Sep
03
2017
0

Christopher Thomas: The D.C LaRue interview

Christopher Thomas from Columbia university in NYC had a conversation with cult disco figure extraordinaire D.C LaRue.  Overfitting Disco is now privileged to present the interview to you, courtesy of  Mr LaRue himself.

Christopher Thomas: D.C. LaRue was a figure of not inconsiderable repute in the disco circles of the late 1970s. He is known for his albums CA-THE-DRALS”, THE TEA DANCE”, “CONFESSIONS”, “FORCES OF THE NIGHT”,STAR, BABY” and his 12” 45 rpm limited edition of the “INDISCREET”/“FACE OF LOVE” re-edit/re-mix which was countlessly sampled in early hip-hop.  On a beautiful summer afternoon in Manhattan’s West Village D.C. kindly let me interview him.

You initially designed record album covers, correct?

D.C. LaRue: I did and that’s how I met a lot of recording industry people. I moved to NYC from Connecticut after art school to pursue a recording career.  Not a career as an art director but luckily enough with an art background I was able to attain work at record companies designing sheet music covers, song folios, album covers and whatever.  I met my wonderful friend Janis Ian when I designed her “AFTERTONES” album cover and I met Aram Schefrin, the producer of my album “CA-THE-DRALS”, when I designed his Ten Wheel Drive “PECULIAR FRIENDS” album cover.  I got art director/graphic designer jobs in the music industry and by virtue of the fact that I was around music business people all the time I would get to meet the A&R guys one on one.  Then I would present the A&R departments with demos of me singing my compositions.  Graphic design work was the back door that made it a little easier for me to connect with the important top guys at the record companies.

 

Was your initial ambition to be a recording artist despite this artistic segue?

Absolutely! I was discovered by legendary indie producer BOB CREWE and recorded my first single when I was still a senior in Cheshire High School.  I wanted to be another Fabian or Frankie Avalon or whoever but it wasn’t in the cards at the time.  It took more than a few years to manifest my true musical calling.

 

So you were briefly discovered in high school by legendary independent record producer Bob Crewe?

Well, it wasn’t so “briefly” because during those early years I recorded and released a lot of singles for Bob Crewe and a few other record companies and producers.  I had three different names (Matthew Reid/Casey Paxton/David LaRue) and I even starred in a movie distributed by Allied Artists titled “DISCOTHEQUE HOLIDAY”.  It was such a different time in the music business.  It was a “pop 45 rpm singles” time.  Most artists didn’t get to do an album until they had a big hit single.  I managed to release quite a few singles but I wasn’t fortunate enough to come up with any real hits.  My very last pop 45rpm recording session was for KIRSHNER RECORDS.  I had done some creative work for Donnie Kirshner’s label CALENDAR Records (which was distributed by RCA at the time) and I got to meet his A&R guy, Wally Gold, who produced Kansas and The Archies and Barbara Streisand among others.  I said, “Hey Wally!! I write songs!! You want to give them a listen?” I went up to his office and I sat down and played a couple tunes.  His immediate reaction was “Oh my God! You’re another Elton John!” and he signed me to a publishing/recording contract on the spot.  And I had two 45 rpm releases with KIRSHNER Records.  But I spent a few months in Europe that summer and when I returned to New York City the KIRSHNER ORGANIZATION had signed a new distribution deal with COLUMBIA Records.  Wally explained to me the label wasn’t doing pop stuff so much anymore and going in a new rock orientated direction signing groups like KANSAS. They gave me a release.  After that disappointment in 1974 I completely gave up on recording.   With so many tries and so many failures under my belt I had really had it!!

(i.e. Actually up to that time over the 12 years I was recording all those singles, the session with WALLY GOLD and KIRSHNER Records was the best single session I ever did!!  It was flawless and it was everything I wanted it to be. Unfortunately it never got a decent shot!)

 

Is this early work on Spotify or any streaming service?

Not yet. But I’ve posted the first record I ever recorded which was produced by Bob Crewe with Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons doing the background to my Soundcloud account.  It’s titled “JANE” – Matthew Reid.  [https://soundcloud.com/d-c-larue-1/jane-matthew-reid-1962].

editor’s note: To listen to more of DC’s earlier work you can check out his DISCO JUICE Internet radio program archive at www.SOUNDCLOUD.com

 

What was your music of choice during high school years?

My high school years were all about the music of the late 50s and early 60s. It was Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Jimmy Clanton, Gene Pitney, Danny & the Juniors and such.

 

Rock n’ Roll, right?

Well, I guess you’d call it “White Boy Pop/Rock n’ Roll”.  Like I’ve said recorded a lot of pop 45rpm singles in those early days of my career.  I kind of like I made my own set of “Matthew Reid/Casey Paxton/David LaRue’s Best Tracks of the 1960s/70s”.  That was when top 40 radio was REALLY top 40.  The music fan had hits from the likes of Jane Powell, Chuck Berry, Fabian, Danny & the Juniors, The Cleftones, The Moonglows, Perry Como, Patsy Cline, Mario Lanza and whoever…all making the Top 40 Chart at the same time.  A super duper variety of music was really what Top 40 Radio was about.  It simply doesn’t exist today.

