1. Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: really.
2. Record Producer: known for albums and hits by ABC, Seal, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Yes, Dollar, Belle and Sebastian and Grace Jones.
3. Musician, songwriter and singer: as heard in The Buggles, Yes and Art of Noise.
4. Record label owner: ZTT Records. 5. Studio owner: SARM Studios in London.
Trevor is all of these, and more. We sat down with him in his offices at the soon-to-disappear SARM Studios one afternoon. One thing I can tell you is that the man who crafted some of the wildest-sounding pop hits of the '80s was a delight to meet and chat with.
LC: I heard that you worked as a session musician in the '70s.
Well, my father was a bass player in a dance band, as well as being an engineer. I played double bass in the school orchestra and then I started to play electric bass guitar. Bass guitar was a very new instrument in the mid-'60s and few people could read for it. I could sight read. I made my way from the provinces down to London. I worked in London throughout the '70s and played on all kinds of shit records for people. Then I went home and built a recording studio with another guy; but I came back to London again and I kind of made up my mind to try to be a producer. It took me about five years.
LC: Were The Buggles factored into the production part of it?
The Buggles were a fantasy band — it was 1978 when we wrote "Video Killed the Radio Star" (with Bruce Woolley) and we could all feel that a lot of new technology was coming. We knew, because we had heard [Kraftwerk's] The Man-Machine - to me The Man-Machine was about 20 times more exciting than punk rock. Punk rock was just badly recorded rock. The way it's been made into these super-slick American records — Foo Fighters are a great example of punk that's been beautifully crafted. But to me it was pretty boring back then. The Man-Machine was fascinating — the idea of a mechanical rhythm section, as well as being able to control things. If you think of the end of the '70s, there was that whole school of beautiful recordings that everybody admired, like Elton John and Led Zeppelin. They still stand up today. But when you're not part of that scene and you're coming from somewhere completely different, you have to find something that you want to do. And technology was the most exciting thing to me.
LC: As far as MIDI programming and synthesis?
MIDI I never liked too much. I always preferred CV [control voltage] and gates. I think I was the first producer — definitely in England — who had a "rig." It was a [Roland] TR-808 with special triggers on it that Dave Simmons built for me. I had a set of Simmons drum modules, which were synth drums. I had this very simple sequencer made by Roland, as well as a Minimoog. You could put lists of notes into the sequencer. If you triggered it from one of the outputs on the 808, you could get it to do other things. Having that really gave me an edge when I worked with ABC. I also did all the Dollar records with it. The Buggles was pre- technology. There was nothing programmed — we were playing like sequencers. Geoff [Downes]' keyboards on that record are amazing to this day. He's a beautiful keyboard player. All of the things we liked about sequencers — we could hear Giorgio Moroder do it, but we couldn't [replicate it]. We rented one of those Oberheim [Mini-Sequencer] things and we couldn't get a fucking squeak out of it. The Buggles was all played [live] and we used echoes and things to get effects. But by the time I started producing, I had that rig. With ABC, when we did "Poison Arrow," it had a tricky little bass part — if you're a kid from Sheffield, it's not the easiest bass part. The drummer from ABC, Dave Palmer, was a good drummer back then, but they'd never made a record before. So when they first played "Poison Arrow" in the studio, I remember saying, "Well, that's how you sound playing it. Is that what you want?" They said, "What else is there?" and I said, "Well, we could really go into it..." They said, "What would that entail?" and I said, "It will take me about ten hours, but I'll program the whole drum part and the bass part into my rig." So I did it with the Minimoog. I programmed the whole drum part and [Palmer] kept telling me what he'd played as a fill. I said, "When I've done this I'll put it down on tape, and then you'll play the drums on top of it. Play as close as you can and then we'll play the bass." Of course it came out much tighter than a bunch of guys just playing it.
JB: Did you keep both drum tracks on that record, or did you scratch the sequenced track?
All we had was one 24-[track], so we wiped all the sequenced stuff that it was played over. It would've been fun to keep it.
LC: That's one elaborate click track!
Yeah! But it was a map — a map for people to play over. It was the first time I realized how much focus you get out of that, rather than just recording people playing.
LC: Giorgio Moroder's a great example. It was really difficult for him to create those synthesizer sequences at the time.
