A Conversation With Lou Reed, Pt. 3
There’s no question: you love the new technology…
After a while, you know, you get into gadgets. I stopped doing it when I was in Japan and I saw the calcu-lighter. Which, as you can figure, was a calculator and cigarette lighter. (laughs) I said, all right, there’s no point to this anymore.
Mark J. Norton: Why no more binaural sound?
Why did I stop? Because I was interested in the spatial relationships of that technique, right? Why I stopped was because I didn’t want to go to Germany anymore. I wasn’t crazy about going to Germany in the first place, because we had the riot there, right? And a real reason was that I loved the technique, but I didn’t like their board. In other words, I liked the spatial sound in The Bells, and I like it on Take No Prisoners–but what I don’t like, I don’t like the drum sound. I don’t like the guitar sound, I don’t like any of the sounds they got. Across the board. Because they don’t have good boards.
And on the new album?
Oh! That board at Montserrat is a quarter-of-a-million-dollar board, and it’s hot-rodded. I mean that thing–wow! The sound — well, you’re hearing the sound, I mean that, to me, is just the greatest sound I’ve got. I miss that spatial thing, I mean a dream for me would be a binaural, direct- to-disc, digital, done at Montserrat. And that’s not about to happen, I don’t have the money. They don’t have the set-up, the digital people don’t want to hear about direct-to-disc, the stereo people don’t want to hear about binaural because they got killed on Quad, and so it’s like none of these people talk to each other. And as far as a rock record goes, I think what you really need with a rock record is good sound. I mean, for all the spatial this-and-that, you want a good bass sound. If you don’t get a good bass sound, nobody’s happy.
So the new one is your best sounding one yet?
Oh, absolutely, absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I think Rock ‘N’ Roll Heart is the next one that sounded pretty good, and then I’d have to go back to Berlin. The first solo Lou Reed album sounded terrible—and the reason it sounded terrible is that it was done in Dolby and they lost the master decoder on it, so the album was actually put out without being decoded. Can you imagine? So consequently, there’s this incredibly bassy-sounding record. Everybody said, “What’s wrong with it?” and nobody could figure it out. Nobody knew this at the time. Then on the next album, Transformer, the studio lost the master tapes for Side Two.
Why does this stuff happen to you, Lou?
No, these are just things you run into. As far as I’m concerned, the more control I have, the less chance there is of something going wrong because I know that I, personally, will be on top of my own case. A lot of people need to have somebody else do it, because they themselves would not be on top of their own case, or they wouldn’t have enough knowledge to know how to be on top of their own case, they might mean
to do well, but they could just get fucked in so many ways they wouldn’t even know where to start to look out, and by then it’s all over but the shouting. By the way, Transformer Side Two–that’s when I first learned about mastering, I learned such a great lesson on that, that’s why I’m always there. The thing is, with this Pakistani masterer at RCA there, we rebuilt it out of the only other tape we had–and it was a fifth generation tape, and I sat with him. And he did it in about five hours. It was incredible. And he used me, he said, “How do you want to hear this?” It was absolutely incredible. And you can’t tell the difference when you listen to the actual record, you can’t tell between Side 1 & Side 2. A fifth generation tape, just imagine.
Would you say that right now you’re more in control than you’ve ever been?
Oh, sure, yeah. Of myself as much as anything else, you know? I was a bit erratic before, you get tired of fighting with people sometimes. And to avoid going through all that, I mastered the art of recording known as “capturing the spontaneous moment and leave it at that.”
The best example which would be…
Coney Island Baby is like that, The Bells is like that, most of my stuff is like that, that is—go in the studio with zero, write it on the spot, make the lyrics up as the tape’s running and that’s it. Nobody can change it, they can’t ask you to do it again because you don’t know what there is already on it, that’s it. And then you learn the record afterwards. Bam! That way, no matter what the sound was, my records came out my way. And they sound that way. The thing is, what I want to get on record, at that particular time, since everybody else seems so slick, and dull, is that, that moment. Most people don’t get to hear that, but you can hear it on a lot of my stuff.
Has anything in retrospect really surprised you? That you can’t believe you actually played?
No. No, we’re really good, (pause, then laughs) No, I’d be surprised if we couldn’t do it. Not only surprised, I’d be shocked. I mean, anybody grounded in the stuff that we’re grounded in should be able to go in and do a hundred of them. I could do it all day, just go in and BOOM*BOOM*BOOM*BOOOM*BOOOM! I mean, The Bells was done like that, those lyrics were just made up on the spot and they’re absolutely incredible, I’m very adept at making up whole stories with rhymes, schemes, jokes, the whole…
Yeah, we heard Take No Prisoners…
Mark J. Norton : I love that record.