 

Do you have an opinion on the way musicians become popular now?

Actually I wonder how they do it. I have people asking me all the time to give them advice on how to break into the music business and I really don’t have a clue.  I know that if I were 18 years old now and wanted to record I’d figure it out.  But there are pretty much only three major companies that control the music industry at the moment.  That makes it a lot harder now more than ever.  Throughout my entire career there was a totally different recording industry standard when it came to finding new talent.  There was pretty much an open door policy.  The way most young unrecorded talent would get a record deal was an artist would go into the record company’s office, get an appointment with the A&R guy and sit down at the piano or take out the guitar and play and sing your material.  Or submit a demonstration record or tape of their work.

 

Really? They’d just hear you out?

Yes!! Most of the time they’d hear you out.  Today an artist can’t even get in the record company’s building with all the security.  I had an appointment  recently at Polygram concerning the TGIF Soundtrack re-release.  I had to make the appointment with the A&R guy and then he had to leave my name at the security desk the morning of the appointment and then the guy I had the appointment to see had to physically come down the 18 floors or whatever to verify who I was and take me up in the elevator personally.  It’s ridiculous.  Before you’d go to 1650 Broadway or The Brill Building and hustle from floor to floor, record company to record company.  If they had the time they’d even listen “live” on the spot or they’d have their secretary ask you to leave some demos and they’d listen and get back with you.  They’d actually pick up the phone and say “hello” when you called for information and they would give you feed back.  No answering machines and texting and e-mails back in the day.  Today you’re lucky to even have a number to call.  And today when the A&R people not interested they NEVER give you the courtesy of telling you they’re not interested.  You just get silence.

 

But I guess I understand that too because they must get a hundreds and hundreds emails from all over the world every day. As I’ve said before I haven’t got a clue about how to get a deal today.  I can’t give anybody advice.  And recording companies aren’t making money from selling recorded CDs or vinyl configurations any more.  It’s all online “digital on demand” downloading which is not a real money maker.  So at present the recording company has to be excited enough about artist to spend a million dollars on publicity and promotion in addition to mounting a show and putting an tour together.  They have to believe in you that much which also means they ask you to sell your soul more than ever.

 

I look at a Justin Bieber or a Miley Cyrus and I don’t know how they manage to stay sane.  A guy like Justin Bieber is what amounts to a one man industry!!  He’s a business empire unto himself and he’s responsible for hundreds of people and their incomes and their lives and their kid’s college educations and for their homes in Calabasas, their vacations, the new Mercedes for the wife.  WOW!!  I don’t know how these new kids stand the pressure.  I remember when I had just a fraction of their celebrity and the fame…it was nerve wracking.  I had people all around me all the time…no privacy.  People touching me and grabbing my arm and messing my hair and trying to tell me what to do and what not to do and it was awful.  At least for me it was awful.

 

What would you say is your general perspective of fame, having been so famous in the 70s?

Well, it’s interesting you say that. Actually I wasn’t so very famous in the 70s.  First of all I never made records to be famous or to perform.  I made records because I loved making records.  I loved being in a recording studio. That first time I made that piano voice demo for Bob Crewe I was smitten.  I loved singing and hearing my voice and hearing my music come to life.  Even to this day that has never changed.  It was the experience of making the recording that was the magic to me.

 

The production part of recording?

Yes!! I’d write the song on the piano or the guitar and I’d present it to a producer like Bob Crewe. We would go into the recording studio and make the record and it was that final resulting recording that was the total fulfillment for me.  I’d take those records home and play them for hours and hours and hours.  They were the dreams that came true and they was the goal.  That’s what made me the happiest.  I loved performing!  It’s not that I didn’t love it but I’ve never had that burning desire to get on stage in front of a “live” audience.  I recently did a show with Melba Moore and we started talking about performing.  Melba loves performing with a passion.  When she’s not performing she feels unfulfilled.  I’ve never felt that way.  I’m happy at home with my cat watching a good movie or listening to music or reading.  Performing for me was an uncomfortable experience.  The grabbing, touching, grabbing, touching.  Ouch and ugh!!

 

Sounds terrible –

It was awful. But it’s amazing how so many people love it and live for it!

 

To be tended and to be guided?

Correct. I remember one fan that had come to one of my performances.  A big disco fan and he was so excited that he managed to get backstage.  After my performance out of the blue he started toweling off my perspiration…without asking.  That kind of attention made me so uncomfortable.  I like being touched by people I want touching me but I don’t like being touched by uninvited strangers.  I also remember performing at the Lyceum Theatre in London when “LET THEM DANCE” was a huge hit in the UK.  I remember the screaming and the yelling and the photographers.  I also remember going down to the edge of the stage to sign autographs.  The girls pulled me off the stage into the crowd and they were all over me so that the security guys had to come and pull me away.  Then they whisked me into a limousine to drive me back to the hotel some of the fans had gotten on the hood of the auto and on it’s roof and were bouncing and jumping up and down and screaming while I was inside.  It made me crazy.  It was like Elvis Presley moment but I felt threatened.

 

So you were never seduced by the fame?

