MOJO: How different was the making of this album from your collaboration on
"God Give Me Strength?"
EC: For me I think the major difference was that it was nerve-wracking to send that first bit of music down the fax. When I called Burt with an idea, one bit of "God Give Me Strength" I think the title was there already with a bit of melody and a couple of lines I sent him a tape of it. And I called him up and thought maybe I could talk him through it and play it over the phone because we really had a deadline and he wasn't in. So I played it into the answering machine, just like that guy in Swingers, that scene where the guy keeps leaving messages. It's very different, because I don't collaborate that often and imagine the daunting nature of playing it for somebody you really admire, and you can't look in their eye and see their reaction. We managed to write a good song anyway.
BB: The big difference here is that we know each other how it feels, how our temperaments are, how sensitive Elvis is if I make a change or suggest something or how not sensitive. We don't have any defences up. I think we fight for what we believe in and that comes from not doing it over the phone.
Where were the areas where you would naturally defer to the other guy?
BB: The lyric thing I just think Elvis is one of the great, great lyric writers of our time a very unique voice. Most of our discussions did not deal with words because that was a given. There was just some beautiful stuff coming in.
EC: It was an amazing disciplining experience to write in response. Sometimes the character of the music would immediately imply a story or some sort of notion. And then I would take back a rough sketch sometimes Burt would say, "Well, you've misread this" I do pick things up aurally faster than [written notation]. Sometimes I would write a word that fit my conception of the phrase, and Burt would point out that it actually added a note. Or that there was a pick-up note where there shouldn't be, or some little detail like that, which would require me to find different words to say the same thing. But that wasn't a bad thing, because overall I got more disciplined.
Did you expect certain stylistic things from each other.
BB: I knew it wasn't going to be rock 'n' roll.
EC: I knew that right from the offing. That wouldn't have worked.
BB: I wouldn't have known how to function in that language.
EC: I think if you went through the songs, you'd be very surprised who wrote certain lines, initially because after a while you tend to forget, and then they get blurred. There are some songs which are wholly Burt's he wrote such a large proportion, and maybe one ore two suggestions from me, but minute ones. And there are some which the initial musical intonation, the bulk of the theme might be mine, but it's gone from a transformation of working on it together, and stretching a bar here or re-voicing a harmony, so it's no longer as I would've originally imagined it, but it's much stronger for half the work we've done on it. And in some cases, it was originally bar by bar, we had a good bit and we have to get to this bit, how are we gonna get there? And we auditioned different solutions sitting at two pianos and working side by side.
If Burt made a suggestion, would you have a tendency to defer to him?
EC: No, you know what I learned was that I think we were very good at criticising, in a creative way, each other's suggestions. But to never jump to conclusions. The real clue is to listen.
BB: The general rule was not to please each other, not to agree to something that you don't really feel. You'd get a very watered-down type of thing. We listened to each other, you know? It's not that I won some points, Elvis won some. Because I think we're both coming from the same kind of vocation. Whatever our music language is, our background, we're trying to make a beautiful body of music.
Burt you've got such a reputation, and you've written so many classic songs, do you feel that you're expected to be "Burt Bacharach" on demand? Do you find people wanting stuff from you that you stopped writing years ago, stylistic things, time changes, moods, etc.? How do you deal with it?
BB: I think it's easier for me to choose what I want and don't want to do. Say no to people. I'm not as hard on myself as I used to be I'm hard on myself maybe it's become a recognition that I'm gonna get as close to 100 percent as I can. It's easier to let a song go now. I think Elvis and I are very much alike, quite tenacious, as far as wanting to do our very best.
Elvis, how did working with Paul McCartney compare to this?
EC: One thing Burt and Paul share is an absolutely clear focus on melodic shape. That's the only thing I'd say they really share, apart from being talented. My first experience with somebody being really exact about melodic shape was Paul, and because it was all sort of just sung into the air and caught on tape, there was a tendency then to negotiate little agreements sometimes. But when Burt and I got together, it was all written down there was no getting away from it! (laughs) And I learned in a very short period of time to trust [what was written]. I mean, I think I can write some pretty good melodies, but the sense of what you might be giving up two bars later if you cheat this bar here in some way if you try to cheat what you've established as the shape you're gonna lose an effect round the corner. Once you've got that musical text, the music still happens in the moment, doesn't it? It just becomes a much clearer thought. You have this amount of time to say it in a clear but individual way. Clear enough to be understood, individual enough so that it isn't cliché.
Do either of you find yourselves deliberately reacting against certain aspects of your past styles?
BB: I think if you asked me to sit down and write a song like some of Dionne's early records I don't know, the times have changed. Jerry Leiber was saying one night that if he had to do it again, he couldn't do it. That was a different time in your life. That fit at the time.
EC: You wouldn't want to live your life over again, doing the same stuff again, but it's great to love the thing. When we did the TNT television special (Burt Bacharach: One Amazing Night), we did "God Give Me Strength" and "This House Is Empty." That was a nerve-wracking thing because every other song was this big, famous songs, and here we are doing new ones. But then you see how intimidating it is, even for very good modern singers, to take on these things. It was a big compliment to Dionne and Dusty and people like that, who did the great versions of those songs which are physically difficult to sing and not give the appearance of it being difficult.
If there's one thing you want people to get from this record, what would that be?
EC: I just want people to like it because it's all for real.
BB: To get caught up in it.
EC: You have to get in and listen and feel what's going on.
BB: Because there's stuff in there.
EC: It would be terrible to do a record, and put a lot into it and like it, and feel like, 'Oh, I've heard that.' For me, I've tended to want to put so much into records sometimes I realize that to enjoy it requires you to become me. And believe me, you don't want to do that.