Producer behind fun. takes center stage at Grammys
This Dec. 14, 2012 photo shows American music producer Jeff Bhasker poses for a portrait in New York. Bhasker is nominated for four Grammy Awards, including non-classical producer of the year, album of the year for producing fun.'s "Some Nights" as well as record and song of the year for his work on fun.'s No. 1 hit, "We Are Young." Bhasker has also written and produced for Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Drake, Bruno Mars, Lana Del Rey and Alicia Keys. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK (AP) — When music producer Jeff Bhasker — the mastermind behind fun.'s breakthrough — had thoughts of becoming a musician, the high school student in the jazz band figured he would play keyboard for a talented singer looking to carve a space in the musical universe.
"In the jazz world you become a side man, say with like Miles Davis. You become Miles Davis' keyboard player and then you learn from Miles, and then you have your own group," he explained.
The eager musician was hoping to have a breakthrough like Herbie Hancock did with Davis. And Bhasker did — but with Kanye West.
The Berklee College of Music graduate began playing piano for the multiplatinum rapper in 2008. And then he became West's musical director. And then the two went into the recording studio.
"I learned so much from being around that moment and grabbing on to the rocket. It happened really fast," said Bhasker, who produced several tracks on West's albums, "808's & Heartbreak" and "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
And in between those West records, Bhasker's name — and drum-filled sound — popped up on credible liner notes: He produced for Alicia Keys. And Jay-Z. And Beyonce. And Bruno Mars.
And now the producer is really having fun — thanks to the band fun.
Crafting anthemic jams like "We Are Young" and "Some Nights" for the New York-based trio — who released their underwhelming debut in 2009 — not only made fun. a household name, it made Bhasker even bigger. Now the hitmaker is nominated for four Grammy Awards, including non-classical producer of the year and album of the year for helming all 11 tracks on fun.'s sophomore release, "Some Nights."
"First and foremost, it's about hearing for him. He's not out to make a quick buck," said Nate Ruess, the lead singer of fun. "You meet a lot of producers, especially in the pop world, where they don't have any emotional attachment to the music. I've even sat in like writing sessions with people where it's just lifeless, and Jeff is the exact opposite. He brings emotion. He only wants to do things that move him."
The Grammys stage isn't unfamiliar to Bhasker — he's already won two trophies for best rap song in 2009 and 2011 for co-writing Jay-Z's "Run This Town" and West's "All of the Lights." This year, he's also nominated for record and song of the year for his work on fun.'s No. 1 hit "We Are Young." The band earned six nominations — including best new artist — and are tied for most nominations at the Feb. 10 awards show.
"The whole time we were making the album I really, every day I was saying, 'We're making album of the year,'" Bhasker said of producing "Some Nights."
Ruess said he recruited Bhasker to executive produce his band's entire album because of the producer's impressive resume and style. Bhasker helped usher in West's Auto-Tune-flavored, melodic and synth-pop sound in 2008, co-producing songs like "Love Lockdown" and "Paranoid." Months after fun. released its album, Taylor Swift worked with Bhasker on two songs for her best-selling "Red" album, which takes the singer even further from her country roots to pop domination.
Oh, and the Rolling Stones called Bhasker, too.
"It's so tricky because you don't want to mess with the Rolling Stones and the essence of what they do," said Bhasker, who produced "radio mixes" of the band's new jams, "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot." ''But I tried to bring a little bit of a contemporary twist to it."