The Grammy-winning producer discusses “Peaches,” jamming with rock legends and trying to mirror Elton John’s fashion sense.
Andrew Watt — the reigning producer of the year, non-classical Grammy winner — kept up his prolific pace this year after a breakthrough 2020. In addition to scoring a Hot 100 chart-topper (and song of the year Grammy nod) for co-writing Justin Bieber’s smash “Peaches,” Watt contributed to high-profile projects from artists as wide-ranging as Elton John, Young Thug and Ed Sheeran.
Meanwhile, he’s already mapped out his first major project of 2022: Earthlings, Pearl Jam leader Eddie Vedder’s first solo album in over a decade, which was preceded this year by the songs “The Haves” and “Long Way.” In addition to producing Earthlings, due out Feb. 11, Watt has joined Vedder’s newly formed band the Earthlings for the project, along with Chad Smith, Josh Klinghoffer, Chris Chaney and Glen Hansard.
Below, Watt looks back on his major projects of the past year, and the “pinch-me” professional moments that they inspired:
Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar & Giveon, “Peaches”
Justin lives pretty close to me, and we’ve been friends for pretty much a decade now. He just came over one day, and I was working on some other stuff. He sat down at my piano and started playing these chords. He didn’t even realize I was recording it, but the chords were awesome. He got on the drums and started playing this amazing beat, and then I picked up a bass and he was telling me the bass line he heard in his head. Then he got on the vocal mic and started freestyling. We weren’t supposed to make a song that day — Shawn Mendes came over and hung out on the couch while we were making, and then Louis Bell came over while we were making. Everyone was just vibing together.
That was how the record started, and then Justin’s musical director [Bernard “Harv” Harvey] took those elements and turned them into what we know “Peaches” to be. Justin had the idea to get Daniel and Giveon on the record and turn it into a classic. It was all Justin’s brain, from start to finish, and it’s an amazing thing to watch, one of your friends knowing exactly what they want to that level.
I was completely shocked [when “Peaches” debuted at No. 1], and so excited. Anyone that ever says “I knew that was going to happen, I knew it’d be No. 1” — you don’t know shit, no one knows s–t. That’s what’s so exciting about this time: you don’t know how people are going to react. Shoving music down people’s throats? You can try, but it doesn’t really exist anymore. People go on Spotify, people go on Apple Music, they choose what they want to listen to. You cannot predict people’s response, but you can just make what you think is good and what you enjoy. With this song, where it was really Justin’s from inception to end, I think everything that [has happened] really means a lot to him. So it’s special to all of us, because of that.
Elton John, The Lockdown Sessions
Elton has the most amazing chords ever, of all time. It’s just one of his amazing things. To be able to sit there and watch him play piano, and watch him read a lyric sheet, and write in that prolific way that you’ve only heard about in movies and read about in books, and watch how he does chords — I’m like, “Elton, you got to give me a chord chart before I play guitar on this, otherwise I’m f–ked!” He’s laughing as I’m transposing his crazy piano chords onto a guitar, and then I have new chords that I never knew or played before, because I’m learning them from him! Then I can take those into another session with another artist and have some new tricks that I never had before, that I get to learn from him.
[My work with Elton] started when I got to make the album of my dreams with Ozzy [Osbourne, on 2020’s Ordinary Man]. It was Ozzy’s idea to have Elton play on “Ordinary Man,” and [Ozzy’s wife] Sharon made it happen because they’re all longtime friends.That was when I first met him, and we bonded over that song and just kind of kept in touch. So it was a natural progression over a couple of years, and when he started making his Lockdown album, he reached out to do some stuff because he was going to be in L.A. The fact that he even remembered who I was and wanted to work with me, that was enough of a pinch-me [moment] right there. Then to have him in my own studio playing my actual piano was absurd.
I had a Gucci tracksuit and a pair of crazy sunglasses on when he walked into the studio, to kind of have it be joke to be like dressed like him. But he came in there and he didn’t get the joke when he got there — he just thought I looked cool, which was even funnier, I think.
Young Thug, “Hate The Game” & “Fifth Day Dead”
With Thug, he’s one of the most prolific, amazing artists that I’ve ever been around. It’s just like, one breath for him — you can’t believe how, if you put on a track for him, he’s hearing it and he hits the microphone, and he’s running ProTools himself, he gets on the computer and comps his own vocals. He knows exactly what he’s hearing, he knows when he does the right take, just over and over.
He writes a song in 15 minutes and you’re like, “It’s the best thing I’ve heard.” He never goes back and [tries] it again — he just knows exactly what he wants to talk about and has it all in his head, the second he hears the track. He just keeps hitting it until he gets it right. He’s visceral on the microphone, and it’s pretty amazing to watch.
Eddie Vedder, Earthlings (2022)
It’s almost too much for me to talk about. I was born in 1990 and my brother was born in ’85, so all we listened to growing up was Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers. If I admitted to you how many Pearl Jam concerts I’ve been to, it probably wouldn’t be good for anything. But I used to go to Pearl Jam concerts with a sign that said, “Let me play the guitar solo to ‘Alive,’” and I found myself onstage at the Ohana Festival playing the guitar solo to “Alive” with Pearl Jam. So it’s just an actual full-circle, unbelievable moment that I feel like I’ve been ready for my whole life. It’s not supposed to happen like that — you’re not supposed to have those posters on your wall and be in the position where you’re creating with those people.
We just had the most amazing experience. I’ve known Ed for about 10 years, and we kept in touch and started making music together, and Chad and Josh from the Peppers were very involved. We just had a ball together, laughing and hanging out, popping beers and making the kind of music that we all love. I’m so excited for everyone to hear it. We’re just finishing up the mixes and stuff, and I’m just really excited. I don’t want to say too much besides, just to hear his voice in front of me, and get to play guitar and bass under that? It’s like a celebration.