I was never seduced by the fame…not even today. When I do my DISCO JUICE Internet radio program I don’t look at the figures of how many people are listening.  I know I have listeners in every country on the face of the earth…every country!  I don’t get stats from North Korea or Afghanistan [laughs] but I’ll bet some people are listening there too.  If I really allowed myself to think about the fact that I may have 250,000 people listening…I don’t know…I don’t how I’d process that.  Especially when I’m alone in the studio in Brooklyn.  I think of it as though I’m just playing the music for myself and sharing it with some friends.  To think I’m reaching all those people around the world…it’s great and whatever but I can’t really think about it or I’d tighten up.  I remember Carly Simon discussing it in an interview years ago that she hated “live” performing too.  She had terrible stage fright and she hated that touchy-feely thing as well.  She just wanted to make music.  Most times the fame is very, very important and is what drives the musician.

 

Going back to Disco, What do you think differentiated it from earlier danceable Rock N’ Roll?

Disco recordings were conceived and created in a totally different way for different reasons. I’ll tell you how I caught the disco bug.  I loved to go out dancing with my friends and one July night in1975 I ended up on the dance floor of a disco called 12 WEST here in the West Village down by the Hudson River.  There I was dancing away when the Giorgio Moroder produced Donna Summer recording of “LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY” came on and it just blew me away!!  Eighteen minutes of sheer heaven!!  It wasn’t the first extended album cut I had ever heard.  That’s for sure!  There were lots of extended rock tracks like the Doors’ “LIGHT MY FIRE”.  Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge  Cream and whatever all with those 18 minute tracks.  A Jimmy Hendrix 18 minute track was not uncommon so it wasn’t simply because Donna’s track was a 18 minute cut.  It was the way it was structured, the arrangement, the rise and fall of the energy level as it related to the dance floor.  WEOW!  The way Giorgio Moroder added the strings and bass line and then dropped out the strings and then brought back the strings, the way the instrumentation was layered, the way Donna’s locals were introduced and the re-introduced throughout the recording and so on.  It knocked me out.  I couldn’t get it out of my head so after about a week I decided to consider doing a disco concept album myself.  This is an old story and I’ve told it many times in the past but it’s absolutely true.  A few weeks later I was with my friend Steve D’Aquisto who had taken me to one of the early private disco clubs DAVID MANCUSO’S LOFT.  We were both standing there at the edge of the dance floor when there was a momentary pause in the music.  Now when you are very high and it’s 3am in the morning and the dance floor is jam packed and the music stops and you’re high like that,,,,well, 3 seconds of silence can feel like 3 hours!!  I don’t know actually how long it was when David started the music again but when he did the crowd went wild with screaming and whatever.  Steve threw his arms into the air and screamed “Discos are the Cathedrals of now!! Disco is a religious experience!!!” Honest!  And as high as I was I thought to myself that I was going to remember that moment!!.  That’s a concept that could make a great disco album.  It took me a week or so to come up with the songs and when I got them all together I started trying to sell the project to a label.  Even though I had given up on the record business the reality was that I couldn’t help but continue to write songs.  Music was just a part of who I was.  I used to walk around NYC with a little cassette recorder so that when I song came to me I could record it immediately so I wouldn’t forget it and tuck it away for posterity.  At that point in my life (the mid-70s) the muse still hadn’t flown away.  Of course when I finally got the material together not one recording company in the city was interested in backing the project.  But somehow I was re-energized and refused to give up on it.

 

Seems the lyrics of “Cathedrals” were considered too shocking for the time and when the “Cathedrals” album was finally released we couldn’t get it on radio stations here in the USA.  It was considered x-rated but the lyrics were such that there wasn’t anything they could actually beep out to make it palatable.  And conceptually it was too blatantly raw, sexual or whatever as well.  But it was what it was.  I never let anyone change a word or a melody.  I was honest and when I wrote about anything I’d write from my heart and soul.

 

I was messaging Janis Ian on Facebook a while back and I said “understanding you and how you wouldn’t prostitute your art and how you would refuse to be anything but honest…you changed the way I wrote lyrics.” She said “Oh yeah! I knew that. As soon as I heard your new lyrics I knew”.  Janis’ lyrics were never about anything but her truth as she perceived it.  They were about interracial romances and whatever.   Janis was very, very shocking and honest for her time and a huge influence on me.
So it ends up my 70s disco contributions were never able to get played on US radio. But I didn’t care and continued to refused to write lyrics that were anything but my truth.

 

And so you got pressure from recording companies regarding your lyrics?

Never from the record companies. Just from US  AM and FM radio stations.

 

Your “FACE OF LOVE” is my favorite song.

Great!! That’s my “almost Pop/Rock” track from “THE TEA DANCE” album.  I have to attribute the title to a JOHN LENNON phrase from his “INSTANT KARMA” lyric.   But my “Face of Love” is about having peep show sex in the back of pornography book stores.  (“all the book stores you been found in. all the goodies that you’re down on.”)  It’s about drag queens, transsexuals and transvestites. (“all the trappings that you run around in”)  Lyrics about the really dark side of the NYC street life in the 70s.  The under belly of the beast as it were!  Now aren’t you disappointed now that I’ve told you what it’s about?  Hahaha!

