Photo: Robert Ascroft
Julian Lennon On New Album 'Jude,' Grappling With His Namesake & Embracing His Bittersweet Past
Julian Lennon has gone up and down in the music industry while forging his identity in nonmusical realms, like photography and documentary filmmaking. What spurred him to publicly accept the primary reason the world knows him, by way of 'Jude'?
During an in-depth conversation with Julian Lennon, this journalist submitted that it's not 1968, but 2022. Meaning, it's important we collectively treat him not as some figment of the distant past, but an artist and human being in the now. To this, Lennon wholeheartedly agreed.
But the fact remains that he called his brand-new album Jude — and even put his childhood self on the cover. That was for a very important reason: recently, he turned a corner in his mind and heart.
"I've reached that point now where I can breathe, and I'm OK with it all. It's all good," Lennon tells GRAMMY.com, looking vibrant and relaxed on Zoom despite weathering, in his words, "promo from hell." He adds that he finally broke his moratorium on his father's ubiquitous peace anthem, and sang "Imagine" in public to benefit Ukraine: "That was just the icing on the cake."
"I'm just making sense of it all," the GRAMMY nominee says. "I'm part and parcel of this steam train. I'm not getting off it, so I might as well enjoy the ride."
That ride just got seriously interesting. On Sept. 9, Lennon released Jude, which acts as both a potent self-examination and an embrace of his past — which, as a Beatles scion, had its share of extremes. Just to recap: Paul McCartney wrote his coaxing, strengthening, galvanizing "Hey Jude" — a song of still-startling emotional clarity — to comfort young Jules after his father's divorce from Cynthia Lennon. ("Hey Jules" was the working title.)
As an adult, Lennon has both weathered a multitude of ups and downs in the music industry — all while expressing himself via paths less trodden. In recent years, he's made eco-centric documentaries like 2020's Kiss the Ground and 2021's Women of the White Buffalo, auctioned off NFTs of Beatle memorabilia and pursued his stark, evocative photography.
And despite swearing off participation in traditional release models on major labels, BMG made him an enticing and holistic offer — one he ultimately accepted. This led to his first offering in 11 years, and on songs like "Save Me," "Freedom" and "Love Never Dies," he established aural and conceptual links to the past while charting a path into his future.
Read on for an in-depth interview with Lennon about how Jude came to be, his complicated relationship with his namesake, and what he thought of Get Back.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell me about your psychological state while making your first solo album in more than a decade. Was there any trepidation? Any insecurity?
It's a bit of a weird one, because initially, I wasn't going to do another album. I thought: I'm done with years of working hard emotionally on these albums with nobody really getting to hear anything. So, this is why I ventured off into the land of photography, documentary filmmaking, and children's books, and focusing more on the White Feather Foundation.
Because I didn't know where music was at. I've got to say, the landscape had changed so much over the last 10 years, as well. I thought, "Well, if I do anything again, I'll just do a couple of singles or EPs and just put them out there for the pleasure of doing it."
It's in-built. It's innate. It's unlikely I'll ever stop doing music — because mostly, also, I still work and sing on other people's projects all the time anyway. It's just that not many people get to hear or see that side of things that I've done.
The whole thing about this album is that it comes in two stages. One is Hartwig Masuch, the boss of BMG. Over the course of six months to a year, he met friends of mine — one in America, one in Russia. My name came up, and he said to my friends, "If Jules ever wants to do any music again, tell him to get in touch with me."
Just to interject, I was working with Leica cameras, and I had to go to Berlin for an event. I knew that Hartwig and BMG were based in Berlin. I didn't have his details, and I just thought, "I should check this out — what it's all about."
How did you find Hartwig from there?
I found him on social media, and I just said, "Hi, Jules here. I'm coming to Berlin. Got time for lunch?" I didn't expect a response, but he did. So, I went over and had lunch with him and then met everybody at BMG. I liked him a lot. He made me feel comfortable about the idea of working together with a label, which was an absolute no-no in my book after my previous experiences.
But he was a real lover of music, and you could see that. You could feel that. He was a big fan, too. He'd always thought that I never got my fair share, so to speak. I'd never been supported or sponsored enough to be seen and heard properly. He wanted to make that happen.
The other thing that was key in this was, he said: "Listen, if you do come on board, Jules, we will try our utmost to get all of your albums under one roof with a reversion back to you at the end of it." That alone was something that made me very, very interested.
What was the other factor that inspired you to get back on the horse?
The other part of the story is, my business manager in the UK retired. He'd had boxes and boxes and boxes and stuff in his basement. He sent it over to me, and most of it was financial files. But a couple of boxes were old reel-to-reel tapes and DAT tapes! Every format since the '80s that you could imagine — and there were lots.
I went through all of this stuff. Some of it was demos for [1984's] Valotte and "Too Late for Goodbyes." Songs that I'd forgotten all about. Anyway, my dear, dear friend Justin Clayton and I — I've known him since I was 11 years old; he co-wrote material on the first album; we went on world tours together — he had a great memory.
So, I brought him into this, to go through the tapes and see what was there. And he'd also taken an engineering course, so we were going to dive deep into what was in all these boxes. And the first song that came about was "Every Little Moment." I listened to it and went, "Well, f— me. This sounds great!"
I was worried that the old material was going to be lost, because tapes, if you leave them out, can really degrade and fall apart. But we were lucky; we did this process called "baking," where they take all the old tapes and digitize everything.
Anyway, the song was in good shape. Real good shape. Literally, we felt that we just needed to upgrade some production elements of it. Obviously, the '80s and '90s were big on drum machines, so I wanted to change that immediately. I got some live players on the track. I only changed the vocal on the chorus, and that's the track.
Same with "Not One Night." The vocals were done in my guest bedroom in my little bungalow in L.A. 30 years ago. Apart from that, all the other songs on the album are broken up into different decades. It's just a collection of songs that never sat quite right on other albums or projects that went before, but were still, in my mind, valuable enough. They deserved a home.
From there, how did things progress with Hartwig and BMG?
Again, Hartwig was the one who said, "Let's do a record." I said, "No, I just want to do singles and EPs. It's going to be easier on me. Less pressure," blah-blah-blah. But as we went through all this stuff, I started playing him stuff. We got to five or six songs, and he flipped. He said, "Jules, this is an album." I said, "No it's not! It's not an album! It's singles and EPs!"
