Honoring the creative forces behind the nominees
EACH YEAR, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences recognizes the most influential music-makers of the year through its Grammy Awards. With 78 categories available—including recognition for albums, singles, videos, and multimedia works—the nominations are voted on by the members of the Academy and celebrate a range of artists with styles as diverse as Americana and rap, bluegrass and Classical, gospel and electronica.
As the nominees were gearing up for the 54th annual ceremony (taking place on February 12th), we talked to the producers and engineers behind the year’s biggest projects to get their perspective on the awards.
Kelly Rowland & Lil Wayne “Motivation” (Universal Motown) Nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Rowland’s single from Here I Am was co-written by Rico Love, a Grammy veteran with his work with Beyoncé and Usher. “It’s always a blessing being acknowledged by the Grammys,” says Love. “It’s just like a dream come true.” As with earlier projects, the stars were in alignment when it came to working with Rowland. “I wrote the song, and she jumped right in the booth immediately and cut it. It was amazing. She’s a world of sunshine—always positive; always in a great mood; always ready to sing. So it was easy.”
Ledisi Pieces of Me (Verve Forecast) Ledisi’s thrice-nominated album got its title (and single of the same name) from a last-minute contribution by Grammy-winning songwriter Chuck Harmony, known for his work with Mary J. Blige. “When [Ledisi’s] record label commissioned me, she was pretty much done with the record,” Harmony explains. “But I wanted to give her something really special. I came up with those chords at home, just sitting at my piano. For it to go from that to being her first single and the title of her album, and then to be Grammy nominated, it’s so amazing.” While this isn’t his first nomination, he says it’s his favorite “because it doesn’t seem like a fluke. This time I feel like people on the committee really appreciate what I’m doing.”
Rihanna Loud (Def Jam) The Caribbean-inspired single “Man Down” has its roots in the legendary L.A. writing camp that gave birth to Rihanna’s internationally acclaimed album. Songwriter Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph, who also contributed to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Grammy-nominated Watch the Throne, wanted the song’s vibe to be familiar to Rihanna and to her audience, in terms of where she’s from and the sounds she grew up with. “I felt like she had yet to do something that was as cultural as ‘Man Down’,” notes Joseph. “I thought she’d get the biggest response in terms of a stadium of people if it felt like a reggae song.” Once he fleshed out the music, the lyrical hook sealed the deal. “As soon as the writers said the ‘rum pa pa pum’ part, I knew exactly what that song was going to be.”
The Foo Fighters Wasting Light (RCA/Roswell Records) Generating a whopping seven nominations (including Album of the Year), the Foo Fighters’ seventh studio album was cut to analog tape in Dave Grohl’s home studio. The engineer, James Brown, (whose credits include projects with Nine Inch Nails, Arctic Monkeys, and Jane’s Addiction) says that the team is humbled that their “little homemade record” has garnered so much recognition. “Dave’s home was the most wonderful environment to create in,” says Brown. “It was a pleasure to come to work every day. Plus we had the coolest, most creative, funniest, most handsome, and most fantastically bearded group of people to work with in the history of mankind. We all pretty much agree that we’re spoiled for life now.”
Adele 21 (XL Recordings/Columbia Records) Adele’s sophomore release has garnered eight nominations, and among the list of collaborators is Andrew Scheps, nominated for his role as engineer and mixer in the Album of the Year category. “It’s a really cool feeling to work on something that enough people like that you get nominated,“ Scheps says about 21. “Rick Rubin produced a few of the songs, and I do a lot of mixing for him. So I mixed the tracks and sent them in, expecting a set of notes for recalls and stuff like that. And there were no notes.” Scheps was last nominated for his work on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros.), and he mixed I’m WithYou (Warner Bros.), which is nominated this year for Best Rock Album.
Katy Perry Teenage Dream (Capitol) With potential Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance awards in the queue, the album’s single “Firework” adds two more Grammy nominations to mix engineer Phil Tan’s extensive list. But Tan notes that hits at this level are the result of teamwork. “My role as the mixer is one small part of the process. Writers and producers have to do their job. Artists have to perform. The label, the marketing people, the promo people, the sales force—it’s a big group of people who all have to do their jobs for it to work. And hopefully everyone does their job well. Mine is just one part of it.”
The Decemberists The King Is Dead (Capitol) Although excited about the nominations for The King Is Dead as well as his work on My Morning Jacket’s Circuital (ATO Records), producer Tucker Martine prefers to focus on the craft of recording. “It’s a nice club to be invited into when you’re looking the other way,” he says about the nominations. “Probably the best part about it all is seeing friends get recognized on such a large scale by their peers for doing high-quality, artistic work. The Decemberists and My Morning Jacket albums were made in a barn and in a church, respectively—really cool places to make a record. I think the personality (or lack thereof ) of a place you record finds its way onto the album.”