Songfacts was built on the idea of learning about the songs from those who created them, and Rupert has been crafting classics for 40 years as a songwriter, producer and musician. It was our pleasure to discuss his career highlights, as well as the next stage in music publishing - something Rupert calls "rights management." The idea is to nurture and empower songwriters so by the time a song enters the studio, it's already well beyond good.
Rupert Hine: Exactly. Yeah, it was that second alternative. I never wanted to be a rock star. I was making my own albums and loved the idea of communicating passionately through music. The idea of that being in any way a parallel to a rock star was not really in my mind. But I've always loved the idea of painting pictures with sound, and my passion was definitely songwriting. So I've done 12 albums as an artist myself, and those albums of my own, half as songwriter and record maker, have always fueled all the other productions that I've done. Most artists that asked me to produce them, it was off the back of them liking my own albums, which are obviously nowhere near as famous as most of the people that I've produced, but nonetheless have a good sort of core audience, and it's often amongst the artists themselves.
Songfacts: You said that of the singles you produced, one of your favorites is "Better Be Good To Me" with Tina Turner. What was it like to produce Tina Turner, and what did you learn from the experience from her?
Hine: I worked on all three of her big albums in the '80s, in fact. Some tracks on all three of them. So I've worked with her a lot. And she's just truly extraordinary, really. And I'm not one of those people that just talks up all the artists I've worked with. In her case, she's extremely special and I've never ever witnessed such a one-take wonder as Tina Turner. And that's because she approaches things in such a diligent way and she "owns the song" - that's the phrase she used to use, which basically means she sings along with it at home. I give her a songwriter's demo and then she'll sing it in her key. And then the point where she sings along with the tape and she feels she's got it, it's now her song. Then she'll call me up and say, "Okay, it's my song now. I'm ready."
Songfacts: She's going to give it her absolute best, because in concert, she only has one chance.
Hine: Yep. She's very much a live artist. Her passion is singing in front of people. She was never a great fan of the whole process of studio recording. And not in a sense that it was something she would get into. It was something that was plainly necessary and she would enjoy it, but only as far as capturing that moment. So the very first time I did it, it was quite nerve-wracking, because I had no idea it was going to be quite that literally one-shot. I did ask her for a second take the very first time that I ever recorded her, on the basis of just covering my nuts in case we got a technical error, was the way that I put it. And that was the only reason I needed to do it. The second take was almost imperceptibly as good. But almost - meaning it was staggeringly good, but you could tell all the everything-ness of it was all in that first four minutes.
Songfacts: The other group that you worked with, the Fixx, you list quite a number of their songs among your favorites. Those songs jumped out on the radio because of their production. How do you recall that experience, working with the Fixx? Would you say it was collaborative as well as being the man behind the boards producing their songs?
Hine: Very collaborative. With the Fixx, more than any other band that I've worked with before or since, I always felt that I was becoming a bit like the sixth member of the band. I would be there at all their rehearsals and we'd sort lots of the arrangemental ideas, and even, to some extent, the production I did would be sorted out in the rehearsal room, which is not something you see very often these days. So all five of them came through the songs, we'd make all the basic changes there, and all the improvements on song structure, and all the way through that one thinking in terms of sound and what we may or may not try in the studio.
So then moving into the studio, one could concentrate very early on the coolest way of recording things. And my engineering half of the team, Stephen W. Tayler, was just extraordinarily brilliant with being a sound craftsman and an originator. So working side by side, it was a strong team. I was able to concentrate on the arrangements and the performances and song structures and Steve's very, very, very capable mind and techniques took care of the sound side. Every song, we dreamt up something different or intriguing. Steve was brilliantly adept at sorting out what I was really getting at. And I still work with Steve, and he's still brilliant at it. But this was in the relatively early days in our association and both of us were very excited by what we were doing with the six guys and we were all sort of growing together.
Songfacts: I especially think of the song "Stand or Fall," there's so much that's going on in that song for something that's a pop hit. Do you remember the session for recording that one, and what stands out in your mind from that session?
Hine: "Stand or Fall" was always a lovely composition. And I knew from the very beginning of the first rehearsal that it was all going to be down to just these two guitar chords. And they are the two chords that open the song by way of an intro. But they're also the same two chords that permeate the entire track. They just played the two separate chords that really needed to stand out and be a hook in themselves, not just be two chords in a pop song. They really needed to stand out as two sonic moments that you would hopefully get tingles. And I tried to get them to have this sort of hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck quality just being played on a guitar.
But of course, to devise that, we spent quite a few hours working on how we were going to create this unusual impression from sounds like a guitar player just playing two sprangy chords, when in fact it was quite cleverly crafted by a few tracks and a few different methodologies. It was constructed to produce that effect. I remember that most of all. And also the singing from Cy (Curnin) became a definitive vocal performance, the backing vocals particularly on the outro became a hook in themselves. It sounds like backing vocal, which became also a kind of… not a template, but certainly a subplot for lots of the production with the Fixx - I was always working very closely with Cy on completely fresh backing vocal ideas that came about during the recording process. But "Stand or Fall" is still one of my most favorite production tracks, there's no doubt about it.
Songfacts: Are you surprised that they didn't have a more successful career?
Hine: We did have a lot of success throughout the whole '80s. I produced four albums with them all back-to-back through the '80s. And because they stood between pop and rock music, they were neither or they were both. And it really depended on the way you came at it. But what I wanted them to have was for us to find, with the production side of it, a way of keeping the sound itself feeling aggressive. Finding new ways of doing an aggressive guitar sound without the guitar being in any way distorted or classically old school rock.
