Think of him as a Swiss Army knife of the music industry. This Los Angelesbased multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer has worked with artists as diverse as Ben Harper, Janes Addiction, Kylie Minogue and Pink. His most recent work includes cowriting songs for and producing Lily Allens latest hit CD, Its Not Me, Its You. I caught up with Kurstin recently to find out what makes this renaissance man tick.
Nic Harcourt: You moved to New York in the late 80s to study jazz, but you discovered a slew of music while you were therewhat was your takeaway? Greg Kurstin: After high school is when I really started listening to a lot of jazzCharles Mingus, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and Miles Davis. Thats when I moved to New York to study with Jaki Byard, who was Mingus pianist. In New York, I listened to a variety of music, such as African and Brazilian and especially hip-hop, which inspired me to get more into drum machines and sampling sounds.
NH: Your first band was Geggy Tah, which had a pretty big hit in 1996 with Whoever You Are. What kind of impact did that have on your career? GK: Whoever You Are was a new experience for me. Having a song being played on the radio was tremendous, but then eventually it wasnt on the radio anymore, so it was back to the drawing board!
NH: When I met you in 2002, you were working as musical director for Beck, as well as for Gwen Stefani. What does a musical director do? GK: Beck needed to rehearse a new band but was in Europe doing a solo tour. I knew his songs, so I rehearsed the band and began working out the arrangementsthats one of the roles of a musical director. With Gwen, they asked me to put together a live band and rehearse them until the songs were ready to be played on tour.
NH: You worked with Inara George, one of my favorite vocalists, in the band The Bird and the Bee. What drew you guys together musically? GK: I played keyboards on Inaras first solo record, as well as in her live sets, where we began to play eerie versions of old jazz standards at the end of the shows. I was doing more producing and writing at my home studio, and we started recording songs together. This eventually became the first Bird and the Bee record.
NH: You have a whole bunch of production credits, including recent albums by Britney Spears and Lily Allen. Whats it like working with artists who are in the news for everything but music? GK: Theres a bit of a racket going on when theyre being chased by the paparazzi on the way to the studio, but once were in the room together, its like working with most artists. Were all just trying to make the best music we can.
NOW HEAR THIS
Artist: Eaststrikewest Track: Stumble Album: Unreleased, myspace.com/eaststrikewestband I was at a conference in Liverpool recently, and somebody handed me this song on a promo CD. Im a sucker for big anthemic indie shoe-gaze pop songs, and this fits the bill on all counts! For Fans Of: Coldplay, U2
Artist: Zee Avi Track: Bitter Heart Album: Zee Avi This Malaysian singer posted a few videos on YouTube and caught the eyes and ears of Shins manager Ian Montone. Her debut album, recorded here in L.A., is a collection of bubbly acoustic songs about boys. For Fans Of: Meiko
Artist: Sonic Youth Track: Sacred Trickster Album: The Eternal Twenty-five years on, and one of indie rocks pioneer bands is still at itand still means it! On this song, Kim Gordon delivers a blistering two-minute jagged commentary about being the girl in the band. For Fans Of: PJ Harvey, Pavement
Artist: Engineers Track: Clean Coloured Wire Album: Three Fact Fader From the U.K. comes the Engineers second full-length release, with a collection of dreamy, layered space pop. This opening track pops with bubbling electronic beats over a slow psychedelic dirge. For Fans Of: Human League, New Order
Artist: Wilco Track: "Everlasting Everything" Album: Wilco Jeff Tweedys band always uses the studio to expand its regular instrumentation. The end trackwith horns and strings and the lyric everlasting love is all you haverounds out the album nicely. For Fans Of: Radiohead, Lucinda Williams
FACE THE MUSIC
Elbow One of Britains most highly lauded bands of the last few years, Elbow has steadily built a touring fan base here in the States with little to no radio airplay. Guy Garvey and his mates create perfect montages in which to get lost. July 22, L.A.: Wiltern Theatre
Philip Glass From film scores and symphonies to collaborations with dancers (Twyla Tharp) and poets (Allen Ginsberg), Glass has created a body of work to rival any of the masters. He's an iconand lets face it, how often can you picnic with an icon? July 23, L.A.: Hollywood Bowl
Lykke Li For a country as small as Sweden, theres sure a lot of indie singer-songwriters. Lis debut CD, Youth Novels, was released last year and created quite the buzz with a mix of beats, choirs and poetic pop. Live, shes a riveting theatrical performer. August 4, L.A.: Wiltern Theatre