Producer, multi-instrumentalist, DJ and songwriter BURNS co-wrote and co-produced eight of the tracks on Lady Gaga’s highly-acclaimed album, Chromatica, including mega-hit “Rain On Me (feat. Ariana Grande),” “Sine From Above (feat. Elton John) and “Enigma.” BURNS was brought onto the project by Lady Gaga’s long-term executive producer Bloodpop with the goal of utilizing BURNS’ extensive knowledge of dance music to give Chromatica a classic dance and pop sound. BURN’s previous work includes penning massive hits “Midas Touch” for Ellie Goulding, “Make Me” for Britney Spears (feat. G-Eazy), “All The Things” for Pitbull (feat. INNA), as well as working with acclaimed artists such as Calvin Harris, Lana Del Rey, Charlie XCX and Rihanna. Indeed, BURNS boasts quite an illustrious career to date. He took the time to share with Forbes the specific dance influences and reference points in the songs he wrote for Chromatica, his creative process and more.
Lisa Kocay: Can you describe your sound in three words?
BURNS: “It’s a tough one because I think as a producer that makes music for other artists it’s part of your job to almost have no particular sound. If we’re talking about BURNS as an artist, though, I’d say authentic dance music.”
Kocay: You co-wrote and co-produced eight of the singles on Lady Gaga’s Chromatica. Can you explain the specific dance influences and reference points in the songs that you wrote for the album?
BURNS: “It’s kind of been a dream of mine for a while to be able to work on an artist project that I could have the freedom on to reference the music that inspired me to become a producer in the first place. As a young kid growing up in the Midlands, I was exposed to house music at an early age. In the ‘90s in the United Kingdom, there were a lot of electronic acts breaking through, so you would hear stuff like Black Box, The Beloved, SNAP!, CeCe Peniston, etc. all over daytime radio. It was kind of an era where acid house was crossing over into the mainstream, and that was really embedded in my mind since my mum was a big fan of dance music.
“I went back through all of those records when we were making this album, studying the techniques and sounds, trying to figure out ways to bring them into 2020 and still have it translate. I also listened to a lot of the dance music that broke through in Europe during the early 2000’s when I actually began making music—lots of the French crossover records/big house records that ended up on UK radio after coming up from the club scene. Those two eras to me are what influenced everything I was doing on this project. ‘Rain On Me’ specifically was referencing sonic textures from records like Stardust – ‘Music Sounds Better’ and Roger Sanchez – ‘Another Chance’ from a feeling standpoint. I wanted it to have that same energy and feel classic but modern at the same time. ‘Babylon’ is more of a reference to the ‘90s, so we used an old Roland 909 drum machine and old keyboards like the Korg M1 piano and the Roland SH101 to really bring that energy to it, referencing stuff like 808 State, Future Sound Of London and The Beloved. I wanted everything to feel timeless in a sense and to avoid any cliches or trends in current music, and just focus on authenticity and what dance music really means to me as a producer who grew up during the peak of it all.”
Kocay: Your work veers between electronic expanse, hip-hop and pop. Where does your inspiration stem from?
BURNS: “Like I said before, it’s important to me to be diverse. I think if your goals involve producing for multiple artists from multiple scenes, you cannot limit yourself to only knowing about one style of music. That’s an important thing for any producer though, in my opinion. You have to have knowledge of music in general to be a great producer. I made a point of studying as much music as possible and having a broad soundscape. Dance/house music is my comfort zone, though.”
Kocay: What’s your creative process like?
BURNS: “It varies depending on the environment and what type of project it is really—sometimes you have less freedom than others. The Gaga project was great for me because I was working closely with my friend Bloodpop, and we had a great understanding and common goal for everything. That meant that I had more freedom to try stuff out and really dive into old references and techniques because we were both aiming at this overall authentic sound. Generally, I like to listen to old records for inspiration, though—music is very much a revolving thing. It keeps turning and eventually things come back that have already been considered popular and then they go away again for a while, if that makes sense. So with the Gaga record, we were all in agreement that it was time for dance music to have its place again in popular music, which became our goal. It felt like it was time for the world to dance again in general.”
Kocay: Do you remember the first piece of music you purchased? If so, what was it?
BURNS: “I remember the first thing I bought on a CD was a house music compilation from Ibiza airport. I think it was a Pacha CD. My family and I used to go there on holiday when I was young, and I remember begging my parents to buy me a CD from the airport on the way home. That and I also remember buying Craig David and Artful Dodger – ‘Rewind’ on CD, too, around a similar time.”
Kocay: How did you initially get into producing?
BURNS: “I always had an obsession with dance music from an early age and my parents are big music fans—my mum always listened to house records from as far back as I can remember. I don’t know why, but when I was around 12 or 13 my parents bought me music production software for my PC called ‘ejay,’ and I just became obsessed with trying to make records. I would study how songs were arranged and then just try to copy that with the software. It was very basic sample based software, but that’s definitely what started the production path for me.”
Kocay: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
BURNS: “Having a Billboard US and UK official No. 1 record with ‘Rain On Me’ and No. 1 album with Chromatica has to be the highlight so far, obviously. Having a No. 1 record at some point for a producer is really a peak goal for a lot of people I think, so achieving that this year is extremely surreal. I’ve worked with a lot of incredible artists and writers, too, and I’m just extremely thankful that I get to be able to do this as a job. It’s pretty wild.”
Kocay: When we’re not living in a socially distanced world, what do you like to do for fun?
BURNS: “I think just generally going out and socializing with friends is something I’ve really missed as I’m sure everyone else has. You realize that it’s the small things that really matter when you’re shut off from the world for a while. In some ways, it’s been positive for my life and has made me appreciate things that I may not have as much before. Just getting to go meet a friend for a coffee is a real blessing.”
Kocay: Have you taken up any new hobbies in quarantine?
BURNS: “I started painting, which is something I’ve done on and off my whole life really, but it’s been nice to get back into that a little to break from music.”
Kocay: Is there anything else you think I should know?
BURNS: “Black Lives Matter. Kindness rules.”
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