A Conversation With Lou Reed, Pt. 6
You’ve acquired the reputation for being an oppressive personality of sorts…
I was only defending myself, it’s a rough world out there. And you’ve got to stick up for what’s yours and watch out for those around you.
You’d say things are on the upswing with you now?
I have more control. I consider it very important to take care of the people around me, the people that are involved with me, like the musicians. It’s like I’m not big for transient relationships, you know what I mean? I don’t like musicians who come and go, I’m not into that, I try to make an effort to take care of business, you know what I mean? And not just be a helpless oaf walking around playing guitar and not do anything else. That’s not my story.
It shows on the albums, the band’s gotten much better.
We’ve all gotten better, sure. I’ve gotten better. I’ve gotten better through them. We relate. But I think it’s very important to take care of business. And that means everyone involved with you has got to be someone you know pretty cold, you know what I mean? So that there’s nothing being said on your behalf that’s offensive, that couldn’t be repeated to your face. That means secretaries don’t put people on hold, that means roadies don’t have to beg–you know what I’m saying? That people don’t have to crawl for a dollar, that business is being taken care of the way it should, the right way. And that’s been a primary goal of mine, and I’ve done everything to try and make that work.
Would you say that you’ve shut yourself off, then, from people you don’t know?
There’s ways of getting through to me. Like Chuck Hammer, he was from LA. He came to New York, he left a letter at the office and a tape. And he said I want to play with you. And you know, it was a long letter, and I read it, and it had a phone number, and I liked the tape and I called him up and I said come on over. It’s not hard. It’s not hard. And I really liked him, so he was in. Because at the time I was looking.
Are you looking for another saxophone player?
No. Because one of the things I’ve always thought that a pre-amped guitar sounds like a whole sax section, you know? I liked it a lot when Marty was there, because I liked a lot of the things we were doing with the saxophone electronically. But in other words, my idea was why should the saxophone–he had this terrible disadvantage compared to a guitar player with all those lines of gadgets, so the idea was why not hook up a sax player? And that’s what we were working on, I finally achieved it, so he could do anything a guitar could do. Hammer started and he left and I don’t need another saxophonist to do the same thing, I could do it with a guitar player. And with the keyboard guys. I mean, they can do anything on the keyboards now–make coffee. I mean you have memory units in all those machines, then you don’t need saxophone players.
You’ve just declared them obsolete?
No, it’s not that. If I found a letter from a saxophonist and it the right kind of letter that said the right kind of things, you know, I would listen. I mean, if a Don Cherry walked into my life, I’d be traveling around with a trumpet player also. The other thing is, though, I can only afford so many guys in the band to travel around with, and I love so many of the guys that are in this band, so unless anyone left, I couldn’t get anyone now.
You’re their bread and butter.
Right, and it’s not fair. And I know guys who say, “I don’t care, man, you don’t have to.” But I care–I care and I can’t do that. I think somebody should get paid for what they do. I can’t stand it if somebody’s not getting what they should. No matter if they stand on their hands and say, “I don’t care, I don’t mind–I mind, I can’t do that. It’s got be all level.
In retrospect, what do you think of the Nelson Slater LP you produced?
