The Futuristics Co-Write & Produce Hit “Bad Things” for Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello, Plus Hits for Flo Rida and Other Artists

THE FUTURISTICS - Joe Khajadourian & Alex Schwartz
THE FUTURISTICS (Joe Khajadourian (left) & Alex Schwartz) (photo credit: Shaunt B.)

The songwriting & producing duo, The Futuristics (which consists of Alex Schwartz & Joe Khajadourian), has emerged as a successful, hit-making team during the past few years. They currently have one of the biggest hits on the pop chart, co-writing & producing the single “Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello (formerly of Fifth Harmony).

Based in Los Angeles, the duo has several other pop & hip-hop hits to their credit. They co-wrote & co-produced “I Cry” by Flo Rida, which was a Top 10 hit in 2012. Their other hits include “We Own It (Fast & Furious)” by 2 Chainz & Wiz Khalifa, and “Somebody” by Natalie La Rose featuring Jeremih. The duo is also excited to have a new single called “Steady 1234” by DJ Vice featuring Jasmine Thompson & Skizzy Mars.

The Futuristics’ current hit “Bad Things” marks an important step forward for the duo as hit writer/producers. They helped conceive the song idea (which features an interpolation of rock band Fastball’s 1998 single, “Out of My Head”), they were fully involved with the songwriting process, and were the sole producers on this cut.

In addition to the songs listed above, The Futuristics have also co-written and/or produced songs for Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Chris Brown, Cody Simpson, T. Mills, The Game, Bruno Mars, K’naan, Kid Ink, Austin Mahone, Cee Lo Green, Pitbull, Juicy J, Halsey, Mika, Trey Songz, Robin Thicke, Akon, Pitbull and DJ Felli Fel.

The duo is signed with Artist Publishing Group (APG), a top music publishing company that is owned by music exec Mike Caren, and they’re managed by Aaron Bay-Schuck, who is President of Interscope Records.

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Alex Schwartz & Joe Khajadourian of The Futuristics. They tell how they got started, and discuss several of their hit songs, including “Bad Things.”

DK: Are you both originally from Los Angeles? Is it true that you were both interns at Atlantic Records?

Alex Schwartz: We’re both born and raised in Los Angeles. Joe is from Granada Hills and I’m from Sherman Oaks (in the Valley), and we both met while interning at Atlantic Records for Mike Caren and Aaron Bay-Schuck (in 2005). (At the time) Joe had been working on some beats. Joe had been doing music in the past—he had a band and everything. He had given Aaron his beats CD, and Aaron knew I was also trying to make beats. [So Aaron said], “Hey, that kid Joe gave me his beats CD…it’s pretty good. You should talk to him—maybe you guys can do something together.” And so I went up to Joe, and I was like, “Do you want to make beats together?” (laughs). And he’s like, “Yeah, why not? Let’s do it.” So that night, we got together at my house and then we worked for a little bit, and the next night we went to his house. By the end of a few days working together, we had three beats that we played for Aaron and Mike, and the feedback was actually really good. Mike almost purchased one of them for Twista. [This cut] didn’t work out, but The Futuristics came out of it.

Here’s the video of the hit “Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly & Camila
Cabello, which was co-written & produced by The Futuristics.

DK: I like your name, The Futuristics. How did you come up with that name?

Joe Khajadourian: We were originally and briefly called The Interns, because we met interning. But we found another production duo called The Interns who were already having success, so we changed the name. Alex liked the soul band, The Stylistics, and we both loved the movie Back To The Future, so we [became] The Futuristics.

DK: For both of you, is your specialty creating beats and producing tracks?

Khajadourian: It’s kind of evolved. We started just as track guys—we’ve evolved into [being] real producers who kind of come up with ideas and concepts and visions. [We now] start tracks with songwriters writing in the room, and start actually writing a song to these tracks simultaneously. These days, we’re almost always trying to create a song or an actual record in the studio.

DK: Do you also write topline now, in addition to the tracks?

Schwartz: It’s very limited as far as toplining, but we’re both pretty good with concepts. Alex has become very good with lyrics, and just kind of making lyrical concepts bulletproof, conceptually. And then while he’s kind of working that out with the writer, he’ll jump off the Pro Tools and I’ll jump in and keep working on the track. It’s kind of this back and forth that we have.

DK: When you started working at Atlantic Records as interns in 2005, did you take the job to try to make connections with people, to show what you could do as musicians?

Khajadourian: That was my goal. I think Alex’s goal (was different). Alex, what was your goal?

Schwartz: At that time, I knew I wanted to make beats, but I was also pretty interested in the A&R world—that’s why I was doing the internship. I was also young—I was in college at the time, and I was really trying to figure out what my role in music could be. But once I met Joe and we started working together, it became very clear that I wanted to be a producer.

DK: Since you both started out creating the beats, how do you work together in the studio, to create the sounds you want and build the tracks?

Schwartz: I think the beauty of why Joe and I have worked so well together and had success, is because we don’t do the same things. [For instance], I don’t know how to mix anything; I don’t know how to make anything sound…pristine. That’s Joe’s forte. Joe also plays guitar very well, and we both dabble in keys. But for the most part—during that times [when we were] making tracks—I would chop up samples on my laptop, and put some rough ideas together, while Joe was finishing something that we had already started. And we just kind of had a rotation system, you know…when we’re done with that, we have this next idea lined up. So that’s pretty much how we work.

Here’s the video of the hit “I Cry” by Flo Rida, which was co-written
& co-produced by The Futuristics.

Khajadourian: I was going to say that Alex, especially after working with Mike Caren, had somewhat of an A&R’s ear, an A&R’s mentality. So when we were working on tracks, he was really good at starting to give direction, on how the finished product should be. I would just play something for him, and I’d ask, “What do you think of this?” or “How about this?” And we would just go back and forth until we were both happy with something.

