It is no secret that the modern pop landscape is increasingly reliant on proven teams of songwriters and producers to generate hits. The Element, a Los Angeles-based collective, is capitalizing on this collaborative trend with an elastic alliance spearheaded by a trio of multi-talents.
Nikhil Korula, the founder and namesake of the NK Band–a global-influenced aggregation that has headlined concerts and clubs, and shared bills with John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Paul McCartney and the Roots, among many others, first envisioned the concept for the Element after a conversation with hit songwriter and producer Dr. Luke. “He said one of the best things you can do is surround yourself with young songwriters,” he recalls.
The Element partner Dimitri Cerny says that when he was growing up, he discovered the geniuses behind the hit songs, like Darkchild (Rodney Jerkins), David Foster and Max Martin. “I was a bigger fan of them than the artist. I think everything I did since I was 15 was mainly geared to learning digital production because I wanted to be able to complete a song from the beginning to its final stage. I was never very music-theory savvy, but eventually knew I had to learn it because it would make me a better writer.”
With five Grammys and recording and mixing Multiplatinum artists including Aerosmith, Elton John and Ringo Starr, the third member of the trifecta, Brian Vibberts, is a powerful production force. “As a graduate of Berklee College of Music, I have the music theory but I mostly use my gut instinct on whether the song and production is where it should be. With my experience working with many major artists (Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey), I feel I’m a valuable asset to the Element,” he notes.
The Element are co-writers on “Start it Up,” the lead track to reggae standard-bearer Ziggy Marley on his latest eponymous release. As the Element is signed to Tuff Gong Worldwide, a division of the Marley-connected company, the trio had access to the artist. Vibberts had worked with Marley in the past, as a recording and broadcast engineer on the television show, Sessions at West 54th. “To be a part of his new release on a creative level is a feeling beyond words,” he says.
Korula remembers beginning the song on an acoustic guitar. “I sat up in the middle of the night writing something that Bob (Marley) would want me to give to his son. I incorporated a couple of other guys the next day in finishing the song, and it became larger than we ever thought it could be.”
Cerny notes, “Nikhil wrote a big chunk of that song on his own. The Element just fine-tuned it together and put the finishing touches on it. Then Ziggy took it, changed a few things and added his genius and talent to it, which turned it into what it is now.”
The Element is not a closed shop: they enlist a roster of songwriters for different projects, including songwriter/producer/bassist Jesse Stern (who has played with Jordin Sparks, George Clinton and many others) and vocalist and songwriter Anthony Starble, who has placed songs on television series The Fosters and Pretty Little Liars.
“Right now the industry is collapsing in a lot of ways,” Korula observes. “It’s not musician friendly. We wanted to create a model that was different. We all share songwriting credit and everybody is invested in the songs and the music and the opportunities. We want to incorporate singer/songwriters, engineers or singers––whatever it takes to keep the songs flowing. Everyone is invested in the song. If it hits, we all win.”
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