Benny Blanco Talks Songwriting
Tue, 14 Aug 2012 07:47:06
"You do whatever the music tells you," affirms songwriter extraordinaire Benny Blanco.
It's definitely working for him. His is the pen behind smashes such as Maroon 5's "Payphone" and "Moves Like Jagger", Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls", Gym Class Heroes's "Stereo Hearts", Britney Spears's "Circus", and countless others from all of your favorite artists. He's a veritable one-man hit factory, and he's showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Benny Blanco talks songwriting, storytelling, and so much more.
How do songs begin for you?
You never know how it's going to happen! For me, it always happens at the most inconvenient places. I'll be taking a shower. We just came up with a song while we were in the pool. We were like, "Holy shit!" For two days, we couldn't come up with lyrics, and it hit us when we were drinking and joking around in the pool. Sometimes, a guitar idea comes first. Other times, it will be based off a lyric. You never know. It's creative and temperamental. I first got the idea for "Dynamite" when I was on a treadmill. I recorded it on the little Dictaphone on my brother's cell phone.
Is storytelling an important aspect of it?
It's like this. When someone is listening to a song, they're going to want to relate to it. They want some real life shit. If I tell a story about something I've been through, I guarantee there's at least one other person who has been through the exact same thing. We're not that original [Laughs]. You start with ideas that mean something to you. People will get into it.
You can see the songs as much as you can hear them.
That is so important to me. I blessed to work with amazing songwriters and artists who have great ideas. I collaborate with a lot of people.
How did "Payphone" come about?
I was down in Virginia, and two of my writers Ammar Malik and Daniel Omelio "RoboPop" were kicking it down there as well. They were working on ideas. They started this thing on an organ and sent it over to me. The first thing I head was, "I'm at a payphone". I was like, "Holy fuck, that's ridiculous. We've got to elaborate on that." We tweaked it a little bit. I sent it to my friend Shellback. I was on a train to Boston, and he shot an idea right back. We tweaked it more. When we write songs, the lyrics will be nonsense with the melody at the beginning. We sat on it for a month or so, and it all came together. I was in the studio with Wiz Khalifa. I love it when there's a weird collaboration that doesn't make sense on paper. I said, "Wiz you've got to jump on this track". Five minutes before he showed up, I realized I didn't have a beat for the bridge. So I made the beat really quickly. I want to catch you off guard. When you're listening to it, you have no idea he's going to come in.
What artists shaped you?
I live for music. Luckily, I grew up with really cool parents who have good taste in music. I listened to Prince almost exclusively for a long time. I was listening to The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, and so much more. Then, I got into The Strokes. Now, I listen to Arcade Fire and left-of-center shit like Two Inch Punch. I also grew up on a lot of hip hop. I try to listen to everything.
What's your favorite Benny Blanco song?