Roger Nichols interview

, by  James B. Cote, Marc Salama, Pier Alessandri , popularity : 53%

 What were the determinant factors.....?

 RN : Well, that goes back quite a way. I love listening to music. I think it was hereditary. You know, my grandfather was in the film and the music business. He was head photographer for Warner Brothers. And he was really into music and my parents weren’t really, and but all my free time I was spent listening to music. And I would go out, spend all my allowance buying records and listening to them. It didn’t really matter whether it was classical or pop music of the time or rock-and-roll when it started out in the fifties. And I hated clicks and pops that were on records, you know, I wanted to sit down, and I was trying to listen to everything. And I couldn’t ignore the surface...the grinding surface noise of clicks and pops. And I thought that the only way I am going to get past this was to start doing recordings of my own.
And I would...I bought in High School, I bought a little stereo quarter inch machine, and Frank Zappa would come over to my house and play guitar, and we would do multiple passes of guitars and bounce them together. And that was a lot of fun. And I’d go out to night clubs, you didn’t have to be 21 to get in if they weren’t serving liquor. And so I could get into these clubs and I’d record the band and give them a copy of the tape just to be able to do it. And I would bring tapes home. And I’d have something without clicks and pops to listen to. And it just sort of went on from there. And after High School, I went to Oregan State University and majored in Nuclear Physics, because that’s what I wanted to do. I then went to work for a nucelar power plant in California. But on my weekends, I would always have something to do with music. I would go out with some friends and. We’d record things at jazz clubs, and then we all, the three of us decided to build our own studio.
So we built a little studio in Torrence, California, called Quantam and it was in a garage, and to make money we would edit language tapes and edit out all the little lip smacks and clicks and pops on language tapes. And then we started doing little commercials for small businesses. And that’s when I met Karen Carpenter and Richard Carpenter, ’cause Karen was singing these commercials and Larry Carlton would do the arrangements and play guitar and Cubby O’Brien who used to be in the Mouskateers...the Mousekateers was the drummer. And so it was just this fun thing that we were doing. We were actually doing someting in the music business, and we had things to listen to that weren’t infiltrated by all these artifacts. And then, when, you know, I went to work for ABC Dunhill and worked with the Grass Roots, Joe Franklin Reynolds and Cher and the Mammas and Pappas and the Four Tops, different groups and learned a lot about the recording process. And then that went on until `71, when Gary Catz came to work with ABC Dunhill records as a producer. And then Donald Fagen and Walter Becker who formed Steely Dan came there as song-writers and I ended up working with them in the studio doing their song-writing demos. We got along great, had the same taste in the quality of sound. And when it came to do the first Steely Dan record, they asked me to do it. And I’ve been recording them ever since. So it’s been about 22 years now that we’ve been recording together. And it’s basically been a love for the music and a hated for the artifacts. Probabaly if CD’s had been around in the early fifties, I might not...I’d be flying, you know, I’d be in the space shuttle or something or maybe I would have been the guy that worked with Edward Teller or something on some project. Which was what I wanted to do. And the music business just took over everything. I left the nuclear industry at the end of 1968 to just do music full time. And now that it’s digital, I’m always striving for better and better quality digital recordings, and working with manufacturers using their equipment in the studios and making comments about my feelings and, you know, trying to make, now that digitals are here, making it better and better sounding. And that’s it.

  We’ll...go back to digital a little later. And it looks to me that that Donald Fagen...record...those guys take a lot of time to make records. They are very slow and if you want to do the same...and very...very you don’t almost only work for them. Do you have anytime to do anything else than working for Steely Dan?

