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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: FINNEAS On Billie Eilish & "Doing Production That No One's Ever Done Before"

FINNEAS

Photo by Luke Fenstemaker

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: FINNEAS On Billie Eilish & "Doing Production That No One's Ever Done Before"

The L.A. super-producer, up for five golden gramophones, also lists his soundboard inspirations and what he feels makes for a successful collaboration

GRAMMYs/Jan 15, 2020 - 10:19 pm

If you followed L.A. pop wunderkind Billie Eilish's exploding career over the last few years, you no doubt are also familiar with her super-producer brother, Finneas O'Connell, who goes by the stage name FINNEAS.

The 22-year-old, who produced all of Eilish's haunting bedroom-pop debut WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? from the comfort of his own tiny childhood room in Highland Park, is also on a collision course with the upper echelons of fame. Since the enormous success of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP..., not to mention its preceding singles and Eilish's 2017 EP, Don't Smile At Me, FINNEAS has become an industry household name, with five 2020 GRAMMY nominations (including Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical), high-profile collaborations with established pop royalty (he produced Selena Gomez's "Lose You To Love Me" and two tracks on Camila Cabello's latest album, Romance) and a burgeoning solo career all of his own, having released his first EP, Blood Harmony, in October. And that's all on top of being the youngest person to be nominated for Producer Of The Year since Lauryn Hill, who was 23 when she was nominated for The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill in 1998.

If the swarm of attention has affected FINNEAS, you wouldn't know it. When we hop on the phone to talk about his and Billie's first-ever GRAMMY nominations, he's casually out walking his dog, Peaches. When asked about his hyper-minimalist production style, where most of Eilish's songs sound near-whispered against a series of spare, tip-toeing beats, FINNEAS just says that he's not afraid of a little empty space. His main goal, ultimately, is to place the artist's vocal front and center. "It's like a room with furniture," he says. "To me, my favorite bedrooms just have a bed in them, you know what I mean? Like, you don't need lights, 16 pillows and, you know, armchairs and sh*t. You could just have a bed."

In the lead up to his and Eilish's first time at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards, happening on Sunday, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS, FINNEAS told the Recording Academy a bit about his reaction to earning five GRAMMY nods, his favorite past GRAMMY moments and why he doesn't necessarily want to work with his favorite artists.

Congrats on all of your nominations! Where were you when you heard you were nominated?

I was asleep the second they came out, but I did wake up quite early. I woke up at like 6:45 a.m. and was like, 'Oh God, Oh my God, they're out." I've described it to people as like, the same feeling as like falling asleep on Christmas Eve except for like you might wake up and have no prep. That's kind of the line.

At what point did you connect with Billie to tell her?

I called my mom like, "You guys get Billie" and mom was like, "Billie's still asleep." I called Billie back later.

To what extent do your nominations feel validating? You recorded WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? in your bedroom. I expect the industry Powers That Be were eager to get Billie in a giant studio with a bunch of big-name producers.

Well, you know, we were doing okay before the album. We had an EP [2017's Don't Smile At Me] that did pretty well and we were going on tours, and so we were feeling really good about ourselves. There were really great producers that were interested in working with us. And that was appealing to us because we love so much music and sometimes the producer would reach out and they would have made music that we loved in our childhood. And it's like, "Oh my God, we should meet with them." Truth be told we were open to it but every time we would work with other producers and other songwriters on our stuff, it just was never very good. It just didn't work very well. And whenever we worked alone, we made all the stuff that we were proud of, that we're excited about.

And I think the GRAMMYs, I couldn't feel more honored and it couldn't be more meaningful to me because it's such a celebration of the actual creative process. And I think the other cool thing that I feel very proud of, it's like, you know, very rarely now are producers doing entire records or even entire songs. Like, [there will be] two or three different producers for a song, 20 producers on the album, and Billie had only one. And I'm very proud of that. I'm really proud that it's just me and her figuring it all out, making sure it was exactly how we wanted it to be. That made me feel really good.

I think that's really true. In the past, you could directly attribute popular albums to one producer. And today, popular albums feature a mixed bag of sounds and personalities.

All the albums that I grew up listening to were produced by one person. One producer and now it's like dozens of producers on each record, you know?

