Sessions & Samples: Ian Kirkpatrick On Producing Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar”
After cutting his teeth producing tracks from Warped Tour bands like Breathe Carolina and Plain White T’s, Ian Kirkpatrick ventured into the pop world with cuts on Nick Jonas’ 2014 self-titled LP and Justin Bieber’s mega-selling Purpose. The LA-based hitmaker then turned his attention to iconic pop divas, crafting tunes for Hilary Duff’s Breathe In. Breathe Out. and Britney Spears’ Glory. His latest and greatest achievement is producing Selena Gomez’s effortlessly cool Song Of The Summer contender, “Bad Liar.”
I recently caught up with Ian to find out how the fizzy bop came together. The producer spent a week on the road with Selena during the Revival World Tour, but “Bad Liar” was born several months later in a Los Angeles recording studio with songwriters Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. He explained how the decision to sample Talking Heads’ 1977 classic “Psycho Killer” came about as well as the pop star’s involvement in the creative process. Ian also gives a little insight into her impressive worth ethic. Find out more in our Q&A below.
Do you remember the first time you met Selena?
I was sitting with Justin and Julia at a hotel. Selena just appeared out of nowhere. She was so normal. She’s just fun to hang around. I’m not even blowing smoke. She is so sweet. I was nervous and then I wasn’t because she’s so grounded. We spent a week on the tour bus and wrote like five songs that were great. Selena is a workaholic. She would come off stage, put on sweatpants and write for two hours.
When was “Bad Liar” recorded?
November, I think. Definitely before Trump. Remember what life was like before?
Vaguely! Did you ever think “Bad Liar” might be too quirky for Selena?
I don’t know. I love is that left is the new center. That’s the reason songs like “Bad Liar” come out. It’s so unexpected and weird. Selena is the biggest artist that I’ve ever worked with. It’s crazy that someone that famous is willing to do something so different. I would rather fail trying to like do something cool than win with another boring pop song. “Bad Liar” is so unexpected and weird. I’m so proud of it.
I read that Julia suggested the Talking Heads sample.
Yeah. I mean, Julia and Justin are huge fans of the Talking Heads, as am I, but I wasn’t thinking about Talking Heads that day. I was sweating, thinking how we could take it to the next level. Anyways, Julia was like, “I’ve been listening to this ‘Psycho Killer’ song.” The bass line came on and we all stopped. I recorded it from Spotify and we wrote to the bass. I played around with the key and modulated it. Ultimately, the sample was replaced by a synth and a live bass. I already had those drums and it was like, “Oh cool, a hook!” It all came together so organically.
Is there a bigger body of work?
I’m aware of 3 or 4 other songs that the label is excited about, that she’s excited about.
Do you think that you’ll have one of those?
There are a couple we did in the studio and one from the bus that Interscope likes, but I don’t know. Selena is really smart about picking her songs. I’m going to keep trying to write more songs for her. She is the pinnacle of artists that I want to work with. Her last album was so good. “Same Old Love,” fucking “Good For You.” She’s a massive artist and her voice is so sexy and beautiful.
Stan Twitter says she can’t sing. What’s your rebuttal?
Selena can sing! Listen to the bridge of “Bad Liar.” She slayed that shit. In the background you can hear Justin screaming. She went in on that shit. I don’t think that bothers her, by the way. Her voice is more comfortable soft and sexy and she does that better than anyone in the business. Everybody has a different style. Also, it’s not a fucking singing competition. Do you believe it or not, you know? Do you connect with it? Do you feel like she’s telling you the truth?
People want real, honest, vulnerable stuff and Selena is the queen of that. “Bad Liar” is so naked. Look at the [Spotify] video. It’s very stripped-back and natural, as is her voice on that record. It’s very up-front. There’s not much processing. The production is not getting in the way of the song. It’s just there to support it. The song is all about her.
How involved is Selena?
She is extremely involved. She loves to write, she is really interested in writing and being a part of the writing process. She won’t do a song that doesn’t apply to her or resonate with her. Selena is very involved in the creative process. There’s a reason that her songs feel like her so much, you know?
Do you think about chart positions and things like that?
Yes. I’m terrified about it. I want to make everyone proud and have people believe in me. I want to be known for songs that do well, not ones that do bad. I also feel a responsibility to her fans. I love how dedicated they are. I would be so upset if my contribution didn’t strengthen their bond with the girl they love. Honestly, I’m just proud. I feel so proud and lucky to be a part of anything with Selena Gomez. It’s an achievement for me to have a single with a great artist that is actually a nice person.