Hans Zimmer was in The Buggles for a while. I remember it was the first time I'd ever heard sequencing applied retroactively. I think it was for "Johnny on the Monorail." He got us to play it to a computer click; it was quite an annoying thing to do at the time. Then he went off into a room; he programmed a load of stuff, brought it back in and it all played in sync. We didn't like it so we didn't use it, but it was the first time I saw something applied [retroactively]. I was astonished that it was possible. As the '80s started, it got more and more astonishing. If you think about it, it never really stopped. I think everyone sees technology change in their lifetime, but to see kids working with "pictures" of equipment that I grew up with — it's kind of funny.
LC: Yeah, all these virtual synths and plug-ins. One of the stylistic things we see with your work is a very controlled, focused way of compartmentalizing sounds.
Playing live is a train wreck in comparison to the studio. In the studio you see everything through a magnifying glass. But it still relates to the outside world; you have to think of people. A record isn't just a recording of a piece of music. It's a thing. That's what makes it so interesting. Some of the records that I spent months doing back in the '80s, you could re- record in two hours now. They wouldn't be the same, but they'd be close enough that the average person might not notice. All of that is much easier when you know what you're doing. When you're actually making a record, you don't know what you're doing half the time. I was never afraid to scrap stuff in the '80s. That's one of the great things about the music business — records certainly can cost a lot of money to make, but it's the cost of time. It's nothing like a movie. If you don't like the movie, you usually can't go back and re-shoot it. A couple of times I have said, "Right. We're going to start again, because this is not going to do what we want." And I can do that.
LC: John and I were discussing your production of the Yes album 90125. That was the Cinema band project that mutated into a Yes album. What were your thoughts going into that, especially after being the vocalist for Yes on the previous album, Drama?
Well, I actually went into that for one reason and one reason alone. At the time I was coming off of ABC and I was really hot as a producer. My wife, who was my manager, thought producing Yes was a lame idea. Yes didn't feel particularly relevant in the '80s. Drama had been an interesting experience, but trying to be [vocalist] Jon Anderson for 44 shows in America [for the Drama tour] had taken its toll on me. What would make me want to go back there again? I went to see them rehearsing as Cinema in L.A. before I decided to do it. Trevor Rabin [guitar], Chris [Squire, bass] and Alan [White, drums]; they were playing some of the tracks and I was so fucking knocked out by the way they sounded. But my wife was like, "What are the songs like? Where are the songs?" Trevor played me a set of songs. About two-thirds of them made it onto the album, but they were quite changed by the time they were finished. We were all in his studio in Topanga Canyon; he went to the loo and left the tape running and "Owner of a Lonely Heart" came on. The intro on the demo was kind of like the intro on the master — this great big heavy metal thing with a jump cut into the verse, and I liked that. Then this awful verse came on, [sings] "We don't wanna go dancing" or whatever, but then the chorus [sings] "Owner of a lonely heart." Immediately I said to him, "This is a hit. This is a number one." He was just coming out of the loo and he said, "No, no, no. That's not for Yes. That's another thing for somebody else." I said, "No. This is great. We're going to have to look at the verse, though." The funny thing about a band like Yes was that they'd played stadiums all throughout the '70s. It never really got anywhere near technology, the way I knew it. Just dropping in a few sounds in the Fairlight [CMI sampler] was starting to get them really interested. And the drum fill...
LC: That's Alan, right? [The crazy drum/horn fill on "Owner... -ed.]
Yeah, Alan White. He was just fiddling around on the
keyboard. He played that and everybody leapt in the air and cheered. It was so funny! But I said, "We can't use it. It's too over the top!" [laughs] And then Chris Squire said, "No, no. It's staying." And that's Alan. On "Leave It" — all those mad sampled drum fills is Alan again on the keyboard — the way he switches the beat around. The album took a year. The vocals were quite amazing on that record. It was the last album I did analog.
LC: To do something like that in the analog realm requires a lot of assembly — putting ideas down, taking them out...
