Kurstin in 2013
|Birth name||Gregory Allen Kurstin|
May 14, 1969|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Gregory Allen "Greg" Kurstin (born May 14, 1969) is an American record producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Described as "the consummate DIY writer and producer," Kurstin has been associated with releases which have cumulatively sold more than 60 million albums worldwide. He has been nominated for six Grammy Awards and a Golden Globe and has won three Ivor Novello Awards.
Kurstin co-wrote, produced and played most of the instruments on the record-breaking 2015 Adele single, "Hello." Among others, he has worked with Sia, Beck, Kelly Clarkson, Ellie Goulding, Pink, the Shins, Tegan and Sara and Lily Allen. He often plays guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, and engineers and programs the records he produces.
Early life and education
Kurstin was born and grew up in Los Angeles, California. He started playing piano at age 5; soon after, he picked up guitar and bass. Kurstin joined his first band at the age of 11, and co-wrote "Crunchy Water," the b-side to classmate Dweezil Zappa's "My Mother is A Space Cadet" at 12.
In high school, Kurstin focused on jazz piano. After graduation, he moved to New York to study with Charles Mingus' pianist Jaki Byard at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. In addition to coursework, as a student Kurstin played with prominent jazz artists including Bobby Hutcherson, George Coleman, and Charles McPherson. He returned to Los Angeles to finish his degree, and graduated from the California School of the Arts with a BFA in 1992.
In a 2013 interview, Kurstin said that his education in jazz had played a vital role in his pop success. “It’s still something I carry over into my pop music work. It’s really important to me that the notes I’m choosing strike the right emotional chord.”
1994–2004: Geggy Tah, studio and session work
Kurstin continued to perform with Hutcherson, Coleman, McPherson and others following his graduation. In 1994, he formed Geggy Tah with Tommy Jordan, whom he had met at an LA jam. A friend passed a demo they recorded on to David Byrne, who signed them to his label, Luaka Bop. "They incorporate so many disparate elements into their sound that one senses a new sensibility afoot," Byrne said in 1997.
Geggy Tah released their debut album Grand Opening in 1994; Kurstin played bass, clavinet, guitar, organ, piano, synthesizers and drums, and was credited as a songwriter, producer, programmer, and backup vocalist. In 1996 the band released Sacred Cow. It included the song "Whoever You Are," which became a hit in 2001, after it was used in a television spot for Mercedes Benz. As the song ascended the charts, Geggy Tah released their final album, Into the Oh.
In addition to playing with Geggy Tah, Kurstin did session work, one-offs and tours with artists including Beck, Ben Harper, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In 2001, he released an album under the name Action Figure Party on the Verve-affiliated label Blue Thumb Records. Flea, Sean Lennon, Soul Coughing's Yuval Gabay as well as musicians who performed with Beck, Air, Gil-Scott Heron and Garbage appeared on the record.
Kurstin signed a worldwide publishing deal with EMI (now Sony/ATV) in 2002. While he had consistently written songs since the age of 12, he intensified his efforts, working "day and night, pumping out songs." In addition to writing on his own, he collaborated with songwriters and artists including Sia, whom he met through Beck in 2003.
2004–2010: The Bird and the Bee, Lily Allen, Sia
In 2004, Kurstin was introduced to singer Inara George by a mutual friend, Mike Andrews. Then producing George's solo debut, Andrews hired Kurstin as a pianist for the album. Kurstin and George clicked musically in the studio and together they formed The Bird and the Bee (stylized as "the bird and the bee"). Shortly thereafter, they were signed by Blue Note Records chairman Bruce Lundvall. Described by Entertainment Weekly as "space-age pop that cunningly combines bossa nova languidity with Beach Boys-style lushness," they have since released four albums and an EP. Kurstin was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album for the Bird and the Bee's 2015 release, Recreational Love.
After working on tracks with artists including Peaches, All Saints, Pink, the Flaming Lips, and Kylie Minogue, Kurstin was introduced to Lily Allen. Along with other musicians, co-writers, producers and engineers, he worked on her 2006 debut, Alright, Still, which went on to achieve platinum status. For her second album It's Not Me, It's You, Allen worked exclusively with Kurstin; he co-wrote every song and played all of the instruments on the record, which he also engineered and produced. The album's first single, "The Fear," spent four weeks at number 1 in the UK, and the album hit number 5 in the US and charted in the top 10 in eight other countries. With Allen, Kurstin won three Ivor Novello Awards for his work on the double-platinum It's Not Me, It's You. Based in part on the album's success, as well as his work on a bird and the bee record, Kurstin was nominated for his first Producer of the Year Grammy in 2010.