DK: What was your first big break as songwriters or producers? Was it your hit, ”I Cry,” for Flo Rida?

Schwartz: The two songs that got me to quit my job, which was before “I Cry,” was “Boomerang” by DJ Felli Fel featuring Akon, Pitbull & Jermaine Dupri, and right after that, “Pot of Gold” by The Game & Chris Brown. We had both songs playing at the same time on the radio.

DK: For your hit “I Cry,” how did you hook up with Flo Rida to do that song?

Khajadourian: That song was an idea that Flo and Mike (Caren) had been working on, as far as rapping on top of the Brenda Russell sample, “Piano In The Dark.” The Bingo Players had done this dance record using the “Piano In The Dark” sample, and Flo Rida wanted to rap on top of it. So after signing to APG, Mike had asked us to create a Flo Rida U.S. radio-friendly version of that sample, flipped. And we just went to work, and it was a real struggle…I think we came out of it as much better producers, because we spent on and off, about eight months on revisions. And there were times when we didn’t think it was going to come out at all, and then it finally did come out. And it did really well—it went to #6 on the (Billboard) Hot 100 and it got tons of radio. So that was like our moment of triumph after many months of grinding at the record.

DK: I’ve read that you’ve also produced several cuts for the Fast & Furious movie soundtracks. How did you hook up with the Fast & Furious music producers?

Schwartz: That came about, because APG has really good eonnections with all the music supervisors at studios, who are looking for songs to sync in movies. Mike Knobloch and Rachel Levy (top music execs at Universal Pictures) had contacted Mike (Caren) and the team at APG, asking for an original piece that could work as the theme song for their Fast & Furious 6 movie. We were in the studio when we got the email from APG about this project, and Joe had actually played me earlier in the day, this string sample that he had found. And when we got the email, we were like, “Maybe we should use that, and try something.” So we did—we built a rough skeleton, and we sent it off. APG loved it, and the next thing we knew, Universal had us come in to meet with Justin Lin, the director of the movie. They started talking about how we should finish it, and who should get on it, and it just quickly became real. And we just grinded to finish the track.

Here’s the video of the hit “We Own It” by 2 Chainz & Wiz Khalifa from
Fast & Furious 6, which was co-written & produced by The Futuristics.

The next thing we knew, we had two verses from 2 Chainz, and they wanted to get Wiz Khalifa on it, so we got in the studio with Wiz and we had him do two verses, and then we kind of built the whole thing around that (for the song, “We Own It”). And for all the strings in the song, Universal actually had the London Orchestra do it at Abbey Road Studios (the studio where the Beatles recorded), which was pretty cool. And I remember, the song was almost done, and it must have been a month or so before the movie was coming out, and I got home one night, and I had an email that Mike Knobloch had sent me—it was the orchestra playing our song, and it was pretty surreal.

Khajadourian: That was definitely a cool moment in our careers.

Schwartz: So the song [was released], and [the filmmakers] gave it this incredible spot in the beginning of the movie, with the whole montage of all the other Fast & Furious movies leading up to it. And Joe and I…we went with my whole family to the movie, and we had no idea what type of power Fast & Furious had with its fans. And I remember when the song came out, and we went into the movie theater, and it must have been in the 60s (on the iTunes chart) on opening night. And by the time we got out of the theater, it was almost Top 10 on iTunes, which was crazy. And then it was #1 for a week—we had no idea it would do this at all.

DK: Currently, you have a Top 10 hit “Bad Things” with Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello. How did this song come together?

Khajadourian: Well basically, we had the idea—we were talking with some of guys at APG about flipping the Fastball song (“Out of My Head”), and somehow taking the idea of doing bad things, and turning it into sort of a demented love song or love theme between two people. And we always envisioned it as a duet-type record. So we started working on the concept of the lyric, while maintaining pretty much the original melody. And Alex really worked hard with another writer, Madison Love, to help iron out all of the lyrical intricacies. I just worked on the track, trying to create this kind of moody, dark track, yet still have a pop musicality to it.

We spent quite a while on it, and finally it started coming together and sounding great. Then we started pitching it, and through Aaron (Bay-Schuck) at Interscope, they had MGK the rapper, who was looking for something that could really help him crossover. He loved the track—he came to our studio and told us how much he wanted to do the record. So we worked with him on the verses, and the pre-hook and the pre-hook melody, and once everyone felt like it was pretty strong, we started hunting for the right artist. And Camila Cabello from Fifth Harmony was very into it—she ended up recording it and sounding amazing. And the rest was history.

It was a great process, because Alex and I basically saw the whole process, from beginning to end. There was no other producers involved. We kind of came up with the whole thing and birthed it, and saw it through the whole way, which was a great experience for us.

Here’s the lyric video of the new single “Steady 1234” by DJ Vice
featuring Jasmine Thompson & Skizzy Mars, which was
co-written & produced by The Futuristics.

Schwartz: This song is also a true testament to modern technology and being able to write a song—it’s a good message for anyone who wants to make music. You don’t need to necessarily be…in the room physically with anyone, because Madison Love (who was in New York) and I started the lyrics and the overall concept of “Bad Things” over Skype. And Joe had come up with this really eerie, cool piano sound, which you hear in the intro and throughout the song. So we sent it to Madison and she laid a little rough (vocal), and that’s how it got started, which is really cool to have that happen in a session.

The other thing I was going to say, is that working with  Camila [turned out great] because the song “Bad Things” was about two people who have this really intense relationship, and Machine Gun Kelly was like this bad boy, and she’s like America’s Sweetheart. So the pairing of them was a really beautiful thing. It made it really come together.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima