When Selena Gomez sings about drinking whiskey on the top floor of the Bowery overlooking New York City, it’s very well she draws on personal experience, but it’s Ali Tamposi’s memory. The 27-year-old songwriter, recently signed to Reservoir, wrote the lyrics to Kygo and Gomez’ recent single “It Ain’t Me” alongside her partners Brian Lee and Andrew Watt, the same team that helped Justin Bieber and DJ Snake with their collaborative hit “Let Me Love You.”
“I feel the most proud of this song,” Tamposi says of “It Ain’t Me.” “If every song was that easy, I think I would be in less shock, but I’m in shock because it came together so perfectly. I can’t imagine it being different in any way.”
Neither Tamposi, Lee, or Watt is new to the songwriting game. Tamposi got her first big hit and Grammy nomination for her work on Kelly Clarkson‘s “Stronger,” but their current trio is a fresh new combination that works. “Let Me Love You” peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100 chart, and they’d just wrapped a few months in London with Rita Ora on her new project when they got the call Kygo was interested in meeting.
“We had such a great time, and we had written some incredible stuff in London, so we were kind of on a high,” Tamposi says. “We go to the studio, and we started writing a song that I think we can all agree on was pretty garbage honestly, but we were trying to salvage it. Kygo came into the room with his manager Myles Shear and they were polite, but they were like ‘yeah, this is cool, keep chipping away at it.’ When they left the room, I looked at Brian and Andrew, and I was like ‘this is not how we do this thing, come on guys. Someone grab a guitar, and let’s Fleetowod Mac it.’”
The studio turned into a serious jam session. Brian and Andrew grabbed guitars, they all started singing melodies, and 45 minutes later, the “It Ain’t Me” demo was written and recorded. It was a simple straightforward cut, just acoustic guitar and Tamposi on vocals, but it had that magical essence Kygo was looking for. They just had to get him back into the room for another shot. Tamposi felt it in her bones.
“At that point, I was observing Kygo,” Tamposi says. “When they pushed the space bar to play the song, he went from this very sweet, polite, charming young man to this super-human producer guy. I was watching his eyes go back, left and right, just mapping out how he envisioned the production of the song. He was extremely excited, and he’s so lovely to work with.”
The song was a go, no need to shop around. Kygo’s mind was whirring busily. Tamposi, for her part, was finished. She could head back home to West Palm Beach, Florida, while Watt hung back to knock out the rest of the musical production with Kygo.
“He really is a genius producer,” Tamposi says of the 25-year-old Norwegian. “He could have gone so many different ways. It was an acoustic guitar and vocal demo. You give that to a producer, and there’s 10 billion ways to f–k it up, honestly. He and Andrew just sat together, they followed the melodies, they followed the message, and they went and crafted this beautiful product.”
Tamposi got called back in for the vocal sessions with Gomez, her first time working with the cherubic star. The two saw eye to eye instantly on the song’s emotional vision. It’s universality is part of the song’s success, but it’s that personal passion that makes any song magic.
“Society puts – especially for a woman – pressures that we have to be in a relationship in order to feel validated,” Tamposi says. “[You’re supposed to] stand by your man, even when he’s bogging you down. When he’s drunk, you’ve gotta pick him up and all these things. It takes a lot of strength to walk out of something… [Gomez is] in a place right now where she feels like she can be the most honest and take a stand. She can utilize her platform and her voice and strength.”
When the “It Ain’t Me” vocals were set and sent off for engineering, Tamposi and Gomez stayed back together to work on a few more tracks.
“I’m really impressed by her level of contribution,” Tamposi says, “just the ideas that she came up with, how open she was, and how we were able to connect on so many different levels. I just tapped into her experiences. It was a real pleasure to sit with her, get to know her a little bit, and I hope when she’s making her album, I’m able to go back in and work with her. I feel like she has so much to say, this old soul with a beautiful baby face. I feel like I can do a lot with her as an artist.”
Today, Tamposi is back in her Florida home looking eagerly toward the future, back in the grind with her favorite partners Lee and Watt. Every time “It Ain’t Me” comes on the radio, she feels a jilt of elation. She’s replaced that broken relationship with a new emotion that’s radiant and pure, and thanks to Kygo and Gomez, the rest of the world can join in their collective triumph over suffering.
“I just hope to continue doing this for the rest of my life,” she says. “I wake up every day feeling excited to write a song, so I hope the opportunity to express the way I feel at this level more. I’m just going to keep doing it, tap into the pain. I’m not sure how much pain is left in the well, but I’ll keep tapping.”