  RN: Well. I do have time to do other things, though there have been periods where, you know, because the Gaucho album for instance took two years. And we were working five days a week. And people would not call me because they would just automatically think, well, you know Roger’s busy doing Steely Dan, we won’t bother to call him. And so there have been periods when I didn’t do anything because nobody was calling me up. And when I bumped into somebody on the street, and say, oh, I thought you were in New York working with Donald and Walter. And so there was a lot of that from time to time. But I’ve been able to do other things I started doing albums for John Denver in 198O. And I’ve produced five of his records and engineered five or six others. But those were projects that it was like doing a work-out, running around the track for three or four hours, and then go home and take a shower. You know, the shower felt good but didn’t take as much time, right? So, spending two years in the studio doing a Steely Dan record. And during that time, I’d take a week off, do a John Denver album. Walter Becker and I have tried to do the same sort of thing now that the new Donald Fagen album that we’re working on, has been two and a hafl years. But we’ve taken little hunks of time off. We work for six weeks, take four weeks off, work for six or eight weeks, take three weeks off, that sort of time frame. And in the little holes, Walter Becker and I have been doing a lot of jazz albums, for Wyndom Hill and for a label called Trialoka. And these albums take four days, start to finish. Do all the recording, do all the over dubs if there happen to be any, and all the mixing. And they’re great sounding records. It like cleanses the palette, from having this it still sounds good to you, you know, and you can still listen to it because you only spent four days doing it and it’s still a lot of fun. It gets hard after two years in the studio working on one profect, to even be able to tell which tune it is you are listening to. You know, a week ago, I put up the wrong tape and I thought it was another song, and I’m listening to it, and I said, I don’t remember a clavinet on this song, and I’ve been listening to it and I didn’t even ’cos I was doing it all by rote and I didn’t even stop to listen to the song, oh, this is the wrong song. And I had to put up the correct tape. But it gets to you after a while and it starts to get harder to concentrate to make those little tiny changes. But you know, we have strived for high quality in our recordings. And I think we have accomplished that, and so after it gets done, it’s all worth it.

  Tell me, what is the moment you prefer in the process of making a record? Recording, mixing, or even before recording it, when you...?

 RN: I like cutting basic tracks when, you know, using when its an album that we’re using musicians. I did Rodney Crawl`s last labum called "Life is Messy" and we had a bunch of musicians in the room all at once and recorded them. And that’s a lot of fun, because that’s the basis on which everything else is built. And my other favorite part is mixing, where you can take all these things and make sure that the puzzle fits together and that’s very satisfying when you take it home and listen to it, and it’s something that, you know, I make records I pretend that I am somebody else making the record and then I can take it home and listen to it and go, wow, that sounds pretty good. And but I still have the other day at the NERYS convention, with the...who was there? With George Massenburg and we’d sit there going, why I wish my record sounded like your records. And they’d be doing the same thing to me. So, you know, It’s just been recently where I have even accepted myself as making a good product. And you know, it’s really hard to explain but yeah, the mixing I really like. The worst part is the overdubs inbetween, where you’re just listening to the song over and over and over and over, do a saxophone overdub over and over and over and do the vocals. That part of the stuff, that you can just forget about. So that’s where the jazz albums are nice because it’s the first part, cutting the tracks, there’s hardly any overdubs and then your’re mixing. And so it’s the best parts of both worlds. Yeah, and it’s really nice.

 What kind of microphone do you use?

 RN: About four, three or four years ago, Yamaha brought me a set of drum mics that they had designed, called the MZ 2O4 and 2O5, and everybody’s always bringing me things to use, you know, here, try these, you know, Yeah, OK, I’ll put it up and listen to it. And so I put these microphones on Peter Luskin’s drums. I went into the control room and turned them up and they sounded great. And I thought, oh Peter’s drums, you know, he’s really been able to tune them up nice, they sound better than usual. And so just for fun, I went back to my regular miking technique, went into the control room and turned the knobs up, and they didn’t sound as good. I had to add EQ in the control room to record the drums. So then I went back to the Yamaha mics and which are designed for drums, and they have a little high-end rise, right where you would EQ to brighten up the drum. And so I find myself being able to record drums without using EQ. And instead of spending two or three hours getting the perfect drum sound, now it only takes fifteen minutes. I just turn up the knobs, and most of the time it’s right there, you know, if you have a good room and a good set of drums, it all translates into the control room very nicely. So I use these Yamaha mics on all the drum and the overheads, over the cymbals I use AKG 414`s. That’s it. And I’ve been using these on every recording session I’ve done for the last since I discovered those mics about three of four years now. 

 Do have favorites for records (???)

 RN: For strings, I like the Calrec Soundfield since I stumbled across that about five years ago.I no longer close mic the strings. I just use one mic for a forty piece string section and because it’s a multiple capsule microphone with a unit that decodes all the different capsules. And you can position it acustically. You can be listening on the headphones or listen on the speakers, and you can move the knobs and it sounds like somebody`s out in the other room moving the microphone, over to this side of the room, over to this side of the room. And you can, if you’re not getting enough of the cellos, you can turn it and it sounds like the mic is moving closer to the cellos. It’s a real great microphone. And you don’t have as much phasing problems using a hundred close mics. So that’s my favorite for strings. And I’ve used that on every orchestral I’ve done in the past five years, including things for an album that I’ve just worked on a few weeks ago that Rodney Crowl produced. For vocals, I like the Teclen 17O, it’s a transformerless condensor mic. I like the Audiotechnica 4O33 which is their new large capsule, condensor mic. I like. I’m not exactly sure of the number, but there’s a new. Remember the Perestroïka mic that they were talking about. So they have a new tube version of that using the same capsule that they loaned me the same prototype, and I used it on vocals. And, that is a very nice sounding mic. You can’t just pick...Oh, and I like, you know, old tube mics, like the old U 67’s and U 47 tube mics, but you have to hand pick them because they were hand made, they all sound different. You know, so you have to pick one that sounds good and use that one. And vocals are just like any other instrument. You can’t just pick one microphone and that’s the one you’ll always use on vocals because it depends on the timbre and the overtones of the person who is singing, you know, that one mic might work better for Roseanne Cash but another one would work better for Donald Fagen. So I tried the new Sony mics, the ones with the PELTA junction on the back. I think they’re called the G8OO or C8OO or something like that. I tried those on piano on a jazz album. Sony brought me over the prototypes to use. And they were amazing. So I think there’s been a dry period in microphone advancement for maybe the past eight or ten years where tecnnology has made it easier to produce microphones. But like a violin, you know, when the Stradivarious was hand made versus a violin that’s made with templates and comes out of a mass produced situation, they don’t sound the same, but they don’t sound quite as good. So, there’s a period where this mass production all the microphones sound the same, you can grab any one of them and they work fine, but they didn’t sound as good as the old hand made microphones. And I think some of these companies like Sony and Audiotechnica have been addressing the problem and trying to put this hand made quality back into their microphones. And I think we’re going to see a lot of good microphones in the near future.

 Are you the kind of engineer who likes to come into the studio with his own gear, for example, effects or (?) stuff like that?

 RN: Sometimes. But I like to use as little effects as possible. And what is most important to me is the sound of the room where the musicians are going to be. And the sound of the control room so I can hear what I am doing. You know, if I had to fly to some far away place to do some recording, I would try to use as much as...of what they had. And, you know, I’m not that picky about er, you know, I must only use this microphone on the acoustic guitar. And I must only use this kind of microphone, they don’t have them, you know, I don’t know what to do. If all I had were Neumman U 87’s and some Shure SM 56’s or something, if that’s all the studio had, then I could make use of that because I think microphone placement and where the instrument is placed in the room has much more of an effect on what the recording is going to sound like than whether you are using a U 87 or a U67. And, but once it’s like anything else, all these little nuances that you want to add up, you know, once you’ve got it sounding the best it can sound with a U 87, that’s fine, and if you have some other custom microphone that you want to replace it with and try a few other things, and if that improves the sound a little bit, then, you know, that’s much better. It’s just like, if all you have to record is with an Analog 24 track then you do the best you can, make it sound the best it can be on an Analog machine. If you have a digital machine than that improves your chances a little bit, you know, and it makes it a little less work getting the finished product.

  You..., in the whole debate...debate about Analog and Digital, you’re for digital?

 RN: Yes, and it’s mostly because when I record something on a digital, you know, and I play it back ten years from now it will sound exatly the same. So if there is some little artifact because it’s digital, it’s a majorable (sic) artifact, and it’s going to be the same artifact ten years from now. If I record something on Analog tape and it doesn’t matter whether I’m do using Dolby SR, Dolby A or DBX or no noise reduction or whatever it is, if you record something on a piece of analog tape and play it back later the same day, the same program is not on the tape. And there’s nothing so far that anybody’d been able to do about that, you know, like those little magnetic particles are made to be able to wander around and they do so by themselves while the tape is just sitting there. I’ve made DAT copies when I’m cutting tracks, and then have an automation snap shot of the mix and then later that evening put the tape back on, play it back, compare it with the Dat, and there’s already starting to be a difference. And by the time a week or two weeks go by and it’s time to mix, a lot of the transients have started to disappear. If you use this as a tool, some people like what this does, and it sort of helps to mix all their music together, that’s fine, but, you know, you can’t say that Analog tape with Dolby SR is as good as Digital. It might be as quiet, and but it’s not going to retain the signal, you know, as long as Digital tape. So that’s my biggest worry about Analog tape.

 Do you think...we’ve heard a lot about product mic bits transformer (???) now more and more so it looks to me that we’re going to have criticisms from the tape record 2O bit (???) do you think that it’s going to be a major improvement. What do you think about that?

 RN: Well, I think there’s a bunch of different fields opening up. We were talking the other day about data compression. And they’re going into all those data compression algorithms to make the Sony MD or DCC tape, and they’re talking about 4 to 1 and 5 to 1 data compression rates, I think that storing in 16 bit machine. There’s going to be real soon data compression techniques, that’s not very much data compression to take 2O bits and store it in 16. That you can do fairly easily and be a hundred percent sure that you’re going to get the signal back. And there will be, you know, algorithms for 24 down to 16. So I think, and some of these are intelligent algorithms, where it’s encoded one way and depending on how you decode it, you get varying resolutions. So you could, in the future, have a CD that was encoded so that if you play it back on a normal 16 bit CD player, it`ll sound just like a good 16 bit recording. And then if you played it on a more expensive player that had some of these DSP’s with the algorithms in them it would actually be the whole 2O bits that you could hear. And on and on. There’s different layers of this. And so I think the introduction of MD and DCC is going to force CD’s to get better and better. Because of, you know, the closeness of how the quality is, it’s pretty close. And so for the CD to survive, it’s going to have to get better. And I think CD’s are going to have to stay, and it’s going to have to be the CD format, because there’s been so much money invested in CD plants and the technology that makes CD’s, it hasn’t been around long enough to pay for itself completely, so you can’t just throw it away and start with something else.

 Do you think as a Dat format, it’s a lot better, for example, then the CD format. Or what’s still better then...what’s going to be DCC or the mini (????)

 RN: Well, I think that the DAT format qualitywise is much better then DCC or the MD Sony format. I think that: well, you know, it’s a 16 bit storage medium, so it’s the same as CD. And anything you can do on and off the CD you can do on and off DAT. The DAT is a recordable format, so that’s what you use to take home from the studio to OK things. There are things that are happening on the SMPTE based DAT machines, nobody’s going to make a Sympty based DCC machine, you know, or SMPTE based MD machine but they’ve basically replaced the reel to reel 2 track. Youy know, there’s no...I don’t see any reason to own a $3O,OOO reel to reel digital 2 track when the DAT machines can basically do the same thing. The one other format is CDR, there is the Phillips machine that has just come out under Carver, Marantz, Micromega that’s distributed in the United States by Gotham. I guess it’s a French machine, Studer those are all based on the Phillips platform, and those are great machines. I use those to mix to, so I just print my mixer’s straight to that and nobody can erase them. A system engineer can’t back up 2 -4 and, you know, accidentally erase the end of a tune. Or go over something he didn’t think I wanted anymore, which has happened. Because it’s a right once format.
And you don’t have to worry about the record company, they can lose it still, but you don’t have to worry about them wrinkling the tape by not taking care of it. It’s a CD and it’s as robust as a regular CD. So, I think DAT format was short changed basically by the record companies. And, I mean, you can see what idiots the record companies are, because of, with the serial copy protection, SCMS that they implement, made the stat players implement, allow you to copy CD’s, right? Before that was implemented, you couldn’t copy a CD because the DAT machine would only record at 48 and the CD’s were 44-1. And then the record companies got in, started yelling and screaming because people would make clones blah blah blah blah and then they came up with this scheme and said, OK, this is what it’s going to be, now you can record it, you know, as many CD’s as you want. So they, you know, shot themselves in the foot...themselves in the foot with that. They yelled about DAT because they didn’t want to have one more format to deal with in the record stores. Now they have two more formats, the DCC and MD. It is true that when DAT was orginally perceived, there was no thought about mass production, and the high speed production of DAT tapes was going to be real hard to do, it would have had to been a thermal process, such as, you know, high speed thermal tape duplication, video tape duplication. And that was going to be real expensive and wasn’t really addressed. Actually there were two formats, S-DAT and R-DAT. DAT is actually, in reality, R-DAT, rotating head digital audiotape. And there was also S-DAT format, stationary head digital audiotape; they were both being developed side by side, because of the existing technology in videotape machines, and the rotating head technology, that one was able to come to the market sooner. The Yamaha DMR 8, their little 8 track unit is based on the S-DAT format, of stationary head technology. The A-DAT is a rotating head with a VHS tape and the Tascam their A track is rotating based on 8mm tape as is the Adam 12 track from Akai. So if in fact DAT had been a little bit later in being introduced it probably would have been S-DAT sationary head. If that had been the case, high speed duplication would have been easier because it’s the same method used in DCC and there probably wouldn’t be a DCC. You know, so there’s some problems caused by leaping in with a new format, and what it, what you’re left with down the road, it’s, you know, that’s a real hard one, you know, but DAT is a good format. I use DAT all the time, for taking things home. I use it as a backup when I’m printing mixes. It still is tape and is a fragile format, because it is tape as opposed to the robustness of MO discs or the CD ones.


 Are you interested by recording on a hard disc machine, stuff like that...? 

 RN: I haven’t recorded to them, like mixed to them, you know, I have an optical disc system, an Akai DD-1OOO, I print onto that but it’s a removable media. And I don’t have to take the time to upload it down stuff like the hard disk. That stuff takes too much time, too much percentage of your time. Even if you speed it up to half time, if you have top work editing somebody’s whole album together, it takes you 3O to 6O minutes to load the stuff up on hard disc and then you have to edit it and then when the next client comes in and you are going to have to work on his album you have to down load everything off to archive or DAT or wherever else it’s going to go. And upload the next person’s stuff. So here’s two hours’ worth of work just to be able to upload and down load material that you’re going to work on, whereas with removable medias such as the optical disc you just pop it in and it’s done. More and more the hard disc companies are making availiable MO drives to be able to do your hard disc work on, and I think that’s good. Hard discs are a lot better for editing. I use them for editing whether that is the Soundtools or, you know, because I own the Soundtools and I also own Akai DD-1OOO. At home, I’ll use the Soundtools to do things, or in Walter Becker’s studio, I’ll use his HIA Soundtools, we’ll use those to do editing. If I’m going to edit just a piece that I need to fly around, I’ll do it with the DD-1OOO, as a stand alone unit, because usually on the Macintosh based system we have a sequencer running at the same time, or sample cell is happening, we have other things, you know, that are running on that platform, and we have to stop that, do our other project and then go back to it. So the DD-1OOO I use for as a stand alone unit for flying things around. If I go out on the road to a strange studio, I take the DD1OOO with me, I don’t take my Mackintosh hard disc based system with me.


 And it’s let go to call...reel revolution. It’s a whole studio revulution, especially in Los Angeles. And there is more and more gear which looks very good to me like......the Akai, the Adam. What do you think about that. Do you think its good thing for business, do you think for the music?

