Emile Haynie Tells the Story Behind 'We Fall' Tracks With Rufus Wainwright, Brian Wilson & More

Alexandra Gallivet
Emile Haynie

Producer and songwriter Emile Haynie is very excited to talk about his first album, We Fall, but not for the reasons you might expect. "It's kind of weird when you're a producer speaking on someone else's work," says Haynie, whose eye-poppingly all-star resume includes work on Lana Del Rey's 2012 LP Born to Die, "Runaway" by Kanye West, Kid Cudi's Man on the Moon albums, and Eminem's Recovery, for which he won a 2010 Grammy Award. "You have to be pretty careful. Now, I can say pretty outlandish shit."

That's not entirely true. Haynie is nothing but polite and respectful during his interview with Billboard, especially of idols like Randy Newman and Brian Wilson, both of whom make cameo appearances on We Fall (out now via Interscope); nor does he open up the wrenching breakup that inspired, except to hint that the lyrics of "A Kiss Goodbye" (a literal kiss-off that, with its ghostly echoes and lush string arrangements, could have come from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) were based on a real-life conversation, presumably with his ex.

He's most honest about his process. "A lot of the best stuff I've done has been in an organic setting, where some of the shittier music I've made has been really planned and methodical and calculated," he says, citing a chance encounter with West in a studio hallway that wouldn't have happened if his car had been five minutes late. We Fall was recorded in much the same fashion: in a backstory that's already nearly apocryphal, Haynie holed up in famed Los Angeles hotel the Chateau Marmont, where he ran into musicians and invited them back for late-night jam sessions that often turned into songs on the record.

"What if I didn't go back for a drink with Father John Misty because we were a bit restless, and ended up back in my room, and he played me his record, and then he sang on my song?" Haynie wonders. "That's life, though; thinking if your parents hadn't met, you never would have been born. I don't mean to compare making silly songs to life or people being born, but it's the same process."

But the songs on We Fall each had their own processes, so Haynie broke down some backstories behind his experience working with a stupid number of people that matter in making music, from Miike Snow's Andrew Wyatt to Swedish singer Lykke Li to Rufus Wainwright to the Zombies' Colin Blunstone.

"Falling Apart" ft. Andrew Wyatt
I was working on Mark Ronson's album [this year's Uptown Special] and I had this little string progression on repeat on my iPhone. I had the Apple earplugs in and was sitting on a couch in the other room while Mark Ronson and Dan Auerbach and Jeff Bhasker and all these other top producers were working on music in the other room. The next day Andrew Wyatt came by -- he's my next door neighbor in New York, and just about every day we'd have coffee and chit chat -- and he's like, "Let's go cut it right now, I want to sing it." I've always loved Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and I became really obsessed with his production while I was here. A friend of mine knows his wife, so I sent her this long-winded email thinking I would never get a reply but at least I could scratch it off my dream list. Thirty minutes later, my phone rings, and the first thing I hear is the song playing in the background. His wife's like, "Brian's been listening to it nonstop since you sent it. He wants to sing on it."

"Little Ballerina" ft. Rufus Wainwright
I was singing the demo version of it, and my voice was nowhere near ready to do that kind of thing. [Ronson] heard my vocal and said, "You know, it's really kind of playful. What if we got Rufus to do that?" I was hoping he would say that because I really wanted Rufus anyway, and I knew it would take Mark connecting us to make it happen. My mom was such a massive fan of Rufus' mom and Rufus' aunt's music, so it was half a gift for her to get him on it. Plus, his solo album that Jon Brion produced [1998's Rufus Wainwright], I was listening to that a lot. He had been in my room at the Chateau a few times for late-night piano jam sessions, but to get that done I scrambled up to San Francisco and got his vocal real quick before he played a show.

"Wait for Life" ft. Lana Del Rey
We were just jamming, and she came into the studio, and we had a really long talk about relationships and what was troubling me at the moment. It was just me at my place in early stages, and the theme of my album was up in the air. There was no pressure, nothing. Just us making a song like we would any other day. She has a pretty intense understanding of me as a person and has her own relationship woes and really related. It was good for me to talk to women about it -- so many of my friends are guys. Hearing her perspective elucidated a lot of things on the female side: it was her understanding from both sides that made the record not just being a one-way street. I had the flipside told a bit. All the songs the females are singing are from the other perspective. 