Anyway, by the time we got to seven, eight, nine, I'm going, "Alright, if it's sequenced properly, it could be an album." At the end of the day, I said, "Alright, it does work as an album." BMG loved it, and I said, "Let's go for it, then. Why not?"
I was fortunate enough to get [Mark] "Spike" Stent to mix it. I think he's the one who really brought the glue together and also took it up a notch. I say what he did to the album is he did a Nigel: he turned it up to number 11. He just took all the work that we'd done and gave it that breath of fresh air and punch that everything needed to solidify it and put it all together — and for me to feel comfortable putting it out there as an album.
I appreciate that Jude isn't overproduced; it's actually very sparse in some ways. Can you talk about how you wanted the sound to come across to the listener?
Well, I've got to say, Justin and I started this project in my home studio here. Then, the dreaded Covid hit, and he had to go back to England. Now, I hadn't done any type of engineering for a long, long time. But I was twitching to get back to work, to continue the process of this project.
So, my experiment, if you will, that I did on my own, was the song "Freedom." I fell in love with the whole soundscape of "Freedom." And I just said: This [song] feels, to me, where I hear this album sitting, in many respects. It needs to feel like the old-school journeys we used to go on when we bought a great album back in the day, where the soundscape took you somewhere special.
"Freedom" was the beginning of that journey. That's where it all really stemmed from, for me. I felt like the album needed to have that sense of space. It's quite raw, but there's quite a bit of production on it. But I agree with you: it's not overproduced. It breathes.
John and Julian Lennon in January 1968. Photo: Keystone Features/Getty Images
I'm going to make an educated guess that, at other parts of your career, it wouldn't have felt as natural to call an album Jude, with your childhood self on the cover. It seems as if now, it feels appropriate to wholeheartedly embrace that part of your life that so many people globally know you for. Can you talk about reaching that point?
[Hearty laugh] You are right! I don't really know where it all came from, except that, with the whole COVID thing, I've been going through a whole face-yourself, look-in-the-mirror, "Who are you? What are you doing? Are you happy or sad? Where are you going with all this s—?" [process]. That was the main focus, and believe it or not, a lot of the songs dealt with that.
Also, because I've been doing NFTs with Beatle memorabilia, and the original lyrics for "Hey Jude" had been a focus at one point. Then, I started thinking about the lyrics and what they represented — the "weight upon my shoulder" and blah-blah-blah.
I thought about that, also, with the Get Back film, which I was blown away by. Sean and I saw that and we just fell in love with Dad again, because we saw a side of him with Paul and the rest of the band where he was a cheeky monkey, to say the least. Cynical, smart, goofy, fun, talented — you name it, throw it in there, he had it all. That reminded me of how I remembered him as a kid — being just that.
So, it was the culmination of so many things. And the other thing that really, I guess, was the stamp on the seal, was, initially, my birth name on my passport was John Charles Julian Lennon. When I went to the airport, through security, or this, that, or the other, people wouldn't always recognize me and they'd go, "Oh, John Lennon! Haaa! That's funny! Are you related?" A gazillion comments.
That would always make me feel incredibly anxious, because I'd always been called Julian. These moments at security checkpoints, the passport, "John, John, John" — I was sick of it. So, in 2020, I changed my name. But I still liked the J-C-J-L — the rhythm of my initials — and I respected my parents' decision to give me those names. But I wanted to be me, finally, so I just switched "John" and "Julian." And when I did that, it was like a whole weight came off my shoulders. I felt, "I'm finally Julian! I'm finally Jules, or Jude!"
It all made sense to me that this was just a reflection of the past. It was about how far I'd come, or I'd grown, and how I feel, quite possibly, now, more balanced, more focused, more at peace, and with purpose than I'd ever been in my life before. It just seemed like the right thing, and the right time. Getting to a point where I can just say, "Ask me anything! I don't care anymore!"
Whether your answer falls under the umbrella of the Beatles or your old man, which songwriters are your lodestars — the ultimate combiners of words and melodies?
Such a Keith Jarrett fan.
The Köln Concert — I'm done.
Zero 7's Simple Things was a great album — I would take that on a desert island as well. Billy Joel… listen. The reason I kind of worked with Phil Ramone was because of Billy Joel's earlier work. I love bands like America. There's so much great stuff out there. New stuff, not so much. I'm a fan of Foo Fighters. I like what Dave does, lyrically and musically. It's really, really strong — excellent stuff.
The list goes on. It's impossible! There's so much great stuff out there!
What are you working on, musically or extramusically? What are your next steps?
Well, I'm doing promo from hell for the next few months. I have been doing this [gestures to Zoom] for just weeks now! I'm going insane! I'm going to lose my mind! But I'm hanging in there, and I've got a break coming up, which I'm thankful for.
But, September and onward: performing, promo, TV shows and stuff like that. Getting up there and trying to sing a few songs. Aside from that, more photography work. There are more collections and projects coming out that I'm involved with.
Documentary-wise, the last one was Kiss the Ground on Netflix, which was — without being modest — one of the best docs out there, because it actually turned into a platform for people honoring and trying to change the world right now. White Feather Films, I just started, so that's a whole other [deal] — like I don't have enough work.
And then, the White Feather Foundation has a lot of ongoing projects that we keep following through with. And the list goes on! Probably more books of some sort are coming up. We'll see how that goes. When I have time, by the way! When I have time! I'd like a break, that's what I'd like! Maybe I'll get one by Christmas, if I behave.
Paul McCartney and Julian Lennon in 1967. Photo: Central Press/Getty Images
I think the most natural endpoint for the interview is to the last song on the album, "Gaia." Can you tell me about that tune, and collaborating with Paul Buchanan and Elissa Lauper?
Of course. Listen: how that came around is, I saw this band called Snarky Puppy.
They're amazing! Amazing! Anyway, I befriended a couple of the guys — Michael League and Bill Laurance. And Bill came up to my place and we started working on some tracks that will end up on something down the road; we never ended up quite finishing them.
But while he was there, I was commenting on how much I loved his solo album, which was called Cables. There was one song on there — the title track — that I mentioned to him. I said, "I hear this differently!" And when I explained it to him, he didn't get it, which I thought was weird for a predominantly jazz guy.
I said, "Listen, just play on the little white upright, and I'll play and sing what's on my mind." He played it and went, "Oh, I get it!" I said, "Just, do me a favor before you leave. Put it down on tape and I can fiddle with it later."
