In 1996 I was driving 12,000 miles around the US trying to recover from a particularly difficult project when my new manager called me with the first gig that he had to offer me. It was to mix this David Byrne album.
We first spoke on the phone and David sounded painfully shy and nervous on the phone. This always amazes me when someone who can stand up and sing in front of thousands of people on a regular basis yet be painfully shy one-on-one. It's not uncommon though.
However, any reservations about working with David rapidly disappeared when we first met on the street in Manhattan on a sidewalk outside the studio building. I'd just been dropped off with two big, heavy wheeled flight cases full of studio gear and David walked up and offered to help me get these in the service entrance - that was a good sign right there. David was the perfect antidote to my previous project - the most pleasant, balanced human being I ever had the pleasure of working with. Polite, respectful, and highly productive.
I realized why he was the way he was after a couple of weeks of working with him. He has many artistic endeavours going on in his life at the same time - not just music. I think the means that he is healthily less precious about any one of them. He could be very objective about listening to mixes. He would listen through to a mix, make couple of notes, we'd discuss briefly, make pretty minimal adjustments and move on. I'd never mixed tracks so quickly. It was refreshing not to get bogged down in a mix until the life was squeezed out of it.
David had a healthy attitude towards recording too. He never wanted to spend more than three days recording a song. He also worked on 18 songs for the Feeling album. His theory was that he didn't want to only have enough songs ready to record an album in case some of them don't work out as well as expected. He'd rather have too many tracks and pick the best 10 or whatever to put on the record. As he said 'don't worry, they'll all get used' - b-sides, soundtrack albums etc.
He worked with the British group Morcheeba on Feelings and the multitrack tapes were being flown over from the UK. On Christmas Eve, a tape failed to show up for our mix session that day - I thought David would cancel the day and we'd go home. But no, he said, 'I'll just ride home on my bike, get my laptop and we'll record a new song'. So we did. We recorded and mixed Psychedelic Afternoon in a day and he gave me a production credit on it as well as mixing credit.
I mixed 'U.B. Jesus' from David's next 'Look Into The Eyeball' album and then I got to record a song called "Glass, Concrete and Stone'. David had been commissioned to write the title track for a movie called 'Dirty Pretty Things'.
This we recorded at my studio in Manhattan. It was my first time seeing David in action working with other musicians and it was a very relaxed session. It was great to see how David managed to allow the other musicians to have freedom and time to experiment with their parts and watch him gently steer them back to get what he felt was right for the song.
There was no ego involved from David's point of view. We even had a problems with a set of vibes that had a rattle on it when certain notes were played. We tried many things to fix it and nothing worked. In the end I asked David if it bothered him and he said 'no, we probably won't hear it in the track' - we moved on.....no having to wait around for another rental vibes set to be delivered. When it came to vocals, David asked me my opinion about certain lyrics and I was thinking 'wow...you, David Byrne, are asking me my opinion about your lyrics - you are the man that wrote Psycho Killer that I first heard in a club when I was in my teens! and have written many hit songs since'.
David has the knack of making you feel good about yourself when you are working with him. When we were mixing Feelings, he was still having guitar lessons which impressed me as he is a pretty fantastic guitar player as it is. He's constantly looking for new music and new inspiration which is why he's managed to keep producing interesting material for so many decades.
I went to see him play a show in Manhattan once and when I got there, David was standing outside, smoking a cigarette, talking to fans lining up to get in......whatever rock star would do that?!
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