 RN: I think it’s a good thing for the music and for the business. I think the studio’s have been complaining, you know, how are we going to make all of our money now everybody’d working at home. But I think that this distributon of technology thinning out over these parallel processing modes makes everything come out better. The quality time, if you call it quality time, in the studio when you cut tracks, put all the musicians togther in a room, you have the correct accoustic environment as opposed to your basement. You go into the real studio, cut your tracks, transfer them to your A-DAT or your Datum or TASCAM, whatever it is, take them home, do your little overdubs, work on them to your heart’s content, doing your little vocals, your keyboard parts, guitars, all the overdub part of it that is usually what takes the longest period of time when you are doing an album. And therefore is the biggest part of the budget if you’re doing it at the real studio. So now you don’t have to spend as much on that part of it. When it comes time to mix, you take your tapes back to the big studio and mix in the environment that has all the expensive outboard or gear and the good monitors and the good consoles, you mix it there, so now you’ve been able to produce a better quality product because you’ve been able to use the real professional studio in the portions that make the most amount of difference. But in the part that usually costs you the most, you’ve been able to do at home on your little piece of equipment. And as far as the studio end of it goes, when you go into a studio, you cut your tracks and you don’t mind paying the studio, or whatever their. You’ve negotiated and when you are mixing you don’t care because you are using all their equipment. Every case, when you’re doing the overdubs, you always go to the studio manager and say, please, please, can you give me a break on the studio rate, because it’s just me and the engineer and, you know, we’re not using everything, we’re just in here doing this stuff and I can’t afford to stay here at $2OOO a day. And so the studios are usually beat down on price. And so they’re not making their full amount and if you weren’t in there doing overdubs because they want, you know, all your business, if you weren’t doing overdubs, then somebody else would be cutting tracks or mixing, so now the studio is booked with more quality time, and it’s better for them and its better for you. And so I think the home studios are helping a lot. And then as far as the musicianship. Tons of times because of budget constraints, you know, I’ve been in the big studio and well, you know, that has to be a good enough solo because, you know, we’re only in here another hour and tomorrow we have to start mixing so that has to be good enough. Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re home, if you are home working on it, you can spend as much time as you want.

 Yeah, I’d like to go on..your writing part of your life, cos it looks to me if you take a lot of pleasure to write which is very amazing for a sound engineer. And you’re very caustic too, and so there’s two questions. First, why do you write, do you feel like a teacher or something like that, and second question, is the way you write sometimes about record companies, doesn’t make you trouble in your busniess.

 RN: Well, writing is enjoyable to me. You know, I’m not doing it because I feel like I’m a teacher or anything like that. I feel that, you know, I have things to say. And they may seem , to some people, to be caustic. But, you know, I don’t feel that they are. I feel that there are things that I have tried to get over to the record companies and it usually has to do with something with the record companies. They’re getting in the way of the artist’s achievements. And in a lot of times, and whether it is cutting off your budget because you didn’t get done with the record on time, or whether, I’ve heard of instances where the record companies would sign a group just so they couldn’t put a record out because they were maybe as good if not better thean a similar group that was already on the label. So the label would sign them and put them in a studio to make an album and then when the album got done they would just throw it away or something like that, just to keep them out of the way. And because they’re interested in mostly in making money. 

