If you’ve never heard of Rob Fusari, chances are you’ve heard one of his songs if you’ve ever turned on a radio. He first made a name for himself producing and writing many of the biggest hip-hop and R&B hits of the early 2000s including “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith and “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child. Only a few years later, Fusari helped launch the career of an artist you may have heard of: Lady Gaga. He was not only the person to give her the stage name ‘Lady Gaga,’ but was also the person who first brought her to Interscope Records, the label she is still with currently. He also co-executive produced her debut album “The Fame” and specifically co-wrote and produced five of the songs on the album, including the mega-hit “Paparazzi.”
After Gaga broke out almost overnight, their relationship got a bit dicey and led to Fusari suing Gaga as well as her counter-suing in 2010. Now, six years later, Fusari has decided to release a solo version of one of the early songs he and Gaga (Stefani Germanotta at the time) wrote together, a song called “Don’t Let Love Down.” He talked in depth to byteclay.com about the song, his time with Gaga and how he has a different perspective on their collaboration after more time has passed.
byteclay.com: How would you describe the sound of “Don’t Let Love Down?”
Fusari: The sound is very indicative of The Beatles, and specifically [John] Lennon. It’s kind of cliché in itself to say The Beatles inspire a song writer, but it’s the sound of how everything kind of started for me. It’s going back to my basics, going back to square one. In spite of all the things I was fortunate to have done, be it in the hip-hop/R&B world with Destiny’s Child, Master P, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in the early 2000s and onto the very electronic pop sound with Gaga, I’ve been brought back kind of full circle to where everything started for me.
The feel and the sound of the record are basically me just kind of dropping all the smoke and mirrors and just saying this is basically who I am. It got kind of pushed into so many different directions in the last ten, fifteen years that sometimes you forget who you are and forget why you got into the business and why you’re doing it to begin with. It got so cloudy and so convoluted with all the craziness. This song is like coming home to me.
byteclay.com: What do you think veered you off that path you were talking about?
Fusari: Back in the late 90s when I was trying to get a foot into the music business, there wasn’t a lot out there to pick from in terms of how many artists you can [work with] as a songwriter/producer. What was very popular and what labels were signing was this very R&B/hip-hop thing that had started with groups like Puffy, 702, Total and Supreme type girl groups. Obviously Destiny’s Child was my foot in. I always liked that music so I basically took a year and I studied and really got into that whole sound. I basically just had to really hit the books so to speak and really learned the core of R&B to get in the door and that kind of just took off. And once you break ground with anything in life, people know you for that thing and they think that’s what you are. So I kind of went in that direction more and more in the next following five or six years, because once you have success like with Destiny’s Child, people want what you have had success at. So you kind of have to stay in the machine if you want to play the game. I’m not saying sell your soul or don’t be who you are, but you have to make twists and turns to make things work and that’s what I had to do.
I thought I was coming home more when I did the Gaga project because I felt that she could be that artist who could do this kind of thing [that I’m doing right now]. It kind of brings me full circle that this was one of the songs that I had written with her. I felt that I finally found that person who could be the voice of this thing, this place I called home in my music. Ultimately, I didn’t see the connection. I wasn’t getting that Gaga was living this life. It felt a little forced to me. [“Don’t Let Love Down”] felt like it was someone who had lived a little more, and at the time she was just turning 20/21 and it didn’t come off true. So we wound up scratching the whole first project, which was 20/25 songs and “Don’t Let Love Down” was one of these songs.
byteclay.com: So “Don’t Let Love Down” came before any of the songs you and Gaga did for “The Fame?”
Fusari: Yes, this was one of the first things we did. This group of songs that were very Lennon, very Beatles that had this rock, folk flavor got completely scratched. The song that changed [everything] was “Beautiful Dirty Rich.” When we did that, we were confident that we made the right choice and abandoned all this because we went from there into “Paparazzi” and other tracks that were a better marriage to who she was.
byteclay.com: Can you talk about your history with Gaga?
Fusari: I was introduced by a friend at the time who said this is someone I saw perform who you might want to work with. The night I spoke to her, I asked her if she had a My Space, at the time My Space was big. She didn’t have one but she had a Pure Volume Page. So while I was speaking to her, I [pulled up] her page and was listening to it very low in the background. It sounded like a No Doubt/Gwen Stefani knock off thing but there was enough there that it peaked my interest so I invited her to my studio. She came into the studio the following week. Initially I wasn’t very impressed, but there’s something that happened when she sat down at the piano and played for me, that’s when the sparks really flew. She played a song she had written called “Hollywood” and I was very intrigued how she approached her lyrics and how she moved her body and how she had this very jagged diamond in the rough sort of [David] Bowie thing about her. This was so inviting for me because in all my years as a writer/producer, labels weren’t signing those kind of artists so I would never get that coming to me. When I met her, I was just so excited to finally have an outlet for that type of thing. We started basically writing immediately. The first night we met we wrote a song called “Wonderful.”
