Over at Relix, I have a piece up on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the release of Crash, DMB's immensely successful 1996 LP. It was a really fun retrospective to write, but in speaking with the man who produced that record, Steve Lillywhite, I collected a number of quotes and anecdotes for the story that didn't fit into piece. Being that there's still an army of DMB hardcores out there, I wanted to post those tidbits here. Lillywhite is a joy to talk to. Very funny, someone who can digress (this is for the better) and a guy who's, in general, a great interview subject. Here's what hit the cutting room floor.
— It’s taken for granted now, but Lillywhite wasn’t even a given to produce Crash, even after the success of UTTAD. He was in the midst of a divorce, and would randomly get updates over in England that UTTAD was doing well. He had no distinct expectation of ever working with the band again after UTTAD. There was also an unusual element in play: Tom Lord-Alge mixed most of UTTAD after Lillywhite finished (this was RCA's request), so for all he knew, Lord-Alge could've been the guy for Crash.
On getting the call to come back: “In those days, if someone mixes your album, it’s like they’re coming in to save it, not coming in as just another part of the job. I come from a world where the producer’s job is to record it and see it right through to the end with the mixing. What happened with Under the Table was they needed someone to come in and mix it, and I felt a little bit upset. … And when I heard the final mixes I thought, Oh, that’s not how I would have done it. But, you know, that’s always going to be the case. I’m a control freak, you know. If I’m not there doing it then it’s not right. Maybe one of my weaknesses, who knows.
“Pete (Robinson) and Bruce (Flohr), to their credit, they didn’t say to me, ‘We need Tom Lord-Alge to mix this album. They said to me, ‘Steve, it’s your choice.’ So I went, 'OK.' So, we’re getting near the end of the album. He’s in New York, I’m in New York. Let’s try me in there with him to mix three or four songs. I instigated him to come and mix these songs, but I mixed most of the album myself at the shitty little studio at Greene St., where Tom had this up-do-date studio. I had the $10 studio and he had the $100 studio. But, in reality, you listen to the album you can’t tell who did what song, and I can’t even remember which songs I did. And some of that was because I was in there when he was mixing, so it was sort of my print on the whole album.”
— Lillywhite mentioned the album was “relatively easy to record” and “the band loved Woodstock.” All the music was recorded in Woodstock, but then they had 6-8 weeks of vocal work and overdubbing with sax at Greene St. Studio in NYC, which closed in the early 2000s but was one of the legendary hip-hop studios of the '80s and '90s. Lillywhite remembered a blizzard hitting at one point during the recording/overdubbing. Dave and LeRoi would intermittently come and go to lay down their parts.
“To be honest, it was not a great studio," he said. "It was a great vibe, but as a studio, it was pretty rough-and-ready.”
— Lillywhite told me he listened to the album the night before our interview, and it was basically the first time he listened to the record in full in almost 20 years. I thought that was pretty surprising. It was also surreal to be talking to him while we both listened back to the studio cut of "#41." Just a cool moment. He said he forgot about segueing 41 into Say Goodbye, and when I explained him how rare it is for the band to replicate that in concert, he got a real kick out of it.
I asked what he felt as he listened to this record after so many years in between: “I felt sort of sad with LeRoi (Moore) not being here. I felt wistful remembering back, especially in the middle section of Lie In Our Graves. I loved doing that. And that chord progression, when they do it live it goes to a whole different place. But I was very happy, and it took me back. We used to have this thing where we did a lot of overdubbing in the Barn. It was a rehearsal room, but we turned it into a recording room for overdubbing."
On Friday nights they’d get a loads of people from the village of Woodstock, and after the locals left the pubs, Lillywhite would invite groups of them back to the Barn. As for Lie In Our Graves, I asked if the crowd and band knew they were being recorded for a section of LIOG. He said no.
"We'd do some work and listen to songs and party down, and I just recorded everyone having a good time. They didn’t know they were being recorded. ... Nothing is an accident. Everything that’s there has been approved by my ears and placed there in a specific place because it works. Perhaps I overdid some of the things on the album. There’s one or two themes happening at the same time that maybe I should have had less. Sometimes with hooks, I had too many hooks. Like on "So Much to Say," on the little chorus bits.”
— Most of what you hear on Crash, in terms of sound, themes and concepts of it, were mostly conjured by Lillywhite after he met up with the band at Woodstock.
