Kevin Rudolf, most known for his 2008 smash hit "Let It Rock" (featuring Lil Wayne), is an accomplished producer, songwriter, musician and performer. Through the years, he has worked on such projects for Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and the Black Eyed Peas, flexing his producer muscles and urban know how. However, Rudolf recently made headlines with his first-ever country No. 1 hit with Keith Urban's "Little Bit Of Everything," which he co-wrote with Brett and Brad Warren.
With roots firmly planted in classic rock, citing such influences as U2, he made the decision to branch into country music because "[the genre] is in a place right now where it’s feeling a lot like the rock-n-roll I grew up on," the singer-songwriter tells NashvilleGab. "[Rock has] found its way into the country world, and it’s good to see great musicians, great writers, and a really high level of talent."
"I’ve always loved country music. It’s the most modern version of rock-n-roll," he elaborates on the decision to head to Nashville. "I feel like my roots are really in rock as an artist but also as a writer. For me, it comes naturally. I wanted to come up and just see what it was all about. They [the writers] were very welcoming to me. A lot of people in Top 40 world come to Nashville, and they try to write a song and sometimes it feels like Nashville spits them back out. As a writer, I’ve gotten to use muscles I haven’t gotten to use in a long time — telling a story, concentrating on the lyric and writing great verses."
He adds, "In pop music, you don’t necessarily tell a story as much. In country, it’s all about that. That’s what I really love about it."
On working with the Warren brothers, he notes that the "Little Bit Of Everything" songwriting session was the first time he met them. "We had such an amazing chemistry," he says. "I just worked with them last week again. It’s like, before we even said hello again, we had a chorus. We just have some kind of electric chemistry. It just feels like everything we write, it feels like a great record…or is going to be a great record."
Rudolf asserts that his producer skillset gives him the edge when it comes to writing for country. He explains, "I feel like I can bring a lot to the country world, as far as really bringing the hook home. As a producer, I always feel like I’m producing the writing session in my mind. So, I already know how the track’s gonna be. I’m usually going to produce the track or at least do the demo. I can sometimes guide the session a little bit in terms of making it into what I feel could be more of a hit record."
In October, Billboard magazine ran a feature in their weekly update focusing on the songwriting process and how it has changed over the years — transitioning from guitar-driven to programmed sounds, something Rudolf confirms as a definitive tide turning. "I came up as a producer in the hip-hop world. I started out playing guitar for Timbaland for years, worked on a whole lot of records — Justin Timberlake, Black Eyed Peas, Nelly Furtado. My production education came from the urban world, and country is in a place right now where a lot of the people that are writing grew up on hip-hop. There are certain catch phrases they are using and certain rhythmic elements that are feeling a little more urban. Having come from that world, I can bring it back in and kind of mix it with my rock sensibility and blend the two. That’s where country is going right now."
"It’s in a real interesting place where people are open to it in a way they weren’t maybe even two years ago. I’ve asked around, and there is definitely a wave coming. It’s shifting," he affirms.
From a songwriter standpoint, he is thankful for artists like Keith Urban who seek outside wells to draw from. "I’m happy that someone like [him], who is an extremely talented writer, actually takes outside songs and willing to cut them," he says. "I don’t think anyone needs to write their own songs."
Of course, Rudolf is also in the midst of prepping a new album, tentatively set for January. The lead single is the anthemic "Here's to Us," which draws significant comparisons to the Lumineers. Despite a trend to more folk-influenced pop, he defends that that wasn't his intention with the song. "I don’t follow any trends. I never do, but as a writer and producer, I think you’re always aware of what’s going on. You have to be to some degree. We can’t live in a bubble, but I try to always do something that’s true to myself. I think the result of that is really writing more on acoustic guitar, wanting to write more 'real' songs."
"A lot of the stuff I’ve done before is track based, and people associated me with a lot of hip-hop artists. That’s very real for me, too, but I felt like it was time to get back to the song, peel away some of the layers and show people who I really am as an artist…to build out my future. I’m evolving as an artist, too. I’m not in the same place I was when I did 'Let It Rock.' I’ve learned more. I’ve seen more of the world. I’ve experienced success and failure and everything in between."
On the song's inspiration, he says it came from his need to "triumph over adversity," certainly something he has learned from his long, impressive music career. "You hear a lot of nos before you hear that first yes," he maintains. "I’ve gone through a lot of things in my life, which make me feel like I want to win and I want to triumph. I know a lot of kids growing up, they feel the same thing. If you can give them a record that empowers them and makes them feel connected to themselves, they can do the same thing; they can win, and they can succeed."
The creation process wasn't your typical sit-down session, he allows. "When I’m writing for myself, I usually don’t start with an idea. I start with a chord progression, and I start to just go inside myself and see what words I’m finding, let it come to me. [It’s] more of a stream-of-consciousness. I let the words come out into the melody. I sort of channel it. You want to feel like it’s coming from somewhere else. You want to feel like the record already exists, and you’re just sort of channeling it into existence. That’s the way I usually write with myself. I always feel like there’s something inside me I want to say, and then it’s gonna come out. It’s gonna be me, and it’s gonna be real."
As the lead-in to his "almost finished" forthcoming album, he contends that "Here's To Us" may or may not be indicative of the album as a whole. He explains, "There’s a more organic vibe to a lot of it. There’s more of a focus on the lyric. There is less of a focus on the production in terms of letting the production drive the song. The songs are written on acoustic guitar. They stand up well on acoustic guitar. I would say you’re gonna see a little bit more rock-n-roll, a little more stripped down sensibility than in the past when it was more urban, track driven."
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