[When we wrote “Don’t Let Love Down,” I think there was] a foreshadowing there. I think her and I knew that we were both volatile, very emotional people. There was no way there was going to be an album two for us. You could tell, sparks [flew]. It’s kind of like when the sun shines really bright that means at some point the rain is going to rain really heavy and it’s going to be a really bad storm. I think that’s what lyrically this song was foreshadowing for us, to say this day is not going to last. Did we enjoy it for what it was at the moment? Of course not because we’re both artists, it was a very bittersweet time. From day one it was bittersweet with myself and her. I don’t regret any of it, I think we made some good music. It was going to end quickly and it did. Her and I both knew when we looked into each others’ eyes that this thing was going to be a moment in time, that we weren’t going to have a long standing relationship. I think it’s why we wrote so many songs, we wrote them so fast because we didn’t know if tomorrow would come. Let’s get in as much as we can because this thing may go up in smoke tomorrow and it went up in smoke. There was something sad about it and when I listen to the melody and the feel of “Paparazzi,” it sounds sad to me. It’s a beautiful sadness but there’s a sadness to that record even though it has all the earmarks that would make it an uplifting song. It was one of the last songs we wrote together, it was kind of like saying let’s try and hang on but we know we can’t hang on.
byteclay.com: Do you think Gaga would approve of “Don’t Let Love Down” in its current incarnation?
Fusari: I don’t think she would ever approve of anything in terms of her not singing it for songs she’s a co-writer on, especially with the nature of our relationship. I think if she did she wouldn’t say it.
byteclay.com: What are your thoughts on her career as it stands today?
Fusari: It took me a long time but I’m currently in a different place. I’m happy. I look at it from afar and say, I played a role in that and I’m proud of being a part of that. I would never take full credit for who she is, it was never about the spotlight. At first it was difficult to kind of be outside the circle even though you created the circle, but now I think I enjoy being out of the circle. It took me a long time to look at it that way but I can look at things differently now. I’m happy that it’s come to that now.
byteclay.com: You said how “Don’t Let Love Down” is an honest, more raw song without all the smoke and mirrors. Do you think that a lot of what Lady Gaga has been doing lately, like her two Oscar performances and her work with Tony Bennett, is more in line with how you originally started with her and with your current music?
Fusari: I do. I knew that it was going to come full circle. It’s kind of how she came to me, as that kind of artist. She didn’t put on her CD and say “here’s my new dance track.” She sat at a piano and she poured her heart out. Maybe what we did [in the beginning] just didn’t nail it and wasn’t the right direction for her but it’s still who she was. She had to come back to it. When I took her to Interscope, the first thing that threw me off the track was [an executive there] said that the first thing they were going to do on the project when they signed her was get her off the piano. I was like “What? Man, here we go.” This isn’t Britney Spears. They’re the label and they know what they got to do to break stars, but I knew once that happened, it was only a matter of time before it would go full circle with her as well. She’s a female Bowie to me, so why not?
byteclay.com: Can you talk about how you sought artists to fill Gaga’s shoes after you two parted ways before giving up and just deciding to make the music yourself?
Fusari: What happened very shortly after “The Fame” came out, it felt like every unsigned artist in the world reached out and felt like they were the next Gaga. It was exciting for me and I felt if I can’t find another one now, I’ll never be able to. I would listen to them all and I met with a lot of artists and I wrote with a lot of artists [but] I tried to fit square pegs into round holes. I was just astonished I came up with zero in terms of someone that felt like a superstar. Maybe the bar was raised after doing the Gaga project, I still don’t know to this day. Maybe prior to working with her ten of these artists would have been great in my eyes. I couldn’t connect with one of them.
I can only do so much in terms of having an artist sing a certain way and showing them how to sing and how to inflect, how to say the words, how to slow down, how to speed up. It just wasn’t working. I thought I could be this idol maker type of individual and it didn’t work for a good couple of years after “The Fame.” Shortly after, I was just so frustrated not being able to hear my music the right way that I just turned to the microphone and started doing vocals myself. Not even for the notoriety or the spotlight, it was never about that and still [isn’t]. I’m not looking for that, I’m looking for the music. If I don’t get the music, I’m in trouble. I saw what happened to me in the years I wasn’t being fulfilled by the music. I developed serious addictions, life had become pretty much a train wreck and all because my drug of choice was music and [without it], I started getting into serious issues. Thank God that’s passed. I’d rather start over than keep going on the path if it’s not right. Let me get back to the music, that’s the only thing that will keep me alive.
byteclay.com: So where do you go from here?
Fusari: I’m always going to write songs for myself and release them because it’s very therapeutic for me. [As for all the other songs Gaga and I worked on], I don’t see it being an easy road to record these songs on another artist. I don’t think I’d want to do that anyway out of respect for her. That’s the only way that the songs can be heard if I do them or if she does them, and she’s not going to do them. [So] I think I might record more of the songs from the early works of me and [Gaga], and also some new ones as well. I think when you stop trying sometimes in life, things start to happen. More recently I’ve been meeting new artists. I think because I’m not in that same place where I have to top Lady Gaga, my ears are opened and I’m sure I’ll probably do another artist at some point. But I’m not going to do it just to do it. The wheels had to come off the train for me to stop. There was a force that stopped me from really flying off the rails and into a brick wall. So I think “Don’t Let Love Down” is saying just when you think it’s over, and you’re ready to throw in the towel, give it one more second.
“Don’t Let Love Down” is now available on iTunes and can be downloaded here. The music video is also available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh1N50LfhEw&feature=youtu.be