An Interview with Producer Larry Klein, Chatting with Ben Lovett, Plus Clavvs, Aleko, The Riflery, Dan Lipton, Alex Dezen and Joe Lazo Exclusives

01/22/2016 10:32 am ET

CLAVVS' "LEVIATHAN" EXCLUSIVE

photo credit: Leah Roth Photography

According to Clavvs' Amber Renee... 

"'Leviathan' is one of my first bedroom songs, which is to say I wrote it back before I’d ever even recorded in a studio. I sat on it for nearly five years before I sang it for Graham, who ended up creating this perfect underwater microcosm for it to occupy. Water imagery is something that has always fascinated and frightened me, probably because I nearly drowned in a pool as a kid. It is essential to life, yet has the power of death. I think 'Leviathan' tries to captures that paradox."

And according to Clavvs' Graham Marsh... 

"We initially demoed this song for our first album in 2014, but ended up not using it for that project. We dusted off the demo after a year and both realized how much we loved the song. With the overall sound and production of 'Leviathan,' my vision was to juxtapose Amber's ethereal vocal with an aggressive, driving soundscape. There are also subtle moments of underwater vibes, which was something we really wanted to get right."

photo credit: James Minchin III

A Conversation with Larry Klein

Mike Ragogna: Hey Larry, what are you up to these days?

Larry Klein: Well, let's see. I just finished a record for an incredible new artist for Blue Note named Kandace Springs. She's just amazing. She has sort of followed the archetypical path of the prodigal child, trying to get to do a record that is really who she is and such. She was signed to Epic and then to Blue Note, then they did a sort of record that didn't really fit who she was. We just finished a record that I think really gets to the focus of who she is as an artist. I think that's going to come out in April. I'm also in the midst of an album for Sony, a crossover album with Lang Lang, the Chinese concert pianist. Then I'm doing another record of music that Charlie Parker wrote for Impulse. It's sort of going to be turning Charlie Parker inside out.

MR: Nice, and that will be with multiple artists?

LK: Yeah, different artists being featured on each track.

MR: What about a Larry Klein album?

LK: [laughs] Oh, well at some point I'll probably get around to doing that. I probably will.

MR: All your contemporaries have done it, your turn!

LK: Yeah, I would have to figure out exactly what part of what I do, direction-wise, I would want to focus it in. I've been asked that quite a bit lately, so maybe it's time to do it.

MR: There are so many albums and people you've produced. How has producing evolved for you?

LK: I think that I've just gotten better at what I do in every way as time has gone by, just like I think most people do. If you're paying attention to what you're doing and paying attention to the artists that you're working with and paying attention to the outcome of things and how things work, I think that you have to get better at getting to the center of things faster and making less mistakes. I think you also get more secure in who you are, whether it's as an artist, as a producer, or as an arranger. I think that as time has gone by, I've been able to focus on the right things in each situation better and quicker. I think that what I do has become more and more distilled. I think with becoming more and more secure in who you are as a person and what you do and what your role is, it hones what you do into a more pure and elegant form. I think that I've become less and less interested in showing what I can do as a producer, showing people any kinds of fancy tricks or flashy ideas, and more and more concerned singularly with making something that makes people feel something intensely and that changes people hopefully.

MR: My feeling is you're in the school of producers that include Phil Ramone, Arif Mardin, Quincy Jones, and the like, but next generation. What formed your musical opinions as far as production?

LK: Of course, I listened to all of the people you just named intensely while I was growing up. It was impossible not to listen to Arif Mardin's productions and Quincy and Phil Ramone and all of these guys. But I was also doing studio work and I worked with a lot of very talented people in completely different contexts. I went every which way. I worked with people like Daniel Lanois, playing on Robbie Robertson's and Peter Gabriel's records; I worked with Mutt Lange. At a certain point, I got interested in making rock records so I ended up working on different things as a player and a bit as a coproducer with Mutt Lange. I'm a sponge. I'm always looking to learn from every artist and every producer I've worked with, so coming from the background of being a studio player for a number of years, I think I absorbed things from all of these people that have affected how I approach things and how I do things. But I think that you're right in that there is a central philosophical approach to the job that differentiates me from someone like Daniel in that I really see the job and I see the most interesting and compelling parts of it as getting to the center of each individual artist, helping and working with them to hone a palette and create a landscape that is about what they do and who they are and what we're trying to achieve musically. Also I help them with what we're trying to get people to feel when they listen to a given track or song as opposed to bringing each artist into my stylistic sphere.

I believe some of that thinking probably emanated from the time that Joan [Joni Mitchell] and I worked together, which was obviously a very important and catalytic time for me as far as experimenting with how to approach the job. It was difficult as well because, basically, I was invited into a situation with a person who hated producers. But nevertheless, I was invited in and asked to be a part of this mechanism and to help her figure out how to realize ideas that she had. And also in that instance, I learned that the shape of the job changed completely with every artist depending on what their strong suits were and what they needed and what their challenges were. With Joan, a lot of the time, she had enough ideas for ten people, so it was more a process of trying to help her edit down some of the ideas and figure out perhaps the best way to execute them. 

MR: When I look at the roster of artists you've worked with since Joni Mitchell, it seems like they all have blossomed creatively after you worked with them in the studio.

LK: I hope so. That's always my intention when I work with someone. My intention is always to get at the center of where their magic is, and by doing that, hopefully, I help them look in on themselves to figure out the same and to hopefully refine and move forward in what they do, whether it's songwriting or figuring out what kind of environment to set their voice into, what kind of architecture, musically, is going to work to achieve the desired effect. The strange and great thing about the job is that it runs all the way from designing a complete landscape or environment for someone to just step into, all the way to being more of a sounding board and a person who fills in little gaps in the process and redirects things when they go off the rails and everywhere in between.

That's the great, interesting thing about doing what I do. I love the puzzle of how to get to the best way of collaborating with a person. In my job, each record that I do is a new puzzle in that way. And depending on what it is, sometimes that involves completely educating myself in a new musical tradition as it was with fado. I just finished a second record with a woman named Ana Moura, who's a great Portuguese fado singer. At a certain point several years ago, I fell in love with fado and then became aware of her singing. Sort of serendipitously, she contacted me, so we just finished a second record that we've done together. I had to really immerse myself in this grand Portuguese songwriting tradition and learn about how it was put together and how it works so that Ana and I could disassemble it a little bit and try and get at something fresh with it.

MR: Larry, you began your work as a musician. A good musician always learns and improves from their musical environment. Are there some concrete things that you're learning from the artists you produce?

LK: Oh, yeah, definitely. For instance, I wrote a record with Walter Becker, so we decided we wanted to do something together. The question was what were two bass players going to do? We decided to write a record together. So here I am sitting in a room writing songs with this guy who is really one of the handful of smartest writers in pop music. For me, that's like waking up each day and playing tennis with Rob Laver or John McEnroe. There's no way that you're not going to learn if you're awake and paying attention and not trying to cling to your ideas out of some sort of insecurity. You're learning stuff every few moments. Really the reason that I made the transition from being a studio musician to producing records is that I really got depressed and tired of working on records and then hearing the record after I'd done the initial sessions, it having gone completely off the rails with everything beautiful about it buried. So in the same way, that's when I decided to stop traveling with my jazz heroes. It was the same thing. I just got tired of being in an environment where everybody was trying to cut each other down with playing faster than each other and trying to determine what was really "jazz" and such.

It's been a gradual process of phases of depression I think. I would get into an environment and be happy while I was absorbing the process of functioning in that environment at a very high level and then at a certain point, I started having a thirst for different things. For me, it was growing from being a studio musician trying to honing my own songwriting and learning about what it takes to write a great song. I started having more and more strong opinions about musical architecture and arrangement, which led to wanting to find a place where all of those things were under one umbrella. And that was producing records. I think that for me now, it's about the refinement of one's talent and one's ability to do a good job at what they're doing, and certainly, as time has gone on, I think with every record I do, I get better at what I do. I learn different things. Every personality that you deal with and every set of problems and challenges that are inherent in a specific project force you to grow if you're approaching it in the right way, and I love that. I think that's probably what I thirst for more than anything out of making music and making records.

MR: How has being a producer helped you grow?

LK: I've been very fortunate to become associated with an area of records that still involve live tracking dates and actually playing with group of musicians. This also presents itself in just working with an artist one-on-one, whether you were doing a record that was in the box or just working on vocals or whatever. I think that producing, at its highest level, is a very delicate and mysterious art. In my mind, it's all about identifying what is great and what is the magic in an artist and then trying to amplify that thing. Then in the process of doing that, you're working with a group of great musicians, which I always am because I have the privilege of being able to bring in people who I think are the best musicians in the world and who have the most highly-developed musical intuition as well as technical ability. It's a very delicate art, I think, when you come into the studio. I always have a picture in my mind of what a given track should sound like before we start. To a more or less degree, I always design the thing in my mind and articulate it usually in a set of notes, and then I kind of stick those notes in my back pocket and go into the studio.

For example, how much are you going to define for a group of players? If you define too much for them and write a through composed part out for a lot of tracks, you're not going to be benefitting from their creative instincts and what they might throw at you that would be completely different than anything that you would ever do. So on one hand you don't want to give them too much information; but on the other hand, people often times will listen to a song and think, "Well I have no idea what the hell to do here," and then you have to be ready to feed them information at the right junctures and know what to say when functioning in that capacity with not only a group of players in the studio but the artist who is there at the same time. And, of course, it's even more important or just as important to be doing the same thing with them. It's very delicate. In a way, it's almost like a very elegant Zen art if you distill it down to these subtle and small moments that happen in the studio. I was just reading Glyn Johns' book and I was amazed at how different his perception of producing was. Basically, what he says in there is, "The producer is the guy who yells his opinion loudest." That's completely antithetical to the way that I work. It couldn't be more different. Although, in my own way, I can be just as stubborn. I can be very quietly stubborn about something if I think that it's the right course.

MR: It's almost like there's a tradition there as well. I think the precept is, "These musicians don't really know what to do, so I have to steer them along." It's sort of like the father of the family versus the family member.

LK: Right, right. And, of course, some groups or some artists absolutely need that. They need you to come in and dominate the proceedings. I've worked in that context too, where I've had to sort of go against my nature and really manifest some real arrogance in a certain way, saying, "Hey, listen, I know what I'm f**king doing here. I've been doing this a long time, I know how to do this. I know how to get what we're after here, just listen to me."

MR: When you're showing someone a demo, I imagine you also prepare some charts?

LK: Yes.

MR: So when you're working with an orchestral artist like Vinny Mendoza who comes with a lot of intricate arrangements, are you able to sit back and allow him to take over the session?

LK: Well, I've worked with Vince Mendoza on a lot of music. Some tracks have been on one side of the continuum and other tracks have been way over on the other side. In some cases, it just feels right for me to say, "Okay, here's what we're doing here. This is the instrumentation we want; we want the shape of it to be thus, and the structure of it to be thus, and so on." Then he just goes off and I would come in at the end and, in some cases, just say, "Gee, man, that is bloody fantastic. That's just gorgeous." In some cases, we really had to collaborate very intently on everything and go over things and even start from scratch together after he gets going because there are certain areas where our vision is very compatible and very similar and then there are certain areas that, I guess, would happen with any two people who just see things differently.

There have been some cases where he just kind of looks at a song and what I want to do with it and says, "Well how the hell do you think we should do that?" In certain cases I'll sit down at the piano and play him a note group and say, "Well, here's how I think it could work." For instance, with [Joni Mitchell's] Both Sides Now, it was a case where I sat down and I played him a note group and said, "What if the whole thing is centered around this tone cluster and the root movement changes beneath it, but that cluster is sort of omnipresent throughout the arrangement?" That completely opened the door for him and then he was off and running. It's always different. He's an incredibly talented, facile arranger. When it comes to working with orchestra, it's the same thing that I'm saying about working with artists. It's different every time and that's something that's great. He and I have been through a lot of different musical situations and gotten great things done, so we've built up a lot of trust and a really good shared syntax.

MR: Your collaborations are some of the most emotional, film score-ish accompaniments that I've ever heard. There's a sophistication and melancholy that happens when you two collaborate.

LK: Yeah, we definitely share a kindred aesthetic in that I think we both lean heavily towards the dark side of things.

MR: It's almost like "after hours" orchestration.

LK: We're both huge fans of the Godfather movies; there are all sorts of similarities. I think that he and I are both very much drawn towards the transcendent value of articulating a certain kind of melancholy. This is something that I definitely feel and I think that if he was listening right now, he would agree. That's one of the big reasons that people go to music, to articulate the tragic quality that life has in the end. There are incredible highs and incredible joys and wonderful, beautiful things that happen. But there is an inherently tragic quality to a lot of life and I think that people have traditionally gone to pop music--whether pop music was Verdi or pop music was something of our time--but people have always looked to it to articulate this kind of sadness and melancholy and thereby help them transcend it.

