BraveWords Talks To KISS, ALICE COOPER, PINK FLOYD Producer Bob Ezrin - "I Think The Mission Was Clearly To Put The Deep Back In DEEP PURPLE”

August 16, 2013, 6 years ago

By Martin Popoff

pink floyd alice cooper feature kiss

Folks are pretty well over the moon about the new DEEP PURPLE album, NOW What?!, so much so that there’s been a desire to talk to legendary producer Bob Ezrin (PINK FLOYD, ALICE COOPER, KISS and many others!) about it. Seriously, we’ve all been big Bob fans here at the BraveWords compound, and when word came down he’d be working with Purple for the first time, it seemed both incongruous and intriguing.

“I think the mission was clearly to put the deep back in Deep Purple,” laughs Bob, asked to articulate his personal mission as it pertain to this late career feather in the cap. “I didn’t come into this thinking that I had a mission. I came into this a little bit reluctantly, thinking that they were looking to me to make a contemporary rock album with Deep Purple, which I didn’t feel was appropriate, or could be done in an honest way. But when I met with the guys, after seeing their live show, and seeing especially the big jam that they do in the middle of the show, which was just masterful, virtuosic... after seeing that, and meeting with the guys, I realized that there was that original essence of Deep Purple that people hadn’t heard on record in a long time, and that if they wanted to do that sort of thing, I was really into doing it with them. And I think it was Roger who actually used the phrase, ‘put the deep back in Deep Purple,’ which was music to my ears, if you’ll forgive the pun. So once we figured that that would be the mission, then I was interested. I was interested in doing an album that didn’t have to tick all those boxes that modern records have to tick, that didn’t have to have the big single, that didn’t have songs that were four minutes or four minutes and 20 seconds and no longer. That didn’t have to restrict the length of solos, that didn’t have to watch what it talked about, and try to conform to current trends and fashion. So you know, they said they didn’t want to do that either, and so there we were, on the same page, and ready to rock.”

Frankly, we at the office were surprised there wasn’t a clash of personalities. Deep Purple are pretty strong-willed about what they want. Bob Ezrin is pretty strong-willed about what he wants.

“Well, from my point of view, there was no clash at all,” says Bob (did I mention that he produced Two Steps From The Move?!). “From my point of view, we were on the same page from that first meeting forward. And obviously, they’re used to a certain way of doing things. Roger has been the producer of the band, and producer of some of my favourite records, actually, so I have a huge amount of respect for him. But you know, a dentist can’t pull his own teeth, I don’t think. And so I think it’s a good thing to have somebody come in and work with you, especially if you’re a band like we’re talking about here, multiple personalities and tastes and styles, all coming together. It’s always good to have an objective arbiter coming in. So I just walked in and started to play that role. And he seemed to be immediately comfortable in having someone do that, and I would say from our… actually, I never felt uncomfortable. I would say that from our first encounter, we were playing our roles and having a really good time doing it.”

Roger assuaged and sufficiently and deftly deferred to by the Canadian, we can forget about him, ‘cos more importantly, NOW What?! is DON AIREY’s record—what the hell?!

“Well, I can’t take credit for getting so much out of him,” demurs Ezrin. “The main thing, if anything, you have to try and stop him. He is just… this guy is a fount of musical brilliance. I think from the time he wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to bed, there is just genius music pouring out of him. You know, he was so impressive. But this wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to give Don the spotlight. I didn’t come into this with the intention of spotlighting anybody. But the band got together and were writing and were playing… I just picked the stuff that I liked, and there was so much of it. We did consciously determine that stretching instrumentally, the way they do it live, was something we would shoot for on this record. Like we haven’t heard that kind of stuff on record for a very long time. Certainly not from a quote unquote mainstream rock band.”

Forget Don—he’s just the genius keyboardist. Where NOW What?! really excels is in the literary department. Like so much of Purple recently past—all of the Morse era certainly—there’s a wistful wealth of substance all over the album, a bear-hugged taking advantage of the earned wrinkles of advanced years... sort of like vodka shots with Russians.

“Yes I did,” sez Ezrin, asked whether he performed his famous meddling role in the words, one which has earned him sixth member status in the writing credits for every damn song on the record. “I always get involved in the lyric writing. I think Ian Gillan is a particularly special human being, and I did... let’s see if I can do this in an economical way: all right, so, I think Ian Gillan is a fascinating human being with an amazingly rich life, and a huge amount of experience to draw on. So having him write from his own point of view, for the record, to me, was a no-brainer. I didn’t want to change anything. I didn’t want to force him into a more quote unquote contemporary or commercial point of view. I love his storytelling; I love his point of view. All I did was push him to work as hard as he could to make it as good as it absolutely could be.”

“Sometimes, for the lyricist, it’s very difficult,” continues Bob, very likely unaware of the amusingly strangulated wordplay Ian scatters like fool’s gold all over Future Shock and Double Trouble. “They write something, they turn their guts inside out, they write something down on a piece of paper, and then they sing it. And sometimes it sings really well, and sometimes it just doesn’t sing quite as well as they would like. So it’s important to have somebody like me that can help them to work a little harder in certain areas, and maybe give them a little bit of direction to help them clear up some of the problems. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with some of the greatest lyricists of all time (like MICHAEL MONROE!). I missed a few, but not many (laughs). And I always consider it an honour and a privilege to work with people who are just this brilliant, and I take that very seriously. It’s kind of like, I think of it as almost an... what’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t want to sound too pretentious, but it’s almost like a bit of a sacred responsibility. You have to honour the intention of the writer while you’re also trying to help the writer to do even better than they think they can.”

