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Mike Mettler Posted: Nov 25, 2015 0 comments
As iconic as it remains a full half-century later, when Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back (apostrophe very deliberately missing) was being shot by director D.A. Pennebaker during the Bard’s whirlwind tour of England in May 1965, there were literally no rules to follow. “It’s the idea of the home movie, the kind of movie that was always made by one person,” says Pennebaker, still as sharp as ever at age 90. “I had gotten the notion in my head not to make a pure music film. I decided to make it about him, right at the time he was he was trying to figure out who he was.” Here in Part I of our exclusive interview, D.A. and I discuss how he gained Dylan’s trust, the way he predicted the selfie culture, and why he had to get on his back to shoot certain live performances.
Bob Ankosko Posted: Nov 13, 2015 0 comments
When Larry Hornbeck stepped up to the podium to accept an Oscar for inventing the digital micromirror device—the core technology behind DLP video projection—he held up a postage-stamp-sized DMD chip and said: “It’s hard to believe that there are more than 8 million digital micromirrors on this device. Who would ever have believed that [this invention] would change the way the world views cinema.” A couple decades later I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of 8 million microsopic mirrors tilting at precise angles and reflecting light to create stunning images at home and in movie theaters. So I reached out to Dr. Hornbeck, holder of 38 U.S. patents and winner of numerous awards and honors, to learn more about his crazy invention.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Nov 11, 2015 0 comments
Creative sparks don't always fly when veteran musicians get together to collaborate. But that's exactly what happened when two progressive titans, vocalist Jon Anderson and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, came together to form the Anderson Ponty Band, a.k.a. APB. Their oh-so-apropos debut, Better Late Than Never (Liaison Music), mixes fine, edgy originals with rearranged and revamped covers of classic material like Yes's "Roundabout" and Ponty's "Mirage" — renamed here as "Infinite Mirage," as it now features Anderson singing new lyrics he wrote just for the song. “We work together like family,” marvels Ponty, 73. Agrees Anderson, “We’re musical brothers, you know?” I called Anderson, 71, during an APB tour stop to discuss working with Jean-Luc, our ongoing mutual love of surround sound, and the ever-escalating legacy of Yes.
Bob Ankosko Posted: Nov 03, 2015 1 comments
Andrew Jones has an impressive history in loudspeakers, having served as the chief speaker engineer at KEF, Infinity, Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (TAD), and Pioneer, where he established a reputation for designing budget speakers that sound shockingly good. In May, following the merger of Pioneer and Onkyo, Germany’s ELAC announced that Jones had not only joined the company as vice president of engineering but was already working on a new line of speakers.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Oct 28, 2015 2 comments
Standards: Somebody has to set them. And when it came to creating the 20th-century template for how to properly sing popular music, one need look no further than Johnny Mathis, the romantic, soulful tenor whose range and control remain just as vibrant today as when he began taking lessons in the San Francisco area in the 1950s from opera singer and vocal teacher Connie Cox. And now, seven decades (!) into such a storied career, it only seems fitting that a four-disc collection called The Singles (Columbia/Legacy) brings together 87 of his best-loved songs, including such timeless, indelible classics like “Chances Are,” “It’s Not for Me to Say,” and “The Twelfth of Never” alongside rare but chart-busting gems like “Wonderful! Wonderful!” And it’s certainly no accident that the following phrase appears in the upper-right-hand corner of the cover, right underneath the gleaming old-school/vintage Columbia logo: “Guaranteed High-Fidelity.” Mathis, still quite spry at 80, called me from his residence in Los Angeles to discuss harnessing his influences to create his original vocal style, his singular microphone techniques, and the songs he still loves to sing. Chances are, you already know many of them by heart.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Oct 08, 2015 0 comments
Is it fair to say everything little thing Andy Summers does is magic? It certainly seems that way, as the onetime Police guitarist is experiencing a late-career renaissance, having recently dropped a diverse instrumental album, Metal Dog (Flickering Shado), and narrated an acclaimed documentary about his former band, Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police (Cinema Libre). Summers, 72, and I recently spoke about creating those signature Metal Dog soundscapes, becoming a voiceover artist, and the (sorry) arresting nature of The Police's unique chemistry. His not-so-secret journey makes us all see light in the darkness.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Sep 25, 2015 1 comments
