BURNS On Producing Britney Spears' 'Make Me': I Wanted Her To Sing From Her Heart
By James Dinh
August 19, 2016
You never really know what life might throw your way, but curveballs are almost unavoidable. Still, some of those end up simply unfavorable. For Stafford, England-born songwriter, DJ and music producer Matthew James Burns, better known as just BURNS, his moment turned out to be anything but disappointing when he decided to move out to Los Angeles four years ago and immerse himself in his fascination with pop production. Since then, he's worked the likes of Kelis, Pitbull, Ellie Goulding and, most recently, Zara Larsson for her forthcoming debut album.
And as fate would turn out, some of those studio sessions led up to his biggest collaboration of them all. We're talking about Britney Spears and her slinky R&B mid-tempo cut, "Make Me," the lead single from the iHeartRadio Music Festival performer's ninth studio album, Glory, which is set to be released on August 26.
Between touring, remixing a cut for On The Verge artist Bishop Briggs and dropping his most recent single, "Waves," featuring Elvis Brown, BURNS hopped on the phone with iHeartRadio for a one-on-one interview to talk about the pop titan's newest single, which takes Spears away from her routine dance floor territory and into the bedroom for a smooth and sexy romp. Take a look below!
You have a really busy schedule with your own tour dates. You're partaking in GTA’s trek. How are you digesting life on the road?
It's definitely gotten a lot more hectic over the last few months. With the Britney stuff, it's kind of become me juggling between doing my own project while doing production stuff for other people, so it's all about time management at the moment. It's getting crazy but I'm happy obviously and I wouldn't complain.
Congratulations on the Britney release. It shot straight up to the top of iTunes and is quite the breath of fresh air. How did the project come about?
I moved out to L.A. like four years ago and when I got out there I became more interested in production stuff. I was getting more of a fascination for pop music at that point. I hadn't really been delving into that realm much at all. I had been doing a lot of club music and experimental production stuff and slightly weird stuff, but I got more interested in U.S. radio and things are kind of interesting out here, in a pop music sense. Radio was getting cooler, which was good for me. I've been on the side as well making my own stuff. I've been doing pop beats [and] just playing around and doing things with guitar and mixing organic elements with that kind of electronic stuff. I made the ["Make Me"] beat a year or so ago, and somehow it managed to get into Britney’s team's hands and then they contacted me and were like, "Britney's starting a new record and we really love this," and it kind of steamrolled from there. We got the vocal done on it and it just became what it is now.
How does the U.S. pop radio scene compare to the one back home in the U.K.?
Right now I feel like it's actually more interesting out here. It didn't used to be that case. It used to be more, like, the U.K. was more adventurous. We would have a theme, and then America would have the same theme but like a year later. It was almost like we were a bit ahead, but I think over the last couple of years, Diplo and Skrillex have really opened up doors to more experimental stuff. The whole EDM scene is so big over here, and radio has just got so interesting. It's almost experimental. It's pop music still, but the sounds are different. In England right now, it's a lot of the same sounding stuff. It's all about U.K. sounding house music. It's a bit zany.
You mentioned that you created the beat a while back before hitting the studio with Britney. I think a lot of people were attracted to the record, particularly because this is a sound that Britney hasn’t explored before and usually her lead singles are out of the gate crazy dance records. You actually get to really hear her voice. Did you go in with that mindset?
Totally. I hadn't listened to a hell of a lot of the most recent Britney stuff. I knew that the previous singles to this one were very much, like you say, down the line. They’re all like fall to the floor kind of uptempo things. The vocal was one of my main focuses on this one because I wanted it to feel like there was some kind of emotion in that, which isn't necessarily in a lot of the most recent singles that she did. I wanted to steer away from that autotune kind of sound and have something much more natural sounding, so we spent a lot of time on the vocal and just getting it to where it sounded like she's actually singing it from the heart rather than it being too much production. I think we've achieved that. I've seen a lot of good reactions and that makes me happy to see because there's a lot of effort being put into the vocal production on the song.
totally different and somewhat unexpected.— B U R N S (@thisisBURNS) April 11, 2016
You guys definitely accomplished that. Some of her recent catalog is just driven by the beat and I think that there was such thought put into the lyrics. It really created a special vision.