And we came up with this very aggressive bitey but sort of shiny guitar, which was very different than any other bands at that time. And that certainly was a huge part of the band's success. I mean, the amount of interest that went into the guitarist was huge - quite rightfully, I think. Also the whole production technique we came up with was very new at that time. And still in a way sounds unique.
But going back to your question, the fact that they were stuck between pop and rock music, by the time the '80s ended, it became very difficult for that non-genre to exist. There were other bands in the '80s - bands like Simple Minds - that hovered between those same schools as well, and all those bands' days became quickly numbered, partly because the record companies insisted that they became either definitely pop or definitely rock. They were no longer happy to have this sort of no man's land in between. And that, to me, was a problem. That's when they fell from the top end of the charts. But they're still going as a band, they're still making records. My friend Steve is mixing an album with them as we speak, right now. So although those records don't appear in the top end of the charts anymore, they're still bought by the fans, and they still gig with the completely original lineup.
Songfacts: You worked with Howard Jones, who couldn't be more different than Tina Turner or the Fixx. I remember seeing him open for the Eurythmics, and he was pretty much a one-man band. Was it a challenge to work with him in the studio and try to fill out his sound a bit from the live performances?
Hine: Not really. I mean, I guess that's exactly what we were doing anyway. But I don't recall it ever being a challenge. It was always very exciting, very intriguing. Howard always came with most of the arrangement ideas in his head already and most of the time actually being played, as well, between his various keyboard lines and various keyboards. And because I was also a multi-keyboardist myself, and used to making records out of keyboard sounds at that time and making it work, that was probably the reason it wasn't a challenge. But the idea was that it should be at this very strong pop end of songwriting, which I wasn't doing. I was doing sort of dark and mysterious almost soundtrack-like work on my own albums at that time, and Howard was really full-on pop songs. But his songwriting and his arrangements or techniques were very, very musical - he's one of the most musical artists I've ever worked with. Classically trained, he was, in fact, a piano teacher when he was making his first record, and had been for years. So he's extremely skilled, and that came across and made the whole recording process that much more fun, particularly because it was really full-on pop music.
Hine: I've known Phil Harrington - who's the main man behind it - for many years, and that contact has been through Bob Geldof. I produced many of Bob's records over the years, so Bob and I are good friends. And he introduced me to Phil Harrington many years ago when it was still just called Liberty Bloom, which is the parent company behind the YouBloom venture. So when they suddenly needed more active involvement from other people with experience in the business, he asked me to get involved and, as I knew Phil already, was a natural.
Songfacts: Have you discovered some great songwriters through the process?
Hine: It was funny. It was interesting, at the beginning I would say the general quality was much lower than I had anticipated. With the Garage Band style of programming which makes everything so easy, it does seem like everybody figures they can make something sound like a record, so they do. But there's absolutely no point to it whatsoever. There was a lot of that around, which was a bit discouraging to start with. But as things progressed and towards the end of the 2010 year, there was a sudden buildup of people that were more interesting and were trying harder.
Songfacts: What have you been working on recently and what can we expect to hear from you?
Hine: Well, I've spent the last two years working on things. A couple of years ago I did an album for the Dalai Lama, which was the third most downloaded album on the planet in August of 2008. It was called The Art of Peace. But I produced some of the tracks directly and executive produced the whole project. It was basically a combination of artists like Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, Sting, all kinds of artists that came together and came up with new versions of songs with a lyrical context of peace. Putting that project together was a ginormous task. That was great fun. I mean, I don't think much happened to it on the hard release, but the digital release was spectacular.
Since then I've worked with two or three new young artists that have spent enormous amounts of time working on the business side of life and trying to get all kinds of new models together. I have a new company with BMG Rights Management called the Original Song Company. I think this is probably the first time I've mentioned it. It will be announced imminently.
Songfacts: Is it fun to do new things and experience different ends of the business?
Hine: It is. Particularly rights management, which has replaced the old phrase "publishing," in essence. The background is in fees for publishing. But the idea of signing the writing entity, the actual songwriters themselves, is far and away the thing I'm most interested in. It all starts with the song. And I want to work closely with new younger writers and help mould them into really palpable communicative writers, and to work at a very high level of expectation in the writing. People spend hours and days getting studio recordings to be the way they want them, but that same attention to detail does not go into the songwriting. And I feel at this point we really need to make songs be more extraordinary, more outstanding, more breathtaking, and not just settle, which most people do, with a song that just sounds really good. Really good isn't good enough, we want to get way beyond really good. We want to find songs that are truly great and outstanding songs. And then the production of those, or any way we approach making a record out of a song that's that good is just so much fun, because you're doing so little. If it's that good, you do the very minimum on it and it's going to be outstanding, or you can flesh it out and make it incredible. The options are enormous with a song that's that good.
So that's really the philosophy behind that, which will be announced very shortly. The You Bloom activity is a parallel part there, too, because with You Bloom music, they're looking at distributing recorded music, as well. They're taking on some bands, finding new writers and new material through the You Bloom Web site, and it's a combination of artists and friends. The plan in 2012 is that You Bloom will have the means to take that recorded music and run with it, and to have our own piano editing and a full equivalent of all the mechanisms to distribute music in this day and age, rather than seeding the talent and then passing it on.
Songfacts: Well, I think that kind of brings us full circle. And it's exciting to me to hear that you're still excited about songs.
Hine: My pleasure. I have to say that I've been looking at Songfacts myself. I've been asked to do a TV show for the States that's essentially a program based on my interviews with songwriters. In essence it will be kind of the story behind specific songs, pulling on my 40 years of record making with different kinds of songwriters. I'm in the process of working through some of the initial material. And your Songfacts Web site has been more than a touch useful.
March 9, 2011
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