Learn Kanye Westâ€™s Studio Secrets!
Say what you will about Kanye West, but there's no mistaking the MC's genius, off the wall as it sometimes may be. So, of course, when I get the chance to jump on the phone with somebody who actually hunkers down in the studio with him, hell yeah I'm gonna make that call!
Yeezy's main mixer and engineer of choice, Grammy-winner Andrew Dawson (he's also worked on tracks for everyone from Jay-Z to Nas to Rick Ross) just filled me in on what it was like making Mr. West's last record, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which topped nearly every Best of 2010 list (including mine!).
UsMagazine.com: So you obviously worked on Kanye's last album...
Andrew Dawson: Yes -- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy! We started pretty much New Years Eve 2009 into 2010 for six months straight in Hawaii. We kind of just camped out out there and worked at 2 or 3 studios all in the same facility running pretty much around the clock for six months. Different people would come out and collaborate, like Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj, and all the other various people who are on the album. Everybody that came out loved it because they got to chill in Hawaii for a little bit too in addition to working, but I didn't get to chill too much. I pretty much just went back to my condo to shower and change clothes and come back and do it again each day!
US: What's your response to all of the major praise for the album?
AD: I agree, it's a phenomenal album. And the great thing about working on an album like this is that it sets the bar so high for me professionally. That's such a high bar and that's a great thing. You know it's a "keep pushing yourself" kind of thing and I feel like that album was definitely a push.
US: Which track off the album do you think is the best?
AD: My personal favorite has to be "Gorgeous." He laid that one and recorded his vocals early on in the process. And while he was doing it, I just kept listening to it. I was like, 'wow!' I was really catching how lyrically deep this new album was. Each album raises the bar again and when we did that song I was like, 'oh shit -- it's on for this album!'
US: Nicki Minaj's verse on "Monster" was a showstopper. What was it like working with her?
AD: She's really cool. She was just breaking onto the scene then, and she's exploded this last year. She was out in Hawaii, and she had just got on "Young Money" and was relatively new. And for me personally, I don't have any competition with Nicki Minaj but it's a big collaborative process for everybody when they're out there though.
US: On a personal level, what's it like to work with Kanye? Are his antics in the studio as crazy as in front of the media?
AD: I love working with Kanye. He and I obviously have been working together for seven years and if we didn't have a good working relationship it wouldn't have lasted that long. He's really creative and pushes me to do a better job, which makes me better at what I do. My ear has improved over time and what I listen for as an engineer has improved, and it's because Kanye has been really great in helping me, wanting the best... He's really good at wanting the best out of each person.
US: You were obviously working with him through a lot of the stuff that's happened in the past year. What’s your take on the Taylor Swift and Matt Lauer scandals?
AD: I wasn't really involved in either of those. My personal viewpoints don't really matter because it doesn't affect my working relationship with him. Whether he does something with Taylor Swift or Matt Lauer or whatever, it doesn't change our dynamic in the studio. People see a newscast or a blip on the Grammys and that's the way everybody does it. They try to figure out who a person is from 30 seconds of them on TV and that's often times not who they are.
US: You were saying before how when working on this album, you would basically just have time to go back to your condo to shower before heading back to the studio. So was this a sun up to sun down kind of job?
AD: Whenever artists want to work, I am at the mercy of their creative schedule, whether its not leaving the room for a week or if they're gonna go out and watch a movie and chill while I'm kind of hanging out and waiting for them to show up. My job is to be there and to be ready.
US: Is rap music your preferred genre to work in?
AD: My musical tastes span across the board. I love doing everything from rock alternative to hip-hop to pop to house kind of stuff. I catch hell for it sometimes, but I love some of the Backstreet Boys albums and N'Sync. I'm not exactly their target demographic, but I really appreciate the production skills and the production value that went into making those albums and just crafting a beautiful pop hit.
US: Right, right. And is Kanye the number one person that you prefer to work with?
AD: Nah I don't want to say that I have a favorite client because I love all my clients!I definitely like working with Kanye a lot though.
US: What else are you up to these days?
AD: I'm trying to branch out more as a producer and a mixer and get my name out there and known for working on the albums. I have a new facility that I finished putting together, a new studio in Los Angeles. I'm just trying to get my own thing going and keep busy. It's an interesting balance and harmony to try to manage it all!