Bruno Mars' New Music Has 'Throwback Nina Simone' Feel, Says Producer

'He knows how to vibe,' explains Benny Blanco, who worked on a track for the singer's next LP

Bruno Mars
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Bruno Mars
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For a musician who spends weeklong writing blocks playing ping-pong and shooting hoops, Benny Blanco manages to stay busy. The producer-songwriter, whose credits include chart-toppers for Maroon 5 and Katy Perry, has filled his schedule since the start of the year, clocking studio time with fellow hitmakers like Paul Epworth (who co-wrote and -produced Adele's "Rolling in the Deep") Rico Love and longtime collaborator Dr. Luke. Among the artists he's worked with: Ke$ha, for whom he produced an untitled tune co-written by fun.'s Nate Ruess, and Bruno Mars, who's at work on the follow-up to his 2010 breakthough, Doo Wops & Hooligans. The latter session yielded a piano-laced track intended for Mars' new LP.

"I got a really cool song with him. Me and Paul [Epworth] just got together and Bruno wrote an amazing song on top of it. It kind of all came together," Blanco tells Rolling Stone. "It's like some throwback Nina Simone type shit, like 'Sinnerman.' It's Bruno. He can sing the A.B.C.'s and you'd be like, 'Holy fuck!' He knows how to vibe."

Blanco also hit the studio recently with Empire of the Sun, Wiz Khalifa and Marina and the Diamonds, stretching across genre lines with his spectrum of gigs. Known mostly for his work with pop stars, Blanco hopes to dig back into his hip-hop roots (his early credits include work with Spank Rock and Hell Rell) via collborations with with Rico Love. The pair most recently co-produced Trey Songz's "Heart Attack" with Love, and Blanco says his work with Khalifa upcoming O.N.I.F.C. album is a testament to his intentions to broaden his horizons.

"I'm trying to do different stuff than I've ever done, to challenge myself and dip into a lot of R&B and hip-hop. Maybe some shit I don't even know yet. I just really want to break any boundaries that I thought I might have," explains Blanco. "Paul [Epworth] is showing me great things that I never even thought of. We're doing records with live drum sets, we're playing live bass guitars and chopping them all up and doing just really cool, interesting stuff, trying to challenge ourselves and the listener."

He isn't ditching pop, though. Blanco hasn't caught wind of a new Katy Perry album – "I haven't heard of anything for a record, and I have not started anything yet," he says – but credits his previous work with the singer as building blocks for his current work ethic. He names "Teenage Dream" as one of the most difficult tracks of his career – the product of artistic differences.

"At first, Katy didn't even like those tracks. And then finally, we got 'Teenage Dream' to have great writers on it like Bonnie McKee and Max Martin. All the stars were aligned," he says. "We had to rewrite lyrics to that song seven times. Some of those records are like that. When you finally get it right, it's like, ah. It makes it all the better."