R.E.P., August 1991

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Mitchell Froom interview

Dan Levitin

There's a lot going on on this record; it's very dense.

I agree, it's a dense record. Elvis has been listening to a lot of classical music the last few years, and I think his ears are getting adjusted to a more complex kind of sound. His general idea was that he wanted this to be his music album, he just wanted a lot of music on it. And he wanted each track to be real distinct and real bold. My feeling about it is that there's a lot of will on this record, it's a very willful album.

Where does the producer fit into all of this? Are you the guy who sort of choreographs all of his ideas?

For one thing, it was a three-way production. In that respect, it was very liberating for me because the roles were much more distinct. My role in this was more on the musical end. Obviously, with Kevin Killen as the engineer, I didn't need to be responsible for that stuff. But as Elvis has said, the lines would blur. Sometimes Kevin would be involved with some musical suggestions, and so on.

What kind of musical suggestions did you make?

Arrangements, mostly. We did a little pre-production together, just the two of us. He had made some demos and played them for me. I worked with him for a couple of weeks on the song structures, chord sequences, and so on. Most of my input was like, "What if we went to an instrumental here, what would we do?" and then Elvis would say, "Well how 'bout this?" It was very collaborative. In "Harpies Bizarre," the instrumental interlude was actually a whole different song he had written.

He has more musical and production ideas than anyone I've worked with — an overflow of ideas. Oftentimes on records I find I'm the person called upon to have the wild suggestions. If he wanted to be, he could be a really incredible producer, but I don't think he has any interest in doing it. But he's made some great records as a producer.

I don't imagine you can rehearse an album like this in the normal way...

It's different. Usually when it's just a solo artist there's not much rehearsal involved because the musicians you're working with are used to recording and they can come upon what they need to more quickly than a band could. We just went into the studio and worked it out. We had real large tracking sessions because we'd have three keyboard players and two guitars going at once.

Did you have all the parts figured out ahead of time, how it was all going to come together?

No, it all just evolved along the way. In a lot of the songs, there wasn't much added after the tracking. "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4" is pretty much the way it sounded when we recorded it. Elvis was playing a keyboard — we had four guys playing different keyboards. For "After The Fall," what's on the record is the rough mix we did on the day we tracked the song; we liked it just the way it was.

What about "The Other Side of Summer?"

There are more tracks recorded on that than any other record I've made in my life — more than 100 tracks. It was just in the nature of the song, it demanded all that. We spent a day just doing the submix to get it down to 48 tracks for mixing. We cut most of this album 16-track analog for basics, and then bounced it over to 32-track digital and did overdubs and brought the 16-track back in for mixing.

Most Mitchell Froom records have a sound in common, an engineering sound, that I would call open and spacious. I guess that's because you usually work with Tchad Blake. This record has a much more dense sound.

You know, the funny thing is, it's really one of Tchad's favorite records; he really loves the way it sounds.

The records you make with Tchad have this open quality. You can mentally walk around the soundscape and hear all the instruments in their separate spaces. On this one everything is very tightly packaged and dense, with a wall of sound ...

It's different, but I think if Tchad had engineered it he would have tried to do the same thing Kevin did. Because that was the idea of the record, to move a lot of air with the way people played. Some of it came about from talking to Larry Knechtel, who played keyboards on it. He told us about how he had played keyboards on some Beach Boys and Phil Spector recordings, and it was just appropriate to a song like "Other Side of Summer," with everybody pounding; the idea was to get that kind of blend, that wall, with people's playing and not with reverb or anything.

Where did all these weird keyboards come from?

I own most of them. I have a portative organ, I've got about three Chamberlains and a couple of Mellotrons. There's a guy in Washington state, David Keane, who just bought up all the Mellotron stuff and I'm getting a Mellotron from him, a Mark II; it's the kind that John Lennon had. It has about 40 different sounds in it already; it's a big guy. I have a big Chamberlain that's like that, it has about forty sounds in it. It was actually Mr. Chamberlain's personal Chamberlain, the one he had at home. It's a beautiful thing.

Can David make new tapes for you?

Yes, and he also bought up the entire Mellotron tape library.

You used the Mellotron for the flute solo on "Candy," and it sounds really cool.

If I had used the Chamberlain it wouldn't have had as much warble in it; the Mellotron's a cheaper instrument so it's a little more screwed up. Elvis really liked that sound. That whole solo was completely his melody. We talked about putting a solo in that section and he just sat down and sang the melody that you hear. It's a pretty complex melody, but that's just the sort of guy he is, it's pretty astounding. He knows instantly what he wants to hear.

Dan Levitin is a contributing editor to R•E•P and a producer based in Stanford. CA.


Recording Engineer / Producer, August 1991

Dan Levitin interviews Mitchell Froom and reviews Mighty Like a Rose.


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Page scans.

Mighty Like a Rose

Elvis Costello

Dan Levitin

Rose covers a lot of musical ground, from the pop single "The Other Side of Summer" through the experimental piece "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)" to the snide ballad "After The Fall." It is a complicated, dense album that may take some time to get into, but with repeated listenings it grows on the listener.

The songs are beautifully melodic, and Elvis continues to do what I like about him best: to masterfully mine little melodic nuggets from 1960s and 1970s singles and weave them artfully into his songs. Sometimes it's a snippet of a vocal line, sometimes a bass line or guitar hook. Costello clearly has it in him to write the kinds of songs that lounge singers would want to cover 20 years from now, classics like "Just The Way You Are" or "You Are The Sunshine of My Life," but he evidently has a strong desire to avoid Holiday Inn hell.

His lyrics are often too inscrutable, disturbing, subversive or punnishly clever to win him such mainstream accolades, but he does what he wants and stays true to himself; that's what I think the whole thing's about.

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Cover and page scan.


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