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|The Band: Interviews: Interview with Mick Jones and Lou Gramm - English||02.26.02|
This interview was conducted by Franck Ernould from the french magazine Home Studio Recording, and it took place in Paris, at the Hotel du Parc Victor Hugo, on Monday, October 3rd, 1994. Foreigner was then on promotion for their brand new album "Mr. Moonlight". This interview was made in English and published in French, and its original version is available in English at http://perso.club-internet.fr/fernould/foreignervo.html and in French at http://perso.club-internet.fr/fernould/foreigner.html.
What, a guitarist and a singer in Home Studio? Mick Jones and Lou Gramm have co-produced together the last album of the band, and they are very eloquent on their recording, their reunion, and their good old days of the Sixties.
Foreigner forms part of those bands that everyone knows and which, without making any commercial concession, sells millions of discs (more than thirty to date!) in the whole world. It is rare to be able to meet its musicians: additional reason not to miss them at the time of their tenure in Paris to promote their last album, "Mr. Moonlight", which will be released on October 26th, 1994.
The band was founded in 1976 in New York by Mick Jones and Lou Gramm, met immediate success in the U.S.A., and their hybrid style between pop FM and hard rock really crossed the borders in 1981 with the release of the album "4" (and the hits "Urgent", "Juke Box Hero" and "Waiting For A Girl Like You"). Its later albums came to confirm the statute of Foreigner: "Agent Provocateur", "Inside Information", "The Very Best And Beyond" and "Classic Hits Live".
France was taken as a test by the guitarist and producer of the band, Mick Jones, who lived eight years in France during the Sixties. He was the guitarist and band leader for Johnny Hallyday and composed to him "Je Suis Né Dans La Rue" ("I Was Born In The Street"), "Voyage Au Pays Des Vivants" ("Travel To The Country Of The Alive"), and "Oh Ma Jolie Sarah" ("Oh My Pretty Sarah").
Since its beginnings, the band was with Atlantic, and had not given any news since
1992. After solo albums by Lou Gramm and productions to Van Halen and
Billy Joel by Mick Jones, the worst was to be feared for Foreigner.
But that ends here in 1994, like the phoenix, the band raises from its ashes. Changes of
personnel (Bruce Turgon on bass, Jeff Jacobs on keyboards, and Mark
Schulman on drums), of record company (now with BMG International), new CD
("Mr. Moonlight") and single ("White Lie"):
Foreigner is back, and intends to let it know. We met Mick Jones and Lou
Gramm in Paris at the beginning of October, during their round of promotion.
(1) Franck Ernould: We hadn't heard from Foreigner for a long time...
Mick Jones: Yes, after 1990, and the "Inside Information" album, we just had to have some space from each other. We had been working very hard, closely and intensely, for the last two years. The whole band was in a strange situation. So we broke up, I kept a band going with other guys, we did one album and another single, and basically Lou and I got back together on the telephone in the middle of 1992.
Lou Gramm: We were asked to put some new songs on a
"Best Of" collection, and we thought it was a good time to test our new
partnership, and see if we still were able to write the way we used to write. We were pretty
pleased with the result, we were very encouraged by the prospect of touring again and doing a
complete studio album, so we formed the group with a new line-up around us.
(2) Franck Ernould: You are the two only original members of the group now: where do the other musicians come from?
Mick Jones: I met Jeff Jacobs (on keyboards) when I worked with Billy Joel, he did all the keyboard stuff out of Billy... Jeff really wanted to be in the band, he had enough of playing as a background musician.
Lou Gramm: I knew Bruce Turgon (on bass) for a number of years, even before I was in Foreigner! He was a friend of mine, and we had already been in bands together. He helped me quite a bit on my solo albums. It was natural to have him as part of this new line-up.
Mick Jones: We discovered Mark Schulman (on drums) when
we were doing the three new tracks on the "Best Of" album: he played on those
tracks, we had a good relationship with him, and he joined us later on the new recording.
(3) Franck Ernould: Did you tour before recording the new album, or did you record it and then tour?
