Born in the UK and raised in Canada, Grammy-winning veteran engineer/producer Mark Howard has traveled the globe, combining whatever vibe he conjures while oftentimes applying an experimental and spiritual edge to his recordings. For years known as the (former) right-hand man to producer Daniel Lanois [Tape Op #37, #127], Howard and Lanois recorded the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Neville Brothers, U2, and many others. On his own, Howard has produced and engineered legendary music by top-notch artists such as Iggy Pop, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Tom Waits, and The Tragically Hip. In 2019 ECW Press released Mark's book, Listen Up!, a must-read recording memoir (including deep insight into the personalities involved), which he penned along with his brother, Chris. In it we learn that Howard is a master at creating custom studio installations and environments, a psychological cheerleader who boosts his collaborator's creativity, and is also someone who enjoys pushing the envelope of the craft of sonics – marrying technology and soul while smashing typical audio conventions. Mark's life was threatened by stage 4 cancer, yet treatments have been successful and we're lucky he's here to share his life and talent with us.
Your first studio gig was at Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton [Ontario]. What did you get out of there, skill-wise?
Grant Avenue was like a testing ground for me. I was already recording at home, and once I got to Grant Avenue I learned how to punch in and edit; those skills that came in really handy later on in life. I learned how to cut 2-inch tape. You've got to line it up on the head of the tape recorder with a China marker. I'd mark it, pull it off, cut it with a razor blade, pull the tape until I got to the other line I cut, and then I'd glue it back together. Bang, that's your edit! Those are the skills that I got from there.
Was this after Daniel Lanois had sold the studio to Bob Doidge?
Yeah. Daniel had sold it a couple of years before. After six months, I found myself going to all night sessions, because Bob [Lanois, Daniel's brother,] only wanted to work 9-to-5. I did these syndicated radio shows and late-night Hamilton crews who came through. Then they put me on with this guy, [Daniel] Lanois. I had no clue who he was. I ended up doing his session with Bill Dillon. He was always trying to stump me. He'd say, "Put my guitar on track 12. Do it now." I'd say, "It's already there. You can record right now." He'd say, "Really?" I was on top of whatever he was looking for – I used my own intuition. If he was talking about guitar tracks I'd be set up for it, thinking that's what they were going to be doing next. You've got to be on top of it. I treated it like a live show. As soon as people walk in the studio, you'd better be ready to record right then. You can't be setting up a sound while they're waiting.
It's like wasting time, and it could be intimidating to a client who's not used to a studio.
Exactly. Just come in and play; don't worry about technical stuff. I think I won over Lanois with that. Then, six months later, he called me up and asked if I'd help him make a record with The Neville Brothers. He said, "It's only for six months. You've got to come down to New Orleans and help put the studio together [Kingsway]." I took the chance, and Bob Doidge said, "If you leave, the job's not here when you come back." I said, "I'll take that chance." I left, and I never came back. Then Dan ended up going to Ireland to work with U2. He left me in charge of the studio in New Orleans. That's where I started making records – we opened the studio up to people. It was private before that. That's how I ended up working with R.E.M. and Iggy Pop. The first record made at Kingsway was Crash Vegas' Red Earth. That led into a record by Chris Whitley [Living with the Law] that Malcolm Burn [Tape Op #35] produced and I recorded. Malcolm mixed a bunch, and so did I. Kingsway went on. Then we left Kingsway, Lanois and me; we went on tour and then we never came back. We ended up in L.A. Daniel said he wanted to go down to Mexico, so I had to go scout some locations in Mexico and find a place to work out of. I brought some studio gear from Kingsway and also bought a new Amek console. I put a rig together that we could take down to Mexico. I never wanted to stay in New Orleans; I always wanted to keep moving.
When I interviewed Daniel, he was talking about how places like Mexico and Jamaica were good for clean magnetic fields.
Mexico was the cleanest sound that we got. There're no overhead wires. There's no interference. When you play your guitar through a single-coil pickup into a tube amp, it's super clean. It's amazing. Then in Jamaica, it's the same. There was not a lot of electricity flowing around where we were working, so we were getting some amazingly quiet sounds on guitar. In the city, it's hard to do. A lot of times you can't get it, because there's too much electricity, or there's a big power transformer outside of the studio. These are all the types of things you need to look for when you're building studios.
What do you use to measure? Some meter of sorts?