Totally. But then on the other hand, we’re living in a time where albums don’t necessarily need to sound cohesive to be marketable. The end goal, from an industry perspective, is to get individual tracks on whatever Spotify or YouTube playlist is trending.

Well, Billie and I like eclectic music. Like, our records have a lot of mix. I think it's more like, if you do an album with 12 different producers, you're going to sound like someone else's album because those 12 different producers are going to do other people's records too. That always puts me out, you know?

That makes a lot of sense. Well, speaking of other peoples' records, now you've worked on "Lose You To Love Me" with Selena Gomez and "Used To This" and "First Man" with Camila Cabello. What do you look for when considering working with different artists?

I usually let it just be really natural. Like if an artist makes something that I love, I'll just reach out to them, and say like "I love your music." And then if they like what I do, they write back and say they're fans. Then we'll make something together. But I'm not very, like, thirsty. Like I don't try to work with artists because I think it would be a good career opportunity. I only want to work with people that make music that I love, like Camila, I truly love her first record. I just thought it was so cool and I thought, I just wanted to make an album with that artist. I saw her play live and I was blown away. I just thought she was a true pop star.

What makes a true pop star, in your opinion?

I think people who feel like they have something to say to me and people who have a really unique thing about them, whether it's a unique voice or a unique opinion, or unique life story, you know? Just something that really pulled me into them and makes me feel like they're telling a story that I want to listen to. 

One thing that stands out about WHEN WE ALL GO TO SLEEP is that, unlike so many of its peers, it’s the sort of record that sounds best in headphones. Is your production minimalism influenced by anyone?

Well, I mean there are so many producers that inspire me. I used to try to imitate production by certain people. And now I'm only interested in doing the opposite of that. I'm only interested in doing production that like no one's ever done before.

But yes, [I love] Kanye West, Timbaland, Rob Cavallo. So many producers are so good but I’m only interested in carving out my own thing, which seems to be the minimalist approach of making room for every element. You know, it's funny like talking a lot about me being a minimalist producer and really like there's a lot of layers but they're all out of the way of the vocal. I'm mostly just trying to make so much room for the vocal.

Yeah, I get the sense that many producers get nervous about unfilled space, if you will. Kind of like when you’re having a conversation with a quiet person and you automatically feel like you need to talk a little too much.

Totally. People are just trying to fill up the whole thing. Like it's a room with furniture. To me, my favorite bedrooms just have a bed in them, you know what I mean? Like, you don't need lights, 16 pillows and, you know, armchairs and sh*t. Like you could just have a bed.

So, I imagine all of this GRAMMY recognition has put you on a lot of artists' collab wish lists. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to? Who's on your wish list?

I don't actually have one anymore. I used to but I don't have one anymore. I feel like the thing that I've learned a lot is when you're involved in something, you don't always get to appreciate it for what it is as much. You're focused on the details and how you can make it better. It's kind of torture. I felt really lucky in that I've gotten to know some of my favorite artists; I get to tell them how important they are to me. But that doesn't always make me want to work with people. I feel like if I'm going to work with somebody, it's because I feel like I actually have something to add to them. Like, I don't have anything to add to Paul McCartney. You know what I mean? It's Paul McCartney, he's doing fine. I'm happy to just be a fan and go to the concert.

How do you envision splitting your time between working with artists and developing your solo work?

Well, I work with other artists sort of seldom, I'll do like a couple days a month with other artists. I try to be really careful about them. And then I work on Billie's stuff whenever she wants to. Whenever she's inspired, whenever she has something to say, whenever we're trying to finish something, I work on her stuff. And then whenever she doesn't have time or she's done a photoshoot or she's burnt out, feeling uninspired, I'll go work on my own stuff. 

You and Billie have talked a lot about watching the GRAMMYs from your living room at home in previous years. What was one of your favorite GRAMMY moments?

Man, every time Bruno Mars has ever performed, I've been so into it. There was that one performance several years ago that was Lil Wayne and Drake and Eminem and I remember just watching that and my head exploding.

Keep up to date on all the latest 2020 GRAMMY performers, presenters and host news here, and be sure to tune in to the 62nd GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, and broadcasting live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards