Mike Mettler

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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.
Mike Mettler Posted: May 08, 2015 0 comments
Ahhh, reggae. What is also known as Jamaican dance music has become nothing less than an international phenomenon, thanks in no small part to the pioneering sounds of Bob Marley, who would have been 70 this year. (Marley died of cancer at the relatively young age of 36 in 1981.) Calling Marley the king of reggae is a bit like saying 4K Ultra HD looks fantastic—it’s a fairly obvious statement, but no less profound. The seminal ’60s and ’70s work of Bob Marley & The Wailers literally defined a music genre that continues to engage people the world over—in fact, it may be the most universal music there is.
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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.
Mike Mettler Posted: Feb 19, 2015 0 comments
Performance
Sound
“Exciting new sounds in the folk tradition.” So went the saying on the sleeve of the 1964 debut album by Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. And how telling that seemingly innocent but steadfast declaration was, as over the course of five studio albums and one soundtrack released during those heady days of 1964-70, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel forged a singular sound that mixed the core tenets of folk with the then-burgeoning pulse of rock. The duo were masters of blending their pitch-perfect harmonies on a cornucopia of intimate tales that concerned matters of both the heart and the state. Not bad for a pair of schoolboys from Queens originally known as Tom & Jerry.

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