No, no. I used an acoustic guitar pickup. I'd plug that into a little battery-powered Peavey amp. No meters at all; I could hear the hum. I would troll the pickup along the floor in any place I was thinking of recording. You'll know right away; if you plug it in and get a hum, it's not a good place to make a record. If you troll it around the floor, you'll find hot spots. This technique worked really great for finding a quieter spot. When we were recording a tube amp and a single-coil pickup, Daniel would say, "Put the guitar amp right here. You sit right there." It's the quiet spot.
How are bigger cities for these magnetic fields?
What I would do is called a star ground system. I'd nail these copper rods into the ground, five feet apart, and tie them all together. I would use that for my own grounding system, away from the house's grounding system. You want to have your own self-contained grounding, other than the house's ground. For The Neville Brothers' record [Yellow Moon] I had to cover up the windows with sheets of lead because of the magnetic fields from the streetcars going by. Each time they'd go by there was a big pulse in all the guitar amps. It was a funny sound.
One of my favorite recordings that you've done is Le Noise by Neil Young. That's just guitar and vocal, but when I listen to it on a good system it almost seems like each string has its own separate treatment.
Neil was coming in to make an acoustic record; that's what we set up for. Then, when he came in, he was like, "Well, I brought a few electrics with me." He brought one guitar that he called "Old Black" – a '53 Les Paul Goldtop that he sprayed black. He put [Gibson] Firebird pickups in there, so it's a lot hotter than what a normal Les Paul would sound like. Then he also brought in this other guitar, which turned out to be the legendary guitar called the [Gretsch] "White Falcon." It was a guitar that he lost in a poker game, and then somebody else got it. Stephen Stills ended up with it. It has this crazy history of how he got it back. He had that guitar, and then he brought in another Gibson guitar that he calls "Hank," because it was Hank Williams' guitar [a Martin D-28]. At the time, I thought, "How in the hell am I going to be able to get any of the sounds he's ever done on all of his records?" I admired him so much. It was a pretty big challenge, but I felt like I brought it to the table. I think there are some sounds that really surprised him. He loved it. It started with the acoustic; we got Hank out, trying all these different pickups. We ended up with an LR Baggs that we put through a Korg delay, and I treated it with a subharmonic harmonizer. When he played the low strings, there was this super sub-bass response coming from it.
Yes. Especially on the song "Love and War."
I had it loud. When he played it, his eyes lit up and he was like, "What the shit is this coming out of the speakers?" He was pretty impressed with that. He played it, and we did a couple of takes. Lanois was focused on filming it, and I had the job of recording and mixing. I was able to do whatever I wanted. I was never told what to do, or what microphones to use. I used a couple of nice tube mics on the Gibson, along with these treatments on it. Suddenly we've got this beautiful sound on this acoustic track. That's why we had the same settings on the board when he ran the electric guitars through, with the sub-harmonizer on it. It was like thunder! We had stacked Dynaudio BM15As, so my playback sound was massive. When he hit that string and hit that chord, the whole house was shaking and rattling. He'd never felt that power before when playing the guitar.
That was going to the iZ [Technology] RADAR, right?
Yep. Neil wanted everything on tape, so it was all going onto tape at the same time and then coming back down through RADAR. But it still kept the quality. Then we came to playing the White Falcon – a stereo guitar. The top strings went to one output, and the bottom strings went to another output. I panned it left and right, so he had a technique where it was a low string on the right, and then on the left. It was pretty cool. I think it was on "Hitchhiker." I think that Neil was really excited. He'd play the melody on one part of the low strings, and he came up with a really cool jam.
Did he have an array of pedals or effects?
No pedals at all. Just one delay unit, a Korg SDD-3000, to add a little bit of echo. It went straight into a tube 1950's [Fender] tweed Deluxe amp. We had eight tweed Deluxe amps, all lined up. We went through them all, found the best two, and used those. I always recorded two amps on him, whether it was a stereo guitar amp or one guitar going into two amps. When he played, we had it blasting with the doors open, and everybody must have heard that all day.
The first tune ["Grace, Too"] off of the Tragically Hip album [Day for Night], or Iggy Pop's song "Corruption" [off Avenue B]; are the guitars tracked on lesser-quality amps?
Yeah. On the Tragically Hip record it was a small [Zinky Smokey] cigarette amp. It looked like a cigarette pack. The guitar sounds far back; it's got a sandpaper type sound. On Iggy's record he was going through a regular amp, but that sound was treated through a bunch of effects.
That, and the drums too, right?