Well, we did the backing tracks to analog 16-track, 30 ips, no Dolby. Then we copied the 16-track immediately to a 24-track — locked, obviously — then we put the 16- track in a cupboard and didn't get it out again until we mixed. I think on "City of Love" we did some edits at the end. We did a tiny bit of correction where I thought they'd laid back on it a bit too much, at one point. We'd taken a 1/8th-inch sliver of tape out of the tape then re-laid the time code on the 16-track and did the whole thing again. Those were the days where you'd have two 24-tracks locked; I had a system for that by the time I did 90125. I had a whole set of rules: the first rule was that you had to have all the information there at any given time. I needed to hear exactly what was in there. "You're telling me there're two guitars on this slave. I have to hear them." Otherwise time will be wasted. The amount of planning you have to do... There was one little disaster. We spent two days doing harmony vocals to a slave reel on "City of Love." They were really layered. It took us two days and I thought they came out really well. I came into the studio the following morning and the tape op was doing something. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "We had a little drop out on the time code. There are vocals on the read stripe of the time code." I literally dove across the studio to hit the machine in order to get it out of record. He was re-laying the time code! He was fired that morning — we didn't see him again. We had to fly in all of those vocals by hand as a result.
LC: Oh, shit.
Have you ever tried to do that? It took hours and hours. We had one reel and had to chalk-mark it, then see if we were feeling lucky. And tape is like elastic — you didn't just hit it once and it ran all the way through! You're hitting it and having to drop in bits of it. He didn't know! You don't re-stripe time code on a slave. You can't possibly do that! Where are you going to be?
JB: If it drops out you can jam-sync it...
Yeah, jam-sync it. We had that ability.
JB: You mentioned Yes was kind of losing relevance and that you helped make them relevant. Part of that is in your recordings, every five or ten seconds something new happens. How much of that was you and how much of that was the band coming up with ideas?
Well, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was a good example of something happening every few seconds. Initially I thought the verse was so bad that if I gagged it up a bit, people might not notice. With Yes the gags come at a slightly slower pace, but not on that one. I used to call those things "whiz bangs." We were having fun with them at the time; I've used them on a couple of other records.
JB: I remember Frankie Goes to Hollywood sounded similar, just layered with neat sounds.
Yeah, I guess I was trying to make music entertaining. I wanted it to feel full of life, changing and "moving the camera around." Playing the studio. With the studio, the more control you got, the more it became a musical instrument. Just buttoning [muting] things in and out. On the demo mix of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" I had done the button-out on the drums at the end of the guitar solo. I had just caught the end of the drums as I buttoned them out. Chris Squire insisted that [the final mix] should be just like on the demo mix, catching the end of the drums. We spent ages. I really don't want to go back to analog...
JB: That song has different ambiences, as well as hard edits where the ambiance changes. It's not a lot of the big, gated snare drum.
We used to call [the EMT 140 plate reverb] the "crash box" because you couldn't get a good short plate sound out of a real plate. It didn't work in the same way. When EMT came out with the 250 [digital reverb] I was knocked out. I felt, "Wow! It's like we can move the 'camera' around to different places now." We couldn't do that before. You were stuck. I've found that the actual acoustics of the studio are only really of interest to me if they get in the way. But yeah, the big, gated snare drum turned into a fetish for some people. It was a big bone of contention on 90125 because one of the producers Trevor [Rabin] had worked with was [Robert John] "Mutt" Lange. Mutt Lange is a terrific producer, but he and I are quite profoundly different. Make no mistake, Mutt's made some fantastic records. Anyone who could get Foreigner 4 out of Foreigner, believe me, that's a testament of what the man is capable of; also those Boomtown Rats records that he did. And "Drive" — I love that album [Heartbeat City] that he did with The Cars. Anyway, Trevor thought that the snare drum should be really big and he tried a few times to make us [do that]. I had a great engineer at the time, Gary Langan, who was a very bossy and very opinionated guy. Every time Trevor would try to get on the board, Gary would say, "Get off! Get off!" Eventually it got on my nerves so much that I said, "Okay, Trevor. Get Alan's drums the way you want them to sound. Gary and I'll go down to the joint and chill for a little bit. You give us a shout, alright?" So, Trevor got a load of those graphic equalizers and he tried. It sort of worked, a bit, but Alan would play the rim shot and it would all trigger badly — it was all garbled. Alan hated it — he's a rock drummer. He doesn't give a shit about some fucking snare sample! We had a laugh and I think Trevor realized that we couldn't get that sound out of Alan. In a way, that's where the drum sound of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" came from — I tried to be a bit mad. I thought, rather than having this snare drum pitched low, why not try the "Stewart Copeland" and tune it up to A?" And the crew was shocked. They hated it!
LC: "It's not supposed to be that way..."
I heard them talking as I came out of the studio. I heard Nunu [Whiting, Alan's drum tech] saying, "That fucking Trevor Horn and the way he's got those drums! They sound like a fucking pea on a barrel!" Then he saw me and said, "Sorry, Trev..." [laughs] But it was funny. You can imagine it caused ruptures. Even in the end — there is a mix of the song with the snare tuned down a fifth — but not by me.
LC: You did the Belle and Sebastian record [Dear Catastrophe Waitress] in 2003. Their records have been loose and very organic. It seemed like an odd choice of producer.
But Catastrophe Waitress is still organic-y, isn't it? It's focused, but it's pretty much all played. There's one programmed track that I didn't program. I didn't like the programming. I told them, "People will think this is me," but whatever. They liked it.
How did you first hear about the band?
My daughter used to play their records. I had a woman working for me who also did the dressing rooms for [The] Coachella [Valley Music and Arts Festival]. She met the members of Belle and Sebastian and they got to talking about me. They called me up soon after that conversation. They're Scots and they have their own little world up there, but they are all well educated, nice, caring and considerate people. They had worked with this guy Mike Hurst, who'd made some good records in the '60s. They ended up with a big orchestra, with them playing live in a big studio. They asked him, "Is this what it was like in the old days?" And he said, "No, we never did it like this." So, they had sort of a bad experience with a producer. After I went up to Scotland and first talked to them, they played me a bit of the album and I was hooked. I loved all the songs. I went back up there with a little Pro Tools rig and got them to play me the whole record, in a day, into eight channels of Pro Tools. I had it to listen to and I thought about it for a while. They asked me to do it analog and I made this famous remark that they put on the Internet about how "I wouldn't build a house with an outside toilet." I had an outside toilet when I was a kid! They were lovely to work with. It was a different kind of production. They didn't want any musical ideas from me; they already had seven or eight people in the band. They have more musical ideas than you could cope with. It was more about trying to put them in the best situation. I got them a great engineer because I realized there was an interesting dynamic between how loud the singer sang and how loud the drummer played. I loved how the drummer played because he played like a '60s drummer — very lightly. You didn't have to have that big, horrible "rock-y" sound. It was like a funny old sound, and they use funny old guitars. They had all the tracks down. They just needed someone to really listen to them and say, "Yeah, this is the take. You've got that. It needs a bit of that." They were very hard working. That one song about Thin Lizzy, "I'm a Cuckoo," was a bit of a hit over here. They played that 20-odd times [in the studio]; just played it and played it and played it. Most of the other tracks were whole takes. They wouldn't let me do certain things like layer up any vocals, so everyone had to get 'round one mic. That was interesting to get that to work. I don't mind a challenge! One of the things that makes that record great are the arrangements — the strings and the horns. I did have to tell the French horn player, "I don't know what you're trying to do with this bit of this song. It sounds wrong to me." And he said, "I was in a club and something was playing. The DJ mixed in a Buddy Rich record. It sounded amazing." I learned from them and they were fun. They're still going strong. But that's a nice kind of production because you can be on the phone a lot and walk in and out. It's like Bob Johnston [Tape Op #80] with Bob Dylan, I suppose. He was always credited as the producer, but I don't know if he even knew what "Gates of Eden" was all about. [laughs]
LC: No. He's making sure that the record gets done.
Exactly. Personally, I thought the guy that did the next record [The Life Pursuit] was a bit heavy-handed.
LC: Tony Hoffer? It's, uh, very compressed.
Very compressed, yeah.
LC: It's got very "in your face" drums, which people might have expected you to do!
That's why I thought it was funny! [It was] something they'd expect me to do.
JB: What about the Art of Noise? That was you playing, as well as producing.
Art of Noise was a little team I had just before I did Yes.