 

And my “DEEP, DARK, DELICIOUS NIGHT” from the “CATHEDRALS” album is about loosing your virginity in the back of a car.  Unfortunately most listeners at the time thought it was about anal sex.  Incorrect!!  It’s about experiencing any kind of sex in the back of a car!  Whatever works as it were.

 

That’s why I never got played on the radio here in the States. I never did have a broad acceptance of my work like the impression you may get from the web today.  My audience was a very limited niche audience.  Admittedly today with the Internet and social media I have gained a great deal more acceptance of my past work.  In addition the kids today are so much more sophisticated and worldly and they understand pretty much understand what I’m talking about in my lyrics and they enjoy it.

 

Forty years ago my critics would claim my lyrics were too gay. Not true!!  They were never “too gay” or “exclusively gay” in reference.  Yes, they were totally realistic and very sexual but they are pertinent to heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, and metrosexuals as well.  Just listen to my lyrics again keeping this in mind.  I don’t say anything totally or specifically gay.  I talk about sexual real-deal stuff concerning life but I’ve always felt that honesty is the best policy!!

 

Listening to your music I never did get the impression that you were making specifically gay songs.

Well I’m happy about that!   But because of the way the record broke in the clubs it was considered “gay”.  When PYRAMID DISCO released “CATHEDRALS” in 1976 it was the big important, mostly gay big city discos that were the first to start playing the record.  I remember the first four discos that got acetates of the album here in New York City were The Loft, Infinity, 12 West and Nicky Siano’s GALLERY. It’s immediate success was amazing.  The clubs would play “CA-THE-DRALS” on a Saturday night and the dancers were standing in line in front of Vinyl Mania and Discorama, Downstairs Records and Rock & Soul the following Sunday morning waiting to buy the record.   And because initially it came from play in mostly gay disco spaces (And that was only the case for a couple weeks because then it spread everywhere pretty much over night) it somehow retained that tag….the identity of being a gay record.  And people who didn’t like disco or like me would say “Oh! That fucking gay disco shit!!  It sucks!!”  But listen to any of my lyrics again and you’ll see they are not gender specific.

 

What was the inspiration for The Tea Dance?

I had come up with “THE TEA DANCE” concept around the same time I came up with “CATHEDRALS”. “THE TEA DANCE” is a salute to dance music throughout the ages.  The album actually starts out with tap dance!!  (Very amusing…we thought at the time.)  It was a salute to the slow dances “Bad News”, the sambas “O Ba Ba”, the belly dance “Indiscreet” etcetera.  And without even knowing it at the time we created one of the very first hip hop breaks with the “INDISCREET” re-edit.

 

Is that you on the album art?

Yeah. My brother-in-law artist REMO BRAMANTI did the original album art.

 

How do you feel about your influence on hip hop?

It’s interesting…you’d think because I was a white gay boy and I release this re-edit record with my face on the label that there would have been some reverse discrimination. I had PYRAMID DISCO press only a limited edition of 2000 vinyl 12” records distributed as promos only to disco DJs through their local record pools.  You’d think those macho black hip hop DJs – well, this was before their was an actual thing officially called hip hop. At that point the black DJs were simply playing local street parties in the Bronx and upper Manhattan – wouldn’t even pay it attention to it but when they heard the “INDISCREET” break and they didn’t give a fuck what I was.  And some of those DJs would even take a magic marker and black out the label so when dancers came up to the turntables to see what they were playing they wouldn’t be able to see what the record was or that it was performed by a white boy!!

 

I might add that through the years that black hip-hop macho community has never stopped appreciating me or playing the break. And they have always treated me like I’m royalty.  Sometimes I go to hang out at the local New York City summer park jams and they those DJs get like [D.C. starts to mimic prostrating, genuflecting]. They don’t give a fuck that I’m white or gay or whatever.  THEY ARE AND HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THE BEST!!   At this juncture the only thing I take exception to is that the black authors who are writing the books about hip hop don’t seem to be doing their research very well.  They always leave me out completely.  They don’t mind putting in James Brown or the other black break tracks as influences to hip hop but it seems that a gay white boy…well, they don’t want to acknowledge me or my contribution.  I think it’s very unfortunate.

 

 

Written by:   | Filed in: Highlight | Tags: ,
Nov
11
2014
4

Interview With Mike Tramp (Mabel)

Mike Tramp during the Mabel days (Left) and today

Mike Tramp during the Mabel days (Left) and today

Mike Tramp is a Danish born musician, famous among rock fans all over the world for his bands White Lion and Freak of Nature. Many will also remember him as the (very young) lead singer of the 1970’s band Mabel, who represented Denmark at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1978. Mabel were the only Danish group to record an album at the legendary Europasound Studios, during the heydays of European disco. A week ago I did an interview with Mike about those very days – how Mabel ended up there, what role disco played for their music, and how he views it all in retrospect. The following is a condensed version of that conversation.

Vomatron: Hello Mike, how are you doing?

Mike Tramp: Hey bro, I’m doin’ good! I’m currently on tour in Denmark, and in between shows I stay at my brother’s farm and help him out with things.