Yeah, the drums were treated with this TC Electronics FireworX. I had one setting that I came up with to time the delay for drums. You could add filters and flange on it. I'd record Iggy while [producer] Don Was [Tape Op #113] was out. When I played it back with all these effects on it, Iggy was like, "Wow, this sounds cool, man!" Then Don comes in and hears it and says, "What does this sound like with all the effects off?" We played it, and it sounded really boring and flat. So, Iggy's like, "Stop! Stop! Put the effects on. I don't want to hear it." That's how it happened. We only used eight tracks on that record, with a Tascam DA-88. A lot of the drums were mono, and all the synthesizers were done in mono. It was lovely. One vocal track, and that was it. That record's got a certain sound because of that. I'll always love that record.
You mentioned in your book how you had 100-plus channels of RADAR and Pro Tools going for a session.
Oh, that was U2. They had a 24-track Studer machine running, and that was locked to the RADAR 24-track, which was locked to 32 tracks in Pro Tools. They had this huge console inside of the studio called Teatro. All three of the machines were fanned out in this practice hall. It was all automated with Flying Faders. They piled on all the tracks.
You tend to do drum treatments quite often.
Yeah. I've used a Lexicon Prime Time [Model 93] – an old delay that made some crazy sounds. You hear it on Neil's Le Noise record, where he's tapping the guitar and his voice is adding echoes to it; I'm flying it back in, doing a lot of treatments on top of everything else. The Prime Time definitely has a lot to do with those sounds.
You were saying you were going for an emotional interpretation, either at the mix or recording stage. Do you look at lyrics?
Yeah, I definitely try to get my head in the lyrics. Sometimes people come up with all different lines when they sing a verse, so I'll take out my favorite ones and get them to use those so that everything's equal – so every line feels as good as the next. Especially with Iggy Pop, he would do three takes of the same song, and he'd change the lyrics completely on every take. It was really hard to pick, because they were all great, so we had to make the decision which take was going to be with which lyric. It was pretty interesting.
How about on Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind?
With Bob, I would write down the first word and the last word of every line of the verse. Every time we'd listen to it, I'd add the next word and fill it in as he went. Dylan would always look over my shoulder to see his lyrics and see what he wanted to do. He was really clever with lyrics, for sure. Sometimes he wanted to take the first verse – "Don't give the song away in the first verse" – and put it in the last verse, and then take the last verse and put it in the first verse. I had to be on top of it. It wasn't a challenge, but he tried to challenge me. There was a song called "Highlands" that's 17 minutes long. He'd say, "Go to the 15th verse and punch me into the third word." I knew what the first line was, so I let a few lines go by and then I'd punch him in. He was playing with me like that for a while. I think I was a little embarrassed when Time Out of Mind came out. We started the record at the Teatro studio in Oxnard, California. I was getting a killer sound there. I thought, "Wow, this is going to be amazing!" But suddenly Bob said, "I can't work here." It was too close to home. "Let's go to Miami." So, we packed everything up – all this gear – and rode motorcycles to Miami and made the record at Criteria Studios. It was, like, 15 people playing on the floor live, all at the same time, and nobody knew what key we were in. It sounded really bad! But it ended up turning out really amazing once we got out of Miami, and mixed it at Teatro. That's how that record really survived.
I knew that album totally hit me hard, in a good way, when I heard the first song ["Love Sick"], with the little treatment on the vocal.
Yeah, I loved that they were out on the floor, so I did this kind of flat vocal and a flanger on top of the voice to try some things out. When everybody came back into the control room, I played back the song. As I was doing that, I did a "performance mix" to make everything exciting, and make sure the guitars were coming out in the right parts. I had this flanger on his voice, and I printed a couple of mixes to DAT. We put that on the record, the playback mix that came from the control room in Miami. We never touched it again – it sounded so cool.
There's something about doing a mix the same day that you've tracked.
Everything [I do] is flying by the seat of my pants, all the time. I try to keep it that way. It keeps you on your guard. If you're working in the same spot all the time, you get used to doing the same thing all the time. It doesn't give you a chance to grow your sounds. My whole body of work is quite strangely different, from record to record.
Who would you say was the most receptive and experimental with getting sounds?
It really started from the very beginning, when Lanois had me work with [Brian] Eno [Tape Op #85]. When I started working with Eno, he would take a standard piano sound and take that out of the stereo mix. It would come out to a reverb; that reverb would send to a delay, and then into another effect. We'd get this swirled sound that's hard to do with piano. It sounds way cooler. That's how ambient music started; not by listening to the pretty Beatles.
