Beyond hip-hop: Helmer fights rap on period musicals
While he’s best known to mainstream audiences as one-half of dada-soul duo Gnarls Barkley, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton has tweaked the musical realm from behind the scenes for years. The first producer to craft an overground mash-up LP — “The Grey Album,” a dizzying juxtaposition of the Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “Black Album” — he also played a major role in the success of the Gorillaz, in which he served as primary sonic architect.
Gnarls Barkley, his collaboration with Atlanta-bred rapper Cee-Lo Green, has resulted in one of the year’s top-selling LPs, “St. Elsewhere,” and the heavily downloaded single “Crazy” — the first download-only song to reach No. 1 in the U.K. Top 40. The partnership also has provided Burton carte blanche to take on A-list projects.
But his spotlight-shunning tendencies seem to be winning out, judging by his blithe insistence that big-paycheck gigs hold no interest whatsoever. Nevertheless, Burton’s flair for conversing in languages as diverse as old-school soul, futuristic techno and deeply disturbed psychedelia has made him the studio maven of the moment.
He lists Ennio Morricone, Portishead, 13th Floor Elevators and Elephant 6 as primary influences, but when it comes to future collaborations, he’s coy about revealing too much detail. “At this point, I don’t know how many of them want me talking about what’s going to happen, or when.”
What we do know is that he’s worked his producer’s magic on Sparklehorse’s “Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain,” being released by Astralwerks on Sept. 26.
“I go into every project looking at the concept first,” he says. “I’m interested in creating different musical worlds and bringing people I’m working with into those worlds, not in seeing how I can fit into what someone else does, or in making them fit into what I do. It’s all about creative fun — making crazy decisions and then seeing what happens because of them.”