MR: Interesting, I've never heard it put that way before. So my favorite Larry Klein productions are those in which you bring out more of what's presented in the lyrics of whoever the signer-songwriter is, such as in the works of Tracy Chapman, Madeleine Peyroux or even Melody Gardot. Especially Melody.

LK: Oh, yeah.

MR: So where I'm going with this is that even though you're a "musician," it seems it's like you also appreciate the poetry of lyrics, balancing out the musical parts as if they were "speaking" like lyrics.

LK: Absolutely. I think that's something that was an idea inside me from way early on, but certainly, the work that I did with Joni distilled that. She was always looking for the music to articulate and underscore what was happening in the words. Working with her on records really solidified that approach to me. For instance, when I worked with Herbie [Hancock] on the River: The Joni Letters record, it was a very interesting situation because I'm sitting here in pre-production with him and we're going through songs trying to figure out which to do and how to do them so that we bring out something completely new while staying true to what the poetry is. And Herbie, being a jazz musician and coming up very much from that way jazz musicians approach playing standards, he had never really listened to words, you know? He said that himself. We were going through all of these songs and together, saying, "Okay, here's what this is all about, let's decipher this. What would be a setting that would really bring something new out of this?"

Then once we'd gotten into the studio, I'm here with a group of guys who are my musical heroes--Wayne Shorter and Herbie and Dave Holland--and I'm having to tell them, "I think you need to approach this differently." These are guys who are used to doing one or two takes and that's it, it's done. That was a really challenging thing for me. But it was something that was necessary in my position in that particular instance, to keep refocusing everybody on the music that we were putting together being a soundtrack for poetry. And I had this inner voice monitoring me at every moment saying, "Oh God, that doesn't have anything to do with what the song is about, that has to go." It was a greatly challenging thing, but something that was a real distillation of that principle that I take to almost every record that I do. I feel like the music has to either support the words or contrast with them. There has to be some sort of relationship there that makes the poetry as powerful as it possibly can be. When you see someone listen to what you've done and start crying, you know that you've hit gold.

MR: Larry, what advice do you have for new artists?

LK: Focus on the best there is out there, the highest watermarks, and really try and refine what you do so that it holds up to that. Depending on the genre, of course, this means different things. I feel that there is such a glut of mediocre and bad music being put out as records now that with some exceptions--and, of course, there are some great exceptions--there is this sea of badly considered songs with unrefined, incomplete ideas. In some ways, the internet and access to everything at any moment has been a beautiful, great thing and has moved things forward in all sorts of great ways. But in some ways, it has led to even a more insular narcissism in young artists as they are learning their craft and developing what they want to do. Now, you can say, "Okay, I'm going to put out my own album," and you can put it out and there are these people who sit in their bedroom who have sold twelve records in Malaysia and they've sold twenty somewhere else and they really think that they are doing it.

At the same time, you have apprenticeship and the way that you sort of develop yourself as an artist. Those ways have dispersed and disintegrated to a large degree. If you look at it in the sense of jazz, there were those bands--the Freddie Hubbards, Miles Davises and Art Blakeys--that were proving grounds, environments where you were able to basically apprentice with a great talent. Through working with that person every night and talking to them, you were part of the tradition. It was a real education of sorts and this was really the way of learning to write a great song or to play a great solo or to know how to do things. Now it has come to a time where there are all of these music schools that are teaching kids how to brand themselves and teaching them how to play jazz, etc.. But there is something grossly missing in a lot of the records and a lot of the artists that are coming up now.

MR: Though I bet there are new artists or bands you listen to and think, "I wouldn't mind producing them!"

