Dave Bassett Has Breakthrough Year, Co-Writing & Producing The Hits “Fight Song” For Rachel Platten and “Ex’s & Oh’s” For Elle King

Dave Bassett
Dave Bassett (photo by Nick Stabile)

Over the course of his multi-faceted career, songwriter & producer Dave Bassett has had success collaborating with a wide range of artists and bands. He has co-written many songs for rock band Shinedown’s last three albums, including their biggest hit “Second Chance.” He also co-wrote the hit “Love Bites” for the band Halestorm, which won a Grammy award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. In addition, Bassett has penned songs for pop/AC artists like Josh Groban and Idina Menzel, for platinum rock band Daughtry, as well as neo-soul band Fitz and the Tantrums and ska-reggae-rockers Walk off the Earth.

Notwithstanding these fine credits, Bassett has experienced a true breakthrough in 2015. The Chicago native co-wrote and produced two of the biggest pop/rock hits of the past six months: “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten and “Ex’s & Oh’s” by Elle King. Both singles reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Notably, both songs were breakthrough hits which helped Platten and King become successful worldwide. It was also just announced that Bassett has been nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rock Song, for co-writing “Ex’s & Oh’s.”

In addition, in 2015 Bassett co-wrote the single “Footsteps” for alt-metal band Pop Evil, which reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream rock chart. Bassett also co-wrote & produced most of the songs on Shinedown’s latest album Threat to Survival, which was another strong seller for the band.

Although he’s had success working with established artists, Bassett thrives creatively on developing artists that were still under the mainstream radar when they started the process of writing with him. It’s this fresh energy that drew him to sign alt-pop band machineheart to his Two of Everything production company. After nine months of working with the band, they signed to Columbia and released the much buzzed about EP In Your Dreams, produced and mostly co-written by Bassett. He believes that frontwoman Stevie Scott will follow in Platten and King’s footsteps as a breakout female voice.

“I’m always looking for the next thing that sparks me emotionally—an artist whose vibe and vision I can believe in,” he says. “Trying consciously to write hit songs is much less fulfilling than meeting in the studio face-to-face with an artist, getting to know them and trying to figure out the best road to take, given their personality and unique stories and lives. As a co-writer and producer, I’m there to draw the best out of them. Great songs should emerge from that process. Nothing is more ridiculous than chasing radio, or being at a session where people are analyzing how many songs on the radio are at a certain bpm.

“Everyone’s looking for the next Adele or Maroon 5, but those artists are already out there,” Bassett adds. “So who’s the next ‘thing,’ and what’s the most honest song I can write with that artist? I’ve found that when I am called in to work with so-called bigger acts, the process is more corporate and convoluted and my actual creative time with them is limited. Plus, young artists have the energy and hunger. I’ve been to some of those superstar writing camps and while it’s like a party with other creative people, I’m still at my best when I’m one-on-one with the artist and we can focus without any time constraints or distractions.”

Here’s the video of Rachel Platten’s hit “Fight Song,”
which was co-written & produced by Dave Bassett.

Although Bassett enjoyed that kind of creative luxury in working with Platten and King, he says the experiences of creating “Fight Song” and “Ex’s & Oh’s” were unique because of the artists’ distinct personalities and circumstances that sparked the songs. With “Fight Song,” the story goes that he had written with Platten for a little over a year and had great material—but no record companies were biting. The two decided to give writing one last shot, and at one point, the singer talked about the possibility of making the record on her own. As a onetime frontman of two rock bands, Bassett understood that frustration and said, “We need something inspirational. We need your fight song.” While he is gratified that the song has become a hit, the real reward has been the emotional reaction the song has created, and the powerful personal videos people have created around the song, detailing their own personal challenges.

“Fight Song’ came out of the emotion of the moment, a very pure place for Rachel,” Bassett says. “We had the theme, title and hook from our initial session. Once we came up with the title, Rachel sat down at the piano, came up with chord patterns and we began bouncing melodies off each other. It was a great starting point. I think the most powerful lyrics come from the artists first, sharing their perspective and making sure the seed of the song is created out of genuine honesty. Then it’s my place to come in and shape it to make sure the artist makes the most of every line and the words flow with the melody. So after that first day, we had the bones of the song, created a demo and gave it to the publisher. Everyone loved it but her manager has always pushed Rachel to fine tune her craft—and he urged her to see what else she could come up with. The song became a personal mission for her, and she tweaked the verse lyrics for months and we ended up with a handful of different versions to choose from.”

Bassett describes the experience of creating King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s” as a much quicker process, with the final version the public heard being almost identical to the fleshed-out original version they recorded—including his guitar parts. The songwriter has always believed that authenticity comes from artists singing a song that means something to them—and that this foundational connection is what the listener will ultimately respond to.

“Ex’s and Oh’s’ is another perfect example of this,” he says. “Elle has this crazy personality and loves and lives life moment by moment. Within five minutes of meeting her, she was talking about her crazy relationships, and I knew we were going to write something that was lighthearted and that would help people understand this intense personality. ‘Ex’s & Oh’s’ grew out of our chatter and laughter and feeling like I had known Elle forever. We wrote the song from top to bottom in a few hours. It was based on her real life experiences, and grew out of her talking honestly about her relationships. She likes this guy, dumps this guy and this other guy is chasing after her. I had been listening to a lot of Tom Waits around this time, and so I came up with this grungy guitar sound. I started playing riffs and Elle liked the sound of them. We vibed on the chords and riffs, put up a groove and started listening to those chords to get a feel going. The lyric was true to life and fun, and we ended up with an cool, upbeat kitschy song.”

Here’s the video of Elle King’s hit “Ex’s & Oh’s,”
which was co-written & produced by Dave Bassett.

Bassett’s long in the making musical success story should inspire any budding songwriter/producer to go through all the necessary setbacks, discouragement and struggle in pursuit of their goals. After graduating college with a finance degree, he did the sensible thing and took a job at a big Chicago bank. One night, he and his roommate borrowed a company car and attended a U2 show. It had to be fate, because Bassett ended up on stage playing guitar with the band in a packed arena.

As he describes the moment, “It was the point of the show where Bono says, ‘There’s nothing to rock ‘n’ roll but three chords and the truth. I know there’s got to be someone in this audience who can play guitar as well as I can’,” he smiles. “There I am in front of 20,000 people on stage with my favorite band. It was a pretty incredible three minutes, and it inadvertently landed me in Los Angeles.” Galvanized by the experience, he quit his nine-to-five and traded the Midwest for the West Coast. His first band Lost Luggage built a local buzz in Los Angeles before disbanding. His next project Three Day Wheely inked a deal with I.R.S. Records and toured nationally. Attending a unique songwriters’ retreat at I.R.S. Founder Miles Copeland’s castle in France spurred him to give up his rock star dreams and focus on a career behind the scenes.

“The two things I tell aspiring artists and songwriters is that they have to believe in themselves and not listen to all those opinions and voices around them, because the majority will say no,” Bassett says. “So on the creative side, they shouldn’t get discouraged and must follow their creative heart over all things on the business side that stand in their way. Another key these days is taking advantage of all the technology that’s out there. We all have incredible access to the public. Anyone who has a laptop can create master quality recordings that they can quickly put up on iTunes and other outlets. Everyone should take matters into their own hands and learn as many aspects of their trade as possible.”

Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+