To make "Perfect Illusion," her explosive new single released Thursday, Lady Gaga sat at a piano in Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California, with producer Mark Ronson and songwriter Kevin Parker of Tame Impala flanking her in La-Z-Boys. "They hashed out the lyrics for hours and hours," Michael "BloodPop" Tucker, a Justin Bieber and Grimes producer who worked on the session, tells Rolling Stone. "They started around noon and the sun just went down and they went into the night. Every few days, a lyric would change and it'd get better and better."
For the as-yet-untitled album, nicknamed "LG5" and due sometime this fall, Gaga reportedly shuffled collaborators in and out of the mix: RedOne, who helped turn Gaga into a superstar with his work on "Just Dance" and "Poker Face," has said he collaborated on eight new songs; Elton John, Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder reportedly made guest appearances, as did past Gaga producers DJ White Shadow and Fernando Garibay.
Gaga's previous album, ARTPOP, was a commercial disappointment, selling just 258,000 copies in its first week compared to more than 1.1 million for its 2011 predecessor Born This Way. Since then, she has drifted away from pop music, recording a duets album with Tony Bennett and starring on FX' American Horror Story. But Tucker tells Rolling Stone how her new song is a return to the sound that made her famous.
What was Gaga's mission statement for the single?
There wasn't a conversation of what it should sound like. We all kind of spoke a similar language. The thing I'm most excited about is it's totally non-derivative of anything on the radio right now — which I think is plaguing the radio a little bit, like this song sounds like that song. "Perfect Illusion," you can't look at any song in the last five or 10 years and be like, "This sounds like that." It's its own thing.
How would you describe the sound?
It’s soul-rooted and super-traditional songwriting. And rock. Yet it still has the heart of pop and dance.
How literal do you mean "soul-rooted"? Was Gaga inspired by traditional soul songwriting or production?
I don't think it's too literal. The first week I came in, I said, "You know what this is? It's cowboy pop." Not in the way of a pop star wearing a cowboy hat, but in a super-authentic cowboy [way] — listen to the radio and, "You know what, I can fuck with that." It's a big rock song that makes you want to dance and has an amazing chorus. That's soulful to me, but it is not soul music.
With you, Ronson and Parker in the crew, how actively was Gaga involved with songwriting?
Gaga's sitting there with a typewriter and a guitar and writing this shit herself. She's never not in the room. She's never not writing. She's not at the back of the train; she's at the front, controlling the speed. So when people are like, "Is it going to sound like this?" or "Is it going to sound like that?," it's all being tied together by her and her influences.
How did you come to work on "Perfect Illusion"?
I've always been a huge fan, but the connection came through Mark Ronson. He had heard an album I'm working on right now for another artist that he liked and we connected through that. Mark reached out [at the] end of May. And I went up to Malibu and met with him, and [in] the first few days, Kevin came in and the first single was done. It's been a quick couple of months here.
Can you break down who worked on what?
Kevin came in with this pretty-formed demo that everybody loved. And Mark is so good at recording and arranging and writing on every instrument, and Kevin's great at instruments. I'm terrible at instruments. I'm not what you would call a trained musician. Kevin also worked on the [music-production hardware] Ableton so he was like a bridge between Mark and I. It was a really good mix of analog and digital talents and the combined songwriting talents of everybody.
Where did you record?
We did a little bit in Mailbu and we did some in New York, and then they did a few days in her house. It's just kind of everywhere, wherever there’s time and the people. In New York, we were at Electric Lady, just doing vocals for the single. The Malibu studio, Shangri-La, was great, just because it’s out of LA, which I feel is too many influences pushing down on you. That's away from any kind of city stuff, so it feels like you're on a farm or something.
How would you describe the feel of the four of you working together in the studio?
It's been a great vibe from the start to finish. It's like a bunch of weird neighbor kids hanging out on a lazy Sunday doing a project. Everybody just feels like old friends in a way. And there’s no question of what the goal is, or what the level of quality should be before something's done.