LK: Oh, God, yeah! That's sort of the negative part of the thing. There are a lot of exceptions but I think there's a real downside to that phenomenon because you just don't have the environment that is conducive to great talent gestating in a lot of situations, whether it's the time that The Beatles spent in Hamburg or the time that Wayne Shorter or Freddie Hubbard spent with Art Blakey or the time that Sinatra spent with Tommy Dorsey. You've got a glut of people who come out of schools thinking, "Okay, I'm ready to do it, I'm going to reinvent the whole thing." So to a large degree, the bar gets lowered and lowered and lowered and then you see someone like Aretha [Franklin] who, when she came on at The Kennedy Center Awards show, you see what it does to people. "What is that?" "That's great talent!" Yet it's so shocking now because so much of what is out there is theater and dramatic recreations or retreads of old ideas. That said, I do think that there is a lot of great stuff being done as well. On the whole, I wonder whether or not the environment that young artists come up in now is conducive to shooting for that high mark. I guess all of this is directed towards saying that if I were to offer any bit of advice, it's study your heroes and hold yourself to those standards.

MR: Just curious, do you actually have a favorite album that you've produced?

LK: I'd say maybe in some ways the River record with Herbie brought together so many different strands of things for me out of my life and what I had learned and my musical development working with him on that music and trying to create this thing that was a turning inside out of these great songs, that it was something that was incredibly challenging and hard but I think turned out great. Then to have it rewarded was really amazing. I guess if I had to, I'd say that project. Other than that, I'd say it's always the last thing I just finished.

MR: In my opinion, Herbie's inherited the torch from the likes of Miles Davis. The gravitas that you get from his name carries almost the same as Miles in some ways.

LK: Those guys are the last of these Olympian guys. Wayne Shorter and Herbie and Ron Carter... There are very few of those guys left, and they are a different breed. Of course, they feel the same way about Miles. Miles was Zeus to them, and they all still talk about things that Miles would say and the way that he encapsulated things and how he would be able to say two words that would express five paragraphs. Having heard so many of these stories from these guys, I often think, "I wish I could talk like that to players." "Don't play that s**t." Somehow, he had this kind of persona where he could say the meanest things and it just had the right kind of edge to it.

MR: My favorite Miles quote is when Nancy Reagan asked him something like, "What makes you feel you have the right to be in the White House," he answered, "Other than sleeping with the president, what gives you the right to be in the White House?"

LK: Whoa, he said that to her? Wow, I never heard that one.

MR: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Miles Davis...

LK: He did have this great ability to be incredibly blunt. Herbie told me this story that I love. Herbie gets invited over to Miles' brownstone to audition for the gig, right? He was brought in by Tony Williams. They get together and Miles had this studio in the basement of his place. They get down there, set up and start playing. Miles very quickly disappears and they're just playing down there. Miles, as it turned out, went upstairs and was listening on the intercom. Then someone else added the detail that apparently he called Gil Evans to come over. They're listening and this went on for a number of hours, and when Miles finally came back down he didn't say, "Oh, that's great, you're hired," or, "Congratulations." He just leaned over the piano and said, "Nice touch."

MR: Awesome.

LK: That was it, and he was in the band.

MR: What do you want to work on that you haven't worked on yet...an artist, a film, whatever? And what would you like to be in your future that would make you very happy?

LK: Oh, God. There are so many things, so many artists. I would love to do a record with Bob Dylan. I'm sure that would be a huge challenge in all sorts of ways that I can't imagine. I've played on sessions with him, but I would love to make a whole record with him. One person that I've worked with as a musician and as a composer on a film that he produced is Martin Scorsese. I'd love to actually do that again. It was one of the best years of my life. I just felt like I was learning at every corner, working with him and his production company. I'd love to do that again someday. And things here and there come about. I've always wanted to work with Renée Fleming, so on this record that I did with Billy Childs' reimagining Laura Nyro, Renée sang "New York Tendaberry," so I was able to do that and it was every bit as great as I thought it would be. I want to do another record with her at some point. Maybe Yo-Yo Ma. Same thing, he worked on that, and I'd like to do a record of his. I could go on and on, really. There are a million different things and that's not even counting all of the music from other countries and traditions, because there are a million different things that I'd like to do on that end as well.

MR: Hey, the sideways way in to producing Yo-Yo Ma would be your work on the Lang Lang record. Just saying.

