Producer and engineer Ken Caillat added "author" to his list of accomplishments last year when he recalled his time spent recording Fleetwood Mac's album Rumours in his book, Making Rumours. It's simply an amazing read. Ken also worked on Mac's Tusk, Live and Mirage albums, plus many other sessions by the likes of Paul McCartney, Herbie Hancock, Warren Zevon, Pink Floyd, and Joni Mitchell. In recent years he's produced four successful records for his daughter, Colbie Caillat. He currently has a suite (Studio E) at the famous Village Recorders building (a former Masonic Temple!), where 35 years ago he helped design the studio where sessions for Fleetwood Mac's Tusk took place.
It seems people really like you and that opened doors for you in the business, beyond simply engineering. What do you think it is about your own personal make-up that brings that into play?
I dunno. Back then, if we're talking about Rumours and the '70s, I was a young guy and I was pretty determined. I was a little quiet, probably, but I was very confident in my abilities. I had learned a lot from watching engineers, some of them really great, and I memorized everything. By the time I got to Rumours I had done a number of live albums — Joni Mitchell was the most notable [Miles of Aisles]. I did the strings for Wings' Venus and Mars; Paul McCartney came up to me and said it was one of the best string sounds. I was very comfortable with what I did. When they hired me to do Fleetwood Mac, all I had to do was just be myself. I didn't want to hold back. I told them on the third day [of tracking Rumours] that we were going to get a Grammy for this record. They went, "Sure." So I was intent on doing that, but then they threw me a curve. On the second or third day in the studio they said, "You can't just sit there, turning knobs. You have to participate and listen to what's going on. We want you to be our eyes and ears." We'd just done two takes, so it was questions like, "Which tempo did you like better? Which take did you like better? Were any of us stepping on each others' toes?" They wanted to make sure they were playing well, and that you could hear everything. They basically wanted me to learn to be a producer, like, "Here's how you do it."
Did you start to listen to the takes as they were going down carefully enough to have that information?
Yeah, I started taking notes. I basically produce by engineering. If I can't get all of the sounds to come up and be a good mix, it's like, "What's wrong?" If the sounds aren't the problem, then what is the problem? A couple of takes later I said to Christine [McVie], "Well, I was really having trouble hearing you and Lindsey [Buckingham], because it seemed like I couldn't tell your parts apart." She said, "Oh, Lindsey, why don't you play up a third and I'll play down a third." So I memorized that. Next time I said, "Hey, I think you guys are stepping on each others' toes. Can one of you play up and the other down a little bit?" They said, "Yeah, sure. We can do that. Thanks Ken!" I was like, "Wow... okay!"
Things they might not hear because they're focused on their own parts.
Yeah, right. That's really what production is. It's like English language; putting in the commas, the periods, and being a traffic cop. "Wait! You were playing way too much. Play half as much. You're playing perfectly and you guys work together." Sometimes, with these new guitar players, it's like, "Are you going to continue to play all the way through?" Don't they know if you play all the way through that the human ear, just like a buzz, will just notch it out? "They're not going to hear you at all. Is that what you want?"
I'm convinced that so much more of our time should be spent arranging,
Right. And less is more.
Do we enter into sort of a doctor/patient thing when we're in there making a record with someone? After writing a book about it years later, did you feel there were any points where you were putting too much out there?
I didn't think there was any trust violated. And I hope I'm right!
I'm not saying that in a critical way.
Right, but I thought it was my story. It's not their story. It's my story of what I went through being a fly on the wall and being right there. So yeah, maybe I had some hesitations about discussing John McVie's drinking. But he's a big boy, and he knows it! I'm...