Up Close with Producer-Songwriter Andre Harris

Undoubtedly some of the best R&B music ever has come from the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Over the last 20 years or so, that musical charge has been led by producer-songwriter Andre Harris. Along with his former production partner, Vidal Davis, the Grammy-winning team provided a musical backdrop of many memorable songs such as Musiq Soulchild’s “Love,” Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies,” Jill Scott’s “The Way,” Usher’s “Caught Up,” Floetry’s “Say Yes” and dozens more.

No longer working in a production team, Andre (signed to Universal Music Publishing) continues to rack up the song credits. He now resides in Los Angeles, and has collaborated with a growing list of artists that includes Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Pharrell and, more recently, Melanie Fiona on her latest project, The Next Train.

MIQ: Talk about the differences in creative energy since you’ve moved to Los Angeles.

Dre: I’ve been in L.A. officially now for seven years. It goes without saying that Philly is my home base, my stomping ground, and where I come from. There is a love and a space of creativity in Philly that I will always love. Coming to L.A. gave me a chance to experience the L.A. life – the creative freedom, open energy and beautiful weather. A lot of the music business is out here… so many dope musicians and writers. It’s a different energy than Philadelphia but I bring the Philly vibe wherever I go.

Andre Harris accompanying singer-songwriter Melanie Fiona at Apogee Studios/Santa Monica, hosted by the L.A. Chapter of the Recording Academy

You pretty much produced the entire new Melanie Fiona project titled, The Next Train. Tells us a bit about that experience.

Melanie and I came together about four years ago. Her manager thought we would be a good fit. The first time Melanie came to my studio, we did an incredible record on the spot that night called “I Tried.” We both believed there was some creative magic at work, so over the past three years we locked in on different ideas, wrote and recorded.

It’s pretty rare for a producer to produce the majority of an R&B project today.

Yeah, it is. A lot of projects are spearheaded by a major label. They have an A&R overseeing it which is a lot different than the way I like to record or in the way a lot of classic albums have been recorded. Nowadays, artists get tracks from multiple writers and producers, and kind of assemble an album together. I believe music magic is created when one, two or maybe just three producers are [involved]. You have some cohesiveness and a quality effort. Amy Winehouse’s biggest album (Back to Black – Island Records – 2006) had Salaam Remi and maybe one or two other producers; Lauryn Hill’s solo album (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Ruffhouse/Columbia – 1998) the same.

How different is your approach working on an indie project like Melanie’s versus a major label funded album?

The money is a lot different which has its pros and cons. I’ve worked on some independent projects that had a budget and were funded enough to compete with a major label deal but may have lacked the resources to compete with promotions and marketing. Working with a major, there is more money and more people involved. When you’re working independently, it’s a lot more organic and more attention [is given] to the artist. You don’t have a lot of money to spend and waste. I like it, though. The project tends to move faster.

You’ve done so many records over the years, is there a song or a session that you are most proud of?

There are a few projects that I’m quite proud of. Honestly, any song that turned out to be a hit or where great ideas were being exchanged – all of those sessions are memorable. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great artists, including Michael Jackson: The King of Pop. He’s one of the legends from both mine and my parents’ generation…my kids’, too. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

You and Vidal had such a prolific period together. How different is it for you to work independent of a regular collaborator?

Vidal and I are very similar. He, too, is a real musician – a drummer, an engineer, an incredible producer and vocal producer. We’ve always worked on our own and as collaborators. It was easy to work together and on separate projects.

What is the level of expectation when you get the call from A&Rs or artists?

Some of them don’t know what to expect from me. Some artists don’t play instruments because, with technology, you can lay down beats; which technology affords me to do also. But I can get on a drum set, pick up a guitar and write a song, or play songs on the piano. It always puts me in a great position, honestly. I can also do other styles and genres of music; film and TV work. There is more to it than [being] a beat musician…but I will give it up to the person who can kill it on the beat machine, though.

Where do you see R&B music headed?

Music is about cycles. I always have a positive outlook on R&B music. We can’t be mad at the evolution of things. You can’t be scared to evolve. That’s why it’s important to stay young and current, but keep the integrity and identity of who you are musically.

What else are you currently working on?

I just did some songs with Estelle, Ro James, Luke James, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Justin Bieber. I may be getting back with Usher. Personally, I’m also looking to put out some collaboration projects featuring many of the artists that I’ve been working with. It would be under some different aliases that I’ve been going by like “The Frequency” or “Dre Bombay Presents.” I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to put out.

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY DAVID A. MITCHELL