LK: Things happen when they're supposed to happen, but I have a whole bucket full of heroes that I would love to work with. And like I was saying, I love the challenge of working with people who have a whole different orientation, so I've been able to go into some different places. I've been working with a guy named Thomas Dybdahl who's a Norwegian singer-songwriter who's just a fantastic artist, a young guy. I love coming across things that take me out of my comfort zone and make me have to stretch in different ways. This Lang Lang record has definitely been one in that respect. It has been a challenge, but I think it's going to be a great record. Yeah...who knows? Maybe I'll end up doing a record with a Cantor from Jerusalem or something next, I don't know. [laughs] That's what's kind of exciting about doing the job, is being able to do all of these different things. I'm pretty omnivorous, always have been since I was a kid, musically, so there are very few areas that aren't interesting to me.

MR: And of course there's your secret, lifelong dream of skydiving and riding the big waves of Australia.

LK: Uh, no. [laughs] I'll leave that to other people. I'll be back at the bar waiting for them to come in.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne 

 

ALEKO'S "HOLD ON ME" EXCLUSIVE

photo credit: Danny Allebach

According to Aleko...

"'Hold On Me' is easily the fastest I have ever written a song, having done so the day before I was scheduled to go and record something else entirely. What had only taken a single day to write was in reality something that had been on my mind, unexpressed and unspoken, for years since I had graduated high school. Living with the constant thought in the back of your mind that you’re nowhere close to being where you want to be, that you are not even at the first step, and on top of that you are trying to learn exactly what will get you there, is something I feel that everyone who has ambitions larger than themselves will understand.

"My point of view during the entire writing and recording process was that I needed to bleed as much soul out as humanly possible into this song, which inspired the full arrangement, and make sure that every second it’s played live is no different than every second I’d spent in the heat of the moment. Capturing the idea that 'every moment is a test' and feeling like 'I’ve been failing all my life,' only to get past that at whatever cost, and crushing it. The other perspective I wanted to have was how others come into play, how your family and your girlfriend or boyfriend feel about your goals. Whether they agree with you or not you cannot sacrifice your future for someone else’s lifetime, but that’s easier said than done. Both an old and new relationship played a huge part in writing this song, and scripting the video’s scenes. Leaving someone who does not support you in favor of someone, or something, that does was the closure for both the chorus and the video."

photo credit: Andrzej Liguz

A Conversation with Ben Lovett

Mike Ragogna: Ben, you scored Jacob Gentry's eighties-inspired sci-fi film Synchronicity. This isn’t the first film you collaborated on, right?

Ben Lovett: Correct. In terms of movies that people actually saw, this is the 6th film Jacob and I have done together. Or if you count the films from our experimental Athens-era college years, it’s probably like the 12th movie we’ve made.

MR: How did you both decide on the musical approach for Synchronicity? How do you and Jacob usually work together?

BL:  We always try to change up the process, just to find new ways of arriving at a solution. We trust one another and aren’t afraid to experiment. Since the look and tone of Synchronicity is very much informed by science fiction films from the late '70s and early '80s, it seemed like focusing on the analog synthesizer sound from that era was a natural path towards reinforcing the aesthetic goals of the film. I think good genre filmmaking attempts to use a familiar language to tell a new story and that was essentially our conversation. I understood Jacob’s intention of seeking a look and sound that payed homage to the film’s influences as an aesthetic device to tell a story about people.

MR: How big a sci-fi fan are you?

BL: I just like stories. I’ve never really found that I gravitate to a particular genre of films, personally or professionally.  On some level, it’s like being more interested in how the machine works instead of what the machine makes. Or liking a band more for how they sound than the specific songs they create with that sound. Obviously, either preference in either case is perfectly normal, I’ve just noticed my interests lie in the latter of both.

MR: What are some of your favorite movies?

BL:  I’m one of those people that tend to constantly refer to whatever they just saw as “the best movie ever.”  It’s like falling in love, each time you do it you feel like it updates and refines your concept of what that even means.  So usually my favorite movies tend to be the one I just saw, and/or, the one I’m currently working on.

MR: Which artists or songs inspired you growing up? What made you get into music?

BL:  I grew up watching my dad air drum Beatles songs on the steering wheel and singing Southern gospel hymns with my grandmother in church. Then came hip-hop, punk rock, Bob Dylan, etc. I think the first time I ever wanted to make music for movies was after hearing Peter Gabriel’s score for The Last Temptation Of Christ. It knocked me upside down, still does.

MR: What got you into film composing?