The thing that I always want to do with pop music is … even if I strip back all of the production stuff, if there's a really good song underneath that already, then it makes it so much easier. It doesn't have to rely on a production gimmick. You can play the song on the piano and it's still a great song, which makes a big difference in my eyes.
What was it like specifically working with Britney in the studio?
It was amazing. It was daunting for me to begin with because she's such a legend and she's kind of a weird entity. She has this crazy insane fan base and she's been doing it for so long. When I got in there, she's just the most normal, down to earth person. It was kind of really easy. It was like you get to know someone over an hour and then it's just like you're buddies working in the studio. It was really simple. I was pleasantly surprised by her because she is such a huge star. Sometimes you think there's going to be some type of ego or whatever, but she was just so cool and it just made the whole experience. She's such a nice person, as well.
There was another guy with you in the photo that she posted on Instagram by the name of Mischke Butler?
He's a vocal engineer. He was the person helping to record the vocals. [He’s] the person that hits the record button and gets everything in there [and] makes sure we get enough takes and stuff. He's really experienced as well. It's good to have him in the room. It was the first time I'd met him, too, but he was such a great guy as well.
You had produced the music prior to visiting her. When did the lyrics come about?
I'd actually made the beat in a friend of mine's kitchen, which is really weird. I was staying with a friend in L.A. I was in between L.A. and London at the time and I made the beat. I had a guitar and I was just on his kitchen counter. (Laughs) I recorded the guitar part there, plugged it into the laptop, which is really funny because it wasn't made in a studio. I finished it there and it was a few months passed that I had the beat. It had gotten into Joe Janiak’s hands, who's a writer from the U.K., who I'd never met before, either. He wasn't really writing for anyone in particular. He picked this beat. He said after the fact that the beat stood out to the him in the folder that he was given. He wrote this topline but it had no lyrics. It was just him doing melodies. It was just him doing gibberish over the beat, but the melody for making was all there. He had a really solid melody and he sent it back to me and I was like, "This is cool and this could be awesome." I think Britney's team heard the song without lyrics to begin with and they already decided that they loved it. It didn't even have lyrics. They were just like, "We need lyrics on this if we really want to use it." So me and Joe had to come up with the lyrics. I got back in touch with him. I was in L.A. He was in London and we just did like loads of stuff over e-mail. He took the verse lyrics, and the chorus came together pretty quick, and that was how that formed.
And now, you also have G-Eazy, who fills the bridge of this song. Was that your intent or Britney's intent to get a feature on the track?
I think it was her [idea]. That came later. Originally, there was no feature. I made a bridge and Britney was singing. There's actually a non-rap version. I think it's out. I have a feeling that you can listen to it. I don't know if it's been released to buy, but it's on the Internet. I know that part.
We'll have to do some digging.
The original non-rap version is around, which has Britney doing a bridge. We had G come in like last subject [about] a month or so before the record was out. I think it was just a suggestion. It’s that kind of vibe. It had that hip-hop feel to it, and I think the beat kind of lends itself to a rap. They were like, "Can you do a gap, where we can put some more in there?" I think G-Eazy heard it. He was just like, "This is big." He wanted to jump on it straight away. It just really came together. It topped it off and it also brought the song up there. It took it somewhere else in a positive way. It just kind of sealed the whole thing off.
Can we look forward to any other of your contributions on Glory?
I didn't really pitch anything else. There was nothing that I had at the time that I thought was in keeping with "Make Me" because I made the beat a year ago, so I was in a different kind of head space, so I just left it at that. I mean, obviously, I'm just really happy to be a part of her single now.
A lot of fans are hoping to see the BURNS remix of "Make Me."
I've been asked to do it. . . .But at the moment, there's just so many different projects that I'm working on and I'm so happy with the original that it doesn't make sense to go in on it again. I'd like to leave it to someone else to try, you know?
"Make Me" is available for purchase on iTunes and all digital retailers.
Photo: RCA Records