Kurstin's first commercially available collaboration with Sia was "Death by Chocolate", released on her 2008 album Some People Have Real Problems. In 2010, he produced Sia's fifth album, We Are Born. It reached number 2 in Australia and number 37 in the US. It won ARIA Music Awards for Best Pop Album and Best Independent Release.
2011–present: Kelly Clarkson, the Shins, Pink, Adele
In 2012, Kurstin earned his first number 1 song in the United States and two Grammy Award nominations for Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," which he co-wrote and produced. He reunited with Clarkson in 2013 (on Wrapped in Red) and in 2015 (on Piece by Piece). "I think what makes him stand out as a producer is his skill as a musician," Clarkson said. "He can play anything phenomenally. His abilities as a musician give him an advantage, because he doesn’t have to rely on anyone else to interpret his vision." In 2014 Kurstin produced and wrote or co-wrote five songs for the Grammy-nominated Pink album, The Truth About Love, including its first single, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)." The album was Pink's first number 1 in the United States; it charted in the Top 10 in 31 countries, and as of 2016 had been certified seven-times platinum. Later in 2014, he began production on Tegan & Sara's Hearthrob and worked closely with the Shins' James Mercer on Port of Morrow, which debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200.
In addition to Clarkson, in 2013 and 2014 Kurstin wrote and produced songs which appeared on albums by Lana Del Rey, Foster the People, Ellie Goulding, Lykke Li, Katy Perry, and Charli XCX. He co-wrote and produced Ellie Goulding's "Burn," which was the number 1 single in the UK for three consecutive weeks, teamed again with Allen, and collaborated with Sia on 1000 Forms of Fear. Her most successful album to date, 1000 Forms of Fear debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 and charted at number 1 in Australia and Canada and reached the top five charts in Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. 1000 Forms of Fear earned three ARIA Music Awards. Kurstin was nominated for a Record of the Year Grammy for the album's lead single, "Chandelier," and once again nominated as Producer of the Year.
Kurstin scored the 2014 adaptation of the film Annie and served as the soundtrack's executive producer. With Sia, he created new arrangements for the Broadway musical's original tracks and co-wrote several new songs for the film, including "Opportunity," for which he received a Golden Globe nomination.
Kurstin co-wrote and produced three songs on Adele's 2015 album, 25, including its first single, "Hello." In an interview with Rolling Stone, Adele said: "This song was a massive breakthrough for me with my writing because it'd been pretty slow up to this point, and I felt after I worked with Greg [Kurstin] on this, it all poured right out of me." Kurstin also played bass, guitar, drums, piano and keyboards on "Hello," which reached number one in 28 countries. It was the first record to exceed 1 million in digital sales over a 7-day period. As of February 2016, the album has sold more than 19 million copies worldwide.
His fourth album with Sia, This Is Acting, was released in January 2016.
Awards and nominations
- 2010, Grammy nomination, Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
- 2010, Ivor Novello award, Songwriter of the Year, with Lily Allen
- 2010, Ivor Novello award, Best Song, with Lily Allen, for "The Fear"
- 2010, Ivor Novello award, Most Performed Work, with Lily Allen, for "The Fear"
- 2012, Grammy nomination, Song of the Year, as songwriter for "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (Kelly Clarkson)
- 2012, Grammy nomination, Record of the Year, as producer for "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (Kelly Clarkson)
- 2014, Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song for "Opportunity" from Annie
- 2014, Grammy nomination, Record of the Year as producer for "Chandelier" (Sia)
- 2014, Grammy nomination, Producer of the Year, non-classical
- 2015, Grammy nomination, Best Engineered Album, non-classical, for Recreational Love (the bird and the bee)
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Adele, Sia, Katy Perry, Rita Ora, the Shins, Santigold, Lana Del Rey, Britney Spears, Tegan & Sarah, Dido, Taylor Swift, Kylie Minogue, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Ellie Goulding
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