I kept hearing a French voice in my head. A French woman's voice from the '30s, '40s or '50s. Very broken up, like on an old radio or TV. I was scrolling through social media, I heard this voice and went, "F— me! That's her! That is her!" I wrote to her and found out she lived 20 minutes away. What! Twenty minutes away!
So, I sent her the song idea. She fell in love with it. I told her what I was looking for, and she wrote some lyrics. The idea was that it's a song between Mother Earth and humanity, disguised as a love song. She literally did the thing where she took her iPhone and did the spoken word in front of a bunch of speakers, listening to the music. I heard it back and said, "That's it!" So, I edited it into the song.
What about Paul Buchanan?
Paul Buchanan, I had wanted him to write the bridge, but he wasn't in that headspace. So I said, "Just sing it for me!" He said, "Jules, there are no studios up here around Glasgow. Everything's closed." I said, "Listen: You got an iPhone?" "Yes." "You got headphones?" "Yes," "Sing it six times for me into your iPhone and send it to me."
I edited his six pieces together and made it sound like it was a real mic. Then, Spike made it even better. Then, Elissa, the girl, said, "Do you mind if I write some other words?" I said, "Go ahead!" So, we worked on it together and she sent me her lyrics. I was blown away, because I never, in a million years, would have come up with her verse. It was typically French — very, very French.
The song has a bit of a unique arrangement. It does its own thing; I guided it a little bit. And I just thought it was the perfect end to the album — especially after "Stay." I didn't want to finish the album with "Stay," and "Gaia" seemed to be the perfect exit for this particular album.
I've been plagued by the number 11 for a couple of years. So, I said, "Right, well, I'm going to have 11 songs on the album. What are you going to do? Whether you believe in that or not, I figured, "Why not?"
8 Music Books To Read This Fall/Winter: Britney Spears' Memoir, Paul McCartney's Lyrics & More
As 2023 nears its end and the holidays approach, add these books to your reading list. Memoirs from Dolly Parton and Sly Stone, as well as histories of titans such as Ella Fitzgerald are sure to add music to the latter half of the year.
If you’re a music fan looking to restock your library with some new reads, you’re in luck. With the second half of the year comes a dearth of new music books recounting the life and times of some of the most celebrated artists in the history of the artform are hitting shelves.
From Britney Spears' much talked-about memoir that tackles the tabloid tumult of her life and Barbra Streisand’s highly anticipated autobiography (which clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages), to tomes that recount the lives of Tupac Shakur and Dolly Parton, it’s time to get reading. Read on for some of the best music-related new and upcoming books to add to your collection.
By Britney Spears
One of the most highly anticipated books of the year, Spears' memoir has been a blockbuster in the weeks since its release. When it was announced that the singer was writing a book, fans and observers braced themselves for what she would reveal when it comes to her tumultuous life and career. The result is a no-holds-barred look at how an innocent girl from Louisiana became swept up in the tsunami of fame, as well as the resulting wake.
The Woman in Me details Spears' halcyon younger years as part of the "New Mickey Mouse Club," her explosive career, the blossoming and collapse of her relationship with Justin Timberlake, and the punishing conservatorship concocted by her father. Spears doesn’t hold back, but also shouts out the figures who provided solace and kindness: Madonna, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and former Jive Records president Clive Calder. The Woman In Me proves to be an unflinching, eye-opening look at the swirling tornado of music, fame, love and family, for better or for worse.
By Barbra Streisand
Since her early '60s breakout to her current status as a bona fide living legend, Barbra Streisand has lived a lot of life. Streisand's 992-page tome breaks down her humble beginnings growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and her subsequent stratospheric life during which she received a whopping 46 GRAMMY nominations and released many timeless songs. Along the way, she also became the first female in the history of moviemaking to write, produce, direct and star in a major motion picture (Yentl).
It’s all a long time coming, considering Jackie Onassis first approached Streisand to chronicle her triumphant life in 1984 (at the time, the former first lady was editor of Doubleday and Streisand was a mere 20 years into her iconic career). "Frankly, I thought at 42 I was too young, with much more work still to come," Striesand recently told Vanity Fair. It’s an understatement considering all that’s happened since.
By Paul McCartney
One of the most celebrated artists of all time, McCartney's genius songwriting is on full, glimmering display in THE LYRICS. Newly released in a one volume paperback edition, the book puts the Beatles' way with words front and center while offering popcorn-worthy backstory.
Originally published to acclaim in 2021, the updated version includes additional material and insight from Macca himself on the creation of some of the most indelible hits in music history, including the 1965 Beatles hit "Daytripper."
"The riff became one of our most well-known and you still often hear it played when you walk into guitar shops," wrote McCartney of the track. "It’s one of those songs that revolves around the riff. Some songs are hung onto a chord progression. Others, like this, are driven by the riff."
By Dolly Parton
"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!" So says luminary Dolly Parton, in a self-deprecating and witty and also patently untrue famous turn of phrase. While Parton’s life story has been recounted numerous times on the page and on screen, Behind the Seams zeros in on not just her trials and tribulations, but her unmistakable style.
Packed with nearly 500 photographs, the book traces Parton’s looks from the sacks she used to dress in as a child in poverty to the flamboyant visuals associated with her stardom. "I’ve been at this so long, I’ve worn some of the most bizarre things," Parton recently told the Guardian. "My hairdos have always been so out there. At the time you think you look good, then you look back on it, like, what was I thinking?"
By Sly Stone
The 80-year-old reclusive frontman of Sly and the Family Stone has certainly lived a lot of life. From his early days as part of the gospel vocal group the Stewart Four, Stone and his family band later became fixtures of the charts from the late '60s into the mid-'70s; a journey traced in the new book Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), named after their 1969 song of the same name.
Known for funky, soulful and earworm signature hits including "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People," the band won over the hearts of America, influencing legions of fans (including Herbie Hanckock and Miles Davis) and gaining a few enemies (the Black Panther Party). The book chronicles those ups and downs (including drug abuse), tracking Stone up to the modern era, which includes receiving the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Special Merit Award in 2017.
By Judith Tick
Ella Fitzgerald is one of America’s most iconic voices and the full breadth of her story will be told in the first major biography since her death in 1996. Known as the First Lady of Song, the 13-time GRAMMY winner is known for her swingin’ standards, sultry ballads, scat and everything in between.
Out Nov. 21, the vocalist’s historic career is recounted by musicologist Judith Tick, who reflects on her legend using new research, fresh interviews and rare recordings. The result is a portrait of an undeniable talent and the obstacles she was up against, from her early days at the Apollo Theater to her passionate zeal for recording and performing up until her later years.