There are a couple artists you worked with who weren't in your book. How about the experience with Scott Weiland? How did some of that come about? I think you guys took over 12 Bar Blues from somebody else's production.
We didn't want to muscle in on their scene. I was in the control room, and what they'd do is send me all their tracks over and I would treat them. Then I would send it back over there and they'd put it into their mix. We came in near the end and finished it up. You don't want to step on anybody's work, so we had to work around it.
Avril Lavigne's debut, Let Go, was another. How did that come about?
She was 16 years old, and nobody really knew who she was. My manager asked me if I could redo all the drums and record some vocals on these tracks. It was done by a production group called The Matrix. Everything was done with machines – all the drums were programmed – and they wanted real drums on it as well. So, they came to me at this place called the Paramour Estate; a beautiful '20s movie star estate, located in Los Angeles. I ended up recording with her there, and that became the album. It was the biggest record that came out of Canada for a while, so it was pretty cool.
You worked with Feist too?
Yeah, Feist came through L.A. one time and I did a bunch of songs with her. She wanted me to finish a record, but I started to shy out of it. Too many cooks in the kitchen. But I thought what I cut sounded way better than what ended up on her record [Metals]. It never got heard, but she liked it. She ended up going with these other versions.
Who are some of the top players you've worked with, who have amazing tone coming out of their hands?
I'd have to say [guitarist] Marc Ribot on the Tom Waits record, Real Gone. Marc Ribot is, like, man; what he comes up with is pretty amazing. One time he had this feedback going on; it was all out of control. He was stomping on his pedals, and he couldn't stop it, but it sounded amazing on the track. He said, "Hang on. Let me try another take!" So, he does another take, and he does it exactly the same. It's out of control. He's pretty cool.
Awesome. You give a lot of kudos to these artists you work with, great ones of all kinds, but what can you tell us about Vic Chesnutt?
Oh, man. Well, Vic was an amazing writer. He had great lyrics and wrote from a perspective that nobody else does. He'd write about how lonely a grain of sand is; things that we don't even think about. He was paralyzed, and in a wheelchair, but he still played guitar and sang. I brought in Darryl Johnson, Doug Pettibone, and all these killer players to play on his record. When it came around to doing solos, he took all the solos. Having these great musicians around really pushed him to play better than he ever had in his life. It takes you to the next level.
He can't explain anything in any technical terms, so if he wants the vocal up, he'll say, "Put a little more hair in the vocal." Or if he doesn't like the drum sound, he'll say, "The drums sound a little vague." You might tune them up, and he'll say, "Make them sound fun!" Everybody's got their own little thing.
At Teatro, and at other places, you'd get the vibe going by projecting films while tracking.
Exactly. I've always been impressed with films. I think once I got to the Teatro, it was an opportunity to take it to the next level by projecting and using all these mirror balls, projecting on hot air balloons, and having multiple projectors all going on at the same time. I had this device that I got from Home Depot for turning lamps on and off in a house. I used that for turning projectors on. I could turn one on, then another one on top of it, and then put a mirror ball on. It was like this crazy place every time I played with these light shows.
What artists went further with their playing and writing in responding to the projections?
I was making a record [Terra Incognita] with Chris Whitley, and I would project cartoons on his chest!
You've done a good number of projects in places that weren't studios before. Is that the majority of gigs you've done, or have they mostly been in proper studios?
Every record I've made, I've done them all in installations; not permanently, but for three years or a couple years. The way I make records now, each record is at an installation.
What gear do you have now?
I'm pretty self-contained. Everything is in cases. The RADAR is the brains of the operation. That's running off of a touchscreen mixer right now. Being able to travel with just the RADAR and the touchscreen allows me to be pretty portable. I have these custom-made preamps that Bob Lanois developed early on. I took it upon myself to take them to the next level: I did all gold-pin connectors, rearranged the [circuit] board, and got 990 op amps. Sometimes the sounds that you get depends on where you place certain parts on the board. I have an endorsement with Dynaudio speakers, so wherever I am I usually have them ship me some. I've used them in Australia, Berlin, and L.A. That way I've got speakers that I'm definitely used to working with. I have a case of beautiful microphones that are all my key mics that I've been using over the years. I love Sennheiser 409s on the guitar. I like the old, square AKG D12 kick drum mic for close mic'ing the kick, and then usually a Coles [4038 ribbon] mic two feet in front of the kick drum. I do a combination of sounds, mixing between those two mics. That's how I get those punchy, organic bass drum sounds. A lot of kick drum sounds are really clicky and you can hear it in small speakers. But with this technique you can actually hear the warmth, the feel, and the punch; even in a small speaker. Then, for vocal mics, I use a lot of [Shure] Beta 58s. Usually I'll track in the room with a Beta 58 and an RCA 44 beside it. I happen to have one that came out of Capitol Studios [Tape Op #114] from the '40s. I've got photos of Frank Sinatra singing into it. It's really beaten up, but I haven't found another microphone that comes close to it. I grew up on [Neumann] U 47s and U 67s, as well as [AKG] C12s; all the best mics. But I got this microphone when I made Tom Waits' Real Gone record. We were using the [Sony]C-37A on his voice. It was sounding good, but as soon as I got that 44 on his voice, it just sounded like cream. It was like night and day. No other microphone sounds like that.