"Dirty World"
I never had plans of singing ever in my life. A lot of times people would come in and be like, "Oh cool, who are you going to get to sing that one?" With that one in particular, I was hanging out with a particularly good crew that day: Lykke Li and Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, and those are all big production people on my album. When I played that one in particular, it was someone, I think Mark, who said "Who's that singing? That's really good, that sounds familiar." I was like, "Are you kidding? That's me." They unanimously said, "You have to sing it." Andrew would call me or text me and he'd say, "Don't get somebody else on 'Dirty World'!" He'd text me every few days and say, "What are you doing about 'Dirty World'? You have to sing it." It was really cute. He gave me the balls to put that out there.

"A Kiss Goodbye" ft. Sampha, Devonté Hynes, and Charlotte Gainsbourg
This chord progression and melody stemmed from a session with me and St. Vincent a few years ago. I considered putting it out as a little skit because it has the lyric "Say goodbye before you leave," which was a weird coincidence that I don't want to get into -- I'll just say that a lot of that song came directly from a real conversation. When Sampha came by, I played him that one, and I saw that his lips were moving without saying anything. I said, "What are you thinking? Record it quickly." He freestyled this really long verse, so I had this devastatingly beautiful Sampha session that became the song. Dev's a friend of mine; I love his guitar playing. With Charlotte Gainsbourg, I was in Paris hanging with her in the studio and playing her ideas and I asked if she wanted to be a part of it, and she said yes. 

"Fool Me Too" ft. Nate Ruess
I met [Ruess, of Fun.] through Jeff Bhasker, who produced Some Nights. I produced three or four of the songs on that record. He's a massive part of [We Fall] -- he sings on one song but it was his idea to get Colin Blunstone to sing, and it was Nate who sent my records to the head of Interscope Records. I sent him "Falling Apart" and maybe one other because he's a great songwriter -- I was like, "Hey I'm writing these weird songs, give me your honest opinion, don't send them to anyone." So he sent them to John Janick, who said, "Call me, I want you to make a record." We'll record stuff while I'm sitting at the piano with a drum machine, leave the mic on, come up with loads of stuff. He had the melody for "Fool Me Too," the first part, and I took his melody and wrote all the lyrics. He sang it that night.

"Come Find Me" ft. Lykke Li and Romy
This was the most impromptu one on the record. Lykke was coming by for a tea, and I had that chord progression with the bridge of "Falling Apart," same chords. I had the idea of doing a reprise with a woman. I just jotted some notes down super quick and Lykke was like, "That's really pretty, do you want to try something?" She turned it around and made it her own thing. The sparseness of the music is so good for lykke because her voice is so special. Romy from The xx happened to be staying at the hotel where I set up a studio at the same time, so she just popped by with her guitar. She's played guitar on a few things, like "Dirty World," but it was that one where it really stuck out. It wrote itself.

"Who to Blame" ft. Randy Newman
It was Wyatt who heard my demo vocals and said, "So you've been listening to Sail Away a lot." I was like, "No, what's that?" and he made me get in his car and buy Sail Away on vinyl. I had been struggling with who I wanted to sing that particular song, because I knew I wanted it to be a seasoned man. I wanted it to be somebody who had the voice of a dude who's been in the game for quite some time. I knew his goddaughter, so I sent countless emails and messages, and after a few months he realized I wouldn't go away and he agreed to meet with me. He sat me down and was like, "I write my own songs. I don't sing other people's songs. I heard this was some kind of breakup album, and I don't do that 'Baby I miss you' shit." I was like, "It's not really that -- can I play it for you?" So I played it for him, and I saw he really liked the song: his face would light up during certain parts. He's such a knowledgeable guy when it comes to life and love.

"Ballerina's Reprise" ft. Father John Misty and Julia Holter
He played me his album before we worked on anything, front to back, and I just sat in a chair and listened to it and was completely blown away by how beautiful the record was and how much he loves his wife. When he played the last song, "I Went to the Store One Day," I just had a complete emotional breakdown. I was in the complete opposite headspace of that lovely gift for his wife. I don't know if he caught it because I was trying to hide it. He and I haven't spoken about it but that song put me in a heavy space and helped me write. When it's that intense, it's kind of inspiring. It came on the radio yesterday when I was driving. Still kind of screws with me a little bit, that one.


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