"Ella was two people," her longtime drummer Gregg Field told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "She was very humble, very shy and generous. But when she walked on stage she was hardcore and didn’t know how to sing unless it was coming from her heart."
By Jeff Tweedy
Aside from his extensive discography with Wilco and beyond, Jeff Tweedy is the author of three books: his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), a meditation on creativity called How to Write One Song, and his latest, World Within a Song. The latter expertly examines a variety of songs by a disparate spate of artists, from Rosalía to Billie Eilish with Tweedy’s singular take on what makes each song stand out along with what he dubs "Rememories," short blurbs that recount moments from his own life and times.
Much like his songwriting prowess, it’s a book where Tweedy’s way with words shine with shimmering eloquence. "My experience of my own emotions is that they all interact," Tweedy told GRAMMY.com last year. "They aren't individual, isolated things that you experience one at a time, and I think that's a really beautiful thing about being alive."
By Staci Robinson
One of the giants of hip-hop finally gets his due with an official recounting of his life and times. Here his legend is told by the authoritative Staci Robinson, an expert on the star who previously wrote Tupac Remembered: Bearing Witness to a Life and Legacy and served as executive producer of the FX documentary series "Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur."
Here, Robinson reflects on Tupac’s legacy from a modern perspective, and tracks the history of race in America alongside the rapper’s life and times, from the turbulent '60s to the Rodney King riots. Along the way are the stories behind the songs including "Brenda’s Got a Baby."
"In between shots (of filming the movie Juice) I wrote it," Shakur is quoted saying in Robinson’s book. "I was crying too. That’s how I knew everybody else would cry, ’cause I was crying.’"
Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
The Beatles' Final Song: Giles Martin On The Second Life Of "Now And Then" & How The Fab Four Are "Still Breaking New Ground"
The wait is over: The Beatles will release their final song, "Now and Then," on Nov. 2. Read an interview with remixer Giles Martin about the decades-in-the-making parting gift, as well as remixed, expanded 'Red' and 'Blue' albums.
The Beatles and grief have always been fundamentally intertwined. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney met as teenagers, they bonded over losing their mothers early on. Their manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967 at only 32; as McCartney put it during the ensuing Get Back sessions, "Daddy's gone away now, you know, and we're on our own at the holiday camp."
Lennon's murder in 1980, at just 40 years old, imbued their story with bottomless longing — not just between this band of brothers, but a world that had to process the Beatles were never coming back. George Harrison's death from cancer, in 2001, was another catastrophic blow.
But the Beatles' message, among many, was that the light prevails. And from "In My Life" to "Eleanor Rigby" to "Julia" to "Let it Be" and beyond, almost nobody made sorrow sound so beautiful. And "Now and Then," billed as "the last Beatles song" — yes, the AI-assisted one you heard about throughout 2023 — is liable to move you to the depths of your soul.
A quick AI sidebar: no, it's not the generative type. Rather, it's the technology Peter Jackson and company used to separate theretofore indivisible instruments and voices for the Get Back documentary. It also worked in spectacular fashion for Giles Martin's — son of George — 2022 remix of Revolver.
The cassette edition of "Now and Then." Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
With this tech, Martin and his team were able to lift a Lennon vocal from a late-'70s piano-and-vocals demo of "Now and Then," a song he was workshopping at the time. (Remember "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," the reconstituted Beatles songs from the Anthology era? "Now and Then" was the third one they tried — and, until now, aborted.)
The final version of "Now and Then" features Lennon's crystal-clear, isolated vocal, as well as Harrison's original vocal and rhythm guitar from that 1995 session. McCartney adds piano and guitar, including a radiant slide guitar solo in homage to Harrison. Ringo Starr holds down the groove and joins on vocals.
"Now and Then" is more than a worthy parting gift from the most beloved rock band of all time. And you can experience it a la carte or as part of the Red and Blue albums — the Beatles' epochal, color-coded 1973 hit compilations, remixed by Martin, with expanded tracklistings, out Nov. 10.
Ahead of "Now and Then," which will arrive on Nov. 2, read an interview with Martin about his approach to the emotionally steamrolling single — and the host of Beatles classics that flank it on Red and Blue.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What was the thinking behind the expansion of the Red and Blue albums?
That kind of stemmed from "Now and Then," really. You know, we finished "Now and Then," and then there was the thought about, OK, it can't go on an album. What are we going to put it on?
There was a thought about trying to respect people's listening tastes. And the fact that they've changed — and the No. 1s, for example, don't really reflect the most popular Beatles songs that people are listening to.
Then, we realized it was the 50th anniversary of Red and Blue. For a whole generation — much older than you, my generation — the Red and Blue albums have this sort of gravitas behind them. I know all the tracklistings; even though I think I was 3, when they came out, we had them at home.
So, we decided to do the Red and Blue albums — which took quite a long time, because there was quite a lot of stuff to do on them.
Since you've remixed all the Beatles albums from Sgt. Pepper's onward, I've been glued to the pre-1967 material — this is the first time I've heard your touch on their early work. Remixing songs as early as 1962 must have been a whole different ballgame.
In all honesty, that was the fun bit.
You know, we couldn't have worked on these songs six months ago; the technology had to be developed in place so we could do this — separate drums, bass and guitar, and have the different elements. And they sound good; it doesn't sound strange or artifact-y in any way.
I think people will talk about "Now and Then" for "Now and Then." But I [also] think the true innovations come back from the early Beatles stuff. The way that it pops out; the way that the records still sound like the same records. Hopefully, the character doesn't change, but the energy is different.
Ringo always said, "We're just a bunch of punks in the studios," and they sound like a bunch of punks in the studios. Now, they sound the age they were when they played it.
And that's so key to me, to making these records — that they sound like that. You know, they were way younger than Harry Styles is now, when they were making these records. People think they're old guys, and they're not.
That, to me, is important, in a way. We get old — I hate to break that to you, but we do get old. And recordings, by their nature, stay the same age. And the Beatles will always be that age on those records.
I think, now, they sound like a bunch of young guys in the studios bashing their instruments, and I think that's really exciting, and the technology we've applied has enabled us to, bizarrely, strip back the inadequacies of the technologies they had.
And I don't mean that in a pompous way. What I mean is that my dad never wanted the Beatles to be coming out of one speaker, and then coming out of another speaker. They didn't want the two tracks to be like that. He hated it. He hated it.
