Mega-Pop Career Fully Established, Diane Warren Is Finally Putting Her Name In Front NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with award-winning songwriter Diane Warren about the release of her debut studio album, The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1.

Mega-Pop Career Fully Established, Diane Warren Is Finally Putting Her Name In Front

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

OK, music fans, here's a question. What do the next three songs have in common? "Un-Break My Heart" by Toni Braxton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UN-BREAK MY HEART")

TONI BRAXTON: (Singing) Un-break my heart. Say you love me again.

SHAPIRO: "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" by Aerosmith.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT TO MISS A THING")

AEROSMITH: (Singing) I don't want to close my eyes. I don't want to...

SHAPIRO: And "I Was Here" by Beyonce.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WAS HERE")

BEYONCE: (Singing) I was here. I lived. I loved.

SHAPIRO: Well, the answer is they were all written by one woman - Diane Warren. She has written some of the greatest hits of several genres, spanning decades, working with artists from Tina Turner to Elton John to Britney Spears. She told me that she has always been most comfortable away from the stage, behind the scenes.

DIANE WARREN: I mean, I just kind of knew, I think, you know, what I would be good at. You know, I wanted to write the songs that artists sang, you know, even when I started out, when I was a kid.

SHAPIRO: Well, today marks a first for Diane Warren. She's out with her debut album called "The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1." But we should clarify - she doesn't actually sing lead vocals on this album. She compared her role to someone like DJ Khaled.

WARREN: It's like I'm DJ Diane. So I'm doing kind of my version of what, you know, a producer DJ does, right? So Mark Ronson or Calvin Harris, people like that that kind of curate a record featuring different artists with, you know, songs they produced or wrote or whatever. You know, this was me kind of doing my version of that, curating an album with, you know, all kinds of different artists. It's kind of a microcosm of my career 'cause I've always been in a lot of different genres of music.

SHAPIRO: You can be such a chameleon as a songwriter and have been your whole career.

WARREN: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And that really does come through on this album with tracks featuring Santana, John Legend, Celine Dion and many more. Can you tell us about the process of writing a song for a person like Celine Dion? Let's listen to this track. It's called "Superwoman."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERWOMAN")

CELINE DION: (Singing) I bruise. I bleed. I'm not a superwoman, can't be your superwoman.

WARREN: I mean, I thought that was something different for Celine. Like, there's something - I've written a lot of songs for her. But I thought - what I love in her voice, there's a soul singer in Celine, you know? Like, she has, like, an Aretha thing in her voice, that kind of gritty soul kind of singer. And I wanted to do a song like that. This wasn't a typical Celine song, at least typical what I've written for her. You know, it's not the big ballad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERWOMAN")

DION: (Singing) Just me, just me. I run hot.

SHAPIRO: To take a completely different example, the song that Ty Dolla $ign sings is called "Drink You Away."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRINK YOU AWAY")

TY DOLLA SIGN: (Singing) Losing my mind thinking about nights, lost up in you. All that we had is all in the past.

SHAPIRO: What kind of head space do you get into to make this work?

WARREN: I just started writing the song and felt really good. I love the song. It was kind of different for me. You know, it's like casting for a movie in a way, right? Like, who would you not expect to sing this song? 'Cause I like to do that, too. I don't want to always go for the obvious. So I was, like, trying to figure out, you know - I really love the song. I wanted it on the record. I was thinking of different artists, and I heard Ty.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRINK YOU AWAY")

TY DOLLA SIGN: (Singing) There's not enough alcohol to drink away, to drink you away.

WARREN: I go, this is kind of outside of what he normally does, and I love his voice. I just thought he'd be really cool on it.

SHAPIRO: Did you write most of these songs for this record? Or is this kind of your back catalog of things that might have never seen the light of day but have been around for a while?

WARREN: Some I wrote for this record. I mean, you know, one of them, the song I call ground zero for this record is John Legend, you know, "Where Is Your Heart."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE IS YOUR HEART")

JOHN LEGEND: (Singing) Yeah, I see you sitting, staring into your coffee cup. Looking at you and you're barely looking up. Oh, I wish I knew what you were thinking. It's like you've got some secret you are keeping.

SHAPIRO: What makes you call this ground zero for the record?

WARREN: Because I did the song with him, you know, and - he came in my office. I played the song. He loved it. We went - he went and recorded it the next day. He goes, I'm putting it on my next album. And to me, it was one of the best things I'd ever heard in my life - you know, song and artist. When he didn't use it, I gave it to another major artist.

SHAPIRO: Who shall not be named.

WARREN: Who won't be named, but he might be on this record.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: OK.

WARREN: And it was supposed to be his single, this other artist's single. And I told John. He goes, no, no, you got to take it back; I want the song. Then he didn't use it again. Then I gave it to somebody else, another major artist. And I told John, and he goes, get it back for me. You can't give that song away; that's my song. Then he didn't use it again. And this is a song that I was so passionate about. I just think it's, like, in my top 10 songs I've ever written. And that performance, I think - I mean, in my opinion, it's the best thing he's ever done (laughter). But that's - it's not an objective opinion because, you know, of course I'm going to think that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE IS YOUR HEART")

LEGEND: (Singing) ...What to say. You're next to me but still a million miles away. Silent, let go of the words unspoken. Still together, yet we're still so broken. You want to go, but it's so hard to take that step.

WARREN: But I was determined. And that's kind of what got me thinking, you know, why can't I take, you know, a song like this and then get other artists I really want to work with and create this body of work, you know, and get it out in the world? I was determined for the world to hear that song.

SHAPIRO: I have to tell you, Diane Warren, hearing this story from you is so reassuring because you are among the most awarded, successful songwriters living today, and the fact that you have something you believe strongly in and feel confident about and still can't get it to fruition is so reassuring for us lesser humans who experience that sort of thing on a regular basis, you know? (Laughter).

WARREN: Well, so you can't give up if you believe in something. And I've just - that's always the secret to my success is, you know, not giving up when I believe.

SHAPIRO: For somebody as experienced and accomplished as you, does having a debut album like this make you nervous? Does it feel different from all of the other things you've gotten accolades for in your career?

WARREN: Yeah, I mean, it is different 'cause it's my name on it. So it's kind of weird. It is kind of weird, I have to say (laughter) because I'm very behind - who I am, I'm very behind the scenes, really. But it's cool, you know? I'm, like, you know, behind the curtain, you know, with this.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

WARREN: But kind of in front of the curtain at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIANE WARREN AND DARIUS RUCKER'S "TIME LIKE THIS")

SHAPIRO: I was curious as I was listening whether there might be any little Easter egg of, like, your voice hidden in one of these tracks somewhere.

WARREN: I think I'm singing backgrounds on the Darius Rucker song.

SHAPIRO: Really?

WARREN: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: It's "Times Like This."

WARREN: Yeah. In the chorus - na-nas (ph).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIMES LIKE THIS")

DARIUS RUCKER: (Singing) Times like this. Na-na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na - let me hear you sing na-na-na-na.

SHAPIRO: The woman who says she's behind the curtain is actually secretly popping up all over the place.

WARREN: Well, pop up - I'm like Alfred Hitchcock with this stuff.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

WARREN: If you blink, you won't know I'm there.

SHAPIRO: That is Diane Warren. She is an Oscar-nominated songwriter. Today she is out with her very own album, "The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1."

Thank you so much for talking with us about it.

WARREN: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIMES LIKE THIS")

RUCKER: (Singing) In times like this, we could all use an angel. In times like this, in times like this, in times this - we could all use somebody.

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