THE S&V INTERVIEW

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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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Mike Mettler Posted: May 13, 2015 1 comments
How does he do it? How does the eternal Beach Boy Brian Wilson keep composing all-new harmonically gorgeous and sonically seductive pocket symphonies (as he likes to call them), 50-plus years into his career? The answer, he says, is quite simple: “I know in my head — in my brain — how to do it.” Wilson’s marvelous brain has dreamt up scores of timeless classics, such as the instantly hummable singalongs “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “California Girls,” and “Love and Mercy” (to name but a few), and he’s just added 16 more gems to his storied canon on the Deluxe Edition of his 11th solo album, No Pier Pressure (Capitol). The angelic choral joy of “This Beautiful Day,” the pop confection perfection of “Saturday Night” — which features Wilson blissfully trading lead vocals with Nate Ruess of fun. — and the jaunty nautical shanty “Sail Away,” the latter a reunion with onetime Beach Boys bandmates Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, all reinforce the fact Wilson remains very much in touch with his beautiful muse. Wilson, 73, and I recently discussed some of his production benchmarks, the difference between inspiration and influence, and what he thinks sounds the best on radio. God only knows — when it comes to six decades and counting of creating the soundtrack for an endless summer, Wilson continues to put forth nothing but good vibrations.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Apr 29, 2015 0 comments
Tori Amos has always been an artist who knows what she wants, and knows how to get it. “Music was always first,” she says. “The records you hear, whether you like them or not, you can blame me for, because I was fighting all the time that the songs were represented in the right way.” For Tori, the “right way” meant staying true to the core of her quite personal songwriting, piano-driven arrangements, and unique vocal character, all of which are on fine display on the just-issued two-disc Deluxe Editions of 1992’s Little Earthquakes (1992) and 1994’s Under the Pink (both on Rhino). “I’ve taken a pretty firm stand about being a woman in control of my destiny — for good or ill, you know?” she admits. “People know that I fight for the art, and the music. I’m not going to back down.” Here, Amos, 51, and I discuss the hard-fought genesis of Earthquakes and Pink, how her sound-quality goals shifted in the transition from the ’80s to the ’90s, and how she forged her artistic identity.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Apr 09, 2015 0 comments
Chances are you know the name Michael Des Barres, but just exactly how most likely depends on your entry point. If you’ve read I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, then you know him as the ex-husband of Miss Pamela, Pamela Des Barres. If you’re a devout fan of ’70s rock, then you know him as the frontman of cult-fave bands Silverhead and Detective. If you’re a TV aficionado, you know him as Murdoc from MacGyver — and maybe even as Dog, the nattily dressed lead singer of fictional punk band Scum of the Earth from an all-time classic October 1978 episode of WRKP in Cincinnati. And if you’re a dedicated listener of Little Steven’s Underground Garage, Channel 21 on SiriusXM satellite radio, then you’re probably quite riveted to the insights, encyclopedic rock & roll knowledge, and cheeky humor he provides between the tracks that spin during his always exhilarating weekday shift. While the man’s far-reaching C.V. is indeed impressive, Des Barres is a musician first and foremost, and all of his killer instincts have converged on The Key to the Universe (FOD Records), his strongest and most consistent record, well, ever. Notes Des Barres, “People go insane for these new songs. It’s so astounding to me, after having not really done anything on this scale in 25 years, that people are responding to them. I think I sound better on this record than I’ve ever sounded.” Recently, I rang up Des Barres, 67, to discuss the sonic philosophy behind The Key, how to avoid including any “twiddly bits,” and finding one’s own voice as an artist. MDB is a true rock & roll survivor who knows how best to overcome adversity and get it on.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Mar 25, 2015 0 comments