Good things come to those who wait, as the saying goes. But when it comes to finally getting producer/engineer James Guthrie’s long-awaited 96kHz/24-bit mix of Roger Waters’ 1992 solo album Amused to Death in 5.1 on Blu-ray in hand, well… the word “good” isn’t quite good enough. “Great” is certainly a step up, but I’m going to have to go with a superlative along the lines of “stellar,” “outstanding,” and/or “stunning,” for Guthrie’s surround-sound treatment of Amused catapults an oft-overlooked entry in Waters’ storied canon of work into a new sonic stratosphere. Recently, Guthrie and I spent a fair amount of time going over his goals for bringing Amused into the surround universe and sharing his favorite moments from The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here in 5.1, plus he reveals exclusively what Floyd-related project he’ll next tackle in 5.1. It’s a miracle — another miracle.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Sep 09, 2015 0 comments
If there’s one band from the ’70s that epitomizes the literal definition of the word harmony, it’s America. Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell, and the late Dan Peek came together in London in 1970, three sons of U.S. Air Force personnel stationed abroad, and they quickly found their collective singing voices worked together quite well. “One of the key elements of America is that our vocal blend is very good,” agrees Bunnell. “I grew up into it myself, and I can now, in retrospect, hear the difference between blends when I hear other harmony singing. You’re lucky when you find those three or four voices that have this element that you can’t just make happen. It’s like a fingerprint — they’re all different.” Coupled with a knack for writing melodies and catchy acoustic guitar lines, America penned a score of instant sing-along Top 20 classics like “Ventura Highway,” “A Horse With No Name,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Tin Man,” “Lonely People,” “I Need You,” and “Daisy Jane.” The band’s classic-era output has been duly remastered and collected in the eight-CD box set The Warner Bros. Years: 1971-1977 (Rhino), and its chock-full of enough audiophile-approved vocals and clear acoustic lines to keep your ears — and your speakers — in fine spirits for days on end. Recently, I got on the line with Beckley and Bunnell, both 63, to discuss the best examples of that magical harmonic blend, what it was like working with Sir George Martin as a producer, and their favorite collaborators.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Aug 26, 2015 0 comments
It’s hard to believe, but the eternally youthful blues maestro Robert Cray is celebrating five decades of plying his craft with the imminent release of 4 Nights of 40 Years Live. So, uh, Robert, do you mind if we call you an “elder statesman” at this point in your career? “Well, we’re doing what we do, and I’m having fun doing it. To me, that’s the most important thing,” says Cray. “It’s funny; whenever it’s mentioned that we’re ‘getting up there,’ I always revert back to my heroes — John Lee [Hooker], and B.B. [King] — and I just think about those guys as being ‘the guys.’ I never consider myself as being on the same ship.” Sorry to disagree with the man, but Cray is most definitely onboard with being on par with the masters of the blues art form. I called Cray, 62, at his hotel during a tour stop in the Pacific Northwest to discuss the sonics of 4 Nights, the ongoing merits of vinyl, and why live woodshedding is vital for bands who want to improve. “Oh yeah, there’s been a lot of change over the years,” Cray observes about his storied career. I guess he showed us.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Aug 13, 2015 0 comments
In a band of equals, some can appear to be more equal than others. “I always like to have the first word and the last word on albums,” laughs keyboardist Tony Banks, one of the main songwriters in Genesis. Banks has always felt making an impression right as a song commences to be paramount. “You make an impact with those first few bars. It sets you up for the next 5 minutes, so you ought to try and get it right,” he says. Just cue up the majestic “Watcher of the Skies” from 1972’s Foxtrot for prime evidence of that thesis being put into action. Besides his storied career in Genesis, Banks also tried his hand at a solo career, the highlights of which have been compiled in the four-disc box set A Chord Too Far (Cherry Red/Esoteric Recordings). While Banks puts the future of his longtime band to rest — “the chance of Genesis getting back together again is pretty slim, I have to say”— we have plenty of Chord music to sink our collective ears into. Banks, 65, called from across the Pond to discuss the, er, genesis of his signature keyboard style, his deep love for surround sound, and the importance of sequencing. As Bankstatements go, this one is rich in high-fidelity rewards.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jul 29, 2015 0 comments