But now, we can have the drums coming out of the middle, like a record is now. He can luxuriate in that, and I think it's fun and exciting.
I'm noticing so many heretofore-obscured details in their early work. The vocal flub on "Please Please Me." The maniacal bongos that power "A Hard Day's Night."
I think you're right, but I think from experience — which, actually, I have a lot of now — there is a beauty in the reality.
What I mean by that is: so much music is perfect, and it's fabricated. There are checks and balances that go on, to make sure that everything is in tune, in time. And all this stuff goes on, which is fine and it suits a place. But it's a bit like the dangers of plastic surgery — everyone ends up looking the same.
And in records, everyone's sounding the same. We dial in so it's exciting, and it becomes boring, essentially, is what I mean.
The excitement you get from hearing a mistake in a song you've heard for years doesn't necessarily demean the song itself. It doesn't make you think, Oh my god, the band is s—. You think, Oh my god, what's exciting is these are humans. These are human beings in a room, making noise.
People go, "Well, who's responsible for the sound of the Beatles? Is it your dad? Is it Geoff Emerick? Is It Norman Smith…" blah, blah, blah. I go, "No, it's the Beatles. It's the fact they're four friends in a room. They make that noise."
And that's the thing about great bands; great bands make a great noise together, and they don't even know how they do it themselves. That's the beauty of it.
It's like, why do you love someone? "Well, because they're nice to me," or because they're whatever. You can't explain things; they just happen. And there's something about "Please Please Me," all that early stuff — you can hear it. It's something just happening, and that's so exciting. God, I sound like such an old hippie.
The Beatles in The Cavern, Liverpool, August 1962. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
Your first Beatles remix project, for Sgt. Pepper's, came out five years ago. On the other side of the coin, The Blue Album features songs from that dense, psychedelic era, like "I Am the Walrus," which is such a beast. That must have been a different kind of fun.
Yeah, well, "Walrus" is a beast. I've actually gone back and re-changed the stereo [mix] recently, because I got asked questions like, "Why did I change the end section so it didn't sound like the original?" I was thinking, Did I? I didn't do it deliberately. It's just the balance of speech versus vocals and stuff like that.
I was very lucky, because "Walrus" was on the Love album and show. I tackled a version of that before, and know how tricky it is.
Because by its nature, "Walrus" sounds technically bad, but it's beautiful. It's beautifully ugly as a record, and they're the hardest ones, because you don't want to take away the character. You don't want to remove the grime, because the grime is the record. I spent a lot of time looking at this and doing this — hopefully, we're in a good place with "Walrus."
You know, music's about, How does this make you feel? You don't want to feel secure around "Walrus" at any stage; you want to be unnerved by it. People sort of ask about plugins and technology, and it's like, it's not about that — something you can get on a shelf. How it makes you feel is the most important thing.
You once said that a White Album remix couldn't be too smooth — it's "slightly trashy. It's visceral. It slaps you in the face." I thought of that while listening to the remixed "Old Brown Shoe"; George's vocal is way grimy on that one.
This is going to sound really ridiculous — and I've been through this with a number of different people — but my job is to make a record sound like how you remember it sounding. Because records never sound like how we remember them sounding. And you go back and go, Was that really there?
Some people accuse me of doing stuff that I haven't done, or maybe forgot to do, or whatever. But the fact of the matter is that we kid ourselves all the time, and we fill in the blanks constantly.
It's like, "What about the vocal of 'Old Brown Shoe'? Why does it sound like this?" And I go, "Well, it sounds like that on the record." It's part of the character of the record. If it was too clean, it wouldn't sound [right].
George was very particular at that stage. He didn't get many goes, is the way I would say it, because he wasn't given enough songs.
There's a story [Beatles engineer] Ken Scott told about The White Album, of him doing "Savoy Truffle" — which is incredibly bright as a song, by the way. And my dad apparently went, "You know, it sounds quite bright, George." And he goes, "I know, and I like it." Like, "I know, and f— off," basically.
You have to respect the artists' wishes when you're doing these things, even though they're not there. Yeah, on "Old Brown Shoe," the vocal's quite strange. But that's what George wanted it to sound like, and [far be it from] me to say it shouldn't sound like that.
The Beatles in 1965. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
What's your understanding of the extent of the work the Beatles put into "Now and Then" back in 1995, before they aborted it?
I wasn't there, so I'm just going to speculate. What Paul played me — what we worked on together — was kind of after he'd looked at the material they did together.
Far be it from me to argue with a Beatle: there were some things that I thought we should change from that recording. There were a few synth [things], which I thought, once we decided to put strings on it, [weren't necessary].
You know, the key thing is that George is playing on it. Therefore, it is, by definition, a Beatles song, because all four of them are on it. People ask me, "Why is this the last Beatles song?" Well, there's not another song. There won't; there can't be another song where all four Beatles are playing on it.
So, there were bits and pieces that were used and not used. I don't think they spent a lot of time working on it, but essentially, what we kept was George — and obviously, John's vocal, which then we looked at.
Listening, I was thinking, Thank god that George tracked a rhythm guitar part and harmony vocal back then. Or else, this couldn't happen. Or, if it happened, you and your team would never hear the end of it.
What was interesting was, we did the string arrangement. I sat down with Paul in L.A., and there are lots of chugs and "Eleanor Rigby" kinds of ripoffs in the string arrangement.
And what essentially happened was, Paul spent a lot of time listening to what George was playing on the guitar, and it really changed the arrangement. It's in service to the guitar; it doesn't go against George's playing. They were completely respectful of the other Beatles, and made sure it was a collaboration, and it was all four of them.
As Yoko said to me, "John is just a voice now." And I think it sounds like the Beatles, "Now and Then."
Looking at the post-"Now and Then" Beatles landscape, I'm enticed by which Beatles albums you'll remix next. The select tracks on Red and Blue open a door to what Rubber Soul or Beatles For Sale redux might sound like.
Technology doesn't — and never has — made great records, but it creates a pathway. You can do certain things that you couldn't do in the past. And the most exciting thing for me is — as you say — it does open that door to that early material, which we couldn't have done before.
I suppose fortuitously, we kind of worked backwards, in a way — and it made sense to do that. I couldn't have done what I've done on The Red Album even six months ago, probably; it's that quick. I love the fact that the Beatles are still breaking new ground with technology that will pave the way for other artists.
The Beatles during a photo session in Twickenham, 9 April 1969. Photo: Bruce McBroom / © Apple Corps Ltd.
