Producer RedOne on the star-studded remake of 'We Are the World'
He's the studio virtuoso behind some of Lady Gaga's futuristic electro-pop tracks, and he's worked with artists as diverse as Enrique Iglesias and Akon, even New Kids on the Block. Now RedOne, the Moroccan-Swedish producer, can add a few dozen more names to that list, including Barbra Streisand, Kanye West, Sugarland and Miley Cyrus, thanks to his involvement with the new incarnation of the "We Are the World" single. A roster of 100 star-studded voices recently gathered in Los Angeles to re-record the song, which was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie 25 years ago originally to raise money for African famine relief. The revamped version, proceeds from which will benefit aid efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, will premiere today on NBC during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
Pop & Hiss snagged a few minutes with the producer to talk about the new single.
How did you become involved with the remake?
I got a call last minute from Lionel Richie asking me to come up with a track for the song.
Just like that?
Yeah. It was like a dream-come-true kind of phone call, you know? He’s a friend of mine. He’s always been supportive of my music. He’s always given me advice on how to do things. He’s been like a big brother to me. So I got a call from him and Quincy [Jones, who produced the original single] saying I should do a version of this. I did, last minute. I was so nervous. I had nightmares. Thank God I delivered. The next day, we went to play the song for Quincy. There were a few people who tried different versions. But Quincy said, “Your version is by far the best.” So that was pretty nice.
A huge roster of stars participated.
Yeah. We recorded after the Grammys [where RedOne took home two trophies for his work with Lady Gaga], so that helped. All the stars were in town. It was an experience of a lifetime. The funny thing is, a few months ago, me and Lionel were at the same studio and he was telling me all these stories about the original “We Are the World.” About how magical it was … all these huge names in the same room. He was like, “Those things don’t happen every day.” I was listening like a little kid. The next thing you know, I’m experiencing it. … it was like the next generation. To be chosen as the producer from this generation to do it, it was incredible.
What was the vibe like with so many big stars in one room?
It was a nice spirit. This thing isn’t about me as a producer or the artists as artists. It was about helping Haiti. It was like how Quincy said, “Check your egos at the door.” Everybody was helping.
How do you manage all those voices?
In the studio, we had a few rooms. We didn’t have a lot of time. We had one day when everyone could do it. We were doing different vocals in different rooms. The choir, we did it live with everyone there.
As a producer, what was it like to be part of remaking something that has such a huge legacy?
I think that's why Quincy and Lionel asked me. They wanted someone current but someone who would stay true to the first one. Honestly, I didn’t want to change too much. I have too much respect for the original. It's such a classic. I kept the magic and the musicality of the first one and just gave it a little fresher sound for the audience of now, so the new generation could appreciate it.
I’m sure you felt a lot of pressure taking on the project.
Oh, of course. My God. The pressure was big. But having people like Lionel and Quincy -- the most humble people who were very supportive -- helped. They gave me directions. But it was a lot of pressure. I told you, I had nightmares. Thank God they loved it. I was living a dream.
Did you feel the spirit of Michael Jackson that day?
Absolutely. Michael was a charity person. He loved helping people. He loved it. He loved helping anybody who needed it. And, of course, the spirit of Michael was there with us. We felt his energy. And with what’s going on in Haiti, I mean, that’s why we were all there. Nobody was thinking about their ego. This was about Haiti. Like Jaime Foxx, he told me … Jamie Foxx came to me and said “Red, don’t worry about me. I’m here for as long as you need me. Do your thing. If someone wants to sing first, I’ll wait.” There was a lot of that. Good spirit and positivity.
Did you ever think that you'd be working with Tony Bennett on a track? Or so many of the other artists?
Right! There was Wyclef, Tony, Celine, Akon, Barbra Streisand. I would never have thought it was possible. It’s incredible. Just sitting with Quincy Jones and Lionel in one room -- it’s beyond comprehension. And it’s all to help a country. The main idea is to touch people’s hearts. To send a message: help, help, help. We tried to perfect our creativity to transmit that to people because music is the No. 1 thing that unites people. We just want to raise as much money as possible for Haiti.
The song will be available for download from World 25 and iTunes. All proceeds will go to the We Are the World Foundation, which will distribute the money to charities doing earthquake relief in Haiti.
-- Yvonne Villarreal
Photos: First, celebrities gather at the "We Are the World" for Haiti recording session at Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood this month. Credit: Kevin Mazur / WireImage. Second, RedOne. Credit: Andrew Gombert / EPA