HITS Daily Double


You’ve had great success over the last year-plus; what, if anything, has changed for you in the wake of this greater visibility?

Although the success of “Uptown Funk!” and the album has been amazing, not too much has changed in my everyday life—which I’m thankful for in a way. I can still ride the subway in NYC and usually only get stopped by music school students. At the beginning of the year, I was doing an interview for AP. While he was shooting me, the photographer told me that his wife had asked him who he was going to be photographing that day—to which he replied, “Um, the white guy from the Bruno Mars video.” That sums it up in a way. I’m very happy having that level of recognition.

It used to be that hearing your song on the radio for the first time was a signal that you have a shot at having a hit. What was the moment when you got a sense “Uptown Funk!” was primed to break?
Hearing it on Z100 while riding in a NYC taxi cab was a benchmark experience, seeing [as how] I spent my entire childhood listening to the Z Morning Zoo during the school run. Sitting in Ryan Seacrest’s house taping his radio show with him...Taping SNL with Bruno and the band...this year was filled with a lot of surreal moments, things I never imagined would happen to me.

In making Uptown Special, what came easily and what element was the hardest to deal with?
The spark of the ideas usually come easily—especially when you’re jamming around on instruments with talented and amazing people that you share a lot of common ground with, musically. People like Andrew Wyatt, Jeff Bhasker, Emile Haynie, Kevin Parker, Bruno, etc...It’s trying to take the seeds of these ideas and shape them into actual songs with hooks, middle eights, bridges, etc... that’s usually where the hard work comes in.

Who played the biggest role in helping you define your sound on the record, and what did they do for you?
Jeff Bhasker had the biggest influence on me, he was there throughout the whole thing. Emile Haynie added all the interesting textures that kept it from sounding too “ organic”—which can happen when you’re using a lot of live instrumentation. Bruno had a massive role in shaping the sound of “Uptown Funk!,” down to the reverse-clap sample.

Who are your biggest influences, and what did you take from each?
Stevie Wonder, primarily. I learned the most about music from teaching myself his tunes from the ’70s. Donald Fagen as well. I learned most of what I know about chords from studying those guys. Then for production, it’s Quincy [Jones] all the way. For beats, it’s DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Pete Rock.

After producing for others, what changed when it came time to create music knowing your name would be front and center?
I put the same amount of blood, sweat and tears into other people’s records as my own. If you’re passionate about a piece of music, you’re going to put everything you have into it, regardless of whose name is on the front of the album. When I’m making my own albums, however, I can really indulge some of my musical loves that wouldn’t necessarily fit on someone else’s album, like asking Michael Chabon to write the lyrics. He’s writing tons of pop tunes now with Greg Kurstin and some others, so I guess it’s not going to be such an anomaly anymore.