V: You left the country at a very early age, and eventually made a career for yourself in the US. Now you are back and living more steadily in Denmark…do you feel like you have somehow found your roots again?

MT: Well, the thing about me “back in the days”, was really that I was just a kid who wasn’t at all prepared for the music business. It was very much a learning curve for me, and I learned it the hard way.

V: Yes, I realize that the subject of this interview concerns a time in your career, that you may not have the fondest memories of…so thanks a lot for agreeing to it.

MT: Hey, it’s cool, I’m all up for it. It’ll be something different to talk about than I’m used to.

V: Great. Ok, so I first heard your song Wonderful Copenhagen about 5 years ago, in a mix by a Dutch DJ named Loud-E. It surprised me because of its heavy production, which is quite different from most of the other Danish disco “attempts” at the time. When I finally got the album, Mabel 4 Ever, it became clear why: It was recorded at Europasound Studios, and produced by Bernt Möhrle. How did this partnership come about?

MT: In retrospect I think there were a few things that led up to it. First there was the place we were coming from as musicians, and then there was the discovery of that whole production style itself. Mabel used to be a much harder band, inspired by groups like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and known for rockin’ it out and getting drunk at shows. When i came into the group in ’76-77, the band was already starting to move towards a “lighter” image…not directly pop, but more inspired by Queen and Boston and bands like that. At some point our label boss Johnny Reimar (owner of Starbox Records) came to us and said, “hey, maybe you should also try and move more in that direction…”. And as soon as we stepped into that world, it was like a machine just turned on. Soon came the Eurovision song contest of 1978, which we entered into with the song “Boom Boom”. The exposure that followed that took us even further, and suddenly we found ourselves doing concerts all over Europe, as well as promotion events, TV shows…getting more and more into the world of showbusiness…and playback. We experienced places in Germany where there weren’t really any proper intruments put up, not even a drumset…your music just played out across a sound system, while you were expected to jump around on stage and mimic the songs. It was around this time that we were introduced to a German band, who weren’t really a band, named Chilly.

V: Chilly were quite big at the time, even in Denmark…

MT: I think they became so a bit later. We first heard them performing For Your Love – which is of course a cover version of an old rock song – at an event in Germany. And I distinctly remember that we were all very impressed by the powerful sound coming from the speakers. The guitar sound, the way it was produced, sounded a lot harder than it actually was, and that was when we as a band started realizing: “Damn…our sound is really thin compared to this stuff”. This led us to contact Chilly’s producer Bernt Möhrle, and began discussing the possibility of him producing our next album.

V: And that is how you ended up recording at the infamous Europasound Studio, at a time when disco was at its creative peak…

MT: Yeah, this led us to Europasound, which was located in Offenbach, on the outskirts of Frankfurt…where of course people like Frank Farian had his Boney M project, and other things, going on. But our first step was writing all of the songs for the album. We did this in Denmark, and sent them off to Bernt Möhrle so he knew what he had to work with beforehand. Now, none of these songs were actually based on that disco beat that Chilly were so famous for. That wasn’t our intention. We just wanted thatsame production sound. Anyways, we eventually packed our things and left for Germany. And this is where things just went…WTF. Because when we arrived, we learned that Bernt Möhrle had employed 5 of Germanys top studio musicians for the album, who at the time were completely enmeshed in very specific production details…how to make exactly that snare drum sound or that electronic sounding hi-hat sequence….and so on. And suddenly we just entered the studio, which was actually very oldschool for its time – really old speakers and equipment…really strange. But these studio musicians had by now become totally specialized in producing via this equipment, and it became clear that in many ways it was really just a machine running along, and that everything had been planned in advance before we came. As a result, we ended up having no real influence on the recordings.

V: Yes, I read in your official biography, Vagabonden, that you don’t even appear on the album?

MT: Well, I ended up singing on a few songs. But in Bernt Möhrle’s opinion, I just wasn’t a good enough lead vocalist for the type of sound they were aiming for. So they ended up using our bass player Otto (Kulmbak), who had had also written many of the songs, and who sang backup vocals on the demos we had sent. That was when we realized that things were pretty much out of our hands, and we spent a lot of time just hangin’ around in the Europasound kitchen in between vocal sessions. It just seems so weird looking back at it now…we travel all the way there to make an album, are booked into a fine hotel…everything…only to be confined to the kitchen most of the time (laughing). When Johnny Reimar came down to check on us, and found out that I wasn’t even singing lead vocals, he was bewildered…and frankly not very happy about it. In his world, I should of course be singing…I was after all the frontman. He was thinking about TV performances and videos that I was gonna appear in…how would that all work out? We never made any of those things, but that was what went through his head.

V: Understandable. So how long were you there? Was it just for a day…a few hours?

MT: No no, I think we were there about 10 days in total.

V: Ah, OK. And how was the general atmosphere there? Did you meet Boney M or any other of the recording artists connected with the studio?

MT: No, it wasn’t really like that. Bernt had given our tracks to three different arrangers. One of them was Christian Kolonovits, the other two I dont exactly remember…but we met them, and of course some of the other musicians.

V: So what about Wonderful Copenhagen…did it have anything to do with the PR company of the same name, dedicated to promoting danish tourism?

