How Emile Haynie Went From Producing Hip-Hop to Florence + the Machine's 'High As Hope' Album

Vincent Haycock
Florence and the Machine

It’s a Friday afternoon in Los Angeles and Emile Haynie is sitting in his car after a personal training session. “This is something I would have never even thought about doing in New York,” laughs the former longtime Big Apple resident who recently cut ties on his Manhattan studio, noting how the industry has shifted to the West Coast. “No one’s out in New York anymore.”

Relocating to the City of Angels is the latest chapter that’s still unfolding for the hodgepodge career of the Buffalo, New York native who got his start in hip-hop and later transitioned into a genre-hopping songwriter, producer, and artist who’s helped craft an array of landmark hits for a slew of household names. “I don’t know how much of a goal it was to genre hop,” says Haynie, who notes influences from the likes of Dr. Dre, DJ Premier and Pete Rock, and whose early production work includes cuts for The Roots, Raekwon and Ghostface Killa. “I think getting an education in hip-hop opens your mind up to all sorts of music, especially in the era that I came from. You search for old records and get this understanding of soul music and jazz music and rock n' roll. Then you go deeper and get into psych rock and prog rock, and then deeper and get into funk, and you start to absorb all of this shit. It gets to the point where eventually you’re looking for things like Italian movie soundtracks and Brazilian folk records.”

Perhaps it’s that range of influences that spurred Haynie’s wide-ranging discography, whether producing Kanye West’s 2010 signature track “Runaway” (based on an afterthought demo he originally thought the superstar wouldn’t take to) or smashes for the likes of Bruno Mars and his ubiquitous “Locked Out of Heaven” (working alongside frequent collaborator Jeff Bhasker). Haynie has also made a mark as one of Lana Del Rey’s go-to collaborators, writing and/or producing the singer’s trademark tracks “Summertime Sadness,” “National Anthem” and “Blue Jeans,” among others. So it stands to reason that he instantly clicked with another timeless-sounding crooner whose epic tracks are also rife with strings and bursting with drama.

The first time Haynie met Florence Welch, it was during the making of Baz Luhrmann's 2013 dreamy adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Enlisted to pitch on the film’s music on all fronts, from scoring to writing and producing, it was the demo Welch contributed to the soundtrack (“Over the Love”) that stood out to the producer. “I tried turning it into something that would not only sound good for her but also fit the scene for the film,” he explains, noting he was unsure of the final result at first. “It was one of those things where she had her vocal cut and we were in a hurry.” It wasn’t until after the process when Haynie met Welch for the first time. “She gave me a big hug and was crying, saying how beautiful it sounded. She was so appreciative of the way I did it and the relationship developed from there.”

In the intervening years, Haynie and Welch fostered a friendship and dabbled in a grab bag of projects, from a track for the soundtrack of the video game Final Fantasy XV (“Stand By Me”) to another cinematic collaboration in the form of a song for Tim Burton’s 2016 film Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (“Wish That You Were Here”). It was around this time when Welch started creating early cuts for what would become her fourth studio album, which would later be titled High As Hope. “She’d play me these demos and they sounded amazing,” remembers Haynie. “That sort of seamlessly transitioned into us working together. It was pretty natural and was one of those things that felt right.”

Working between Haynie’s Los Angeles studio and Peckingham, England studio of Welch’s longtime engineer Brett Shaw, they chipped away at the evolving project. Creatively, the front of Haynie’s mind was what would become a legendary performance at Coachella in 2015 during which Welch broke her foot. “It was one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever seen,” he explains. “For me, it was about, how do you capture that energy? She’s so full of life and such a constantly moving spirit. How do you (replicate that) in the studio and put it on a record?” The answer, Haynie found, was to just “let her go” and find a balance in the production. “Her and Brett got all of this stuff to tape and it wasn’t overly edited, filtered or processed and that was so cool. (I didn’t want to) go back and resync things in a different way, but also (had a goal of) bringing in an advanced level of production and strings. Having them all conform to Florence’s spirit was really important. If anything, I hoped to achieve that.”

The resulting album is a mix of cinematic anthems and heartfelt ballads, with singles “Hunger” fitting the former description and “Big God” fitting the latter. “The second she sang ‘Hunger,’ I knew it was extremely powerful,” says Haynie, noting that Welch’s penchant to physically express herself in the studio was an important aspect of their process. “She has these dance moves when she’s playing a demo or singing out loud. Everything is choreographed instantly by her. When she’d do a song like ‘June,’ you can see her movements were very beautiful. She just kind of naturally shows you the energy of the song in addition to the singing. My job is to help her come up with the sound she’s hearing in her head already and her dancing helps captures that.” Even on the subdued “Big God,” one is even able to hear Welch’s studio physicality on the actual record. “That was literally her in a room with a mic and a piano she’s playing with one finger, stomping, hitting drums, and clapping all with her bracelets jangling.”

Another aspect that seeped into the production was the disparity of the rooms the team recorded in, whether the minimalism of Shaw’s Peckingham digs (outfitted with just a ProTools and some synths), to Central London’s cavernous AIR Studios founded by Beatles producer George Martin. “She’d come to L.A. and work at my place for a few weeks, then we’d take a week to go to London, then we’d track at AI with a string section,” he says, noting tracking strings is a standout part of the entire process for him. “Between all that there’s a juxtaposition, but that’s what the album is all about; the balance of those worlds.”

It’s a similar juxtaposition that provides a thread between Haynie’s work, specifically with Del Rey and Welch; two deeply unique artists with singular voices, yet similar in a distinctly timeless and cinematic quality. “I don’t think either of them are making music that’s timestamped,” he muses. “It’s weird because coming up doing hip-hop for so many years, it’s such an of-the-moment sound focused on the future. With pop and rock, I appreciate it when it has a bit of a timelessness to it.”

It’s also a quality he’s focused on with his future producing work (none of which he’s ready to talk about just yet) or his follow-up to a 2015 solo album coming down the pike at some point as well. “I’m definitely sitting on a bunch of ideas,” he says of his own future sound, no doubt continued to be inspired by his move from New York to Los Angeles. “They’re based around instrumentals and chants and vibes and that kind of stuff. At this point, the amount of music I have complied is a bit insane so it’s hard to say what’s gonna happen next.”