Christopher "Tricky" Stewart has been crafting hit singles for top-tier acts for more than a decade now. Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Mariah are just a few of the megastars who have the ace producer to thank for some of their biggest cuts. Tomorrow (March 2) Tricky makes a splash in the film world as Executive Song Producer on Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, the animated 3-D movie starring Taylor Swift and Zac Efron based on the classic green-themed children's story.
Complex got in touch with Tricky at his Los Angeles office to talk about the concept behind the soundtrack and why he picked artist/songwriter Ester Dean to record The Lorax’s lead single, “Let It Grow.” He also took time out to discuss how budding R&B star Frank Ocean’s debut album is coming along, and shared the stories behind some of his biggest records.
Written by Brad Wete (@bradwete)
On The Lorax Soundtrack:
I’m the Executive Song Producer of the movie. The actual scoring throughout the film is done by John Powell. Ester Dean’s a fantastic songwriter and a friend of mine. But at the same time, I knew that from a subject matter standpoint it would be something that she would want to be involved with. Because of the message in The Loraxand the type of person that Ester is, those are the type of things that really mean something to her. So I thought it was a good fit.
Ester’s song 'Let It Grow' is a light-hearted version of what the film is about. But at the same time there’s a seriousness to the message.
Ester’s song “Let It Grow” is a light-hearted version of what the film is about. But at the same time there’s a seriousness to the message of the record. We take all those things into consideration: getting that message out there of what is going on in the environment, and not only what’s going on in the environment, but what’s going on with us as people. And I think that she was able to lyrically nail that soft spot in people, to tug on their heart strings a little bit, to make people walk out and maybe think about doing something nice, or think about doing something different than what they do on a daily basis. Just to do something good for the environment and good for your fellow person.
On His New Label:
I’m heading up Redzone Records, my new record label through Epic at Sony. I’m the President at Sony now, at Epic. So that’s something that’s been newly added. But yeah Redzone is alive and kicking, and coming out with artists and records in 2013.
On Signing Frank Ocean:
Frank is on is my label through Universal. I’ve had my own label where I do all my records for Universal. I was just with him last night. It’s incredible. Watching Frank make his record is nothing short of amazing. I really believe that he’s a rare talent. I think he’s on his way to a very special place as an artist and I’m really happy for him.
Watching Frank make his record is nothing short of amazing. I really believe that he’s a rare talent. I think he’s on his way to a very special place as an artist
My job is to just make sure that he’s happy, to facilitate his creativity. My philosophy in signing artists is that I like to sign artists and be involved with artists that don’t need me. So that’s kind of by design in a sense. I like artists that when they need a hit, they can sit down and write one themselves and don’t have to look around the industry to find one. Frank has definitely written and produced his record and it’s pretty amazing. I think it will be one of the biggest albums to come out in a while, which is very, very special.
He’s working very hard to finish this album for his fans, so I’m sure it will be soon. It’s very highly anticipated in the U.S. and overseas, so he’s working hard to get it done. But he’s a perfectionist and he’s trying to get it right for his fans and for his supporters.
I’d like to let Frank unveil his surprise. I don’t want to put all these topics out of what he’s putting out creatively in print. I’d rather let him get a chance to roll it out and say it the way he wants it to be heard.
On Producing Justin Bieber’s “Baby”
Well, I had done the record “One Time” on his first record in the very beginning. So when we did “Baby,” basically I think Chris Hicks had called us at the time and asked us to come up with some records. Dream kind of came up with the concept and mapped out the whole idea, and then I came in town and just put the extra secret sauce on it, and took it to the radio, and the record's history. Sometimes when you get that much talent it just happens really quick. “Baby” was a record that we didn’t have to spend a lot of time on. Dream wrote a really catchy song and chorus that’ll be there forever in Justin’s career. So it was a really good time and a special record.
On Producing Rihanna’s “Umbrella”
Yeah, that was a great day. That was just a couple guys just making records and it was just all going the right way. Dream was in the vocal booth and I was on the other side of the vocal booth, and we were kind of just vibing off of each other almost like a freestyle with the beat—and I was playing all the keyboard parts at the same time. We were just kind of vibing off each other and that’s what came out. So that was a lot of fun.
On Rihanna and Chris Brown’s “Birthday Cake” Remix
As far as collaborating and things like that, collaborating is always fun when you can connect with somebody else’s audience, and you know, that’s what the core of collaborating is. It’s like, I believe that you’re talented, you believe that I’m talented and together we think our worlds can cross and help each other and benefit each other in that sense. In terms of just Rihanna and Chris’s dynamic, I actually have no comment really, because it’s not any of my business. I know both of them. “Birthday Cake” is like one of my favorite songs on that album. I really love it. I think it’s really, really the shit.
On Producing Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”
Man, that record was really special because not only were we given an opportunity to work with Beyoncé, but at the same time we were out on tour with Jay-Z and Mary J. for the Heart of The City tour, and Dream was the opening artist. So it was a special time because we were on tour with two of our favorite artists that we looked up to and admire a lot and they were giving us the opportunity for Dream to be on that tour. But at the same time, being able to stop in New York City and do Madison Square Garden three nights in a row, and write “Single Ladies” in the off time, was a very, very special day and time. We were all wrapped up in all the good fortune and all of the blessings going our way, and it was really an amazing time for everybody that was involved.
“Single Ladies” was the only record that we did. We were in the studio and I think we had maybe one other thing that we started that was OK. We scrapped that one, went to “Single Ladies,” went to the beat, I was thinking to myself, “I’m about to scrap this beat.” And Dream was like “Yo, yo, yo, what you doing?” He was like, “Man I’m finished with that. Man I’m done with that one. Man, just lay the beat down. I got it, let me just take it from here.” So then he went behind the mic and he had the whole single ladies concept and then he came out of the vocal booth after doing the vocals and everything, and we just built the track up together and it was crazy. Six Grammys later…. [Laughs.] It was a great one.
On Producing Whitney Houston’s “I Look To You”
The creation of that song was a little bit different. That song was actually created by R. Kelly. That’s a song that R. Kelly actually wrote, and that’s a song that I produced for him and Clive Davis for Whitney. So I didn’t actually create the words. I was just there to capture the magic of his writing and then put it into a great format for Whitney. We did the vocals out here in L.A. It was a great experience. Another one of the highlights of my career is working with Whitney. You know, I’ve worked with Whitney and Mariah and Celine, not a lot of people can say that. Working with Whitney was kind of the completion of my quest to really work with all the best artists in the world, and she did not disappoint.