To borrow a song title, things can only get better for Howard Jones. Known for such indelible synth-driven ’80s hits like “What Is Love?,” “No One Is to Blame,” “New Song,” and “Everlasting Love,” Jones has focused his efforts in recent years on his inherent talents as a songwriter and arranger, not to mention his knack for creating multimedia-driven live experiences. All of his musical gifts are on fine display with Engage (dtox music and arts), a two-disc CD/DVD set that features a vibrant 5.1 mix on DVD by Robbie Bronnimann, Jones’ longtime sound designer. Jones, 60, and I connected across the Pond to discuss the Engage project, the possibility of future high-resolution remixes of his storied catalog, and his thoughts on vintage analog gear. Jones is one man who knows how to put his dream into action.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Mar 12, 2015 1 comments
To modify a phrase, fingerpicking guitar maestro Jorma Kaukonen just keeps on innovatin’. For over a half-century, Kaukonen has followed his own path and applied his folk roots to variations on psychedelia with Jefferson Airplane and free-form blues with Hot Tuna, not to mention his own solo rock and unplugged outings. On his acoustic-driven new disc, Ain’t In No Hurry (Red House), Kaukonen continues to push forward on tasty, intense tracks like the hopeful timelessness of “In My Dreams,” the traditional riches-to-rags lament of “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” and the down-home grit of “The Terrible Operation.” Observes Kaukonen, “One of the cool things about the way the album is mixed is that there’s this magnificent, transparent presence of all the instruments, no matter who’s playing and where they are. You can hear them all; they’re there.” Kaukonen, 74, and I got on the phone recently to discuss his recording techniques, his mastery of Drop D tuning on an iconic song, and the hi-fi gear that’s served to enhance listening experiences all throughout his life. The man may not be in a hurry, but he sure is getting somewhere.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Mar 02, 2015 0 comments
Al Kooper has been a mastermind behind the board of many a storied session over his half-century career, but his prowess as a multichannel mixmaster has been largely unheard — until now. Audiophile circles have long been well aware that Kooper had turned in “interesting” 5.1 mixes to Sony for a pair of albums he personally had stakes in — Blood, Sweat & Tears’ trippy big-band-influenced debut, Child Is Father to the Man (originally released in February 1968) and Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, and Steve Stills’ still influential jam amalgamation, Super Session (July 1968). Both mixes gathered multichannel dust on the corporate shelves until almost a full decade later, when Audio Fidelity released them from captivity by way of a pair of Hybrid Mulitchannel SACDs. Here, Kooper, 71, and I discuss his surround mixing philosophy for both of those classic releases, why he’s not a fan of mono or streaming, and his alternate, Bloomfield-centric mix of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” (on which Kooper played the infamous improvised organ riffs). There are no longer any 5.1 secrets to conceal.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Feb 25, 2015 0 comments
Being appointed one of the queens of the alternative music scene was never one of Juliana Hatfield’s goals. But there she was, right in the thick of the then-burgeoning movement — first in the alt-rock trio Blake Babies, then as a titular solo artist known for meshing expressive vocals with intrinsically catchy melodies fueled by a combo punk-and-pop sensibility. “I was very moved by melody and harmony from a very early age,” Hatfield says. “It affected me very powerfully.” She recently reunited with her Juliana Hatfield Three compatriots, bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Phillips, for the uber-catchy Whatever, My Love (American Laundromat Records), a 40-minute ride through Hatfield’s world of melodic, introspective angst, from the acoustic lament of being “Invisible” to the moth/flame dance of “Push Pin” to the odd-meter frustration of “Wood” (the latter of which features a cool, feedback-laden outro guitar loop). Hatfield, 47, and I got on the horn to discuss her vocal techniques and recording goals, her natural sense of melody, and her ongoing struggles with communication. Whatever and ever, amen.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Feb 11, 2015 2 comments