I can't imagine what this next week of "Now and Then" promotion will be like. There's an incredible weight to this. You must be feeling that.
Well, I mean, there's some perspective. My mom's just died. So, it's like [dark laugh] what's important in life?
It's a funny time. We just talked about her funeral arrangements, and she's getting buried the day, I think, the record comes out. So, there are personal things for me in this.
I've been doing interviews this week, and people have asked me, "How do you feel about what your motivation was?" Somebody was saying I'm talking about the Beatles as a resource, or whatever. I go, "You do these things and hope people get touched by stuff."
When you say you enjoy "Now and Then," that's really nice, because that's why we do it. We do it so people can listen to stuff and not just hear it. "Now and Then" sounds like a love song. It sounds like a song that John wrote for Paul, and the other Beatles: "I miss you/ Now and then."
It sounds like Paul has gone there, which I think he did. You know, no one told Paul to go and do it, and Paul didn't go, This would be a great exercise for the Red and Blue Album.
He was at home in the studio. He dug on the record and started working on it, because it's his mate. And he really misses John. I mean, that's the truth. They broke up, and John died nine years later. It really isn't very long.
So, I hope that people listen to the record and they think about loved ones. Or they think about things. That's what I hope. I don't really care about anything else — do you know what I mean? What I'm excited by is people being touched by it.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photos: Antoine Antonio/Getty Images; Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for NARAS; Kevin Winter/Getty Images For MTV; Denise Truscello/Getty Images for iHeartMedia; Don Arnold/Getty Images; Harry Durrant/Getty Images
Behind Mark Ronson's Hits: How 'Boogie Nights,' Five-Hour Jams & Advice From Paul McCartney Inspired His Biggest Singles & Collabs
GRAMMY-winning multihyphenate Mark Ronson details the stories behind 11 of his favorite releases, from "Valerie" and "Uptown Funk" to 'Barbie The Album.'
Mark Ronson's fingerprints are everywhere in pop music.
Whether he's behind the board as a producer, penning earwormy hooks for some music's biggest names, or employing a crate digger's mindset to create his own records, you'd be hard-pressed to find something on your playlist that Ronson hasn't touched. The seven-time GRAMMY winner might as well be considered the industry’s Kevin Bacon — he's worthy of his own "six degrees" game.
Today, Ronson is on his way back to New York City from some time spent in the Hudson Valley — a much-need reprieve after a blockbuster summer that saw his Barbie movie soundtrack top charts around the world.
"I love this film so much and I did something I've never done before by executive producing and overseeing [its music]," he tells GRAMMY.com.
That Ronson still has things to check off his professional bucket list is something of a surprise. The stepson of Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, Ronson got his start DJing in New York in the '90s, bridging his twin loves of funk and hip-hop. In the latter part of the decade, Diddy hired Ronson to DJ several parties, thus opening up the then-twentysomething to a world of A-list talent. Ronson's elite status only grew over decades — from DJing Paul McCartney's wedding in 2011 (for which he refused to accept payment), to creating the ubiquitous hit "Uptown Funk," and curating the final night of the iconic 2023 Montreux Jazz Festival.
Ronson has released five of his own albums — beginning with 2003's Here Comes The Fuzz and up to 2019's Late Night Feelings — each of which is a star-studded affair, featuring everyone from Miley Cryus and Camilla Cabello to Bruno Mars and Mary J. Blige (as well as the occasional lawsuit over interpolation and sampling). Over the years, he's developed a cadre of session musicians and production collaborators, creating an incredibly pop savvy sound often built on horn-driven funk and soul.
At the bedrock of Ronson's production — and among his best-known works — is Amy Winehouse's GRAMMY-winning album Back To Black. Since that 2006 release, Ronson has collaborated with an ever-increasing number of major acts, composing, arranging, producing, writing or playing on (and sometimes all of the above) works by Lady Gaga, Duran Duran, Dua Lipa, Adele, Queens of the Stone Age, and even Sir Paul himself.
Ronson will add another first to his list: author. A hybrid memoir and cultural history, the still-in-progress 93 'Til Infinity will cover the New York downtown club scene of Ronson's salad days.
"It's really fun to revisit that era, and it was a very specific time in DJing where DJs weren't really famous," he recalls. "There was no stage; sometimes the turntables were shoved in the corner at the end of the bar and you would have to crane your neck to even see the crowd. I sound like Grandpa Simpson, but I loved it."
Ronson is en route to a DJ gig as we speak, though the new dad says he'll be "kicking back into high gear on the book" soon. "[Writing it] requires really falling off for seven hours in the basement, like Stephen King says in his book. But I like that," he says.
Ahead of a celebration of Barbie The Album at the GRAMMY Museum on Sept. 27, Mark Ronson shared the stories behind some of his favorite productions – including the song that makes people "stupidly happy."
"Ooh Wee," Here Comes The Fuzz feat. Ghostface Killah, Nate Dogg, Trife and Saigon (2003)
I went to see Boogie Nights in the theater and I remember this scene where Mark Wahlberg's a busboy on roller skates and in the background there was this song playing that had just this string thing that just hit me so hard. I bought the Boogie Nights soundtrack and it wasn't on there — obviously this is 20 years before Shazam — then I figured out it was the song called "Sunny" by Boney M.
When I was making my first record, I was sort of locked up by myself in the studio on 54th Street just experimenting, making tracks all the time. That string line, I could never figure out what to do with the sample. I tried 80 different tempos and drum beats over it, and it wasn't until I just put that drum break behind it, the drums from the song, and it just all sort of gelled together.
Because that was an era in hip-hop where people weren't really using drum loops or drum breaks anymore. It was about chopping and having hard kicks and snares, like DJ Premiere and Timbaland. The DJ in me was like, f— it, let me just try putting a drum break under it. It all gelled and felt good.
I was a huge Wu-Tang fan, and at that point Ghostface was my favorite out of the group and I loved his solo records. I've never been more nervous in some weird way to talk to somebody — nervous and giddy, and what if I just sound so dorky?
I remember he was like, "Yeah, I get it. I think it's dope. It's like some Saturday Night Fever with Tony Manero s—." I guess because of the strings and it was so disco, and Ghost always had this pension for those disco kind of uptempo beats.
The album had to be handed in and I didn't have a hook that I liked on this song yet. Sylvia Rhone was the head of Elektra and she said, "I could try and get Nate Dogg on it." Of course that was the dream. I sent him the track, and it was probably two days before I had to master the album, on a Sunday. He sent me the files back, and all the waveforms were blank.
