Once you’ve worked on Grammy-winning albums from Fun. and Kanye West, chances are you’re going to have a yearning to show the world what you can do without your bold-name friends. But when beats and melodies keep getting cherry-picked for albums by the likes of Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige, well, it can take a while.
That’s what kept happening to in-demand producer Jeff Bhasker as he worked for nearly three years to compile the songs for his upcoming solo debut under the name Billy Kraven.
“It’s basically done, but I always get sidetracked working on other projects, so I have to come back to it in between,” said Bhasker, who shared a Song of the Year honor with Fun. at the Grammys for their smash “We Are Young.”
In between logging time with West, Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift, Snoop Lion, the Rolling Stones, Blige, Kid Cudi, Jay-Z and Drake, Bhasker has been working on his solo album. Along the way, tracks he’d earmarked for the project, such as “I Care,” ended up on Beyoncé’s 4 album.
“My sound is maybe a little more pure version of it,” he said of his take on the Bey song slated to appear on his debut, Born on the Fourth of July, which he plans to release online for free on, yes, July 4th.
“With themes about a solider in Iraq and topic of what they’re going through over there, it’s not overtly patriotic or overly anti-war,” he said about the seemingly heavy sounding subject matter for the pop concept album. “It’s examining their experience … and what they’re asked to do over there because there’s not much of an awareness or protest culture anymore.”
There’s no friend or personal story that inspired the song cycle and Bhasker has no close ties to the military. But he’s an avid news watcher and avowed student of the protest music and films, including, of course, “Born on the Fourth of July.”
“It’s about being an artist and commenting on society and I’m always searching for new subjects,” he said of the album, on which he plays and sings every note. “And there’s only so many love, love love songs you can do. It’s nice when you have an opportunity to explore a new subject.”
Don’t get it twisted, though. Bhasker promises the Fourth of July songs are about love, they just put a unique twist on the age-old topic while, hopefully, inspiring some provocative thought. Another song you might know that could make the final cut is “City on Fire,” which wound up on the European version of Mary J. Blige’s 2009 album Stronger with Each Tear and Keys’ “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart.”
Bhasker, who is slated to work with West soon and hopes to work with Fun. again on their next album, plans to drop Fourth of July like a mixtape this summer.
In the meantime, Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason,” which he produced and co-wrote with the singer and Fun.’s Nate Ruess will drop soon and he’s teamed up again with British singer Natalia Kills on the follow-up to her 2011 album Perfectionist.
“Natalia is so creative and articulate in expressing her vision, it tells the story her life through the whole album,” he said of the disc entitled Trouble. He described the Kills tunes as being more similar to his Kraven songs than the over-the-top pop of Fun., in addition to being some of his best work to date.
The first taste of the new Kills music can be heard on the dark electro thumper “Controversy,” which dropped online in late 2012. He’s also recorded what he described as a pared-down guitar and piano song for the next Lykke Li album, which, ironically for both booming percussion-loving artists, has no beats at all.