Ahh. I loved it, I really loved it. Given the time and the money that we had, there are a couple of songs on there that we…
Yeah, the “We” song on there was my favorite…
Oh yeah, well that was an experiment that worked. It’s very, very interesting, actually–unless you listen on headphones, you can’t catch it. The way we mixed that was–the way the record is at the end is actually the way the whole song was from beginning to end, with all of the instruments in. But what happened was, in the mix every three seconds we would fade something out–not fade it out, click it out, and put something else in. All through the record there’s three things that are always there–the hi-hat, his voice and the bass. Actually there are two basses, but there’s always one bass there. Then everything else–the two guitars, the piano, the rest of the drums, come in and out. And with that incredibly long classic Phil Spector paradiddle that introduces the whole thing, and as it ended we went WHOOM (Lou is excited here) and hit all the buttons. You can’t imagine what it was like to see the speakers. All right! So, when I got done with it, I played it for somebody, I said listen to that. They said, “Oh, that’s great.” I said, “Do you notice anything?” They said, “Notice what?” And the thing is, it worked so well that to most people it just seems like a linear thing, straight through, with nothing missing. But there’s one incredible part where he–and I loved his lyrics, I just loved his lyrics–sings “We just have to fight” or something like that and the drummer goes boom-BOOOM, boom-BOOOM–and it just positively like an opera, and the piano player was going thrum-bum, thrum-bum, he just had the foot pedal on, and then all of a sudden we featured him and it was like (feigns shock) “WE!! It was incredible, way in the back we had this little piano thing going through a flanger. We had a ball with that–that was one of the best things I’ve ever done, Nelson’s thing. I think we sold six copies.
Yeah, I bought one.
Uh, it’s a bitch, it’s a bitch. “Wild Angel,” I did a mix on that–a lot of people don’t like the mix because it distorts, but I did, like, a garage mix. Interestingly enough, there was a single they made, and I don’t even have a copy, but for the single I did a really clean, normal mix. But for the album–I was mad at the engineer on that record, I took his name off the album. He actually got in touch with the record company and said take his name off of the mixes he didn’t do. I said I’ll do better, I’ll do better than that, I’ll remove you totally. And I did. Of course now he loves me–“You gave me my break, man…” Sure! But I mixed that with the maintenance man at about five in the morning…
Mark J. Norton: The maintenance man?
Yeah. Oh, not the janitor, (laughs) the board maintenance man. But he’s not a mixer–which is fine by me, because I knew what I wanted, I just did the same thing. I mean I wanted it to burn. And that track, it distorts, if you listen to it carefully you can hear it get fuzzy–but I wanted it fuzzy, it’s not fuzzy by mistake. Because he was hot on there, the guitar was hot on there, the drum was hot–I just wanted one of those trashy old 45s-sound on it and I got it.
I’m surprised you haven’t done more production–why not?
It has to do with control again,,.
Jeez, with all this talk about control, you must be into EST!
(long pause) You might be surprised about some of the things I’m into, but that’s not one of them. But what always amazes me is that people who are into that, I mean there’s these closet EST people all over the place. I mean, perfectly normal people, you had a decent relationship with them and thought they were intelligent–next thing you know they’re saying, “Lou…” They finally confide in you–it’s like in “The Power Of Positive Drinking”–and I wish they’d never told me. For instance, a person who shall go nameless, who I thought was a good engineer until the facade dropped. We were working together, and I guess you get to know people, for better or for worse. I used to wear sunglasses to try to avoid things like that, and it’s good also if you want a go to sleep. Anyway, he said, “Lou, you know something–I know something that you’d really like.” You’ve always got to be suspicious when somebody says that. “Oh yeah?” I used to always have a lot of opening lines like that, like “OH YEAH!?!!?!” So I’m starting to get wary now, and I say “Wha?” He says, “You ever heard of EST?” Now, he was the third person within a week to tell me that. The other one was a coke freak, and he showed me this little pamphlet from the EST people. And I mean, here’s a guy who’s got a hole in his septum and he’s telling me that “This is the way, man.” I mean, I’m sure there are EST people who’ve got their act together–but anyway, the guy says, “I took this EST course and I’ve taken it three times.” And I said, “Oh, that’s nice.”
They go back. I said, “Ah, that’s nice.” He said, “It’s really good for you, you would really like it!” And it always worries me that people think like what is wrong with me and what I’m doing now? What is the thing that they want me to correct? So I’m immediately put off, because I’m being criticized and all that. I’d rather he’d just say (whines) “You know, it’d be nice if you’d laugh at my jokes once in a while.” Now I can take that–I can handle that kind of lightweight criticism.