Producer Oak Felder Talks Kelly Clarkson, Khalid and More: 'I Love That I Can Fly Under the Radar'

Oak Felder
Kristyna Felder

Oak Felder

Perhaps the one thing that Warren “Oak” Felder is proudest of is the fact that people can’t pinpoint who he is.

“No one can say, ‘This is an Oak track,’” explains the 6'5" songwriter/producer. “One year I went from collaborating on Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Invincible’ to Nicki Minaj’s ‘The Crying Game,' and the sound of each had nothing to do with the other. I love the fact that I can fly under the radar and do what I want.”

Over the course of his 12-year career, the Istanbul-born Felder has done just that. Between collaborating with frequent creative partner Andrew “Pop” Wansel and working on his own, Felder has racked up a string of enviable credits. Those range from Alessia Cara’s consecutive hits “Here” and “Scars to Your Beautiful” to Usher’s Grammy-nominated “Good Kisser,” Britney Spears’ “Clumsy” and Tory Lanez’s “Say It.” Felder’s handiwork can also be heard on Cara’s version of “How Far I’ll Go,” from the Moana soundtrack.

Along the way, Felder has copped two Grammys, for his contributions to Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire album and Rihanna’s Unapologetic. Most recently collaborating with Wansel on Kehlani’s R&B charts-topping album SweetSexySavage, Felder is back in the studio after working with American Teen newcomer Khalid. The producer is brainstorming this time around with Cara, Kelly Clarkson, Miguel and Tori Kelly on their upcoming projects.

“People who listen to music know when there's an honesty to it,” says Felder, who divides his time between his Atlanta base and Los Angeles studio that also houses his production shop The Orphanage. “There are producers who do this for high-profile fame and there are other producers who do it because they love music and, as a side, it pays for their life. I'm that guy.”

While riffing on reggae’s “killer” influence in pop (Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”) and EDM (Major Lazer), and how he and Wansel initially clicked over food (“I can cook, but he’ll cook me under the table, especially with his mac and cheese”), Felder also shared illuminating insights on several artists he’s been working with of late:

Kelly Clarkson: "A lot of people don't remember that Kelly started off as an urban girl. If you listen to her first single 'Miss Independent,' co-written by Christina Aguilera, it was an urban song. It wasn't until she jumped into 'Since U Been Gone' that she became the pop/rock queen. When I met her, I didn't get pop/rock queen. I got the girl that's down with urban music. It’s good to see her embracing that sensibility now -- and she has the capability to do it. I might've done five songs for her so far [for Clarkson’s new album, which the singer describes as soulful]. Man, she cut one record -- I'm not going to name any titles -- that's just heavy. It fits her so well.

Kehlani: You know how they say music can be a conduit between people, a way to convey an emotion without using conversation? Kehlani might be the most straight-to-the-veins, direct example of that I've ever worked with. The visceral, raw energy and emotion you get from her sitting in the room is the energy and the emotion you get in listening to her music. There's no filter between the two. It’s amazing -- and not enough artists do that.

Khalid: He's a very, very talented brother. It’s amazing to me how artists can have multiple personalities [Laughs.] He comes into the studio, sits down and is just zen. Then he goes into the booth and he becomes a different person. All this personality and energy just come out. He’s fun to work with and reminds me of Kehlani in a lot of ways.

Tori Kelly: God, she can sing. Her voice just makes you wanna cry. And I don't cry. But I do cry when I listen to her. I’ve done about four songs with her so far on a new project, including one song that has an Ol’ Dirty Bastard sample on it, believe it or not. I like those types of contrasts: it’s like feathers over rocks.