Dave Grohl is often acknowledged as being the nicest, coolest/cheeriest guy in rock & roll, and while I can indeed confirm Messr. Grohl is (to use a technical term) an absolute mensch amongst mensches, I also happen to think Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen could give Dave a run for his money. Collen is also passionate about sharing his creativity beyond the lighted stage, and he's the mastermind behind the self-titled debut of Delta Deep. “You could call it a punk/blues mixture,” Collen says of the album. “We just made music that made us feel great, and there are loads of people out there looking for that who appreciate that. There are a lot of people out there who dig real music.” Recently, Collen, 57, and I got together to dive on down into Delta Deep’s sonic origins, rediscovering the joys of vinyl, and the signal he gets when he’s in the right improv zone onstage. Pour some blues sugar on us, Phil.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jul 15, 2015 0 comments
Leave it to Dave Edmunds to always want to take things a little bit left of center. “I’ve never liked listening to albums, and I’ve never liked making them,” admits the Welsh-born guitarist and producer known for his modern rockabilly sensibilities (see Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure and solo hits like “Slipping Away” and “Girls Talk”). “I’m a singles guy; always have been.” That said, Edmunds agrees he found the right album-length formula for the 15 songs he compiled for 2013’s …Again (RPM), but he decided to shift gears for the just-released all-instrumental On Guitar… Dave Edmunds: Rags & Classics (RPM). “The album tracks are pretty similar to the originals, but you’re shocked when a guitar comes in instead of a vocal,” he explains. I called Edmunds, 71, across the Pond to Wales to discuss the one-man-band approach to Rags & Classics, delve further into his stark view on loving singles vs. LPs, and find out what he thinks the two best-sounding songs of the rock era are. Subtle as a flying mallet, indeed.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jun 25, 2015 Published: Jun 24, 2015 0 comments
Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records, believes the key to The Doors' sound lies in how the band and its ace production team — producer Paul A. Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick — all pulled together to make sure the integrity of the band’s sound was preserved on record. “We made albums so carefully,” Holzman notes. “I think the attention to the detail and the fussing over getting everything just right and not letting it go out otherwise are some of the reasons The Doors have held up over time. We had it right to begin with.” I rang Botnick up in California to discuss how he helped orchestrate The Doors’ formidable sonic legacy, how he translated said legacy into surround sound, and why he also still digs vinyl. Their music is your special friend, until the end.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jun 12, 2015 0 comments
Graham Parker has a surefire way of ensuring his longtime backing band The Rumour understands exactly how to execute the arrangements of his new songs: “You have to kick them a lot, very hard!” he says with a devilish laugh. He is, of course, joking (I think). Parker and The Rumour are quite in sync on Mystery Glue (Cadet Concept/UMe), as evidenced by the hard-edged wink/nudge narrative of “Pub Crawl,” the rollicking swing state of “Railroad Spikes,” and the silver-screen teardown on “My Life in Movieland,” which features Parker going to Tinseltown with (yes) a killer kazoo solo. Parker, 64, called from across the Pond to discuss his overall sonic goals for Mystery Glue, how and why his voice has improved over the years, and what he thinks of his earliest work. His passion for quality ain’t manufactured or just another sound.
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Mike Mettler Posted: May 28, 2015 0 comments
For musicians of a certain era, it was either The Beatles, Elvis, or the blues that inspired them to start making their own music. For singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading, all it took was the furniture in her house. “This is what I was born to do,” says Armatrading, who’s originally from Antigua. “My mother bought a piano and put it in the front room. She didn’t buy it because she thought somebody was going to play it; she bought it because it was a great piece of furniture. Literally on the day it arrived, I started writing songs.” To get a further, purer taste of her songwriting prowess, it’s worth checking out the two-disc Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading Classics (1975-1983) collection, mastered in 96/24 by Erick Labson, which showcases a key segment of her decade-plus run on A&M Records. The lost-in-scat-and-strings vibe of “Love and Affection,” the raw-nerve toucher “Down to Zero” (complete with wafty-cool pedal-steel support), and the ’80s-fueled fury of “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names” are all prime evidence that Armatrading has always been at the forefront of matching a songwriter’s emotional intent with a particular sound-quality standard, without compromise. During a recent tour stop in Chicago, I called Armatrading, 60, to discuss the nuances of her live show, her in-studio sound-quality inclinations, and her initial music-making inspirations. Everybody gotta know this feeling inside.


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