Don Felder has found his groove. The former lead guitarist of the Eagles is now flourishing as a solo artist, having found his sea legs on record with the broad reach of Road to Forever (INgrooves/Forever Road Music) — only his second solo album in 30-odd years, following 1983’s Airborne — and a quite muscular live set, which features Eagles favorites and deep cuts alike, ranging from “Life in the Fast Lane” to “Those Shoes,” all interspersed between powerful readings of solo favorites like “You Don’t Have Me” and “Heavy Metal.” Before heading out on his winter solo tour, Felder, 67, and I got together to discuss his thoughts on sound quality, the very mystique of California itself, and how he came to create the acoustic intro that turned the already indelible “Hotel California” into a revamped classic. Ah, such a lovely place.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jan 28, 2015 0 comments
“I’ve always been a fan of records that tastefully use effects to enhance the listening experience,” says Sam Llanas, former vocalist/guitarist for roots-rock pioneers BoDeans, now ensconced in a full-time solo career. Llanas’ distinct vocal tone — which resides somewhere between gravel and grace — has touched the soul of indelible songs like “Closer to Free,” “Feed the Fire,” and “Rickshaw Riding,” and on The Whole Night Thru (Llanas Music), Llanas opens up his palette on deeply personal tracks like “Deja Vu” and “I’m Still Alive” to achieve an even more honest aural identity. “We did decide early on that we would like to make a record that would be engaging on headphones,” he reports. Here, Llanas, 53, and I discuss the importance of equipment choices and microphone placement, how to make a record that hits “hard and fast,” and his favorite BoDeans album. The man is very much still alive and kicking.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jan 14, 2015 3 comments
“Once we had dipped our toe in the water, it set us on a course to have a much bigger, much more robust, and not-so-introspective sound.” Roland Orzabal is describing the veritable aural sea change he and his Tears for Fears creative partner and bandmate Curt Smith underwent while recording Songs From the Big Chair, the 1985 followup to 1982’s The Hurting, their highly influential minimalist electronic-music confessional debut platform. In celebration of the album’s 30th anniversary, Mercury/Universal has released a six-disc Big Chair box set that includes scores of demos, alternate takes, live sessions, and a documentary DVD, but the no-contest audiophile grail is Disc 5, a Blu-ray containing the 96-kHz/24-bit surround-sound mix of the original album done by none other than the super-guru of 5.1 himself, Steven Wilson. “I love this mix,” says Smith. “You get a far greater spectrum of sound, and the low end is definitely improved.” I recently got on the horn across the Pond with Orzabal and Smith, both 53, to discuss the benefits of listening to Big Chair in high-res and what they’d like to do next in 96/24 and 5.1 (hint: the Seeds have been planted). Funny how time flies.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Dec 23, 2014 0 comments
“I don’t know why these songs all came out so long. I think we’re going to have to blame Steven Wilson,” laughs Dave Kilminster. The ace guitarist is discussing the impetus behind the extended track lengths on his self-described “prog-tastic” solo record, …and THE TRUTH will set you free… (Killer Guitar Records). Kilminster is known for his six-string pyrotechnics and prowess as an instructor, but you may also recognize him as being the featured lead guitarist in former Pink Floyd bassist/vocalist Roger Waters’ touring band for the past decade. For THE TRUTH, Kilminster believes getting a live feel is key: “It’s so cool to really get into the mood of a track,” he says. “There’s no sampling, there’s no Auto-Tune — just a couple of guys recording together in a room, the way it’s supposed to be.” Here, Kilminster, 53, and I discuss vintage sounds, live quad, and what it’s like to contend with immense pillows of wind while soloing atop a massive wall. That’ll keep you going through the show.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Dec 10, 2014 0 comments
When Mark Rivera isn’t splitting his time being Music Director for Ringo Starr or serving as a versatile multi-instrumentalist with Billy Joel (the latter for 32 years and counting), he’s doing what any good audiophile would — dropping the needle on some fine, fine wax. “The warmth of vinyl is like nothing else,” Rivera reports. “It really is. To me, it feels like it embraces you. It simply surrounds you.” Earlier this year, Rivera also found the time to put out his first solo album, Common Bond (Dynotone/Red River), and he’s patiently been overseeing having 1,000 copies of it pressed onto vinyl. “I couldn’t be more enthusiastic and more pleased about that,” he says. Here, Rivera, 62, and I talk about Common Bond‘s core production values, vintage gear and favorite LPs, and the ways music resonates over one’s lifetime. Ok, fine, we admit it — we just can’t get enough of that vinyl stuff.

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