It was the same musicians that played on ABC and Malcolm McLaren's [Duck Rock]. It was comprised of Anne Dudley, Gary Langan (who engineered Yes), J.J. Jeczalik, a journalist named Paul Morley [book review; Tape Op #57] and myself. I'd called in Paul Morley to start a record label. I really didn't understand that side of it when I was a Buggle. I was green as grass. I went into a couple of interviews full of beans and afterward I realized that I wanted to kill the interviewer, and [Paul] Morley was one of the ones I wanted to kill! But then a funny thing happened. Once I started producing, Paul Morley began to write this nutsy stuff about me in the NME [New Musical Express]. I mean it was crazy stuff, like I was some kind of mythical being. It was terrific. It was then that I began to understand what journalists actually do. They kind of romanticize things. It's a whole different trip. I thought, "What a great person to start a record label with." Because that's really what you want — the excitement and the feeling that something's happening. He's a brilliant writer. We're still friends and we talk about doing things. That [label] was ZTT and what became the Art of Noise was born out of us just looning around. We used to say, "Hoist the Jolly Roger! We're coming aboard!" We would sample bits of tracks and throw stuff together. "Beat Box," the beginnings of "Moments in Love" and bizarre things like "The Army Now," were just me screwing around. Paul Morley came up with the name — the Art of Noise — and the name inspired us. He even came up with [song] titles like "Moments in Love;" and we went on to write the song.
From the title?
Yeah! It's usually good to start with a lyric. It was the only lyric in it, apart from "Now." [laughs]
LC: I remember hearing those records when they came out and I remember being transfixed by the sound. It was something that sounded incredibly new.
It did! Well, it was new to us.
JB: The band name alone — "Art of Noise" -that sounds interesting...
I remember I had a huge row with Yes' manager on a Sunday night, midway through a mix on 90125. It was a huge argument that took place on the phone and I ended up quitting. It was very rare for me to do something like that, but I just couldn't take the interference at the time; whatever it was. I always think that if you do something drastic like that — and it was pretty drastic, because he didn't bring me back for about six weeks — you have to do something positive off the back of it, otherwise you end up in a hole. So I came over here [SARM] and I stayed up all night. I put together "Into Battle" with 1/4-inch tape. It was all over the place — bits over here, bits over there — it had no shape to it. I remember, when we went to cut it, the cutting engineer saying, "What is this? This sounds shit!" I was like, "Well, it doesn't sound like anything else." He said, "It's got no highs. It's got no lows. The stereo's all wrong!"
JB: So, Frankie Goes to Hollywood — that was one of the first things you did after that project. Was that one of the first bands you had on ZTT?
Yeah, it was. They were a little four-piece band from Liverpool. They had a great idea. When I met them and first heard "Relax" I didn't know what to do with it, but I loved it. They were from another planet. They were from Liverpool, two of them were very gay and three of them were very straight. But they were charming and I remember the bass player [Mark O'Toole] saying to me, "What we want to do is make a record that is a cross between KISS and Donna Summer."
I thought about that for ages after he said it; it was a very interesting idea to make it sort of dance, but also a rock thing if you could. One problem with Frankie Goes to Hollywood was a thing that also defined the way it went: they never told me until the day before they signed with us that the guitar player had quit. The guy who played guitar on all the demos that I'd heard had gone off to a day job. They replaced him with Brian Nash. He was a very good-looking guy, very nice and funny, but he could barely play the guitar. He improved as the year went on. By the time we recorded "Born To Run" on the first Frankie album [Welcome to the Pleasuredome], that's them playing — they'd really worked hard. But it was more or less impossible to record them as a band initially, so I had to do other things. I've told this story about "Relax" so many times. "Relax" was the result of a piece of technology called the "The Conductor" where we could lock the Page R [a sequencer] in the Fairlight to a LinnDrum machine. It was eights on a piano and a bass playing four in E, and a LinnDrum machine with me changing the patterns by hand. The LinnDrum was the best drum box ever, in every way. The [Oberheim] DMX was also very good, but not quite as good as the LinnDrum. It was the golden era of drum machines. Did you ever have one of those?
JB: I had one of the Oberheim DMX ones. I went through that phase.
