One of the first times Julian Bunetta met Hey Violet, the superstar producer and rising band played a game called What Are The Odds? “I was hanging out with them backstage after a show,” remembers Bunetta while on a brief break in between sessions at his Calabasas, California studio. “They were asking me to play and I finally agreed. (Lead singer) Rena Lovelis said, ‘What are the odds you’d let me cut off your hair?’ And she chopped off a chunk of my hair. The fact they were actually willing to cut my hair kind of played into a deeper level of creativity and commitment and fearlessness.”
From that moment, Bunetta decided to foster the fledgling Los Angeles rock band’s evolving sound and later helped birth their Billboard Hot 100 hit “Guys My Age,” which peaked at No. 68, a coup by any means for a rock band today. “The first time I saw them play, I was blown away by what Rena was doing, playing bass and singing. There was so much energy and she was just rocking so hard.” Immediately, ideas started to churn. “I remember the first thing that came into my head was to change their tempos to give people something to dance to rather than jump to. I wanted to carve out a musical slice for them and create a Hey Violet lane amongst all the stuff that’s really big right now, whether it be Ariana Grande or Halsey or Twenty One Pilots.”
It stands to reason that the 34-year-old Bunetta and the teenage Hey Violet immediately hit it off considering that Bunetta spent the majority of his career helping foster another young band’s creative growth. “About six years ago, (current Syco music head) Tyler Brown was an A&R and he said, ‘Hey, do you want to try working with One Direction on their second album?’” (2012’s Take Me Home). “It sounded interesting to me, so he put me in touch with Jamie Scott and him, me and John Ryan wrote two songs. The label liked them, the band liked them, and we flew to London to record them.” From there, Bunetta helped bring One Direction’s bubblegum pop vibes into more refined, adult contemporary territory. Becoming their go-to producer starting with 2013’s Midnight Memories, Bunetta helped mastermind a majority of the group’s tracks, forging a strong creative relationship and a deep bond with the group of teens-turned-international superstars.
“We spent a lot of time together over the course of four years and we’re all really good friends, so I definitely knew where all their influences would later lead them,” says Bunetta of the diverging paths the members have taken with their respective solo releases. “I didn’t think for a second that Liam (Payne) was going to make a rock album or that Niall (Horan) was going to make a R&B album. It’s unprecedented what they’re doing; they continue to change the rules of what it means to be in a group. For all of them to have solo success is just so fucking awesome.”
Bunetta’s skill for mentoring is one he picked up from his father, producer Peter Bunetta, best known for his work with acts ranging from The Temptations to Donna Summer. (The two, along with Julian’s brother Damon, head the aptly named publishing company Family Affair Productions, while Damon manages Julian.) “I got my first publishing deal when I was 18 years old, so I’ve been working in music for 17 years now and in that time there’ve been so many people who have brought out the best in me, so I try to be an encouraging force for younger writers,” says Bunetta. “I was really happy that I always tried to reach deeper, never settled and always experimented. I try to pass that on.” Will Bloomfield, the former One Direction co-manager who currently reps Hey Violet, Horan and 5 Seconds of Summer, echoes those sentiments. “We thought Julian would be a great match with Hey Violet because he’s brilliant at nurturing young talent and helping them to grow and develop with confidence,” Bloomfield explains. “We saw that with One Direction too. He has an incredible connection with artists and builds an innate bond. They trust and respect him.”
Perhaps that’s why Bunetta’s name and influence has seeped into One Direction’s respective solo forays, whether it’s co-writing the stand-out Harry Styles track “Two Ghosts” (“That song is a special one. We did that a little while back and it’s really wonderful to have it come out”) or plotting an upcoming session with Louis Tomlinson. In addition, Bunetta has also worked closely with Niall Horan, including co-writing his rising hit “Slow Hands.” “We were in the studio and I had a bass on with a drum loop. We started playing these notes and it felt good. Niall was singing along, mumbling some words and it sounded like he said ‘slow hands’ at one point. We were like, ‘What’s slow hands?’ We kept on chiseling away and wound up having a good back and forth with it.”
According to Bloomfield, Bunetta immediately realized they had something special. “He called me straight after the writing session and said, ‘Dude, we wrote a killer song today — a smash!’ So I said, ‘Great, tell me more! What’s it about?’ He said, ‘It’s sexy and cool, about slow hands and sweat on dirty laundry.’” Bloomfield was skeptical. “The truth is it took us a moment to get our heads around ‘Slow Hands’ and to fully grasp its potential, but he called it immediately,” Bloomfield says. “He has this quality of being a highly creative type with an objective ear. That’s a rare pairing.”
Bunetta lends that objective ear to everything from rock to pop tracks and even cuts for country artists like Thomas Rhett (Bunetta produced his latest hit “Craving You” featuring Maren Morris). All the while he prefers to work out of his no-frills Calabasas studio, hidden amongst the hills outside of Malibu. “I’ve been recording here for about eight years,” says Bunetta, who likens his studio to the comforts of home. “Sometimes it’s fun to spend a couple days somewhere else to have a change of scenery, but I know the sound in my studio so well in terms of producing and mixing stuff. I have a much more accurate idea of how something I’m working on is going to sound in a car or on headphones when I’m there. When you’re in different environments, you can’t tell apart the sonic differences sometimes.” However, Bunetta is constantly brainstorming even when he’s not in the studio. “I write down ideas all the time, whether it’s a song title or a perspective a song could be written from, or just something to talk about in a session,” he notes, gearing up to dive into yet another session. “Really, really good ideas, however, just stick in your head and you don’t need to write them down. If they’re really that good, you’ll never forget them for the rest of your life.”