Mick Jones: In fact, we rehearsed, we toured, we recorded, and
toured... We started the album at the end of '93, we were just writing then. During that time, we
had put together the new group. The recording of the new album began in Miami, Florida, at
Criteria Studios, where we spent two months: we did most of the tracks there. Then we
moved to Nashville, for three weeks: that was mainly for vocals. Then we moved up to Woodstock,
to Baseville Studios, and we completed the album there. We did a little mixing in New
York City too. So the whole process took four months, in different places.
(4) Franck Ernould: Do you always proceed like this?
Mick Jones: No, we used to book the same studio for months
before... In that particular case, it was very cold in New York when we were writing and
rehearsing, and it was nice to get into a better climate.
(5) Franck Ernould: Have you personal, home studios?
Mick Jones: We both have little studios in our apartments, I have a small building in my hometown, where I can go, hide out and no one can find me, I have a little equipment there, basically simple stuff.
(6) Franck Ernould: Do you work with computers, Cubase or thing like that?
Mick Jones: The young guys in the band know how those machines work: we are the only two who don't! We are the only two retired's, you know... I use the drum machine, stuff like that, but I don't really plan out patterns and things, I don't construct songs like that. I think it's important to get that construction by physical playing.
We do use those computers at certain stages, Jeff the keyboards player has always his
sequencers, but we don't base our songs on them. That's usually something we add on if anything.
We usually play to clicks in studio, but sometimes we don't, we just say "Maybe
it's a better feel without the click". Then we may have problems if we want to put something
sequenced in top of that, but the tendancy in this band is letting the music take its own
direction, more than letting the effects control the music.
(7) Franck Ernould: When you record the definitive tracks, do you play all together?
Mick Jones: Yes, and we're trying to keep as much as we can if it's good. And then, if there's room for improvement, we just drop in and make things a little better. I usually end up doing some guitars again, but sometimes I leave the original guitar, it depends on the song, really. We try to keep certain vocal performances, too: we actually kept some on the new album.
Lou Gramm: We made an effort this time in the writing process to
get as much lyrics done as possible, so there would be something meaningful to sing while the
other ones were playing, and there was a fair amount of it that sounded good: it helps to have a
mental picture of what I am singing, everyone feels in the mood.
(8) Franck Ernould: Going from a studio to another, did you keep the same sound engineer?
Mick Jones: Yes, we worked mainly with Mike Stone, and
he helps a little bit in the production process, he came in with us everywhere. It was the first
time we worked with him, he was from a school of engineers that we know very well, he worked on
the first album we made, back in 1977. He did all the Queen stuff... He's a very
competent engineer, he's very good.
(9) Franck Ernould: Are you the only producer of the group?
Mick Jones: No, we worked together on that album. When it comes to the end, to the mixing, basically everything was recorded pretty purely, and the sounds were good, so we didn't have really to do that much to change the things we recorded properly. Really, it's the sound of the band, we didn't have to spend a lot of time in production.
The sound of the album is very precise, we can hear every word Lou sings: even the electric guitars have that acoustic dimension, the sound seems very natural...
(10) Franck Ernould: We have the impression the songs were recorded with two mikes in the room!
Mick Jones: That's exactly how we did!
(11) Franck Ernould: Seriously, did you record on digital or on analog?
Mick Jones: We went analog, without noise reduction, on hi-level Ampex tapes, on a Studer A 820. We ended up with two of them synchronised for the mixing, 48 tracks. We record everything on analog. I've worked with digital, but there's still something about tape... Analog's still warmer, I like analog tape, it just seems to suit us better I think. Maybe it's just old fashioned as well... What do you think?
Lou Gramm: I think there's really a difference. Regardless what
technology is, I like analog too. I like the tape compression, when you push it, it gives some
warmth, it gives something you never can achieve on digital. Some people say you can, but I don't
think so. If you were to play/record on both machines and play back to me, I don't even know
whether I would hear the difference, but I probably would I think. I think I could tell.
(12) Franck Ernould: The album is due to issue on October 26th: will you make a big world tour?