I'm still at that phase! I still like an [AKAI] MPC if I'm going to program something. I know I can program anything in Pro Tools, but it's so tedious — you have to set everything up. Instead I fire up the MPC, I get two or three loops going and I've got the song. You can do stuff on the fly so quickly. I just bought one of the new ones. It's irritating because I couldn't hit itthewayIhittheoldoneandIhadtogolooking for things. If you have to get the manual out it's an admission of defeat.
JB: You were one of the early adopters of the Fairlight CMI. When did that come into play?
Geoff Downes bought a Fairlight towards the end of the first Buggles album. I think he used it in Yes, but I don't think he took it on tour; it would be too unstable. Then, after Yes, he really started to use it. I bought one after he went off with Asia. I was the first person to use it in a really focused way. Peter Gabriel had one and Geoff Downes had one, but I had a guy working on it full-time.
LC: Just helping you run and program it?
Well, basically I got it up and heard the orch-stab [orchestra hit], which I loved, as well as a couple of other things. But then I realized that it's way too complicated. I didn't feel I had time for it, so I got J.J. and made a deal with him. "You just work the Fairlight and I'll pay you every session." J.J. used to come in and work in the back room. I did four tracks with [the duo] Dollar. We put Thereza Bazar's voice in the Fairlight when we did "Give Me Back My Heart." They were combining Kraftwerk with contemporary pop, which is really what most of the '80s actually was. We started to really get "tech" with the Fairlight; J.J. spent hours. We 16-tracked a sample of Thereza's vocals; we tried every trick in the book, reading the manual to get it to work, because it really didn't work that well.
LC: They re-introduced the Fairlight CMI recently.
It's a brilliant item. But their Page R was the best. It was so simple — 8 mono tracks, so you couldn't do too much. In the end I sold that Fairlight and bought a Fairlight II, but it never seemed to be right to me. It never sounded right. One afternoon I tried to program on it. I said, "I've got to try to program something." I tried and I sold it immediately. I never tried again. It was dreadful. I had a Synclavier as well and it was great on [Grace Jones'] Slave to the Rhythm. It was good on the Frankie stuff too, but the sequencer was very out of time when we first got it. It had fantastic quality. I don't think I've ever heard anything to this day that sounded as good as the Synclavier, but it was so complicated to program. The only person who could ever get anything out of it was Steve Lipson. He's like a scientist.
JB: Were a lot of those records, like the Frankie stuff, put into the Fairlight first, manipulated via Page R and then "stored" on 24-track tape?
Well, "Relax" was done to 24-track analog. The record was the same as when we performed it in the control room, more or less. We rehearsed it for four hours and then performed it — it was the first take. We made "Two Tribes" on a Sony [PCM 3324] 24-track digital machine because it had just come out. Steve Lipson told me that the thing about digital was the quality. You could copy from one machine to another without the quality going down. Once you recorded something, it never changed. The problem with analog was that the tape would wear out. Sometimes you just had to give in and copy the multitrack, which meant everything went down a generation. If you did that you had to put it back through to board [in order] to re-EQ it; and if you did that it just added to the noise and the track became "crispier." You had to be very, very disciplined. If you get a 24-track analog of something, like "The Look of Love" by ABC, the 24- track analog is almost like a set of stems. You push up the faders' level and you get the record. There is nothing that isn't on the record. All of the effects are recorded — some of them took ages to do. There is nothing left to the mix. The mix is the worst time to do anything. But the first Sony 24-track — we loved the sound of it. We just started using it; we didn't give it a thought. Then suddenly some of the tracks started to come up with errors and dropouts. The Sony engineers turned up and adjusted it, but it was still doing it [acting up]. They said, "What you need to do is copy the tape. We'll bring in another machine." I was like, "You've got to give me another machine. I can't have this!" They lent me a machine for years after that. That's what led to half the Frankie Goes to Hollywood stuff — Lipson was brilliant. I bought the Synclavier — it cost me $70,000. It arrived and it sat in boxes, in the corner. We were so busy that we hadn't got around to unpacking it. He came to me and said, "Do you mind if I get that out?" I didn't know him very well at the time — he was just an engineer I was working with. I said, "Sure. If you want to have a lookatit,gohavealookatit."Sohegotitout,set it up and started getting noises out of it. Then we started to try and sequence on it. But when we first tried to sequence, there was a huge problem with it. It didn't even sound like a Linn. We tried to get a four- on-the-floor with a kick; just a simple thing at 130 BPM. It didn't sound right. We phoned them up and they said, "It can't be wrong. It's right." We said, "How right is it?" They said, "It's got to be right, but if it's not right it will correct itself." And we said, "How much will it correct itself by?" The guy said, "Twelve milliseconds." You can't have something correcting by 12 milliseconds when you're trying to get four-on-the- floor! We ended up sending it back and got new software. But I said to him on the phone, "I know someone who can hear one millisecond. We're dealing with music." They sorted it out and in the end their sequencer was brilliant. With something like "Two Tribes," we spent ages sequencing it on the Synclavier. We were trying to sequence a rock band, but still have it sound like a band.
