Jeff Lynne might be best known as the songwriter and singer behind the incredibly successful Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), or maybe as a member of the fun supergroup Traveling Wilburys. But the other side of his story is that Jeff is a successful record producer, with credits ranging from his aforementioned groups to sessions with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney, Dave Edmunds, Del Shannon and Joe Walsh. He even worked on The Beatles' "new" tracks for the Anthology series. For a man that who comes off so matter-of-fact and unassuming, that's a career to be reckoned with. Jeff recently re-recorded ELO's hits as Mr. Blue Sky — The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, and has a beautiful album of covers out called Long Wave (see our sidebar review of both).
What kind of path did you take on revisiting the old ELO tracks? Did you pull up old multitracks and re-work them in the digital realm?
These are brand new recordings, from scratch. All I got from them was a click, and then I started from that. The reason I did it anyway was because I listened to the songs, and there was something I didn't quite get right about the sound of them in those days. I think it was probably down to lack of experience. I've obviously had 30 years more experience now than I'd had then. The improvements in technology have made a big difference too. I just wanted to get them cleaner, clearer, more punchy, and tidier, basically.
I hear a difference, like the guitars on "Do Ya" or the snare drum on "Don't Bring Me Down" — it's a similar intent, but a different sound.
Slightly different;, but just more punch to them, I believe.
Was it a bit of work? It seems like you'd have to go back, and listen and think about how the parts were done.
No, it was easy, because I remember. I produced it all in the first place., I wrote it, and so I knew everything there was to know about it. There wasn't anything that I didn't know about. I already had the road map and I'd played them on stage hundreds of times. I just wanted to have another go at them, just to see if I could get them as I hear them now. They sound great to me.
How long did that take?
Between that and Long Wave, it took the last three years;, and that was probably six days a week.
Long Wave is beautiful.
It definitely still sounds like you, but it's great hearing your take on these songs.
Yeah, that it was so much fun to listen to those beautiful old songs and actually learn them! I've always known them, of course, but to learn them is a different matter again. You've got to really tune in deep to get just the guitar part. Since the arrangements are so grand and fancy on some of those old recordings, it was difficult to find the chords in there — the arrangements were overpowering them.
I'd get tuned deeply into the track, where you can really tunnel in and just listen to one instrument. I'd just get really sucked in and really listen to the guitar part. I'd start with that on all of them.
Did you look at sheet music or anything on any of those songs?
No. I don't read music, anyway, so that wouldn't have helped.
Same here! You have a home studio.
Yeah, I do. I work in Pro Tools, but I work on an analog desk, so it is always being monitored through it. It's always got that nice, warm, smooth bottom-end on it; not the sort of empty sound you sometimes hear in digital. I think it's nice to have all the good old guts of an analog desk for Pro Tools to go through.
I agree with you on that. Do you have a substantial collection of outboard equipment?
I have nice outboard gear. I've got about ten UREI compressors. Those are my favorite. Of course the AMS DMX reverb is a digital machine, but you'd think it was analog. It's been around so long. It's still the best one! It's so easy to use. It's just a wonderful machine. I still love it.
For digital reverberation?
Well, not the reverb particularly, but more the slap and the harmonizing.
I recorded a cover version of "Strange Magic" for a band [The Minders] a couple of years back...
Well, we tried! You know on the chorus where it's got an acoustic guitar with a flanger that plays in time and sweeps with the music?
Yeah, that's an MXR. I've still got the pedal — it's sitting right under my desk! I've had that pedal all these years. That's what I used on it recently. As you turn up the resonance, it starts to whistle a little bit. Mine is really whack and very...