(smiles) It was my dream, ever since I first heard that binaural technique, when I was first in Germany, I said, “I’ve got to be the first guy to do a live show like this, I’ve got to.” And then we had it there, it was in New York. It was one of my plans that actually worked. I had all the right people in all the right places, I had the freedom to do the whole thing–there it was, and of course there wasn’t a chance of airplay, Clive just said, “Uhh, Lou!” But it wasn’t a matter of that, see, I had total control. They could have put that album together so you could play it on the air. But the album I gave them, it was pointless for anybody to say to me, “Go back in the studio—so that’s the advantage of having control, there’s also a part two in the vaults, but there hasn’t been any, uhh… public demand for it, so I guess that’s where it’ll stay.
All I can say is, the first time I heard it I couldn’t stop laughing. I suppose that was the point, huh?
Oh, yeah, you were supposed to feel like you were there and just have a lot of fun with it. It’s so funny.
How would you compare your situation with Arista to being with RCA?
I love being with Arista.
Getting back to control though, didn’t RCA release the Lou Reed Live album against your wishes?
I had my name taken off as co-producer. Oh yeah, that was outtakes, the mix–my God. Why do a live album—I mean that’s the trouble, I do understand why these people do things–they take pride in making a live album that sounds like a studio album, that’s the engineer, that’s the thing that engineers will say, and that a group will be very proud of: “It sounds as good as the record.” Well, how wonderful. Leave it in the studio. And most groups aren’t very exciting to hear live. There’s no personality there. You can’t listen to the lyrics of most rock groups, I mean you’re not going to get into the lyrics of a Led Zeppelin record– which I suppose is why they mix Plant down in the background — it’s Page’s thing.
Why do you think control is so important to you?
I think control is important in everything, because then you’ve got the best shot at making things the way you want them, as opposed to the way somebody else does. As long as you think you know what’s best for you, it’s best….
So you claim full responsibility for everything you’ve done?
Yeah. I did the best I could under whatever circumstances were around. It did not always turn out the way I wanted it–but, you know, it was the best I could do. I don’t fault myself, you know? I did the best I could in the situation with the information available at the time. It must be rough for young groups just coming up, to deal with all that stuff and still put out something that’s interesting, and not have it mangled. Especially with the technology today–my God, unless you keep up with the stuff like an engineer does, every day, you need magazines to keep up with all the gadgets. You’ve got to have an engineer you can trust–it’s very hard to control them. The easiest way, in case any young groups want to know, to keep your engineer under control, is to not even look at the board, but just listen. And just keep insisting on the way you want to hear it. Like if you don’t like the way the voice sounds, try to figure out why, if the sound is too tinny, say so, and don’t budge. You’ve got to go by your ears. That’s the thing that you‘ve got–it doesn’t matter how many machines they have. Just sit there until you like it. If he says, “I think I’ve got something you’ll like,” go ahead. And if you like it, OK, but if you don’t–before he makes the thing, you always say, “Remember the settings, because I like that one.” Literally, get a Polaroid, take a picture of it, put marks there–or else you’re going to get stuff that’s sort of what you wanted, but it
What do you think of Rachel Sweet’s version of “New Age”?
I haven’t heard it, I met her last night for the first time. What a nice little person. (pause) That sounds denigrating–“a nice little person.” I just meant she’s really short. That’s one of my favorite, favorite songs. I wish I had done the vocal on the album. That’s one of my real favorite songs, I didn’t know she had recorded it–but she came up to me and said, “Why’d you put Robert Mitchurn in a song?” And I said, “You noticed!” “And rhymed it with `catch ’em’?” I said, “Isn’t that terrible?” I don’t know. There’s a lot of very funny things floating around my albums. I would love–well, not that much, but that’s a song I really wish that I’d had more time, money and control to produce right, you know? I had a big Spector-like production in my head, like, you know, when the bass takes the solo going out, that was supposed to be big, baritone and tubas and all that.
Who did that? Adrian Barber, Geoffrey Haslam?
Adrian Barber. (pause) Those were terrible times, I left before the thing was even mixed. They took me out of a lot of it. And on the album they even took away the writing credits to the songs. I sued.
It confused me when it came out. I didn’t realize that Doug Yule was so responsible for the Velvets’ sound.
I didn’t realize it either. (pause) I expected it.
What did you think of that Squeeze album?
I never heard it.
Probably better for your sake that you didn’t.
(end Pt. 3)