On this album, due to time constraints, I worked on the tracks with Vince Clark in his basement studio in Notting Hill while producer, Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Wire, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Interpol) worked on vocals with singer Andy Bell in another studio - The Church, in Crouch End, if I remember correctly.
Vince is an incredibly down to earth bloke for a pop star….he’s got an painfully dry sense of humour and talks more like a builder or a plumber. On the first day of the recording, he sat me down and said ‘do you want to know how much money you’re going to make from this album?’. Before I could utter much more than ‘oh…well….err…’ he’d tapped away on a calculator for a few seconds and was holding up the resulting calculation to show me and said ‘how’s that?’. To which I gulped and said ‘Err…that looks just fine. Thanks.’
Vince’s basement studio contained nearly every great synth known to man and it was beautifully laid out, with a mixing board against one wall, facing the window, and the other three walls had floor to ceiling racks laden with all the synths.
One thing completely stunned me on day one though. We decided on what song to start with and Vince then proceeded to expertly get a kick drum sound from one of his synths - the ARP2500 I think. When he was happy with it, he said, ‘Ok let’s print that to tape (an Otari 24 track 2in Tape machine)’. I said ‘are you sure you want to record it now? He frowned and said ‘why not’. I said, ‘well, wouldn’t you prefer to hear the kick drum in context with a bass and maybe a couple of synths before you commit it to tape?’. He still looked completely baffled - like I was asking him to pilot a space craft to the moon or something else outside of his comfort zone. He replied ‘but this is the way I’ve always done it’ - which is a fair response from someone whose already produced a shed load of mega hits! ‘Ok’ I said, ‘but surely, you have more than enough excellent gear here to have all the parts running live from your sequencer and refine all the sounds in context with each other before we need to commit to tape - right?’. Long pause and more deep frowning - followed by ‘I’ve never thought about doing it like that’. This blew me away! This was Vince Clarke, the guy that I watched on Tomorrow’s World many years before I got into the music biz explaining how the Fairlight could sample sounds and play them musically on a keyboard and then sequence them to create a song - all inside a massive computer. Ground breaking stuff! And yet here was the same guy who hadn’t thought of running multiple parts on his sequencer before!
Anyway, luckily, rather than kick me out of his studio, Vince gave my suggestion a go and after a couple of hours he said ‘I like this way of doing it’…..and so that’s how we worked from then on.
Vince is a musical genius and I loved working with him. He was all about keeping stuff dead simple and keeping songs short….he would quite often say ‘that’ll do’, like a builder who’s just skimped on the bolts holding some majorly important steel beams together.
He had an unerring confidence in what he was doing too. If Daniel Miller, the Mute Records boss, had any doubts about anything to do with the record, Vince would say ‘don’t worry Daniel, it’s going to go to number 1’ - which of course it did, in it’s first week of release.
An example of the Vince Clark genius was the rising and descending piano riffs in ‘Blue Savannah’ - my favourite track on ‘Wild’.
Vince, during the programming/recording said - in his very deadpan way - 'this needs a piano riff'. Then he just seemed to sit there and stare into space. After a while, I said 'why don't you just try and play something?'. He said...'sshh....I'm thinking!'. After what seemed like an eternity, he started furiously typing numbers into his ancient BBC UMi computer. After a few minutes of this, he sat back and said 'right, let's have a listen then'.....and my jaw dropped when the brilliant piano riffs popped out of the speakers. He had worked it all out in his head and then had typed in - numerically - each note, the position of the note, the note length and the velocity. Bloody brilliant!
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