JB: Is this because the guitar player was new, or because everyone wanted to make it more...
We had to follow up "Relax," which was a number one hit. Everyone was asking, "What's the follow-up like?" We decided on "Two Tribes" out of slight desperation, because it was the only piece of material they had that I thought stood a chance of being a second single. The way they played it was profoundly different from the way it ended up. Steve [Lipson] played that great guitar part, but the rest of it took a long time to get it to work. I look back at it and wonder why, but a lot of it was technical. Frankie was good fun — it was all technology.
LC: Obviously that's some great stuff to sing on, but did the band have any thoughts on how it was constructed?
They were into it, and once "Relax" started to be a hit, they were fine with it. They knew I would have to do the same with "Two Tribes." We didn't take anything away from their writing; we just enhanced their stuff, even something like "Welcome to the Pleasuredome." Having the two Sony decks — I came into the studio one day and Steve said to me, "Listen to this." He had taken what we had done on "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" and had put the verse and the chorus together. I said, "How have you done that?" He said, "I just offset the two machines." I said, "Then we can do anything! Alright, let's make it epic!" If we needed a bit, I could get that and we'd fly it in. Of course it took a long time. I must say I was very lucky to be working with Steve when digital came along because he was a really good engineer. Most people at that point didn't even know what a Fairlight was, and we were already through the Fairlight and onto the Synclavier. People were on [Akai] S900s, and they said people had "figured sequencing out." That's the great thing about music — give 5,000 people a guitar; only one of them is Keith Richards and one of them is John McLaughlin. They all have the same guitar. It's the same with technology. Give somebody "this" and they'll come up with "that." It was the best time because new inventions were always coming out.
JB: Is Steve Lipson still around, working?
Oh, yeah. He's very much working.
LC: When did you take over the studios at SARM?
My wife [Jill] and I took these over in 1982.
LC: It was the old Basing Street Studios, right?
Yes. It was the old Island Records Studios. The list of things that have been recorded here is incredible. All recording studios are the same inasmuch as they are all a compromise that you have to get used to. None of them are perfect. You're always trying to get over some problem. But these are proper recording studios. We've had these studios for a long time, but unfortunately they are going to be gone soon. There's no money in it. We have permission to develop it.
LC: The studios are going to be gutted?
Yeah. It's going to become duplexes, but there will be the studio in the basement. I have a lovely studio in the basement that Sam Toyoshima designed. I'm happy to have a place to work. My son is measuring all the rooms before they go.
LC: You were honored in 2004 with the Prince's Trust Charity Concert, and also an album of that show came out called "Produced by Trevor Horn". Is that kind of amazing as a producer to get that attention, and the CBE?
Yeah! It was funny, because I always thought that it would be less so. As a Buggle, that sort of recognition you get — that instant sort of "pop" thing — was incredibly inconvenient at times. Of course the way people get interfered with in the media now — it's horrendous. But producing's not that bad, because not that many people recognize you. It's at a reasonable level, and sometimes it's by really cool people.
LC: You're not just the guy from The Buggles who was in the first MTV video aired!
Yeah! It's a funny thing, because sometimes it can be a problem. You don't want to take the limelight from the artists. It's not something I've courted, really. It's just something that's happened. r
Thanks to Chris Edmiston for transcribing this interview. Check out more of our interview with Trevor at tapeop.com.