“I don’t do homework," he said. "I’m not a big fan of homework. I do believe in me in a recording studio with a bunch of talented people who all have no egos involved, whose only purpose is to make the best recording, then the chance of some magical things happening are possible. And I know this because it has happened in my life more than once. There has to be — no one’s ego must get in the way. This is where things get out of hand. I didn’t listen to the songs before I went. I got on a plane, met them in Woodstock, and said, ‘What have we got?’”
— The one thing he did suggest prior to getting to the studio: "For instance, take LeRoi. I told him to bring every instrument you have to the studio. Whereas Under the Table had a lot of lovely soprano saxophone, and it was very pretty and very beautiful, and I didn’t tell him, I just gave him the idea that I wanted something different. LeRoi suggested to bring his baritone, and that became almost the signature for the album on the saxophone front. I loved saying to the band, 'Let’s push ourselves.' And they are fantastic musicians, but I was the leader of the sound. And really, it was job definition separate. The band would play and I would mold and steer. Anything to do with that was all me, for better or worse. It was not necessarily 100 percent successful. It gave the album certain psychedelic qualities in some places."
— He laughed as he recalled loving the challenge of pushing Tim Reynolds and Moore, who he called “great foils” for his ways of working in the studio. He added: “With Boyd, you never knew where the nuggets of gold were."
"It’s all down to trust," he said. "They trusted me to lead to steer the ship, and that’s very important."
— As for the track listing, Steve said that was all him and Dave, just as it was on UTTAD, and that the band “didn’t have so much of an opinion about that.” The album was recoded at 24-tracks. There were four were songs — "Get In Line," "#36," "True Reflections" and "Help Myself" — that were also played at the studio, but they were laid down as bare skeletons and then rejected. Lillywhite said the songs weren't close to being finished and so they were never heavily considered. (To be fair, "Reflections" was definitely a finished product at the time; it just didn't make the cut, and it's for the betterment of the record it was pushed off.)
Last bit here: I had him go song-by-song and asked him questions and what things stood out about each song or recording them. A lot of it was fun rambling, so I've pared down his quotes and just tossed in an anecdote or two on each.
- So Much to Say: The shocking thing to me was Tim not playing electric on the album. Those sounds you hear are an acoustic going into an electric amp. I love Tim's tone on SMTS. Lillywhite said, "Tim would play that whole song with that sound. And then I placed it (his parts) where I wanted to have it. It was a lot of editing on my part. They would play the whole song, and I would sculpt it."
Two Step: The cue for the song's outro — Beuaford's double-kick 1-2-3-4/1-2-3-4 — which has been a staple for two decades now, was created in the studio somewhat by accident. Carter and Steve liked it, as it happened somewhat spontaneously. Lillywhite: "Carter was like, 'That’s great! That’s great! Let’s work on that.' I think he maybe did it one time, and from there I wanted to turn it into a part.”
Re: Dave's vocals on the song: "Every time Dave did a lead vocal I would play the vocal, and he would do things before the real singing started, and I would go through them and mold and build up this choral thing. But it was never Dave saying, ‘I want to do this.’ And he’d sing and I’d go, ‘Maybe I’ll keep that, maybe I won’t.’"
- Crash Into Me: Right at the bottom of the fade to end the song, there are faint wave sounds at the very end. I've never heard them. Much of "Crash Into Me" is covered in the article. Lillywhite did say this song and "Lie In Our Graves" were the two songs he singled out as what he was most proud of on this record.
- Too Much: Also a song touched on plenty in the Relix piece. Lillywhite: "It’s a juggernaut of a song, isn’t it? At the time we loved the sound of [Carter] playing rhythm on the cowbells and rhythm [blocks]."
#41: Lillywhite said loved that siren-like sax intro to start, and really appreciated the layering that sets up the first verse. He said this song had a slew of edits in it, and when he heard it they all came rushing back. He added that no one would ever notice where they are, but he heard them immediately. I'd long wondered what the sound that pops in at the 3:18/3:19 mark of the song is and why it was placed there. Turns out it's Moore's flute, and Lillywhite used it as a quick preview of the flute jam to follow after the chorus.
“Musically, I think it’s great," he said. "I’ve got NO IDEA what Dave’s singing about, and I’m not sure he does either.”
He said he did remember Dave’s litigious battle in the mid-'90s and possible references to that within the song. He also shared this, which I agree with: "I think when Dave started to put his lyrics more like 'I’m going to write lyrics,' I think that was not as good as when it was when his mind was empty and things would come out. Later on in his career he would try and write lyrics, whereas early on his career he would just sing and words would come out. And I think maybe that’s what fans love about the early songs. It’s more freeform, more free-flowing."
