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Breaking Big: Boots

The brain behind tracks on Beyoncé’s surprise 2013 album delivers one of the year’s wildest debuts.

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Elliot Lee Hazel

Here’s something you might not know about some of your favorite Beyoncé songs: They were written and produced by a 28-year-old named Jordan Asher. In 2013, the pop star tapped the studio wizard, who was signed as a producer to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, to put a fresh spin on tracks for her surprise smash album, Beyoncé. Now Asher, who’s known by the moniker Boots, is going solo this month with his major-label debut, AQUARIA, one of the year’s edgiest and most inventive records.

“There’s a water tornado [of influences],” he tells EW, citing Nas, Miles Davis, David Bowie, and Missy Elliott. “If it’s jumping genres, that’s just how I take in music.” The genre-hopping also applies to his own output. Besides Beyoncé, Boots pitched in on the most recent releases from hip-hop duo Run the Jewels and avant-R&B artist FKA twigs.

“People aren’t just listening to one style of music,” explains Asher, adding that he’d like certain tracks from AQUARIA to slot next to Jimi Hendrix, Queens of the Stone Age, or St. Vincent on a playlist. As he sees it, the “circles” that previously constrained a person’s musical taste, whether punk or hip-hop or rock, “are more like a venn diagram” today.

“The Beatles were the pioneers of that, I think,” he says. “They were the first ones to really start blending sounds and doing things like that. They wanted to mix strings and orchestral music with rock and roll and at the time that was considered blasphemy to those classic players. And now it’s commonplace to put strings on everything.”

Asher honed his chops playing in the indie-pop duo Blonds, which informs his guitar work, but he’s not exaggerating his stylistic tourism. On AQUARIA, the claustrophobic, industrial-influenced sounds that permeated Beyoncé cuts like “Haunted” and “Jealous” remain intact. The album also contains one female feature, and it’s not from one of Boots’ higher-profile colleagues in the “top pop stratosphere.”

“I knew that I wanted there to be one female feature on the album and I sent it to quite a number of female artists,” says Boots, who eventually settled on Angel Deradoorian, the singer best known for her work in the indie-rock band Dirty Projectors. “There was just a cohesion that kind of happened there. It felt real and it felt the most natural and she captured the spirit of what I was going for.”

His preference for quality over glitzy prestige extends to his personal life, about which he’s guarded. “I would rather people just stay out of my business,” he says. “I don’t really get caught up in the whole world of celebrity.” Instead, he peppers in stories of behind-the-scenes moments with Beyoncé away from the paparazzi’s lights. After his Roc Nation move, he says he turned her on to everything from Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” to Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” (Beyoncé’s reaction to Robert Plant’s vocals? “Oh my god, I didn’t know he could sing like that!”)

“She has an eye and an understanding for art,” Boots explains. “Those conversations led into the bigger things — I said to her that I was a feminist and she said, ‘What do you mean?’ because she hadn’t been fully clear on, you know, what it really meant to be a feminist. I said ‘A feminist believes in the equality of the sexes’ and we went into it and that led her to looking up TED Talks and things and understanding and educating her.”

Listeners may continue to associate Boots with the important artists in his orbit — and he promises that he has “a few things [he’s] working on that will reveal themselves at a time in the near future” — but he’s pumped about his own music: “It means a lot to me to have made the album that I wanted to make.”

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