EW chats with Jon Brion. The co-producer of Kanye's ''Late Registration'' explains his unlikely pairing with the hip-hop star

Producer Jon Brion is best known for crafting ear-catching orchestral arrangements for the likes of Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann, as well as for scoring films like Punch-Drunk Love. So it was a minor shock when rap titan Kanye West called him out of the blue to ask if he would co-produce West’s sophomore album, Late Registration.

”I’m somebody who likes a good left turn,” says Brion of the unexpected team-up, which started out casually: ”[Kanye] came by my studio one afternoon to play me some things, and by the end we had put a ton of instruments on one song. And he was like, ‘Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.”’

The pair spent as much time working on the lyrics as they did on the music. ”I’m quite a lyric-obsessed person,” says Brion. ”People would tend to assume that my main interest is instrumentation, but arrangement is just part of the toolbox of getting across a song idea.”

Sometimes, as on the album’s opening track, ”Touch the Sky” — which is built around a sample of Curtis Mayfield’s ”Move On Up” — Brion just stood back and watched. ”There wasn’t a hell of a lot for me to do on that. It had the sample and the beat, and it didn’t really need any more.

”I actually learned a ton from watching Kanye work,” says Brion, who is game for doing more work in a funky-fresh vein. ”I like hip-hop a lot,” he says, ”but nobody had ever asked me about doing a hip-hop album before.” Now that West’s album has dropped, expect the phone to start ringing, buddy.