There have been a lot of cases of record companies losing tapes and just recently record companies that have been going through the vaults and trying to clean out space and just arbitrarily seeing a bunch of old outtakes and cutting them up and throwing them away without asking anybody. And there’s some precious stuff that should be listened to, that artists or the producer or somebody involved with the original project should be contacted and they have the choice, do you want to come and get all this stuff or do you want us to throw it away. Bruce Woodeen has said that one of the record companies went in and cut because they wanted to use the empty reels, they cut a bunch of Oscar Peterson tapes, just cut them up and threw them away. And luckily during those Oscar Peterson sessions, Bruce ran a second tape recorder so he has a copy of the sessions that were going on at the time. And there’s stories about the record companies not wanting to pay for a tape, extra tape to make stereo mixes of things, back when stereo in the early ’5O`s started to evolve. And Bruce made stereo mixes and he has those. And now thrity years later, they’re coming to him going, gee, do you have some stereo tapes of these original sessions. We were really sorry that we wouldn’t let you make them back then. But now we’d really appreciate it. And especially with this Steely Dan stuff, that I’ve been involved in, we’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of effort and basically my whole music industry life has been involved with these guys and we’ve wanted to make records that were as perfect as you could make a record.With no excuses and all. And when the thing gets done and we put it out we’re proud of it and there’s nothing we would say, well, I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that on the technology of the time we pushed the envelope and did whatever it took to get as much of what happened in the studio to, onto the end product.The record companies would then use the wrong tapes or second generation tapes or, you know, lots of different things when they would press the record to go out to the general public. That It’s just disconcerting in that when you’re sitting there working real hard to do something like that, the record company doesn’t care.. So in my writing I’ve talked about these, because for the last twenty years I have talked to record companies about them and you know it really didn’t matter. And some recent things with some Steely Dan tapes, it wasn’t until I said it in print that the record company came back to me and said, well, yes, we’ll fix it. So that has helped a little. But the other question, I don’t think that it’s hurt me at all in the music business because I do a good job at what I do not liking a record company for one reason doesn’t mean I’m not not going to do a good job for them. On the other hand, you know, if I was a guy who worked in the mailroom and was talking caustically about the record company and er, you know, they didn’t need my services and let me go, and that would be one thing. But when the artists want me to mix for their records, you know, that’s not really for the record company to say. And so I don’t have to really worry about whether the record company likes what I talk...I say about the way they handle tapes or somethiing. So I’m not really worried about it. And I do the same thing about equipment, you know, if, won’t just the first time I use a piece of equipment there’s something wrong with it, I won’t jump into print and say this is the worst piece of equipment I’ve ever used and don’t use this equipment. You know, I’ll talk to the company and I’ll say this is, this is what I think is wrong with your piece of equipment. Not just a taste thing but something that it was designed to do. You take it to the studio and it doesn’t do it. And then I’ll talk to them and talk to them and sometimes it’sa couple of years of talking to them and they still don’t do anything about it, and then I’ll say something and then everybody stops buying the piece of equipment and then they fix it. So, but, you know, I don’t...
I would prefer that I never had to do that, talk caustically about a piece of equipment or manufacturer or a record company. I prefer that they would, you know, listen or care about the people that are producing this. I am producing their livlihood, you know, if the engineers and the producers aren’t making any records then there isn’t any record company, you know, so it’s got to be a communication thing that’s opening up, that’s happy for, you know, everybody.


 What, in the whole...your name, Donald Fagen’s name, and Becker’s process of Steely Dan record, after all those years, are your close firends or aren’t you too much friends, friends who work together?

 RN: Oh no, I think, you know, when we’re not doing projects with Donald when I’m not working with Donald, I talk to him once in a while, but, you know, so there’s a period of time when we don’t see each other so that it’s, when you get back together, it’s a renewed friendship. And, you know, we all care about what’s happening to each other and things like that, and if there’s problems we talk to each other on the phone and things.In the last few years I’ve seen Walter a lot more because we’ve been working on these jazz programs, jazz albums and we’re intersted in other things, there’s scuba diving and flying and computer, you know, Mackintosh and PC computers that we use for things. And so, we probably see each other more often out of the music business scene than Donald and I do. And I know Donald and Walter they knew each other for 15 years before I met them so, there hasn’t been I don’t think at all any strained relationships and that’s you know, that’s gone pretty well. And it’s been 22 years I guess thast we’ve been making records together and, we still, you know, now it’s to the point I guess where we can be in the studio and we can yell at each other for a second, you know, you do that and I’m going to rip your arm off and, you know, it’s not taken caustically, you know, as if it were somebody that you did’nt know, if you told me you were going to push him out of the window or something that would, they would walk up and leave, you know, and we can joke around and things like that. And we know that our friendship is, you know, stronger than any of that stuff. And it just rolls off your back, it doesn’t even matter.

 Is, could you please descrbe a basic session with Donald Fagen because I’ve heard that he is a very meticulous artists and does he do things all...or does he mix over or does he...sections...things like that?

