You pivoted to pop again, with Kylie Minogue, on her 2001 album Fever. How was this experience?
Kylie was, for all of us Brits, this icon of the incredible. Everyone wanted to work with Kylie. Then Miles Leonard – who now, oddly enough, works with us at TokenTraxx – was [A&R’ing] Kylie and played me I can’t get you out of my head. It was so up my street. So I sat in the studio with an amazing songwriter and we came up with something, sent it to Miles, he loved it, and next thing I know, I’m in the studio with Kylie.
Then we created a song called more more moreand it was the first track on Fever. I can’t get you out of my head made it a worldwide hit album. And then we worked on more stuff for the next album as well. So it was a brilliant experience.
Another part of your musical world is as an artist, in the band Graffiti6 with Jamie Scott, who went on to win an Ivor Novello for his work with Rudimental. What’s the backstory there?
I was working in the studio all the time, I was writing and producing, I was working with new artists… And it was becoming a bit like a job. Then I had a session with Jamie. He was in a dilemma because he had made an album that hadn’t done well, and he had been signed to another label before that… And Jamie had this amazing voice that he didn’t use because he was a folk singer. But I heard Otis Redding in there.
So we started with a beat, wrote this song, and I worked on it for a few weeks: stripped it all down, left the vocals, sped it up a bit, and created this track called watch the sunsent it back to Jamie and it was like: ‘Who is it? Is it me ?
And everyone went crazy about it. So we did some more, and every bit we did was awesome. Then one of them synced in Holland and became a hit. Then we were offered gigs, we started a band, we went to Holland and it was so well received, we did a couple more gigs in the UK.
You did an album independently, then in 2011 you were signed to EMI…
That’s right, which was the craziest of all – I was about 44 at the time! Then we toured like crazy for 18 months – 200 shows in America alone. And it was so much fun. It took me back to when I was a DJ, but this time it was different – I was on stage playing guitar and singing backing vocals. It was ironic because I went from being a DJ, producer, songwriter… to an artist playing gigs. And normally it’s the other way around. And in the end, we were both exhausted.
More recently: Wired Strings is the project of Rosie, your classically trained wife. She’s done string arrangements for everyone from Ye to Jay-Z, Beyoncé, sometimes with your help. What have you learned from working with renowned American superstars?
I met Rosie when she came to do a string arrangement for me on an album I was producing, we fell in love and got married and had kids. But when she got pregnant with our first child, she got that call. She said: ‘Do you know this guy, Kenny West? I figured out it was Kanye, and he just walked out Everything falls [from his 2004 debut The College Dropout].
He wanted her to assemble ropes for a top pops performance. So we went to top popsand Kanye was listening to what Rosie had done: ‘Wow, did you actually find an arrangement for that? Could you do some [more] any arrangements for me for tomorrow?
So we stayed up all night and made all these arrangements for him. Then he came home. And you could feel there was something interesting and cool about Kanye. And he was just sitting on our couch, listening to these string arrangements of his music, and he was loving it. And from there we worked together on all kinds of things until a few years ago.