- Say Goodbye: "When I listened to it, the thing that got me was at the end, when the guitar got a lot heavier. That’s such a good moment. It’s a great song, it’s a little bit romantic and one for the ladies."
Drive In Drive Out: I asked Steve if Dave played the Gibson Chet Atkins in recording this song. He couldn't verify. We talked how we loved how the song had back-to-back bridges.
"It’s got a very progressive sound but also sounds like Soundgarden in there. That’s what I loved about them, there was no real structure."
On Moore's "improvised" lines: "What LeRoi’s favorite thing was to use cartoon themes as his saxophone lines. So, when he went [Steve sings second bridge line from DIDO] that’s from a Warner Bros or Tom and Jerry, or something like that, and if you listen to a lot of his sax lines, he would play something from a cartoon, but he’d play it over DMB songs, which sounded very … so you wouldn’t recognize it. He was a sneaky old bird, LeRoi was."
He has regrets with one part of this song: Beauford rubs the skin of the drums with his finger and creating the “oooohm” sound in between every break on the DIDO outro. I mentioned to him how often I'd heard this song, yet only really caught that recently. "Here’s the thing," he said, "You listened to the song 200 times and you never heard it. My argument would be, if I only brought them in halfway through the outdo, you would’ve heard it every time."
A connection between the album's hardest and softest songs: Listen carefully as DIDO ends, and those rubs on the toms is how "Let You Down" starts.
Let You Down: “When I listened to that yesterday I, maybe for personal reasons, but I really enjoyed it. Dave’s voice is so loud in the mix, and I made sure he was right in your ear. Because he sung so quiet that I thought it’d be nice to have a quiet voice really loud. The whistling solo was something, I remember Bruce Flohr saying ‘Trying a whistling solo.’ I know a lot of people have criticized the solo, but I don’t think it’s so bad. And LeRoi was a great whistler. For me, 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay' has this great whistling on the end. And I thought if we could get some nice feeling, yeah, I think it’s OK."
- Lie In Our Graves: I told him how this song featured a Roi solo through '95, and then it became a Boyd solo. Yet the record has Tim. He was surprised to learn about Roi/Boyd solos. “Probably, no one said, ‘That’s my solo.’ I liked what Tim did more than that, at the time, those flicks, and maybe I didn’t want a solo. I wanted a feeling of chill. I love that chord progression. I didn’t feel like it needed to have someone jamming over it."
- Cry Freedom: "We know it’s acoustic through a lot of pedals and a lot of fucked up sounds. 'Cry Freedom' was just like a 'normal' song, of all Dave’s songs, that one had a really strong theme. And I felt like I wanted to fuck it up and make it sound like it was in an enormous church, to hide its more ‘song’ elements, to make it a little bit darker. I felt like it should be dark because of the lyrical content. It worked. And I remember one of the things that, quite often I’d give Tim these tasks, and instead of getting part, I decided I wanted to get a part for the sound. Do you understand? I got him to get the most fucked up sound possible. It’s very doomy. I didn’t want it to be a pretty acoustic song. 'Let You Down,' I couldn’t make that dirty. But with 'Cry Freedom,' I thought I could make it different-sounding. I was maybe a little bit worried that it was just a little bit normal as a song. I actually enjoyed hearing it quite a bit last night."
- Tripping Billies: Really good observation here by Steve that I'd never considered.
"Here, it’s in what I would call the graveyard slot (ed. being the penultimate song on the LP). Tripping Billies is obviously a catchy song, but it had been on Remember Two Things, and I don’t think we felt it should be so prominent at the beginning. A song like 'Billies' should be near the front because it’s that sort of a song. Track one, two, three. It’s it 'hit' sort of thing. But because it had been released before, we put it down the list.
- Proudest Monkey: "It’s just a trippy thing. Let’s just let it go. And it’s just the two chords. But it works! [Laughs] I didn’t feel any need to shorten it. It was never going to be a single, and I was aware of the band’s live following, so I wanted to give a little more of a nod to that as well. A lot of the time the songs were quite liquid in their arrangement, and I had to gauge a sort of length for an album. Some of the songs i shortened a lot, and some like 'Proudest Monkey,' I thought, Well, this is the last song on the album. I’m just going to let it run."
The plan, absolutely, is for Steve and I to connect again in 2018 to do a piece on the band's best record, Before These Crowded Streets. That was the first album he ever produced while entirely sober.
"And it’s funny," he said. "When I came out of rehab and we did Before These Crowded Streets, that was a whole different way of looking at music."