Mick Jones: For the moment, we've just finished the tour in
America, which was a three-month tour. We had a little time off, because we had been working
constantly all through the year, with the album, then on tour... We're working now for the
promotion of this album, we're gonna be travelling around the world for ten weeks, we've a lot of
countries to go to. We've had a lot of success in many countries in the world, and really to
announce that we're back together, we want to go to all these countries. There's a lot of work
ahead for that part. And then we start to tour in February, in Australia, and we'll do Europe
after that, then America. So you can expect hopefully we will be playing here in March or April
(13) Franck Ernould: You toured this summer in America with the Doobie Brothers: how did that idea come?
Mick Jones: There were a lot of big tours going out this summer,
which were all very expensive: Pink Floyd, Eagles, Rolling Stones...
even Billy Joel and Elton John together! Those shows costed hundreds of money,
you know. We knew that was gonna be happening a bit, so we thought it would be a good idea, as
we were coming back as well (we hadn't been touring for a long time), that it would be much
better value for the people to get a real good three-hour show of very recognizable music. In
1977, when we had started touring America, it was our first tour, we were opening up for the
Doobie Brothers: so it's like an old reunion, in a way. It was nice, we were very
close, and there was a great feeling on the tour, and we may be even gonna do that tour in
Europe as well, we'll bring the Doobie Brothers with us...
(14) Franck Ernould: Two concerts for the price of one!
Mick Jones: Yes, and I think a lot of people in America had a
great time and really enjoyed these shows in summer. We played outdoor theaters, maybe twelve to
twenty thousand people every night... At the end of the summer, we had played in front of seven
hundred thousand people!
(15) Franck Ernould: Was the line-up the same as for the recording of the album?
Mick Jones: Yes, we had one other musician with us: Scott
Gilman, a saxophone player, who was actually on the album as well, and did also some backing
vocals and played here and there. So there are really six persons on stage, which basically has
been our normal line-up on tour since the early eighties...
(16) Franck Ernould: Do you play keyboards on the albums? And Lou, do you play some instruments as well?
Lou Gramm: I play some percussion...
(17) Franck Ernould: On the CD single, we can listen to two different mixes of the same song, "White Lie": whose idea was it?
Mick Jones: That was our idea. The first mix was done by Mike Stone, we were with him in the studio: that was during the mix sessions of the whole album. The other mix was done by the Nicholas Brothers, we sent them the tapes because we felt we could perhaps get a little more zip, a little more motion in that song. So we gave that song and "Rain" to the Nicholas Brothers, a couple of lunatics, you know, they live in Philadelphia, and do a lot of remixing for the people. We talked a lot, they did some mixes for us. We couldn't be there with them to do it because we were actually on tour at that point. So we had to do it by telephone, they would send us the mix and we would say "No, this is wrong, go back...". We kind of were there, from the distance, on the telephone. Finally, we got some really satisfying results, they're very good at what they do, we're looking for to maybe even working with them in the future.
Lou Gramm: They were fans of the band and thought it was really
challenging to be put into this situation of mixing a track they knew nothing from, how it had
been made... they enjoyed it a lot!
(18) Franck Ernould: How did you choose to become a producer? Did you learn from Keith Olsen for example, who produced the second Foreigner album, or was it a natural evolution after all those years as a musician?
Mick Jones: I think I had had a lot of experience to that point,
when I came into this, into Foreigner. I had learnt a lot from working gradually on the
first album with the engineer, Garry Lines. I think when I was in the Spooky
Tooth band, before Foreigner, I was in London at the times, I worked with Eddie
Kramer, Glyn Jones who were the first engineers that I learnt from, and Jimmy
Page and people like that, and that's where my experience started. Then, with all the
Foreigner albums there has been a co-production thing basically. I think probably the
one that stands out as an experience from another producer is the "4" album
with "Mutt" Lange. I think we both learnt a lot from that
(19) Franck Ernould: You mentioned Spooky Tooth: was it before you went to France, or after?
(20) Franck Ernould: You are a kind of celebrity in France because every Johnny Hallyday fan knows you played with him during the Sixties. Did you compose for him, did you produce?
Mick Jones: J'étais guitariste et chef d'orchestre! C'était mon titre. I played with Dick Rivers too, I made sessions, I worked with Françoise Hardy a little bit, ou avec Sylvie... Johnny kind of stole me away from Sylvie! That's the kind of relationship they had at the time. That was a very good experience in those years for me, because Johnny would like to record in London, which gave me a lot of experience in recording. But I recorded in Paris too, with Françoise for example.
