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Famous Behind The Scenes, A Hitmaker Covets The Spotlight

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Famous Behind The Scenes, A Hitmaker Covets The Spotlight

Music Articles

Famous Behind The Scenes, A Hitmaker Covets The Spotlight

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And finally this hour, the Grammy Awards are Sunday, and one nominee to watch is a guy named Jeff Bhasker. He's up for best nonclassical producer for his work with the band fun. The band itself is up for best song, record and album of the year, along with best new artist. NPR's Mandalit del Barco caught up with Bhasker at his new apartment in L.A.'s Venice Beach.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: This is something new I'm working on, like, a musical sweep.


BARCO: In the hippest building on what's been called the coolest block in America, Jeff Bhasker is wearing white jeans and a T-shirt, smoking an American Spirit cigarette and sitting at his brand-new piano.

JEFF BHASKER: I just sit down, start playing something, I always have, like, a cool idea.


BHASKER: When I did "Lift Off," it's on the Jay-Z, Kanye West "Watch the Throne," that music just popped out of nowhere too, and it was like, what is that? It's like.


BHASKER: I knew Kanye would love that music, you know? It's like the climax. But that's the good thing about hip-hop and pop music. It should be all climax and then a bigger climax. And then the bridge hits, and that's an even bigger climax, and you're just like, oh, my God, we're going to die.


BEYONCE: (Singing) We gonna take it to the moon, take it to the stars.

BARCO: Bhasker grew up with his piano-playing mother in Socorro, New Mexico, where his father has been mayor for 24 years. After high school jazz band, Bhasker studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and played with a wedding band. New York was next. He arrived there on September 11, 2001.

BHASKER: New York is a tough nut to crack, but at that time, particularly, it's like people kind of didn't want to like help you. They're struggling themselves. And, like, no artists wanted to come to New York to record because it was terrifying. But I learned how to write songs, and I always sat in my basement and worked.

BARCO: He started coming out to L.A. to work with friends, and that led to producing a song on the first album by the Game. He linked up with Bruno Mars to write songs. Then he subbed for the keyboardist on tour with Kanye West and ended up as his music director.

BHASKER: Getting to work on a whole album with someone who has a really strong vision, that really prepared me to, like, take on something like fun. and do something as a whole body of work.

BARCO: Still, Bhasker admits he wasn't exactly excited about working with the new indie band fun.

BHASKER: It kind of took a little prodding for me to say, OK, I'll produce this, like, white rock band, but it ended up being like the best thing I've done so far, you know?


FUN: (Singing) Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck. Some nights, I call it a draw. Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle. Some nights, I wish they'd just fall off.

BARCO: Bhasker ended up writing songs, producing and mixing the entire album "Some Nights." Fun is up for six Grammy Awards. On the road in Oakland, lead singer Nate Ruess says the band was inspired by Bhasker's bravado.

NATE RUESS: Jeff is I don't want to say cocky, but when you're with Jeff, you feel like you have to step up to the precedent that he sets, and you also feel like there's no way that we're going to fail with this guy.

BARCO: Just as with Kanye West, Beyonce and other artists, you can hear Bhasker's influence on fun.'s album. He even got soul singer Janelle Monae to do a cameo.

BHASKER: Rihanna was the first choice just because she was kind of our muse for the album. We had pictures of Rihanna everywhere while we were recording. I wanted it to be, like, accessible to every fan of any genre, hip-hop, rock, classic music.


JANELLE MONAE: (Singing) Carry me home tonight. Just carry me home tonight.

BARCO: Bhasker says he likes to, what he calls, vibe out with artists before working with them. So he played basketball with Kanye West, dined with Alicia Keys and had Taylor Swift sing and play her guitar in his living room.

BHASKER: It's kind of like dating. You kind of just have to say, like, I really like this person. I want to make a baby with them, you know? I want to make a record with them. I want to make music. I want to make a song with them. You feel it pretty quickly.

BARCO: Bhasker is now hard at work with a new singer, Natalia Kills, and he's launching his solo career under the alias Billy Kraven.

BHASKER: I just thought it was, like, a cooler sounding name, and I was making these kind of dark pop songs that kind of suited it. It's kind of like Billy Joel meets Wes Craven.


BARCO: After making so many catchy hits, Bhasker says the world doesn't need one more love song or a song about partying. He wants to do something different.

BHASKER: Leaving behind music that really moves people, that puts a tear in your eye or gets you choked up or makes you really feel something powerful.


BARCO: His upcoming solo album is about soldiers in the Middle East confronting death, but it still has a pop sound and a chorus that sticks in your head.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) I don't want to live in a negative world no more, no more.

BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't want to live in a negative...


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