BL:  I was a freshman at the University of Georgia when I met an ambitious group of kids who were pooling their tuition money together to make a movie. At that time, I had been playing guitar for little more than a year and owned nothing other than a 4-track tape recorder, a tiny Casio keyboard and an acoustic guitar which someone had drunkenly described to the director as my having “a “recording studio in his apartment.” I told the director that I didn’t know anything about scoring a film and he said that was fine because they didn’t know anything about making one. I couldn’t argue with that logic so I jumped right in and haven’t stopped since. That was in 1996 and that person was Synchronicity director, Jacob Gentry.

MR: Nice. In your mind, do you become the characters in the movie when entering the creative mode? For instance, was writing music for protagonist Jim Beale more or less fun than writing for antagonist Klaus Meisner? Did you "fall in love" as well, like with seductress/conspirator Abby?

BL: Creative limitations are often a blessing. It’s a reality of small budget projects that you rarely have the time or resources to paint your masterpiece. So you do the best you can, while you can, with what you’ve got. There was an extremely small window of time available to create this score so it was a lot of going with your gut. Fortunately, the palette we chose for the sound of the score forced me to paint with a few specific colors, or that is to say that the decision to work exclusively with analog synthesizers narrowed the playing field for me in a really positive way. But, yes, I fall in love with every movie that I work on.

MR: What were some of your favorite scenes to work on? How immersed in this movie did you become and is it sometimes hard to get a project’s music out of your head after living with it in such a concentrated way?

BL: I tend to submerge myself completely in these projects. It’s not a very academic approach at all, I just kamikaze head-first into the story and characters as intensely as possible to try and channel everything onscreen into the music. Switching gears between scoring and songwriting is tricky though, yes. You use the same tools but they sit in a different part of the tool belt, and you use them in different ways. I’ve found over the years that, because making records and making movies are both so intensive in their own ways, by the time I’ve finished playing on one end of the sandbox I’m itching to scamper across to the other side for a while. It helps me to maintain perspective and keep it always feeling new.

MR: How does composing for film affect your compositions as an artist? And since you’ve been getting so much film work, who is the artist “Ben Lovett” these days?

BL: Oh man, who knows. Generally speaking, that question is caught in a perpetual loop inside my head at all times. “Who is Ben Lovett these days?”  I’ve been asking myself that as long as I can remember and have never come up with a convincing answer. Artistically speaking, it’s difficult to say how the different disciplines of songwriting, album production, and film scoring have influenced one another since I’ve been doing all of them as long as I’ve been doing any of them.  The approach and process is very unique to each but the cumulative effect is that it’s all fused into one hybrid technique for me.

MR: Are there any films you wished you’d scored?

BL:  Star Wars?

MR: [laughs] Me too! So a couple of your biggest projects included Last Goodbye and The Signal that debuted at Sundance. Which were some of your favorite scores to create and why?

BL:  I really enjoyed scoring Amy Seimetz’s debut Sun Don’t Shine. It was a very different experience for me in that I lost nearly every argument I made on behalf of a given cue or scene. Amy was very specific about what she wanted and, ultimately, I agreed with all her decisions once I saw the finished film. I also enjoyed working with Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton on Black Rock. I was brought on to re-score the completed film from it’s original version so the entire experience was very different. Everyone was singularly focused on the music, and yet they gave me a lot of latitude to experiment and do what I felt would most help the film. Ghost Of Old Highways is a short film based on a song I wrote which presented the opportunity to take the basic musical ideas of 4 minute songs and re-envision them into a 15 minute score. That was a cool experience.

MR: Do you ever watch some of your older films and are either completely satisfied or feel like you would take a different approach to now?

BL: I’m never satisfied. It’s either just the nature of my affliction or an occupational hazard in this kind of work. Someone once said that movies are never finished just abandoned. But because writing songs and scoring films is such a challenge that never seems to get easier, when I see or hear my older stuff I just think, “Anyone know if the younger me is available for hire on this gig?”

MR: Are you working on any new projects?

BL:  Yes, always. I’m finishing up the score to a new film with Jacob right now called Night Sky, which is my favorite movie he’s made yet.  I’ve just started pre-production on a new feature with Dan Bush [The Signal] called The Dark Red, and have a completed score for a film called Isolation with director Shane Dax Taylor [Bloodworth] that will be released this summer.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

BL: Well, I’ve tried to never let the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing get in the way of just doing it anyway. While I might not recommend that approach for piloting an aircraft, it works fine for movies. You’ll figure it out.

