angeles and New York and orchestral sessions at Abbey Road Studios in London.

Fun. gave Bhasker carte blanche to let his seemingly limitless imagination loose on their songs. The mixture of Fun.’s talent and Bhasker’s musical and production finesse yielded music that has dominated the airwaves, despite not fitting neatly into radio formats.