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THE GRAMMY CONVERSATIONS: CIRKUT

Interview by Michelle Santosuosso

As a writer/producer, Canadian-bred Cirkut’s phenomenal successes include Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” Maroon 5’s “Sugar” and Pitbull f/Kesha’s “Timber.” He’s also worked with RihannaNicki MinajOne DirectionFlo RidaShakira and other superstars. But he jumped to a new level of recognition for his heavy involvement in The Weeknd’s Starboy set. The two-time Grammy nominee has also received the Juno Jack Richardson Producer of the Year Award. We’re glad that dealing with us didn’t cause him to short-circuit. 

Behind the scenes, you’re considered “best in class” at finishing a record. What does that mean?
I kind of get inside the artists’ heads, figure out what they’re looking for and really try to shape that sound. When I’m finishing records, I have an advantage because I can come at it objectively and see what they were trying to achieve, and then actually make that happen.  

You’re polishing it for the final vision. 
Yeah, but in varying degrees. Sometimes I might strip the entire production and redo it; other times I might just improve on what’s already there and bring it home. But for Starboy, I worked on that song and was brought in midway through the album when a lot of the writing had been done. I’ve known Abel since 2010—I’m from Toronto as well, and I knew him from the House of Balloons mixtape that first came out when he was basically unknown. At first, I just did one song, “High for This,” that was on that mixtape.

That was the first song that broke him! The “High for This” sync on HBO’s Entourage is the moment that got everybody talking about The Weeknd. 
That was a huge part of it. I was a part of the very genesis of it, and I also introduced Abel to Doc McKinney and IllAngelo, and a lot of the core team. I was very much a part of that at the beginning, and several years went by; when we reconnected for “Starboy,” he really trusted it, since I was a part of that initial movement creating his sound. I came in and shaped the overall cohesiveness and sound of the record, and it was a great experience. 

An incredible effort. So, every musical collaboration has its own way of manifesting. What’s your favorite way to work as a producer? 
I wouldn’t say there’s one favorite way, but honestly, sometimes, even if it’s kind of selfish, I love being by myself and coming up with crazy track ideas. I don’t have any outside influence; it’s more like, “I’m going to do some crazy shit and see what happens.” Oftentimes, it’s when I do some of my best work. But I think the most satisfying thing is bringing a record from an incomplete stage to a finished product and listening back and thinking, “Wow, that’s awesome.”

“I love being by myself and coming up with crazy track ideas. I don’t have any outside influence; it’s more like, ‘I’m going to do some crazy shit and see what happens.’”

What’s next in the queue?
I’m in touch with Abel and we’ll be working on some new music. I just did a record with Maroon 5 called “Girls Like You” that was one of the quickest turnarounds for a song ever. I did a session and the very next day we had Adam Levine on and it made the album. And I’ve really been focusing a lot on my artist Ava Max—an amazing talent, voice and personality. I did a joint thing with Atlantic APG and Mike Caren over there, and am working on her single and project. 

Now we’re in Grammy season, and your name is certainly in the conversation for nominations; what sort of significance would being nominated hold for you personally?
It would be an honor. It’s symbolic of everything I’ve done in my whole life and my career. Even though I’m nowhere near done, I’m 31 now. I was nominated once for Song of the Year with “Roar” and that didn’t get the win, but it was definitely a huge deal! It always feels good to be recognized for your work. 

It’s nice to see you get some shine—you’re not the dude shouting out your own name on the track. That’s a different breed of producer. 
Thank you. I always believe in being humble. I’m not too loud or crazy, but I prefer to be that way.

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