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December 17, 2012

On the Charts: Cirkut on Ke$ha's Warrior

Henry "Cirkut" Walter Photo by May Truong

Henry "Cirkut" Walter
Photo by May Truong

Ke$ha had a battalion of top-notch music creators behind her on her sophomore full-length Warrior, which debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 the week of November 30th. One of her chief collaborators was ASCAP member Cirkut, a multi-talented writer/producer who's worked with Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, B.o.B, Lil Wayne and Taylor Swift, among others. We talked with Cirkut about Ke$ha's bold new direction and what it's like being a musical jack-of-all-trades.

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How'd you get involved in the creation of Warrior?

It happened pretty organically. I had been working closely with Dr. Luke for over a year prior to the start of working on Warrior. We already had a bunch of tracks and ideas we had started together that we thought Ke$ha would like, and she did, so it just kind of started naturally. Before I knew it I was doing more than just one or two songs.

This is definitely a different record than Animal. How did Ke$ha explain the direction she wanted to go with it?

Ke$ha said from the beginning that she wanted to have more guitar-driven and rock-influenced songs on the album. Coming from a mostly electronic background, this was a refreshing change for me to get in a bit of different headspace and play with some different sounds. I learned a lot in the process. I wouldn't say a specific sound for the entire album was calculatedly decided beforehand, but everyone had great ideas and influences to contribute and it all started to take shape as we went along.

Ke$ha also wanted to let her voice be heard a bit more naturally this time. So her vocals were less processed on this album. People sometimes assume that when a singer uses Auto-Tune as an effect that they don't have a great voice - with Ke$ha, this is definitely not the case.


You're credited as both a songwriter and a producer on 12 songs on Warrior. Are those two separate processes for you? Or does it all happen at the same time?

Every song was different. For example, Luke and I might start a track, which could just be drums and some chords with a loose verse/pre/chorus arrangement. Then someone might have a melody for that track or an idea for another section, and the song starts to take shape. Other times, we might hear a chorus someone else has written, complete with lyrics and a concept already thought-out, build a track around it, write the rest of it and finish the song from there.

How did your role on Warrior differ from Dr. Luke's and the other producers'?

My role on this album wasn't really predetermined; it all just sort of fell into place and I adapted wherever necessary. One day I might be chopping up some crazy synth line, the next day I might be recording vocals with Ke$ha all day or helping with the rewriting of a verse lyric. This was a huge opportunity for me to improve and learn and do things outside my comfort zone. My strength is definitely in production, so I would say a lot of my time was spent on crafting songs and sounds, collaborating with different people and just grinding out putting in long hours to finish songs.

Would you say there's some Cirkut "special sauce" on the album - something we can listen for that's uniquely your own style?

I just want to play a part in making great music. I try not to approach a song from the standpoint of "I have to put my stamp on this." I want to do (or not do) what's right for the song. If it needs to be super glitched-out or futuristic, then that's what I'll do. If it feels like it needs to be a single acoustic guitar and vocal, then that's what it'll be. I'd say most of the time I want to achieve a fat, punchy, fresh-sounding song that sounds incredible to the listener when it comes out of the speakers. If someone happens to say "Hey, that sounds like Cirkut," then that's just icing on the cake.


A lot of your past work has been straight-up pop. Warrior incorporates more rock rhythms and guitars than anything Ke$ha's done before. Was it a challenge to figure out how to make that work in a pop context?

Not really - you just have to work at it until it sounds right. I'm fortunate to be working with people who are really the best at what they do, so you have multiple people collaborating and different sets of ears, each with their own unique ideas and opinions on how to make it all work.

Were there any songs that went through significant revisions throughout the recording process?

Yes. We work on songs until we feel they're as close to perfect as possible or we've exhausted every option we can think of trying! The finishing stage of a song is always the least fun part, and requires discipline and perseverance. Once you know the potential something has, you let that motivate you and you don't stop until you've reached that goal. Listening back to a finished song feels great when you know you put all you've got into it.

How has being an ASCAP member impacted your music career?

Everyone at ASCAP has always been so supportive of my career. I'm thankful to be a member!

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Read more about Cirkut at his Wikipedia page.

Follow Cirkut on Twitter: @_cirkut