Meet Jonny Coffer, The Secret Weapon Behind Beyoncé’s “Freedom”
“I didn’t expect it to end up on Beyoncé’s album,” the producer tells REVOLT.
Take a look at the credit list behind Beyoncé’s Lemonade and you’ll see just how much work went into making this the biggest musical event of the year (so far). Nothing was out of the ordinary for the LP’s clarion call for contributors. Grammy-winning film composer Jon Brion lands a spot for string arrangement. Brooklyn upstart Melo-X goes from releasing an EP in 2014 called Yoncé-X to actually having that title come to life. The elusive James Blake makes a rare appearance. Heck, even Soulja Boy lands a surprise credit.
Among the some 129 names is none other than Jonny Coffer, the man behind one of Lemonade‘s many standouts, “Freedom” (co-produced by Just Blaze). Based out of London, the songwriter and producer, who worked on music for the likes of Sam Smith, Naughty Boy and Ellie Goulding, brushes his stroke of genius on Bey’s church-ready, rock-drenched anthem as a credited writer and producer.
Retracing how the collaboration all came together, Coffer spoke to REVOLT about “Freedom,” working with Beyoncé (again), and almost drumming up another title for the track.
Before this album, you worked with Beyoncé on Naughty Boy’s “Runnin’ (Lose It All).” How did Beyoncé reach out to you?
Beyonce had heard “Runnin”’ through her publisher Big Jon, who then got in touch with my management and invited us to L.A. to work on more stuff for her.
I was actually supposed to be going on holiday on the Saturday, and I’d been working flat out to be able to get away. I don’t think they know this, but every time my management change my diary I get a notification, and on Friday afternoon I was just about to leave the studio to go pack when a notification flashed up saying ‘event cancelled: Jonny’s Holiday.’ That was the first I’d heard about it so I was pretty unhappy until I realized it was for Beyoncé.
Explain the creative process that went into “Freedom.”
I had come across the Kaleidoscope sample and wanted to make something out of it. So I’d made a rough thing and then forgotten all about it.
We were doing some writing based around some ideas Beyoncé had sent us. It wasn’t going that well and we were hitting our head against the wall. Big Jon came by and we were talking about random stuff, when I remembered the Kaleidoscope thing. I didn’t want to stop everybody and play it to them properly because I was pretty nervous in front of Jon (who has made some crazy hits), so I just started playing it quietly in the background while everybody was talking. Jon’s such a great set of ears, he immediately stopped and was like ‘Yo, that’s the one.’ We were playing it at full blast in the studio and everybody was vibing. We then spent a couple of days trying to get the song right, and more time in L.A. finishing it off.
Whose idea was it to include a sample of Kaleidoscope’s “Let Me Try” and the recordings from Alan Lomax? What was the process like interpolating these soundbites into the song.
The Kaleidoscope sample was the foundation on which we built the song. It has a crazy groove so it took a while to chop it and manipulate it the way I wanted, and to get the verse drums sounding right. I then built the rest of the sections around that while we were writing the song. I added the church congregation sample to create vibe and ambience. As I recall, I’d manipulated that a lot to get it to work melodically with the track, so I’d probably lengthened notes, chopped bits out and transposed notes in it. It sounds like a defined melody in the track, but it isn’t the same melody as in the original — more like a new object made from the same materials. The chain gang Lomax sample I added last minute, because it felt so right for the message of the song. It’s a tiny fragment looped — the actual vocal sounded so shouty and wild and I loved the vibe.
Overall, what was the vision behind the song?
When I was first playing around with the sample, I didn’t expect it to end up on Beyoncé’s album, I was just trying to make something cool. I wanted to make a collage of different sounds, so it felt nostalgic but not from one era, and I also wanted it to be powerful. The “freedom” lyric worked really well to emphasize that element of the track.
What’s it like to not only work with Beyoncé, but also produce alongside her?
For me it felt a bit like I’d gone through the wrong door at the Super Bowl and found myself on the pitch with the ball thrust into my hands. But she’s a very naturally warm person and it’s easy to be yourself around her and forget that she’s probably the greatest singer alive — and to forget that you probably shouldn’t try and sing harmonies in front of her, which I did to my great shame. She’s a great producer in the sense of having a vision for an idea, and knowing how to realize it, so it was pretty inspiring working with her.
Were you all in the studio together (Beyoncé, Just Blaze)?
Beyoncé was in the studio with us. She somehow manages to juggle all the things she’s doing with spending time in the studio. She’d come in and jam with us and see what was cooking, give us feedback and suggestions. Just Blaze was brought in much later in the process to add his touches to the record, so I never got to meet him. I’d heard they were thinking about sending it to him and I was hoping they had because I think he’s dope.
Was there another title in mind before the song eventually became known as “Freedom”?
Yeah — I think one of the co-writers probably wanted to punch me in the studio because I vetoed another title, which I won’t share here, that the others were really digging. I can be really frustrating in the studio because I won’t settle if I’m not happy with something, and I wanted to find a more powerful lyric. Eventually the “Freedom” idea came and I think we all knew straight away it was the one.
“Freedom” is currently the No. 7 song on iTunes, quickly hitting the Top 10, what does it mean to be a part of this musical event?
I think that’s just my Mum buying it on iTunes over and over again, so I’m not reading too much into it. I’m just happy to have been part of the album because I think the other tracks are all incredible. I also had a great time working with everyone on the record so I’m just grateful for the opportunity.
In addition to having worked with Beyoncé, Coffer is currently in the studio with Emeli Sandé.