Forget the lyrics—nobody pays attention to any of that anyways (and certainly no one reads anymore). NOW What?! is most notably a production tour de force, an album of warm and visceral tones, Bob and Don even upholding the rolling truck rhythm organ guitar tradition of the departed Jon Lord. Indeed there’s that famous Purple meld between all players, and it turns out the magic of achieving that is in the playing.

“I think it was fairly obvious,” reflects Bob. “I think the idea was to try and capture the vibe and energy I saw them exhibit on that stage. So I created an environment for that where they were effectively playing live. And they could all see each other, they could all hear each other. We recorded everybody together at the same time. Obviously we went back and fixed a few things here and there, and we went back later on to do our final vocals. But Ian was singing along with them the whole time that we were recording. The approach was to not be too clinical during the recording, but to save that for the editing phase. And in the recording, really concentrate on getting great performances. And of course, by the time we got into the studio, I think everybody had each other’s trust, and it was okay for me to come out on the horn and say, ‘Let’s start playing this,’ and the band would do it instantly. They are so good. And so smart.”
“Made In Japan—that was a watershed album,” says Bob, asked about a past magic map to get to that place, and then coming up with the name of YNGWIE MALMSTEEN’s favourite album of all time. “I think maybe that was, for me, the best analog to what it was I was trying to achieve on this record because it’s a really great live-ish performance. And I will say, you know, many of the tracks you’re listening to on this album were just that. They were live performances, and we may have added a track or two of overdubs to it, but these guys can play that. They can play it every day of the week. Which is really remarkable. So you know, I think it was great to see them stretch as far as they wanted to go. And I think they really enjoyed the experience.”

Bells, whistles?

“Well, I really liked doing the sound effects on ‘Vincent Price’—that was pretty fun, especially since it’s a little bit of a full circle for me, because I worked with Vincent Price with ALICE COOPER. And I actually am the... I’m the guy who walked up to Vincent Price and said, ‘Mr. Price, how would you like to make your rock ‘n’ roll debut?’ (laughs). So for me, that was really great to be able to do that. But the most exciting moment, maybe, on the recording side, might have been when we cut ‘Uncommon Man’; that intro on ‘Uncommon Man’, that’s a gem, live off the floor, and it was the first one! That was it, and that convinced me. I thought, okay (laughs), we’ve got it. It was amazing, and how it transitioned... the minute that we heard the transition, from that intro into the song, it was so uplifting.”

Forget all this production stuff, ‘cos NOW What?! is really a guitar-centric album by a guitar-charging band, right? I mean, apparently Ritchie Blackmore was once in this band and word has it he played ELECTRIC guitar in it.

“That’s a really interesting question,” reflects Ezrin, asked about STEVE MORSE, replacement for JOE SATRIANI in Deep Purple, but a rock historian who has definitely heard of this Blackmore character. “You know, he is a virtuoso, and a supreme practitioner, technician. I don’t know what the non-artistic terms are for somebody who can do anything. But then on top of that, he really... his soloing is kind of southern—he’s a southern rock guy. I think that’s really where his soul lives. And when you look at southern rock, some of the stuff we all point at as classic—even though there’s a lot of kind of high energy to it, and a certain strut, and a particular groove to it all—there’s also very once in a while a very lyrical side to it. When you look at songs like ‘Freebird’ (or ‘Free Bird’—it’s both), that could never have come from anywhere but the south. And you know, I think the whole southern rock thing had a huge influence on Steve. And so his playing style reflects a lot of that, but amped up to a much higher level than just about anybody else who can play.”

Deep point, and deeper than I was thinking (and a bit tenuous, contentious, really) but I was hoping to hear about how when soloing, Steve strafes like a machine gun—isn’t that his most specific trademark?

“Yeah, the other thing about Steve, is that he has a huge amount of nervous energy, as do most geniuses,” ventures Bob, not quite supporting the idea, or again, probably finding a deeper resonance to it. “I’d say, if we checked Steve’s IQ, he would probably come out at the other side of the scale altogether. He’s firing on more neurons at once than whole townships. So he’s... you know, he does tend to perform a lot of tasks in a short period of time. And that does come into his musical life. So I did have to pull him back a little bit on certain songs, tried to get him to just concentrate on the melodic. And I think he said in some of his interviews, that I’m used to working with more melodic guitar players and all that stuff. Yes that’s true, but I think Steve is actually more melodic than he realizes. And then if you can just get him to take a deep breath, and hold back a little bit, he comes up with the most magnificent and uplifting melodies, beautiful melodies.”

Well, friggin’... congratulations then. Somehow you got these guys to make a prog album.

“Well, you know what? I said, in our first meeting, we agreed that we would be unashamedly prog (laughs). You know, why fight it? That’s who we are. Right? That’s who this band is. And they come from that era, and they can play that, and they can play that whole sort of... they’re an old prog blues band. They could play that stuff better than anybody alive, so why shouldn’t we?”

(Bob Ezrin photos credit: Nimbus)

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