KISS - Engineer Rob Freeman Discusses Early 1981 Pre-Elder Sessions

November 9, 2012, 2 years ago

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In conjunction with KissFAQ’s month-long NovElder retrospective, award-winning producer/engineer Rob Freeman discussed KISS' pre-Elder sessions at Ace In The Hole Studio in early 1981, his recollections of the recording of the underground KISS classic 'Nowhere To Run', meeting Bob Ezrin, and how KISS' 1981 project ultimately moved on to Canada. Freeman also shared his thoughts on the 'Music From The Elder' album. The following are excerpts from Freeman's interview with KissFAQ's Tim McPhate: How he came to work with KISS in 1981: Q: How is it that you got to work on the project with KISS? A "The first project I worked on for KISS was Ace’s solo album for Casablanca Records, Ace Frehley, which I recorded and mixed with producer Eddie Kramer in 1978. The album achieved a good degree of commercial success, with multi-platinum sales and a hit single, 'New York Groove'. It also garnered critical acclaim. But I believe it was the distinctive sonic character of the album that drew the attention of Ace’s band mates and others in the KISS organization to my work (I’m in no way meaning to understate Eddie’s unique contributions). Over the ensuing couple of years, I worked on a variety of smaller projects for the KISS organization such as radio spots and demos. Also during that time, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to design and install a 4-track home studio and a state-of-the-art home theater system in Paul Stanley’s uptown NYC condo. Then in December 1980, someone from the KISS office rang me up and asked if I would work with the band on a new recording project. I heard it might be for a new album, and naturally I was thrilled at the prospect of working with KISS again. In early January 1981, I began recording tracks with KISS at Ace in the Hole, Ace’s home studio in Wilton, Connecticut. There was no producer-for-hire present, just the band and me, as recording engineer. These were the first recording sessions to feature Eric Carr’s extraordinary drumming." On 'Nowhere To Run': Q: Can you pick your favorite song, or the one that stands out the most to you, from the sessions you did with Kiss in 1981, and why? A: "That’s easy. I particularly enjoyed working on 'Nowhere to Run', not just because I thought it was a great song, but also because the enormous dynamic range of the arrangement—from loud to louder to quiet to even louder—posed a real challenge to record and mix. The song’s dynamics served up its greatest payoff. 'Love’s a Deadly Weapon' and 'Feel Like Heaven', though quite different from each other, were both fairly constant dynamically speaking; once a good balance of tracks was established in a mix, levels for those songs stayed pretty much the same throughout. Not so with 'Nowhere To Run'. The intro hit like a ton of bricks. From there the song built to a huge peak before dropping down to a delicate bridge section comprised only of a beautiful falsetto vocal and a sparkly acoustic guitar, both tenderly delivered by Paul. Out of that section, the track swelled again and slammed into the end choruses (with yet another ton of bricks) and then continued growing bigger and louder even as the fadeout consumed it. I came up with a hooky background vocal answer idea for the 'Nowhere To Run' choruses and was really pleased when the guys liked it enough to commit it to tape. I suppose that’s another reason why I’m somewhat partial to that song." An encounter with Bob Ezrin: Q: Had you ever met Bob Ezrin prior to this experience? A: "I had never met Bob Ezrin prior to his appearance at Ace’s studio in late February 1981. But the level of his success and the quality of his work preceded him, as did his reputation for being highly demanding in the studio. I recall looking forward to meeting him, but with some degree of trepidation. This feeling justified itself at one point when Mr. Ezrin was walking out the studio door and into the parking lot. I was inside the control room with some thirty feet and lots of acoustic baffling between us. I heard him snap something to me about packing up the 2” master tapes and sending them to an address in Canada that he rattled off just as he stepped through the door and his voice faded into the outdoor ambiance. I bolted after him and quite innocently asked if he would repeat the address so I could write it down. He just muttered something to the effect of, “If you didn’t get all that, you shouldn’t be working with me,” got in his car, and drove off. That was the last time I saw Mr. Ezrin." His opinion on Music From The Elder: "I liked much of Music from The Elder. I thought it was a gutsy attempt at something intriguing that delivered enough outstanding moments to far outweigh any not-so-memorable ones. Granted, it didn’t ooze typical KISS sound but rather was subtly infused with it like a nice flavored vodka. It possessed an understated elegance and passion that lurked just beneath the surface of it all. Apologies if I waxed poetic. If I were to conjure any criticism of the album, it would be that it was too tightly controlled, manipulated even, with few opportunities for spontaneous moments of “studio magic” to occur. At times it seemed like the album’s concept steamrolled right over the band—which should never happen with a band as strong as KISS—leaving them pacing through their performances, unable to break free. It can surely be said Paul’s vocals, although impeccably executed, lacked some of the unbridled fire we all know he is so capable of." Read the full interview at this location. KissFAQ also recently published a comprehensive feature containing various quotes from the band regarding Music From The Elder over the years. Just how did The Elder evolve from a project that was originally slated to be a "life's work" in 1981 to something of a "nightmare" in 2012? Check out the They Said What? The Elder Quote Book feature here.

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