 RN: Well, the basic Donald Fagen session is not going to be like a basic any other session just because of the time reference. I’d compare it with, giving somebody instructions to get from this AES show to the Hilton hotel you just say go down three blocks, turn right and its right there. Under a Donald Fagen session, the instructions would be something like, walk out of this door, turn left, find the stairs, go up 314 stairs, walk 17 feet, turn left until you get to the concrete at the third crack in the concrete you will turn left and find a curb, step off the curb, you know, and it’ll be, you know, that sort of instruction. Right?. So with a regular session you have all the musicians come into the room and you get sounds on all the musicians and then they start playing, rehearsing the tune if they’ve never hear it before and then we do some takes on the tape machine and everybody comes in and listens to it and then you do any fixes or overdubs that you need to do and the you go onto the next tune. That might take two or three hours to a day. With a Donald Fagen session, you might come in in the morning and all you might do all day is Donald would be singing one or two lines of the song over and over and over for eight hours Right?, or playing a piano part over and over and over trying to get one like nuance of a piano part better than what’s on the tape. So it’s a microscopic look at what’s going on in the studio. If the overall picture we’ll go in and sometimes we’ll cut tracks with real musicians and then try to fix them up to Donald’s standards. On this album, what we did we went into the studio with machines, put down machines as our guide then had a drummer come in and play to the machine, then take the drummer’s drums and maybe incrementally move them around so that it was the dynamics of the real player and within reason some time movement of the real player but we tried to match that up in some parameters with what the machine was doing. And then we’ll, there will be guide sequencer parts and sometimes guide parts that Donald played for the drummer. And then we’d do a real bass or a real guitar or a real keyboard but they were all incremental things um doing one overdub at a time. And then we’d get some overdubs done and then one of the first overdubs that was the guide was no longer valid then we’d have to do that one over again based on the other stuff, so there is this chasing your tail for a while you know and maybe the drum sequence, the way the high hat felt, when it was time to do the overdubs was just fine but now that there’s more overdubs on it and there’s some humans playing where the high hat is placed in time isn’t exactly right. So then we’d move it around a little bit to get it to feel better. So, after this circular motion, of fixing something and refixing something and then it just slowly gets better and better and better and two years later you mix.

  You have to be very confident to work in this process, you have to very strong no?...

 RN: Yes and we make sure that we can back up, you know, we can take a step backwards we will save everything so that if Donald is wrong about how he thinks something should be. That I always have the previous thing to go back to. And so that takes a little bit of extra work on my part, but it’s you know, save this a few times as opposed to, you know, without 48 track tapes, we couldn’t back when we were doing 24 track, it would just be, well, that’s no good, erase it and I’m going to do it over again.And then, now there’s the pressure to make. It has to be as least as good as what was on it. With 48 track digital machines and being able to save things off to DAT and the digital domain and fly them back in if you need them, makes it. Takes off a lot of that pressure that’s easy to try to beat the comp, we tell...we call it, or we can do 14 vocals and put the best performance together and then whenever he feels like it he can come in and sing the song and if something’s better we’ll use it and if it’s not better we’ll still have what we had before. So it is a meticulous process but I think it pays off in the long run.


 Does it take a long time to mix?

 RN: Probably well, when we mixed the Nightfly, it was about an average of a day and a half per tune. There in... during Gaucho which was an old analog there were a couple of tunes that took 4 to 5 days and a lot of it is because, and I didn’t realise this until this time, is it’s been, you know, almost 2O years of, we’d be in the studio doing something, especially in the mixing phase and I’d think I had a pretty good mix or then Donald or Walter would come in and say well, more.Turn up the piano a little bit, I’d turn up the piano, turn up this a little bit and they’re making all these changes and we’d spend hours and hours making all these changes and then sooner or later it comes back to what it originally was and I always thought, you know, these guys just don’t think I do a good enough job. And finally after 2O years I asked Walter about it and he said, you know, I don’t know if it’s right till I try all the wrong things. And eliminate them, then I know that, yup, that’s the right way to do it. So once he told me that I went, Oh, Okay, now I understand, and now I don’t mind doing all these other things, right? Because it’s a lot clearer but until he eliminates all the wromg moves, you know, he wasn’t exactly sure what the right moves were. So that was pretty funny.


 Any questions Mr.S...I’m through 
Could you just please tell us why do you think...why do you think old microphones are better than new microphones?

 RN: Well, yesterday at the NERYS panel, we were talking about the difference between older microphones and newer microphones and earlier in this interview I talked about the new microphones that should be coming out because everybody’s attention to the detail of microphones. Yesterday they asked me the same question, you know, why I thought old microphones were better than new microphones. And the only thing I can think of was that the older microphones have more experience and they have been..[oops!]...The older microphones have been listening to material for 3O or 4O years and they know what signals they should put down the electrical wires. And the newer microphones just aren’t quite sure yet.

Interviewed by James B. Cote, Marc Salama, Pier Alessandri, Patrick Coutin.



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