Neil Young’s Moonlit Sessions

Oct 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barbara Schultz

REUNION WITH CRAZY HORSE YIELDS TWO POWERFUL ALBUMS

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Neil Young

Working with Neil Young can be a wild card, for sure, but it’s probably one of the most exciting gigs a studio engineer can have. John Hanlon has been producing, recording and mixing Young for about 17 years, and to say it never gets boring would be a gross understatement. It’s a thrill. It’s musical genius live on the floor. It’s awesome power on the fly, by the light of the full moon…

Hanlon’s relationship with Young started in 1983, when he and David Briggs, Young’s longtime producer, were working on Trans remixes. Hanlon joined Briggs again in 1990, engineering and mixing Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s magnificent Ragged Glory, and Young has been calling upon Hanlon’s talents ever since.

“When Neil calls me, it’s always out of the blue,” Hanlon says. “His manager, Elliot Roberts, and Neil will call together and say, ‘We need you yesterday.’ Then I just drop everything to go, because I’m working with a real artistic visionary.”

In August 2011, Hanlon got the call to head up from his home in Malibu to Young’s ranch in Northern California. “They told me we’d be working with Crazy Horse and Mark Humphreys,” Hanlon explains. “Mark is Neil’s monitor engineer onstage; he runs the P.A. in the studio. We record everything live, with no headphones. There’s some overdubbing later, but he always goes for the live performance feel. It’s always about the performance with him.”

Hanlon didn’t know in August that the sessions would result in two albums: a heavy, hard-rocking batch of folk songs called Americana, and Psychedelic Pill, a collection of new originals. Hanlon was simply told that the first order of business would be to install a studio that could serve as a working clubhouse for the musicians and a small crew.

“I was to build a studio in one of the houses on the ranch where David Briggs and Tim Mulligan had done American Stars ’n Bars with Neil back in the ’80s,” Hanlon says. “And he wanted to do it 8-track analog, which meant we’d also snapshot to Pro Tools, but he wanted an 8-track setup, in the building they call the ‘white house.’

“First I went up for some preliminary meetings with my assistant engineer, John Hausmann, to lay out the space and check out the acoustics. I purposely didn’t ask how they had set up the room for American Stars ’n Bars. I wanted to feel the vibe in the room without any preconceived notions of copying what they did. That was the 1980s; sounds and amplifiers, and where people’s heads were, would have affected the sound coming off of the instruments and from their souls at that time, anyway. Everything changes.






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