Notes: As indicated at the top of this document, this interview
was made in English and published in French. The first sentence in the last paragraph is written
in French because Mick said it in French during the interview, and its translation is:
"I was guitarist and band leader! That was my role". As additional
information, Johnny Halliday is a kind of Elvis in France, a living icon of
Rock 'N' Roll with French language, and Sylvie (Vartan) was his wife during
the Sixties and Seventies.
(21) Franck Ernould: In recording studios, recording process was quite simple at the times, and all sounded very acoustic, as there were no DSP's or multitracks. Does your way of working come from those times?
Mick Jones: Yes, engineers at that time knew precisely which
microphone they would use and how they would place it: they knew perfectly how to mike a drum kit
and make it sound great using the room. Most of today's engineers have completely lost that
aspect of picking up acoustic sounds, they just plug machines into others. There are not very
many people who really know how to use mikes in a correct way. That was one of the strong points
with Mike Stone on this album, he knows how to position mikes. I prefer that approach:
using big rooms is for me the art of recording, that's where I learn. Not small little things
with huge digital reverbs added during the mix.
(22) Franck Ernould: Do you set your guitar amps at very high levels to get the effect of acoustic compression in the studio?
(23) Franck Ernould: And you, Lou, where were you during the Sixties?
Lou Gramm: I was in the United States, I never came in England or
in France. Actually, I was losing my virginity and learning how to drive... I was a drummer, and
I did a little singing too. It's only in the seventies that I put the sticks down and I moved to
(24) Franck Ernould: How did you meet together?
Mick Jones: I was touring with a band called Spooky
Tooth, and the person who worked for the record company at the time was Lou's
manager. Lou and some of the band came to the show, so we met two or three times, I got
hold of an album of Lou, just when I started to write the songs for the first
Foreigner album. I didn't know what I was gonna do with the songs, and I had the idea of
putting a band together. Then I was writing a song called "Feels Like The First
Time", and I auditioned fourty or fifty singers, and nobody was quite right. Then I put this
record of Lou, and I heard the timbre of his voice, and I thought "He's
the one". I called him, and Foreigner began.
(25) Franck Ernould: Did you record some solo albums?
Lou Gramm: I recorded a couple of them.
Mick Jones: There is one "Mick Jones" solo
album, but it's hard to get one... I recorded it in 1990, after "Inside
Information". It was for Atlantic, but it's a collector's album! I enjoyed making
it, and there's some interesting stuff on it.
(26) Franck Ernould: Will you record another one when you have some time left?
(27) Franck Ernould: I think you worked with the famous producer Trevor Horn once...
Mick Jones: Yes, but he worked with us only for a short time. The
problem was he had been working with Yes for a long time, almost a year in the studio
for the album "90125", he was kind of really tired, and he had problems with
members of the band. We began the recording in New York, then he decided to move to England, we
went back to New york and decided to change the producer! In fact, he didn't produce anything...
He worked on some songs, but we changed halfway and worked with Alex Sadkin. We didn't
even mention him on the record sleeve.
(28) Franck Ernould: How did Billy Joel decide to hire you as a producer for his last album?
Mick Jones: Billy just called me up one day. We had
lunch, and that was it. We get it off immediately, and we remained good friends, which is unusual
sometimes when you produce somebody! Eventually, Billy told me he'd like to work with me
again, but at that moment the focus is basically for both of us we made really a commitment to
each other, to everything we have in common. Once we reach the point fullfilled that way,
there'll be something else for change.
(29) Franck Ernould: You will go to Top Bab, which is a French successful TV musical show about the 60's and 70's: what do you think of that worldwide movement of musical nostalgia for those years you once lived in? Were things so different compared to what they are now?
Mick Jones: It was all brand new at the time, it was the
beginning of rock... I think things go in cycles in life, quite a little. People start to have
the same feeling about the 60's and the 70's... Probably they will feel the same about the 80's
in a few years, that nostalgia will translate itself.
|The Band: Interviews: Interview with Mick Jones and Lou Gramm - English||02.26.02|
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