I had to call Nate Dogg at like 10 a.m. at home on a Sunday. While he's on the phone, he goes back in the studio and turns all his equipment on, trying to do the session.
The fanboy thing is still very real because I still work with people all the time that I'm a fan of. At that age, being in the studio with M.O.P., Mos Def, Q-Tip, Jack White, Freeway, Nate. I was just trying to keep it together some of the time.
"Rehab" - Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (2006)
"Rehab" just came about in general because Amy was telling me an anecdote. She was really together when we worked — she might not have been sober, but she got her whole life together. She was telling me about this time in her life that was difficult and she was in a really bad place. She said, "And my dad and manager came over and they tried to make me go to rehab and I was like, 'No, no, no.'"
I remember that it instantly sounded like a chorus to me, so we went back to my studio and we made the demo. That was when the Strokes and the Libertines were really big. I remember [the drums] sounded much more like an indie beat, even though it came from soul and Motown and the original rock 'n' roll. She would tease me; she's like, "You trying to make me sound like the bloody Libertines."
When [studio group] the Dap-Kings played it, they just brought it to life. I didn't really know anything about analog recording at that point. I only knew how to make s— sound analog by sampling records, so to hear them all play in the original Daptone studio, all the drums bleeding into the piano…. I felt like I was floating because I couldn't believe that anybody could still make that drum sound in 2006.
Amy couldn't be there for the recording, so I was taking a CD-J into the studio with me and I had her demo vocals on a cappella. I was playing it live with the band so that they could keep pace with the arrangement. I loved it so much.
"Valerie," feat. Amy Winehouse,Version (2007)
Amy had never met the Dap-Kings, even though they had been the band for all the songs that I had done on Back to Black. There was this really lovely day in Brooklyn where I took her to the studio to meet all the guys. The album was already out; there was a very good feeling about it [and] they obviously made something really special together. Amy loved the way the record sounded so much, she was so grateful. They loved her.
While we're all having this love-in in Bushwick, I was finishing my album Version and I said, "Maybe we could just cut a song for my record?" The whole theme of the record had sort of been taking more guitar indie bands like the Smiths, the Jam, the Kaiser Chiefs, and turning those into R&B or soul arrangements. I asked Amy if she knew any songs like that. She's like, "Yeah, they play this one song down at my local. It's called 'Valerie,'" and she played us all the Zutons' version. I didn't really hear it at first.
The first version we did was this very Curtis Mayfield kind of sweet soul. Part of me was just like, This is really good, but I feel like there's a hit version as well. I don't have that kind of crass thing where everything needs to be a hit, but…
Everybody was already packing up their instruments and I didn't know the guys that well yet, so it was kind of a pain in the ass to be like, "Hey, I know everybody just wants to go onto the f—ing bar and get a beer right now, but can we just do one more version where we speed it up a little?" Everybody flips open their guitar cases and we do like two more takes, and that's the version on my album.
"Alligator" - Paul McCartney, NEW (2013)
We've done other things together, but I've only really [worked on] three songs on his album, NEW. "New" I just loved as soon as he sent me the demo, because as a McCartney fan, it gives you the same feeling as "We Can Work It Out"; it just has that amazing uplifting feel. That's just his genius. I love "Alligator" maybe a little more because it's more weird.
He definitely gives you a day to f— up and be an idiot because you're just so nervous to be in the studio with McCartney. By the second day it's like, okay, get your s— together.
I remember running around just like, What sound can I find for Paul McCartney that every other amazing producer who ever recorded him [hasn't found already]? He was like, "Anybody can record a pristine acoustic guitar. Give me something with some characteristic that's iconic. That feels like someone just put the needle down on track one on an album."
That's something I always try to remember: don't just make it sound like a guitar, make it sound like a record.
"Uptown Funk" feat. Bruno Mars, Uptown Special (2015)
My enjoyment of the song is now gauged by the people that I'm playing it for. I was playing at this party at Public Records [in Brooklyn] on Sunday. I knew that I wasn't going to play that song on that night; it wasn't right for that crowd or something. And then an hour into my set, the vibe is really good, and I was just like, f— it and I dropped it, and people went crazy.
I'm a little extra critical sometimes on the more commercial songs, thinking nobody wants to hear this or this doesn't really have a place in this space. I think it's just a song that makes people stupidly happy, and that's cool.
The lyrics [to "Uptown Funk"] came really quick. We had the jam: Bruno was on drums, I was playing bass, Jeff Bhasker was on keys, and then Phil Lawrence was there and we jammed for five hours. We just chopped up our favorite parts of the instrumental jam, and then just started writing lyrics almost like a cipher. Bruno had been playing the Trinidad James song ["All Gold Everything"] in his live sets and playing it over a sort of uptempo, funky James Brown, "Get Up Off That Thing" groove.
We were just throwing about lyrics, throwing a little bit of the cadence of the Trinidad James song. Then when Jeff Bhasker said, "This s—, that ice cold/That Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold." It was like a great rap line. Then everything started to elevate a little bit from there on up.
That first day, we had the whole first verse and it felt great. Every time we went back in the studio, a lot of the times it would feel labored and not as good as that first verse. So it really took a long time to get in. Sometimes we'd go in the studio for three days and then at the end of the whole session we realized, we actually only liked these four bars.
So we kept building on it, and luckily Bruno didn't really let it die. Bruno was touring Unorthodox Jukebox; I was just flying around the country with a five string bass just to get the song done.
"Uptown Funk" still ended at Daptone…to do the horns last with Dave [Guy] and Neil [Sugarman], me. It's almost like you've always got to go through Daptone to finish something.
Bruno came up with that horn line. He was like, "I know you're going to kill me because you're trying to get away from being the horn guy, but I have this horn line and I think it's kind of killer." He demoed it from whatever backstage room on tour and I was like, Okay, here we go.
"Shallow" - Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born Soundtrack (2018)
It's very rare that I write on a song that I don't have to produce as well. We wrote that song in the middle of sessions for [2016's] Joanne, and then Gaga produced the whole Star is Born soundtrack herself. I remember we all had some tingly feelings when we were writing it.
It wasn't meant to be a duet ever. Then Bradley wrote it into the film; it becomes the beginning of their love story. Bradley showed [me a rough cut] at his house, I remember just being like, he's taking this special song [and] made it put its hooks into you. This film, and the story, and the way this song is unfolding is so special.
