INTERVIEW: Dallas Austin at BMI’s How I Wrote That Song, LA

Dallas Austin, photo credit: BMI.

“If you’re making a record that sound like what’s hot right now then you’re already a year behind.”

BMI’s How I Wrote That Song panel is always the highlight of Grammy Week for me. Instead of glamour and glitz of most Grammy week functions, this event is open to the public, and brings together some of the recording industry’s brightest stars to educate future songwriters on what inspired them to write the pop songs of today.

On the panel were artists Cee Lo, Seal, Chad Hugo (of the Neptunes), and songwriters BC Jean (Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy”), Bonnie McKee (Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”), and Claude Kelly (Fantasia’s “Bittersweet”).

The event was hosted by producer Dallas Austin, and the ATL native needs no introduction. He crafted the early 90s Atlanta sound and helped launched the career of female group TLC among others. We snagged some interview time with Austin in the press room prior to the event, where he was on his MPC making beats with fellow producer Chad Hugo.

You made your name in the early 90s with TLC and your career speaks for yourself. However you’ve been out of the limelight for a while now, where have you been?

I went back into real production mode. I haven’t been out of my studio in 2 months. I used to bitch about how records suck but I just told myself “just make something better then.” So that’s what I’m doing now. Just making really creative, really progressive music.

That’s good to know man. What do you have coming out soon that we can look forward to?

I don’t want to brag on myself, but this [new Chris Brown] record is gonna f*ck everybody up. I’ve been mixing dubstep into it. Records are missing the “art” of the record.” [It used to be] that when you listen to a record you would ask “how in the hell would they do that?” Ain’t nothing on the radio that makes you ask “how did they do that?” because [producers] can make it in GarageBand and it’s right there.

What do you think about pop music today? I’m hearing some very progressive sounds on the radio right now, however. Do you think the genre is finally pushing the boundaries?

You have to push the boundaries in the sound right now because it’s so boring and there is nothing innovative. When you hear dubstep and moombathon and all these kind of records, it’s hard to cross them over into pop because they don’t know how to format it and they don’t know how to make a song become a pop hit.

I call myself a painter, and you know what? Picasso dosn’t ask you what colors to paint with, Louis Voutton dosen’t ask you what bags to make, so we got to stop asking people what kind of record they want on American Idol. You gotta go make [the record] and tell them to like it. A great artist makes something and people go “wow”. You should ask people “who do you think should be the star?” It’s ridiculous. People have no guts to do what we’re doing anymore and I’m glad that part of the music industry is about to be over.

I just want to make sure that producers stay painters and stay creative.

Picasso dosen’t ask you what colors to paint with, Louis Voutton dosen’t ask you what bags to make, so we got to stop asking people what kind of record they want.

Wait, so just to clarify, you’re gonna have Moohmbaton on that record?

Yeah man, we stay so far ahead man, and when you hear all the records coming out this year, it took me all most of last year to do them. But when you hear it it sound like it took time to do ‘em.

The Grammys are tomorrow night [ed note: This interview was conducted Saturday, Feb 12th, before the Grammy telecast], who do you want to win?

You know I really want B.o.B. to win a Grammy because I think that when you first heard “Beautiful girls..” (Nothing On You) it was something refreshing–it wasn’t drop down to the floor, pick up some money, ass on the floor song.

Do you think that artists like Janelle and B.o.B have changed the opinion of Atlanta music?

The music from the ATL gets confused, because the real music from Atlanta is real organic like B.o.B. and Outkast. The other music from Atlanta has always been there–think Kelo Ali and Soulja Boy–and that’s entertainment. But what we really did in Atlanta is uproot our soul and uproot ourselves and B.o.B is a product of what Atlanta really sounds like.

With all that said, we all know that record labels tend to stifle innovations. Are the labels finally buying into to where you want to take music in the future?

The labels still give me the sideways look right now, don’t get it twisted. If you don’t have a song like [Taio Cruz’] “Dynamite” then they don’t wanna here it. But you gotta think about us in the industry is that if you’re making a record that sound like what’s hot right now then you’re already a year behind when it comes out. So it’s a trick to always stay ahead.