Is the 58 used for the singer to be comfortable, like how they'd be live on stage?
When I track the band, I usually have the speakers on pretty loud, so they don't have to wear headphones. Usually the singer might sing with a 58 right in front of the speakers and hear his voice as loud as it would be at a concert. That way he's singing in the room with the band and getting sound pressure from the band. That makes a lot of singers sing out – more of a performance – than when you put somebody in a booth with headphones and a tube mic. When they're with a band, they're more inspired to sing and project it out. I did it a lot with Bono. He blows up tube mics, so you've got to use the 58 and turn the track up really loud. He sings to the track coming out of the speakers, and then you get these performances out of him. I think it's a technique that not a lot of people use; not many other people than myself, Lanois, or U2. They're the only ones I've seen make records like that. Once I started working with R.E.M., Michael Stipe would be laying on the couch. I'd give him a 58 and say, "Let's put down what you're singing in the room." He'd say, "What? I can sing while I'm laying down on the couch?" I think he got a lot of cool ideas from doing that – a lot of lyrics came out of him that way. Inspiration, that's what it comes down to.
Sling Blade soundtrack? That was pretty experimental.
Yeah. Billy Bob Thornton asked Lanois to do the music. At the time, we thought it was just a little art film. It had a low budget of like $25,000 or something to do the music. I had a lot of instrumental music that I'd done with Lanois from the Mexico days – all these cool pieces that I could lay in underneath pictures. As we were watching the film, I would dial up a piece of music and play it. They'd say, "Oh, we like that one!" I'd chop that down and fly the music back in underneath. There's one track on Sling Blade called "Orange Kay." He played that live and I came up with this disturbing sound on it – it had all these treatments on it with a sub-harmonizer. It's scary sounding. Then I did a bunch of other recordings with him where he played guitar and used this loop box called the Boomerang. I'd do treatments on top of that. We were a bit of a team. He'd play it, and I came up with things to bring those instrumental parts together. That's how all that came together. I was kind of responsible for putting the whole soundtrack together. We were mixing the movie, and Daniel put me on the job of putting the soundtrack together for Island Records. He gave me a production credit on it; produced by him and me. He didn't [give me credit] for the movie, but for the soundtrack I got a production credit. I pretty much did all the work, but that's the way [it is] when you're working under somebody. That's the way it works. They get all the credit; you do all the work. It's that way sometimes in the studio. I think that's where all the abuse started with him and me. I don't think he wanted me to go off and work with other people, because I was such an ally in his camp.
You're in Toronto these days.
Yeah. Yeah, I'm here. I live right on the edge of the Entertainment District. There are lots of little restaurants. The hospital is a couple blocks away. For a while it was four appointments a week; scans, and blood tests, and this and that. I was living in Burlington [Ontario, Canada] with my sister when all of this came down with the cancer. It was hell driving back and forth every day just for one appointment, and then to come back to follow up the next day. A friend of mine helped me put together a GoFundMe campaign. That raised a bunch of money to help me rent a little apartment here in Toronto and be close to the hospital. It helps. When you're sick, and you're driving for an hour or two to get back home every day, you don't feel good.
Your health is doing well?
Yeah. The doctors gave me the green light. They can't find any more cancer in me, so I'm starting to get back to work. I've been putting on these concerts, helping to raise money for Princess Margaret Hospital for their research for the melanoma cancer that I have. This treatment that I'm on right now is an immune therapy, in a way. I have to go in every three weeks and sit there for an hour. This therapy that I'm on doesn't work on everybody; I'm lucky it worked for me. The cancer was in my liver and spleen, so I'm super lucky.
I'm sure a lot of positivity helps.
