April 5, 2012


Exclusive: A-Trak Speaks on Converse Song with Foster the People, Kimbra

Last week, we told you about "Warrior," the latest in Converse's "Three Artists. One Song" series featuring DJ/producer A-Trak, vocalist Kimbra and Foster the People frontman Mark Foster. We had some info, but with Thursday's release of the song and its lucha libre-inspired video, we hopped on the phone with A-Trak to get the official story on the collabo.

The roots of "Warrior," which hews closer to the bouncy synth-pop of A-Trak's brother's band Chromeo than any of the creators' past work, go back to the GRAMMYs, where the producer met Foster after a series of phone calls about the project. The duo went into Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn the last week of February to lay down basic tracks, looping in Kimbra at every stage via phone and e-mail. The trio ultimately worked on the track on four continents and over 20 different countries -- behold, the power of the Internet! A-Trak fills us in on the details.

How did you link up with Kimbra and Mark?

Mark and I were contacted [by Converse], but we had a say in choosing Kimbra. It was some sort of conversation that led to both myself and Mark being asked, "Hey, would you want to do a song with each other?" We had to pick a singer and Kimbra's name was in the mix right from the start. We were pretty excited to work with her.

Were you already familiar with her work?

I first heard the Gotye song ["Somebody That I Used to Know," featuring Kimbra] before it made its way to America. I was in Australia last fall and it was already huge there, but it hadn't topped the charts in the rest of the world yet. I heard a few of her other songs and when I actually met her, I was surprised at how much of my work she knew as well. She was naming remixes I did years ago. I was like, "Oh wow."

Were all three of you able to record in the same room or was it a lot of e-mailing?

It was a combination. It started with Mark and I linking up at Converse Rubber Tracks, which is right in my neighborhood. We got together for three days. I was moving [to New York] that week, so I'd be moving during the day and then go to the studio with Mark in the evening for a couple of hours. Kimbra was somewhere on the other side of the world, so we made the music. When you look at where Kimbra, Mark and I were in March, it's crazy. Between North America, Europe, Australia, each one of us would add little bits and pieces to the song wherever we went. It was a total 21st century, e-mail-the-session-back-and-forth thing over distant continents.

Was there a plan going into the studio?

We came into it without any preparation whatsoever. We both spoke the week before and I was like, "Oh yeah, I'll start some drums" and he was like, "I'll start a couple of melodic things" and then we both showed up like, "Yeah, I got nothing." We were both touring like crazy. Mark's an immensely talented musician and songwriter and our areas of expertise are pretty complementary. I'm quite beat-driven and focus on programming and he's a full musician guy. He played all the melodies and wrote the hook. It was a lot of fun to bounce the ball back and forth; we were literally switching chairs in the studio like, "You go in. Okay, now you go in."

How different is that from how you normally work?

I don't do a lot of sessions. Some guys do the whole session thing, but that's not really my thing. I produce my own music or I do remixes for other artists that I do by myself. Or if I do a song with a vocalist, I'll make the whole beat and send to the vocalist so they can record on top of it. It's very rare that I go into a studio to start something from scratch with another collaborator on some "blind date tip."

Were you nervous or apprehensive about the project?

Not really. I know that Mark's good and I know my strengths and limitations. Those two things are equally important. You have to be honest about what you don't know how to do. I knew form hearing his music that whatever my limitations are, he would compensate for that. I knew it would gel one way or another.

What do you see as your limitations?

My limitations are in terms of advanced songwriting, like writing a strong hook with all the arrangements harmonically that go into that. I can write a melody. I can write a bass line. But the harmonics that go into writing a full pop song, that's not my expertise. I'm a beat guy, but I'm also a vision guy. I know how I want something to sound and what's cool and not cool to me. But on the straight up musical side, can I go and lay down the perfect chords for a vocal? I'm not the best at that, but Mark is.

How close was the initial track to the finished version?

It definitely stayed in line with the demo that we made at Rubber Tracks. We fleshed out a demo that was already rather complete, but it barely had any vocals. It was like half a chorus and no verses. And then Kimbra came in and she nailed it. She filled out the hook, added another layer to the chorus and did all the verses. It gave the song a purpose and theme. Then we entered the phase of e-mailing bits to each other on different continents over the next couple of weeks.

How would you describe the song?

I would say it's the best song ever since the creation of man. It's the culmination of Western and Eastern civilization [laughs].

Watch "Warrior" above or head over to Journeys to download the track. Let us know what you think in the comments!