Jeff Bhasker’s Amazing Year

Mar 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Bud Scoppa


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With its brisk verses and measured choruses, “We Are Young” inverts the dynamic of so many recent EDM-based pop records, which progressively build the intensity in the pre-chorus with synths that sound like air raid sirens, setting up the requisite double-time chorus explosion. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons “We Are Young” sounded so fresh on the radio. “And it has a stellar hook—giving you something,” Bhasker points out.

There’s a similarly intriguing wrinkle on the follow-up smash, “Some Nights,” which for the most part consists of little more than an overdubbed choir against a supercharged martial beat, most dramatically displayed in the whoa-oh choruses. This combination of apparent melodic sparseness and pumped-up rhythmic muscle has enabled the track to fit comfortably alongside such alt-folk crossover hits as the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” and Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks,” despite the fact that it’s coming from a far glossier idiom, more spandex than flannel.

“I consciously tried to check all the boxes,” Bhasker says, “not to prove a point but because I heard it in the music. That’s another thing I learned from Kanye. You want to be able to play a piece of music in any environment, in your apartment, your car, your club. Not every record can be everything, but it was interesting to have the opportunity to put those two worlds together.”

Bhasker’s indispensable pieces of hardware are his Moog Voyager, Juno-106, Roland MP60 and acoustic piano. “When I’m writing, they’re like my little band,” he says. He also has an ample assortment of mics; typically, he’ll connect a Sony C800 to a Neve or Chandler preamp and a Pultec EQ. But he adjusts his hardware according to the situation. “I use a handheld sometimes, too,” he says. “Dido sang the vocal to ‘Let Us Move On’ into an SM57 in the room with the speakers on—on my couch. Came out great. We tried redoing it. I brought in the best mic I could find, and the quality of the recording was better, but the performance wasn’t as good. It’s about capturing the performance; when the magic happens, you need to be ready to go to work.”

Having just completed his second album with English provocateur Natalia Kills, Bhasker intends to clear the decks and finish the solo album he’s been working on between projects for the last several years. It will bear the alias Billy Kraven, one of a number of stylistic alter egos Bhasker has dreamed up (his hip-hop alias, for example, is U.G.L.Y.). He’s uploaded a number of tracks from the nearly completed album—a loosely narrative song cycle about a G.I. during and after the Iraq War—on his Kravenworks YouTube page; powered by churning hip-hop beats and topped by his rangy, emotive classic-rock-evoking lead vocals, they sound ominous, melancholy and trippy in a Floydian way.

Does he hear himself in his body of work? Is there a Jeff Bhasker sound? “There’s definitely a sonic similarity between all the songs,” he answers. But I’m trying to evolve it, too. I’m always searching for two contrasting things—putting together things that aren’t supposed to go together. Those are always the most exciting things artistically, in any field.”

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