Then also shout to Lukas Nelson, because that guitar that he came up with that opens the song was not in our demo, and that is such an iconic, memorable part of the song.
The film and the script was really powerful, and I think that me, [co-writers] Andrew [Wyatt], Anthony [Rossomando], Gaga were all in this sort of heartbreak place. We're all just going through our own dramas in the song. The juju was really good and a little spooky in the studio that night.
"Electricity" - Dua Lipa & Silk City feat. Diplo, Mark Ronson, Electricity (2018)
That song just always makes me happy. I don't have a lot of other songs [that sound] like that. I'm always psyched to play that in a set or to go see Diplo play it live.
When I came up DJing in the mid-'90s in New York, if you're a hip-hop DJ you had to be versed in dancehall, old R&B dance classics, and a little bit of house. So I knew 12 house records, but I love those records.
It came out of a fun jam, just me and Diplo — who I'd known probably at that point for 10, 15 years, but we never got in the studio together. He's just firing up drum s— and I'm just playing on this old tack piano that was in the studio I just moved into. But it also sounded quite housey.
We came up with those chords and [singer/songwriter] Diana Gordon came over. I never met her before and she just started freestyling some melodies, and it was just so soulful instantly.
We'd moved the key a little bit lower for Dua — she has this amazing husky voice — but we still left Diana's demo vocal in. She's singing these mumble, non-word melodies that sound like a sample.
We had that old studio where we did Version and all the Amy demos. It has an old-school elevator that was sort of manual and it would always break down. There were people that were just too afraid, like Cathy Dennis — the brilliant songwriter who wrote "Toxic" and "Can't Get You Out of My Head" — she would just always be like, "I'm taking the stairs." We were on the fifth floor and it was a steep, steep walk up. [Editor's note: The music video for "Electricity" features Ronson and Diplo stuck in an elevator. He notes that he's gotten stuck several times in real life.]
"Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" feat. Miley Cyrus, Late Night Feelings (2019)
I was in L.A. working in Sound Factory [Studios], and I had seen Miley a couple years back sing "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" on the "SNL" 40th anniversary; I had never heard her perform with that stripped-down arrangement. I was just so in love with her voice and the tone. I remember hounding my manager, because usually somebody who knows somebody, but Miley Cyrus was completely unreachable and just in another stratosphere.
I was in the studio with [Dap-King] Tommy Brenneck; he's just such a wonderful player, such a soulful touch. We got this thing going, and then Ilsey [Juber] was saying, like, "What about all these things that break, but nothing breaks like a heart?"
[I thought], You know what? I've been trying to hit this girl up for years and nothing ever happened, but let me just try it one more time. I sent it off to Miley, and I guess she was just in a really motivated part of life. She's like, "This is cool. Where are you guys? I'll be there Monday." She came down Monday to the studio, and then her and Illsey wrote the whole rest of the song.
"Break Up Twice" - Lizzo, Special (2022)
[I produced a few other songs on Special], but they didn't make the cut. There's one that I really love called "Are You Mad" that might hopefully see the light of day once.
We spent a lot of time together and I love working with her because she has a really eccentric/ avant garde music taste. Like, the Mars Volta is her favorite-ever band; she's a conservatoire flute player; then she has a strong Prince heritage because she spent time in Minneapolis and she's been to Paisley Park.
The thing that I really love about her is, even at the status that she was at when we were working, there was never anything too silly or too left field to try. It's really freeing when you're with a big artist who isn't afraid to just f— around and jam and make some s— that you know might not be the thing.
"Break Up Twice" was actually an instrumental that we had done at Diamond Mine with [Daptone family] Tommy [Brenneck], Leon [Michels], Victor [Axelrod] and Nick [Movshon]. I just played that, and it instantly spoke to her and she just started freestyling, adding the harmonies and the sax and the vocal arrangements. I just didn't quite know how versatile and talented that she was when we first went in the studio. I just remember constantly being impressed and amazed.
Barbie: The Album (2023)
I'm really proud of the Dom Fike song ["Hey Blondie"], the Sam Smith song ["Man I Am"], [Dua Lipa's] "Dance and Night," of course. Even the Billie [Eilish] song that we did the string arrangement for. I played the tiniest bit of synths on the Nicki [Minaj]i/Ice [Spice] song.
I love this film so much and I did something I've never done before by executive producing and overseeing it. There's so many songs that I had nothing to do with creatively; sometimes I was just doing admin, hounding Tame Impala to send in a demo.
I'm really proud of "I'm Just Ken." Of course Ryan Gosling is a superstar in a different kind of way, but the fact that he's not some superstar pop artist, and the fact that that song has managed to do what it's done….Obviously it's so much to do with the film and his performance, but I'm really proud of that song. I was so inspired by the script. I just instantly had the idea for that line.
There was never anything in the script that said Ryan was going to sing a song. It was just something where Greta [Gerwig] and him really loved the demo, and she loved it enough to write it into the film, which was just so exciting. It was happening in a way that felt wonderful and organic, and to then get Josh Freese and Slash, and Wolf Van Halen to play on it and even bring it to even this next level of sonic fullness.
On TikTok and Instagram, I've seen people singing it; [even] in Spanish, really intense, really earnest covers. We were never trying to write a parody song or anything that wasn't earnest, because there's nothing parody about the film. I guess the chords have a bit of heartbreak in them, a little melancholy, and Ryan's performance is really lovely.
Barbie score (2023)
We worked equally hard or harder [on the score]. It doesn't have quite the same shine because obviously it's not Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Dua Lipa, but it's something Andrew [Wyatt] and I did. A piece called "You Failed Me" — that's during both Barbie and Ken's meltdown in the middle of the film — I'm quite proud of that. I really love the "Meeting Ruth" orchestral interpolation of the Billie tune as well.
I've contributed music to other films and little cues and things like that, but this is the first time that Andrew and I really did a whole movie from start to finish while also doing the soundtrack.
It's incredibly humbling, too, because when you make a song for someone's album, you're working. It's certainly the most important thing that's happening. In a film, it could be the second most important thing. You could sometimes say it's the third most important thing after dialogue and the sound effects. All that's programmed into your mind about hooks and things like that it's like, No, actually sometimes get the f— out of the way and just provide a lovely emotional texture for things to sit under things.
The thing that I guess is universal is you're reacting to an emotion. Especially if it's a film that you really feel emotionally partial to, you're watching this wonderful performance on screen and how could you not be inspired by that? We're so spoiled to have this as our first film where we're reacting to the emotional heart of this film, which is so rich.