Bruno Mars, The Stereotypes On Making '24K Magic' | Album Of The Year
To create 24K Magic, his first full-studio album since 2012's phenomenal commercial and artistic triumph, Unorthodox Jukebox, Bruno Mars enlisted a collective of producer/songwriter collaborators, musicians, technicians and other artists to carry out his vision.
The goal was to create a '90s-esque danceable party album. Calling on the likes of the Smeezingtons (Mars, Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, and Philip Lawrence) with writer-producer pals the Stereotypes (Ray "Charm" McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus, and Jonathan Yip), as well as heroes like Babyface and his engineer Charles Moniz, Mars was successful. There were great musical parties in his studio, from which the grooves and spirit of the LP were born.
Below, multiple collaborators proudly present a rare look into the making of a landmark album, the Album Of The Year-nominated 24K Magic.
*Bruno Mars (artist): It was a long journey to get to this album. With this album, I wanted to make a movie. A real movie. I told myself, "I am shooting a movie and I need the opening to let everybody know what time it is, what’s that gonna sound like?" And that was [the song] "24K Magic." It was the opening to a movie.
Charles Moniz (engineer/mixer): We'd usually start [working] in the afternoon; days ran about 14 hours. The record took about 22 months. Bruno always has a vision of where he wants to go, but may not always know how to get there. If the writing process starts to slow down, he'll bounce ideas around the room and we’ll start experimenting. There's really no system, it's just about chipping away at an idea until it feels good.
*Mars: It's all feeling. There's no rules [in] music. But for me, my rule is that feeling comes first. Honesty. Even a song like "24K Magic," that's the song that's supposed to get the party started. Does it sound like me? Does it sound like I'm faking it? Does it sound like I’m having the time of my life? That's what it is. Emotion and feeling come first, whether it's a love song, or whether it's a song like "24K Magic."
Kai Z. Feng (photographer): I didn't know why [Mars] kept throwing up the number 24 with his fingers during the [photo] shoot; I thought it was just a cool thing to do. But after repeatedly doing it, I finally asked him if it had anything to do with the album. He smiled and said, “Shhh, Kai!" Come to find out, that was the album title and name of the first single!
Ray Romulus (producer/songwriter, the Stereotypes): All that about the Cadillacs and champagne, that’s how Bruno is. He's giving you a day in the life. It’s real. Working with him in the studio is always joyful, and that translates to the audience. Even how he sings it; you can hear him smiling.
*Mars: It's what we want to bring to the table musically. Obviously, you hear these '90s influences in the whole album, really. But in "24K Magic," that's because of West Coast hip-hop. That's because of Dr. Dre and DJ Quik and Suga Free. This is what we grew up on. ... It was at a time when it was okay to party. It was okay to be flashy.
Moniz: Bruno and the guys grew up on R&B, so it's a part of who they are. That's where his head was at, so that's where the album went.
Jonathan Yip (producer/songwriter, the Stereotypes): Bruno played us the songs that he already had done. It was very nostalgic and heavily drenched with '90s influence, which is my favorite era. He said he wanted to make an album that people could dance to, with music that made him feel like when he was back at school dances. He told us he really wanted to do something with the New Jack Swing feel, so we started vibing out until we all felt we had something.
"Bruno's no less hands-on than MJ. He'll be dancing, and then the next second he’s on the keyboard."
Mars****: You hear my other albums, I'm bouncing around from genre to genre. I wanted to really hone it in and give myself a world in which I could keep it contained. … Also, I want to sing more so than I did on the other albums. That's why you get "Versace" and "Too Good to Say Goodbye."
Charles Moniz: Bruno has the ability to look at his own work objectively, and that plays a huge role in it all. If you’re trying to get people on the dance floor, but the song doesn’t make you want to dance, you’re going to have to make some changes. He’s never afraid to make changes and no idea is ever too precious.
**Mars: [I started] writing "Too Good To Say Goodbye" years ago, but it never felt right….When [Babyface] came into the studio, I started playing the chorus on the piano and he stopped me and he said, "What is that?" I said, "It's a song that I can't crack the code." He said, "We got to work on that, we got to finish that." It was old-school; sitting down on the piano and we built this song.
Jeremy Reeves (producer/songwriter, the Stereotypes): He was dancing the whole time, and would say, "I don’t want to dance like this, I want to dance like this!" And we shaped ["That's What I Like"] to that movement.
Ray "Charm" McCullough II (producer/songwriter, the Stereotypes): ["That's What I Like"] is a slow tempo, which we love because you can body-roll to it. We added all those in-between beats, which made it modern. These days the drums lead.
Yip: It was a collaborative effort, like a bunch of kids on a playground and there are so many instruments laying around the studio. Someone touches a keyboard, someone has a shaker. His studio is like a playground; everything is mic'd and ready to record. It is such a fun place to create music.
Romulus: He got the actual keyboards from the era we all loved. We were transported back. He can do it all. Bruno's no less hands-on than MJ. He'll be dancing, and then the next second he’s on the keyboard. To me, he is almost the reincarnation of Michael. I really felt like I was working with Michael Jackson. He made us feel like Quincy.
Yip: (On "Finesse") we had one big jam session. His studio is like a candy store for musicians, with Junos, Moogs, drum kits, pianos, guitars and any instrument you can think of laying around. That chorus (on "Finesse") is astounding. All those stacks of vocal harmonies.
Feng: Bruno is talented, fun, collaborative and gives me a lot of trust to do my thing. He is not shy in front of the camera; he’s always moving and dancing, as long as you have the right music playing.
**Mars: I felt, like after [finishing] nine songs, I thought it was done. Everything I envisioned, I said everything I wanted to say, and I didn't waste not one second. … Every second on this album is exciting for me.
Moniz: The mixing process was great and Bruno was there every step of it. We would continually work on the roughs as we built the album, because it was important for him to sketch out his vision for the overall feel of the project. From there, we worked with Serban [Ghenea], who did an absolutely incredible job as usual. I remember hearing his first pass of (the song) "24KMagic,”and thinking, "This is going to be amazing!"
*Mars: I don't know if I will ever be fully satisfied because therefore it would have to be perfect. And nothing is perfect.
Yip: [He's a] genius. People either weren't going to get it at all or love it. That's why we love Bruno, he isn't afraid to take risks. He knew it would be an education process for people to understand what he created as a whole and not just individual songs.
Romulus: He knows exactly what he wants. He's an artist’s artist to the core, and a songwriting genius. He knew the feeling he wanted to bring to the dance-floor, which he felt is missing in the marketplace.
*Mars: I hope that my music does the talking. I just want to do music. I don't want to be known for any .... scandals or controversy. I want to be the guy that brings joy to your life through his music. That's it. And I want to go home. Throw on some Netflix and live a life.
* As told to Beats 1
** As told to NME
*** As told to iHeartRadio
**** As told to BET.com