Interview: From Ministry to Kanye, four-time Grammy winner Anthony Kilhoffer has done it all

Matthew Bradford, Business Manager

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Anthony Kilhoffer and Kid Cudi put in work in the studio.

Over the last 15 years, few people have been as instrumental in hip-hop and R&B as producer, engineer, and composer Anthony Kilhoffer. Kilhoffer became famous for his work with Kanye West and has received writing, production, programming, mixing, and engineering credits on albums made by West, John Legend, Kid Cudi, Mariah Carey, Zayn Malik, Vince Staples, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Pusha T, Jay-Z, and many more.

Kilhoffer’s work has earned him nine total Grammy nominations and four wins including three for Best Rap Album on West’s Late Registration, Graduation, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. His other Grammy win was for Best R&B Album on Legend’s Get Lifted.

Wolf Tracks reporter Matthew Bradford was recently able to catch up with Kilhoffer to discuss his work and career thus far.

 MB: “How did you get your start in music?”

AH: “I was in a band in college and my brother-in-law was working for John Hughes, the film director. He was at the studio when John Hughes Jr. was recording his album in Chicago and he mentioned I was trying to get into the music business so they offered me a job as an intern at the studio, which was Chicago Trax Recording.”

MB: “Who was the first major artist you worked with?”

AH: “Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker of Ministry. More of a hardcore band in Chicago in the 90s.”

MB: “How did you first meet John Legend and Kanye West?”

AH: “In the year 2000, when I moved from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, I got a job as a studio assistant at the Record Plant Recording Studios. As an assistant, if an artist shows up and they need an engineer, the studio manager gives the opportunity to the assistant. Kanye came in and needed an engineer for a Floetry (English R&B duo comprised of singers Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart), Mariah Carey, or Marsha Ambrosius session he was producing, so the studio manager asked if I wanted to work on this Kanye session. We got in the studio and built our relationship and he kept coming back and asking for me to be his engineer.”

MB: “How did you feel when you won your first Grammy?”

AH: “Good. Just because you have a Grammy doesn’t mean anything. There’s a saying in Hollywood, you’re only as good as your last movie as a director, the same way producers are only as good as their last project. The Grammys kind of validated all of the work that I had done because I spent hundreds of hours on these Kanye and John legend albums. There are a lot of hurdles and obstacles to overcome. Things like the drums and strings tried my engineering skills in various capacities. Now music is all mostly 100% computer driven.

Now you just click a couple times, say ‘Gucci, Gucci, Gucci’ and there you go. In the early 2000s, it was a bit of a different game because the music wasn’t all coming from computers. There were real musicians, real instruments, and it took more to get the project from start to finish. For instance, Kanye was using MPC2000’s to produce and there were a lot more technical aspects where now you just pull up your software give it a little beat and export it. It’s not very technical.”

MB: “What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done in the studio?”

AH: “The ‘Stronger’ mix was pretty challenging. I mixed it for about two weeks before it went on to about ten other people. Sometimes its just more of a psychological difficulty with artists because often times they are a little stressed because they’re about to put their work into the world and it weighs on them on how people are going to perceive or criticize them.

Difficulties are early-based pro tools were a bit difficult because you had a lot of variables with blocking issues. People would put versions of Pro Tools on the market before it was thoroughly tested. You’re in the studio with a bunch of folks and there’s no option for mistakes. You’re in a room you’re paying 2000 dollars a day for and you have musicians and the artist. Add in the fact you’re not sleeping at all, sessions are 12-14 hours a day and you might not be that sharp when you’re sleeping four hours a day. How can you be that sharp when you’re not eating properly, sitting in the same chair for 14 hours a day, and the music is extremely loud? You have to be pleasant and inspiring to the artist even though you haven’t had a meal away from the table in five days.

People always say, ‘You’re amazing.’ It’s not amazing, it’s just music. What is amazing is a cardiologist. Amazing is Elon Musk. Music is just music. It’s nice to inspire people and it’s very important to put things into the world that are inspiring and positive.”

MB: “Is Cruel Winter still happening?”

AH: “I mean it’s still a thing. I don’t know in what capacity. It’s still in the works, still in the works.”