MR: What’s the game plan now and when will you be releasing another “Ben Lovett” album?

BL: Not sure but there are songs in my head kicking and screaming for attention so another Lovett record is inevitable. No game plan otherwise, just make good music, try to love everybody, then die happy.

 

THE RIFLERY'S "GETTING THERE" EXCLUSIVE

photo credit: Alex Ferrari

According to The Riflery's lead singer, Shannon McArthur...

"In my 29 years of life, I have learned that comparison is the the thief of all peace. 'Getting There' is a song for anyone who has ever fallen victim to this. Every person has a specific path, which may not always make sense to others, but it doesn’t need to. 'Getting There' is for the boys who were told they weren’t tough enough, the girls who were told they weren’t pretty enough, the parents who were told they didn’t make enough money, and anyone else who has ever felt like they aren’t enough. As John Milton states, 'The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.' Nobody is 'there' and the sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can celebrate the moments we live in. In terms of how the song came about, I co-wrote it with my good friend, Krista Angelucci. We were originally trying to write a song for her to use on her upcoming album, but in the personal struggles I was dealing with at the time, the words and melody just kind of fell out and turned into what the song is now. Though I had originally planned on releasing it on my solo acoustic album, I later decided it would do the song more justice to release it as a full band song. I am so incredibly thankful for each and every member of The Riflery. We just got back from our first tour together, and we closed every show with 'Getting There.' The song wouldn't have near the power it has now, if it was me playing it by myself on an acoustic guitar. I’m very happy with how things have gone with the band so far."

DAN LIPTON'S "DARK WATER" EXCLUSIVE

photo credit: Leslie Lipton

According to Dan Lipton...

"I recorded the bulk of the material for the album, Breathing In, in rented cabins in Maine and Virginia. 'Dark Water' came out of those recordings. It's about a time when I lived in Brooklyn. I used to ride the ferries during the summer to escape the heat, avoid the perpetually delayed F train, and give my ears a break from the noise. It was easy to forget that New York was a city on the water and that the ferries could take you almost anywhere. I wrote Dark Water a couple years after leaving New York and moving to DC. I found myself missing the city, the ferry rides, and the ease of escape."  

ALEX DEZEN'S "A LITTLE LESS LIKE HELL" EXCLUSIVE

Alex Dezen / release date: February 12th, 2016
Alex Dezen album
Alex Dezen / release date: February 12th, 2016

According to Alex Dezen...

"This is one of only a few songs on the record that started with a riff or part. I played it over and over again in my studio, singing different melodies over it, until I landed on the opening line, 'I saw The Interview today,' which then goes into talking about how disturbed I felt seeing all these people dancing in the street when the news came that we had killed Osama Bin Laden. The kind of nationalistic rapture you saw on TV, with college kids chanting 'USA! USA!' deeply disturbed me, and I was both confused and afraid to say why. This song is the exploration and expression of that feeling.

"This tune is a bit of an outlier with regard to the production. It has a disco-esque, dancey vibe to it, which I wanted to use as a counterpoint to the more serious temperament of the lyrics. When I was in graduate school in Iowa, my mentor, Ethan Canin, had discussed the attraction of opposites in narrative fiction--how to make someone cry, you need to make them laugh first. I've tried to do that with a lot of these songs, use the narrative temperament as a way of eliciting a response from the listener. In 'A Little Less like Hell' you have a dance beat over some pretty pointed lyrics. In that way, the fun music and melody disarms the lyrics so they might be more approachable.

"This video was super hard to make. My buddy Mike Dunn was at the helm, brainstorming, shooting, and editing. Because the lyrics are so serious and the music is so fun, it was hard to find a place in the middle where the video could live. So we just decided to make it weird! I'm pretty psyched about this one. It was certainly more challenging than some of the others, but I think we made it work."

BRAVO'S JOE LAZO'S "NAKED GYM" EXCLUSIVE

photo courtesy of Bravo

According to Joe Lazo...

"My primary objective is to improve my client training experience. Often clothes, get in the way of the movement. In this episode, we explore the concept of a gym where clothes would not be a barrier to the perfect posture... I just didn't anticipate the reaction of my colleagues' trainer."

[Viewer Advisory: contains nudity and expletives]

CONVERSATIONS