Exclusive: Producer/Songwriter Jeff Bhasker Conquers Rap, Pop, R&B, and Country

Jeff Bhasker. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Jeff Bhasker. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

“I’m driven to work with very unique and vulnerable singers with amazing voices and perspectives,” Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Jeff Bhasker tells MusicRow via phone from California. “I love mixing genres and defying a genre.”

MusicRow caught up with Bhasker weeks before his Grammy win for 2016 Producer of the Year on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016.

Bhasker has carved a high-powered career out of the diversity of musical genres he’s worked in, with names including Alicia Keys, Drake, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Pink, Ed Sheeranfun., Bruno Mars and country newcomer Cam peppering his resume. Bhasker has previously earned three Grammy wins for his work with fun. and West.

Ronson’s infectious pop-soul hit from early 2015, “Uptown Funk,” is the result of an approximately nine-month process of re-writing lyrics, and revamping melodies and production elements. Bhasker co-wrote the song with Ronson, Mars, and Philip Lawrence. “It took two minutes to create the first 16 bars, and then nine months to complete it and bring it to where we felt it needed to be,” said Bhasker. “Because the song was so great in the first 20 seconds, it was like, ‘How do we top that by the time we get to the chorus?’ So you’ve got something that is like a 10 and now you need something that is like a 10.5 and you need to fill in the gaps perfectly to get there. It sucks when you have a great idea but no chorus, because when you get to the chorus, it better not let you down. Putting all those pieces together was like a Rubik’s Cube.”

The struggle paid off; “Uptown Funk” topped the Nielsen Soundscan rankings.

Bhasker brought that same tenacity and passion to his work with country newcomer (and MusicRow 2016 Next Big Thing artist) Cam. Bhasker was introduced to Cam’s talent both as a songwriter and artist while she was working with songwriter-producer Tyler Johnson. “They were working on music for the current album, and they worked on music at my studio,” says Bhasker. “I had seen them perform live, and I was like, ‘Wow, she has an amazing voice, and these songs are great.’ While they were working on new music, I would give some comments and critiques and they kind of kept taking that in and improving the songs. I really challenged them to make the music bulletproof and was really nitpicky about everything. After a while, there was nothing left for me to nitpick.”

Bhasker signed Cam to a development deal under his independent company KRAVENWORKS, working with her on songs and recordings, and introducing her to labels. Cam would go on to sign with Arista Nashville/RCA Records and release the 11-track album Untamed. Bhasker co-wrote and produced Cam‘s single “Burning House,” which was nominated for a Grammy this year in the Best Country Solo Performance category. “I wanted to take the step of signing an artist,” he says. “I had never dreamed it would be a country artist. I was just so impressed with her voice, their songwriting and just the energy of the whole project that I asked her to sign with me and we eventually wound up at RCA.”

“Burning House,” a somber ballad free from layers of production, is a departure from the sound country radio has embraced in the past several years. “We definitely took radio into account,” says Bhasker. “But I think, in any genre, if the song is great and the vocal is great, it’s going to win. I had to study the sound of country radio a bit. We almost under-produced [“Burning House”] and let her voice and the song do the talking. That was the way to go for me. We tried adding more and more stuff to it, but then we just said, ‘Let’s strip it back all the way.’

“Over the years, I learned that less is more,” he continues. “It makes things sound bigger and more epic when there is space for the important parts to exist. I always want the artist to shine through. I never want anyone to hide behind the production.”

Though Cam was Bhasker’s first signing, he had previously worked with another country-tinged singer-songwriter. Bhasker produced the songs “Holy Ground” and “The Lucky One” for Taylor Swift’s 2012 album Red.

He recalls, “She showed up to my little studio in Venice with her guitar and sat down and said, ‘I wrote this song [“The Lucky One”] and I want you to produce it.’ She played it sitting on my couch and blew me away. When you find an artist that can just present a song in its entirety that’s perfect, it’s like, ‘Ok, let’s work from here and let me add something that’s from my world onto it.’ But you only need like…two cool things and you’re golden. I’m really proud of those songs.”

As for future work, Bhasker’s love of unique performers leaves him open to the possibility of working more in the country field. “It definitely opened up a world to me that I hadn’t been exposed to,” he continues. “I hold in high regard the tradition of songwriting and musicianship that comes from Nashville and country music. It’s a special American tradition that I had a lot of fun digging into. I always try to learn something from music, and what it means in the context of musical history.”

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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