I kept a real positive attitude and thought, "I'm not gonna die." I've got to put up with this treatment, and knock it out, and get back to work. By having a year off and sitting on the couch, it made me dream of all these other things, like becoming a concert promoter and putting on these big shows. I did one last October at [Toronto's] Roy Thomson Hall with Sarah McLachlan, Randy Bachman, Sam Roberts, Colin James, and a bunch of others. They all came in for free, and I had a backing band. I put on this last one in Hamilton. They were all Hamilton artists. It was a tribute to all my friends and family who came from Hamilton. I raised a bunch of money for the hospital that helped me.
How about recording? Have you been tapping into the Toronto area?
I haven't made a record up here since I've been sick. I've done a bunch of recordings with some people to test things out and keep me going. I did go to L.A. and make a record for four days with these women called Mustangs Of The West. That turned out really great. I just went and did some recordings with an artist in New York. I'm inching in. I'm still in treatment at the hospital, so I can't go that far away. Even though it shows that they can't find any more cancer, they want to keep me on the treatment for the full term of the drug. It's a two-year program, and I've already done a year and a half of it. They say it's 95 percent sure that it won't come back if I do the full term. It's a scary time. You've got to keep your mind busy. In my book I talk about Lanois fucking screaming and yelling at me. After 25 years of somebody calling you all the time, it takes a toll! At the end of working with Lanois, I was going to [the] emergency [room]. Everybody always said, "How do you fucking put up with him yelling at you, putting you down, and calling you all this shit?" Even Dylan joked when I was sitting at the console, "What the fuck? Does this guy have a mental problem?" It's work, it's stress, and then I was having panic attacks. I was in the emergency room every week, like, "I'm dying." They're like, "There's nothing the matter with you!" I'd say, "But it feels like something's failing, like I'm going to die any second. I can't breathe and I'm choking." They're like, "It's just a panic attack." I'm like, "No, no! You don't understand. This is physical, it's not mental." They'd say, "Nope! There's nothing the matter with your liver. You're perfectly fine." They put me on Lorazepam.
It's a good drug, if used properly.
I know; it's amazing. I went through all that, and then suddenly I had cancer. I thought the cancer was causing these weird things, but it was a panic attack again – while I had the cancer – and I didn't even know it, so it took all this shit, as well as going to therapy.
So, how's your motorcycle hobby doing? Are you still collecting?
Yeah, I've got a couple of old British motorcycles that I tinker with. That's another good way for me to take my mind off of cancer and other things. It's like with music; when you make a record and come out of there, you're a little bit of a basket case. You're all concentrated and your brain's fried. Going for a ride or working on the bike is my meditation. I'd go on these rides with Dylan. He'd take these rides by himself, and he'd discover that by taking these rides he started to think about, "Oh, wow. I see what these guys are doing now. I understand." Where he didn't get it in the beginning. It was difficult to see the big picture. He directed all his energy into that once he got it. I've always been into bikes. I've gotten bikes for Dylan, for Daniel, and for other musicians. I think that it's good to have a release, other than music. When you work in it all the time and you come out of it, you don't want to listen to music at that time. You're burned out. If you burn yourself out with music, you lose your interest. Why are you making records at that point? You've got to try to find interesting people to work with who have great lyrics. I think that as long as they've got great songs, I'll work with them. But I'm not into trying to build anybody's career by trying to make something out of nothing.
There's a quote from the book's epilogue, "If I was on the same level musically as the most gifted musicians, I'd end up pushing ideas on them rather than pulling from them their own brilliance."
Yeah. What I see in the studio is a lot of producers push themselves [on the artists] musically. "Hey, I've got this part for you. Try this out." That works for some people, but people like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan have to find their own way. You don't want to step on their brilliance by steering them in the wrong direction or saying, "Hey, I've got this part." People try to push themselves into other peoples' music, where the artists are like, "I don't want to use that line! I like my lyrics better." I saw Lanois pull that off on a couple of people, but they weren't into it. I always thought he was a brilliant musician, but telling Bono on "Where the Streets Have No Name" ?– "Look mate, you can do better than that work. That's throwaway. What are you thinking? I know you can do better!" But Bono said, "No, I want to keep it." It was one of their biggest songs! Although he was trying to help him, you've got to look for the lines to cross and how to get around it. I let it become a good work ethic for me. I do have to push certain people, but I make them think that it's their idea. Once they trust you in that way, then you've got the license to open the drawers a little bit more. I'm lucky that people keep calling me to make records. Other people I know have had to seek out new careers. One thing about this industry is that connections make themselves.