MT: No, not at all. I mean, we wrote the track, but the instrumentation was completely Europasound’s. I have to check the early demo of it some day, but I personally think that Christian Kolonovits, who was one of the most bigshot studio musicians at the time…

V: Oh yes.

MT: …created the string arrangment, and based it on “Tango Jalousie” by Jacob Gade. Especially in the beginning of the song, you can hear that this is where the inspiration came from. But even though I wasn’t involved in the song, I could still appreciate the qualities of it. It’s a powerful song that would still work today under the right circumstances, with the right artist and musicians. It wasn’t just some soft song in my opinion. Well, except for the lyrics, cause they are what they are, but the production has a lot of depth and creativity to it.

V: I agree. Many of those studio musicians might have been working like hit-machines, but they had been involved in for example progressive rock projects throughout the 70’s…some heavy stuff. So they had an interesting background.

MT: Yes, exactly.

V: Now we are at it, would you care to explain the cover art of the Wonderful Copenhagen 7″ single, where you are standing together with the whole band, and….a horse. Who came up with that idea?

MT: (laughing) Oh that one, yes. Actually, I think it was just a picture lying around in the photo archives over at Starbox. It was taken at an equestrian facility, where we had visited some girls earlier in the year…and suddenly they had pressed the singles using one of those images. Unfortunately we didn’t have much control over that part of the process either, and if there is one thing I could go back and change now, it would be the damn cover art of some of our records. It was very far from being the Danish version of Sex Pistols, lookin’ back on it now, as an old rock n’ roller!

(both laughing).

The notorious "horse cover"

The notorious “horse cover”

V: Ok, now I’m digging a little bit in the dirt here…I read in your biography that you had an affair with one of the girls from Chilly. Can you provide us with some juicy details regarding those exploits?

MT: (Laughing a lot) Unfortunately it was a very short affair…it happened on the last date of a tour we were on with Chilly, shortly after the release of Mabel 4 Ever. I was just a really young guy, only 17 years old, completely inexperienced…so there isn’t much to tell I’m afraid.

V: She must have been a bit older, right?

MT: Yes she was, but nothing much really happened, sorry to disappoint (laughing).

V: Was it the blond girl?

MT: No, it was the dark skinned one. Her name was Andrea.

V: How was the tour with Chilly, was it regular concerts or…?

MT: We kind of did our own thing and they did theirs. We played as a band with instruments and equipment from Denmark, and they made a show based on playback. They were the support band for us.

V: What did you do regarding the songs from Mabel 4 Ever? Much of the power must have been lost when playing the songs live? And what about the synths?

MT: Oh, but we didn’t actually play any of those songs. The album was out at the time of the tour, but we didn’t play any of them.

V:
Ahh…ok…

MT: (laughing) I know, it was a bit of a mess.

Chilly went through a complete change in frontmembers some time after the release of For Your Love. This is the original line-up, with "Andrea" on the left

Chilly went through a complete change in frontmembers some time after the release of For Your Love. This is the original line-up, with “Andrea” on the left

V: Alright, so as you know, I originally contacted you because I had a specific question about a somewhat obscure Mabel song, Space ABC. I discovered this one last year on a Starbox compilation. Can you talk a bit about it?

MT: Sure thing. Ok, so after recording Mabel 4 Ever, and returning to Denmark, we ourselves actually tried to experiment with the production techniques that we witnessed at Europasound. And over a few studio sessions we tried to specifically make songs that were built around a disco beat. A number of tracks were recorded from this session. One was the song Baggy Pants, and another was Space ABC.

V: Who was the producer on this?

MT: Well, that was just us actually. We did it at Werner Studios on Frederikssundsvej in Copenhagen. I had completely forgotten about the song until you contacted me! But Space ABC was really just an early version of…what would you call it…a sort of bonus track. A kind of theme song just built on a beat, with a synthesizer, and someone reciting the whole alphabet over the beat throughout the song…playing around with the sound and putting the guitar more in the background, and the beat more up front.

V: Funny that it was just like an “extra” song, cause it’s the song I like the most – and I’m not the only one!

MT: (laughing) Yes, well..i guess you can say, that it was an early attempt of what happened later with techno producers, working more “backwards”…that is, starting with the beat instead of the melody. This was new for Mabel at the time, because we were more oriented towards classic songwriting, in the tradition of Dylan, Lennon/McCartney etc.

V: What equipment did you use for it? There is something on the vocals that sounds like an old vocoder or voice box or something…

MT: Oh, that wasn’t a vocoder…I don’t think the vocoder was even around at the time. No, I believe it was a harmonizer of some kind. Maybe an Eventide Harmonizer.

V: Was Johnny Reimar still around at this time and had any influence?

MT: Yeah, but Johnny was always completely supportive about what we were doing. He didn’t interject at any point during the Mabel days, he just took care of the business side of things. But some of the songs from the Space ABC session resulted in a 4 track single cassette release called 4 Hits, and this was an idea that Johnny came up with. In that way he was really ahead of time, compared to most people in the Danish music industry. One song called “Saturday Show”, which became our entry song for the Danish Melodi Grand Prix in 1979, was another one of the songs on the 4 Hits release. But that one was actually a leftover from the Europasound session. It was supposed to have been included on Mabel 4 Ever. I just remembered that now, while we were talking about it.

V: Do you know anything about Johnny Reimar’s other German disco projects? I know he had a producer working for him, named Horst Lubitz or “John Lou”. Did you ever meet him, or hear about him?

MT: Hmm…I’m not too sure about that. We didn’t have anything to do with him, that much I know.

V: Do you remember a Danish production from the late 70’s called “Typewriter Disco”, then? It was made under the moniker of one of your Starbox labelmates, Tore, but released on Mercury Records.

MT: No, that doesn’t ring a bell either, sorry.

V: What about Danish music scene at the time in general, was there anything that caught your interest…any artists that you could relate to?

MT: Well…these days, when I am visiting the far corners of Denmark and playing, I feel really at home. But in the Mabel, days, I mean…we were completely different from everything else going on in the country. We were really outcasts, which is strange since we were so popular at the same time. We sometimes felt that we stood completely alone against the rest of the music industry. This is what made us finally leave the country for Spain. You can say a lot of negative things about the music business today, with everyone wanting to become famous and whatnot…but in contrast, Denmark of the 1970’s was really limited. There was one tv station, one radio channel…very much a streamlined thing, where what we represented was looked down upon, and attacked again and again.

V: Interesting…I myself have tried to figure that part out. I mean, Mabel may just have had a short disco adventure – you were mainly a rock band – but this thing about the music industry in Denmark…it seems like it was so much in opposition to new things, while still trying to cash in on the trends.

MT: Yes, that’s how it was, and you still see shades of it today. But it’s a lot less like that now than back then. Regarding the disco, we didn’t completely leave it behind. Even later, when making the album We Are The 80’s, we were inspired by disco. I remember we were trying to imitate the snaredrum from Donna Summer’s Bad Girls. It is present all over that whole album.

V: What do you feel about songs like Wonderful Copenhagen and Space ABC being discovered so many year later, by a new generation of record collectors and DJ’s, going to fleamarkets etc.?

MT: I think it shows what music stands the test of time and what doesn’t. When I heard Space ABC again after you had contacted me, it was a strange sort of recognition, and a rediscovery of some qualities that we werent concious about at the time.

V: Well, in my opinion the sound holds up so much better than that of the 1990s, which today sounds really bland and cardboard-like by comparison.

MT: I completely agree. I’ve also been seeking that 70’s sound again recently, because it’s so much warmer and more pleasant to listen to. I’ve been setting up older equipment, and I’m listening much more to vinyl these days than ever before.

V: Excellent. Well Mike, thanks a lot for your time. It has been very informative and entertaining.

MT: My pleasure! It’s been fun to do. If you need anything else, you know where to reach me.

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Aug
30
2012
3

The Päivi Interview

We are thrilled to present the Overfitting interview of the reigning Queen of Finnish Disco Exotica, Päivi Kautto-Niemi alias Päivi. In this part one of the special we got the text and a couple of video clips. There’ll be more exclusive music later.

Jussi: I was just listening to the biggie Kuuma Heinäkuu / Hot July from 1984. Before we actually go on one quick question about the synths. What kind of machines did your band use back in the day?

Päivi: The Yamaha X7s became available In the middle of the disco heyday and they revolutionized the scene. The machines were used a lot as they could reproduce sounds of an orchestra. One objective was to imitate the strings. The results turned out somewhat plastic and robotic but then again, this was actually the desired effect. If we wanted some brass, a single “instrument” would still come across as rather horrible but when you built a whole section with trumpets and so on it all started to acquire a very interesting sound. Real drums were still employed a lot but electronic equivalents hit the stores around that same time too, like those from Simmons. The drummer in my band got himself one of those in red to serve as the second kit, he was in fact among the first to do get them in the country.

Drum machines became more and more widely used both in the studios and during live gigs. Maintaining the tempo is essential in disco as danceability is all-important. Back in the day 120 was the most common bpm whereas they’re faster now – probably due to the overall more hectic vibe of everything these days. Maybe the current video styles have something to do with it as well.

The drum patterns were basic and effective with bass drum laying down the four-on-the-floor and with hi-hats zipped on the twos and the fours. Add an octave bass and voilá: the disco beat.

Jussi: Okay, going back to the roots now. You not only were there to experience the disco phenomenon during it’s peak era but you also actually contributed to the sound by making records. Do you personally enjoy disco and if you do, what does the word mean to you?

Päivi: Yes I’m part of the original disco generation. I remember well when they brought a copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to the recording company I worked for. I heard it first at a party there and ever since, disco has been my thing. And, I got to contribute to the sound, what could be cooler than that? While I was a student I went dancing in the clubs and I recall seeing my picture all along the streets, dancing with a friend of mine – someone had taken a photo without my knowledge and used it for a poster.

Jussi: You cut your teeth on Sunny, originally Boney M’s version of the Bobby Hebb hit. The breakthrough came with Liljankukka (Lily Flower), a track with a full, Ritchie Family-style orchestral arrangement. What were these sessions like, did you sing over a pre-recorded backtrack? Did they give any instructions how to deliver the tune?

Päivi: I still think Sunny is a fine disco track. I remember one time when it gave me a real frisson. I was at a gym dancing and the first tune we got was Sunny. I was electrified with the first bars of the intro and whispered to my friend with pride that I actually recorded this in Finnish. The feeling overcomes me every time I perform Sunny during my gigs. However it’s the Lily Flower tune that means something even more special and grand to me. I’m happy to have interpreted it and I’ll never tire singing it no matter how often. Everyone thinks the arrangement is excellent even though it was tricky to pull off, especially for the string section. At that session we had the best available violinists, a total of eight of them if I remember right. I was present some of the time when they were laying down the instrumentation but the actual singing was done later over pre-recorded tracks. The arranger guided me thru it but can’t recall what actual dos and donts he gave me for my interpretation. I do remember me trying out the song at home and feeling this one is going to end up something new and special.

Jussi: What was it like hearing your voice blast out thru the speakers in clubs? Did you dance to your records? The forever-outrageous Grace Jones blurted out back in the day that she only danced to her own stuff…

Päivi: Well yes, I was there when they played my music and to be honest I did dance. I do prefer getting down to records made by others though – a certain Finnish sense of modesty perhaps, here?

Jussi: You also recorded Johnny Guitar. Even though that was not done disco like the Sling track it’s got the Spanish guitar vibe, just like your version of the Judy Cheeks classic Mellow Lovin’ called Suoraan Suoneen (A Shock To The System). Do you remember who was it that chose these titles for you?

Päivi: Johnny Guitar is such a special song, it sounds good arranged any which way. Whatever the frame the guitars got to be in there though. I do perform the tune still but usually as a slow song. I remember when I first heard Mellow Lovin’. The company gave me a copy and enough time to get inside the song, well before they made the instrumental backtrack for the Finnish version. I liked the tune a lot and thought that this calls for a true Diva Delivery and that’s the way I deal with it, too. Often I also get into that whole larger-than-life act during my gigs as well, already when introducing the song. I usually add that hey, have had a few years to tweak this thing to perfection, too.

People do their Karaoke versions of Suoraan Suoneen but I have to say that song is a bit of a challenge. Still get lot of requests for it while gigging and I do like the tune. It’s never off the radio for a long time, either.

Often when I heard something I did think whether it would be a tune for me. If I remember right it was Kim Kuusi and Esa Nieminen who picked the titles, and as an artist in the making I did trust their judgement.

Jussi: By 1978 disco had become a musical form in it’s own right. You recorded Vie Paratiisin, a version of Kelly Marie’s Take Me To Paradise that now works way better than the original, with a more exotic feel. A year later you did the legendary Asha Puthli’s Lay A Little Love, as Leikitään Vain (Let’s Play, Alright). However, Pakoon (Running Away) was no longer a cover song. The sublime Sillä Siisti (That’s it) was another wholly homegrown one. Was there ever talk of doing English versions of these?

Päivi: Lay A Little Love is another one I always liked for some reason though I never included it in my repertoire while gigging. Something to do with the arrangements, probably. Pakoon/Running Away was composed by Esa Nieminen and had lyrics by Pertsa Reponen. That’s the one that landed me with a number three spot at some competition but in fact the record was played as much on the radio as the winning entry. Right about that time I recorded the Sillä Siisti/That’s It track that has the intro which filled the floor in a flash. I performed the tune in Soul in South Korea too, and Frank Robson translated the lyrics into English. During that period nobody here did any singing in any foreign language. Luckily I have always belted out tunes in English plus in Swedish and in Italian, too. Would have been perfectly okay to have been able to record using those languages as well.

You mentioned “exotic” – now that’s a good word to describe the stuff we did back in the day. I remember how I so tried with my limited experience to get the pizazz in the lyrics to show in the singing too.

All and all, it’s great to go down the memory lane, back to those days.

Jussi: Come the 80s synths took over the sound. At the same time your voice acquired additional depth to compensate for the lack of live instruments. The 1984 release Kuuma Heinäkuu / Hot July was already bona fide Finlando, our own take on the then happening – and now again much en vogue – Italo sound. It’s all there with the excellent synth riffs and the aural scenes of scorching hot days on the beach. Incidentally, that track was penned by your husband Jussi Niemi.

Päivi: Yes, the backing tracks were increasingly synthesized and the whole sound of disco changed. In a way it was cool but it did seem to lack that something special. I’ve been lucky to have had brilliant players in my band as I always thought it is essential to get the rhythm just right. My husband Jussi is a musican and he has naturally been seeing that the band stays in the groove.

Kuuma Heinäkuu was composed and arranged by him as you mentioned. Even though synths were used during the sessions Jussi did employ Anssi Nykänen and Harri Rantanen, in other words real drums and a bass guitar were also used. As for the arranging process, I remember the endless sounds of violins coming thru the workroom door in our house, started to get to me a bit eventually.

Jussi: What is playing at your house these days, and who do you idolize?

Päivi: I never had a single specific idol but I did sing a lot of Donna Summer to mention one. I love Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, for example. So many fabulous bands and artists but none really all above the others!

Jussi: Thank you Päivi for this interview and – like those Swedes put it Thank You For The Music!

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