Steve Martin and Edie Brickell: Roots Music’s Odd Couple

May 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson


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Love Has Come for You album cover


On the origins of the project.

Asher: “I was having dinner with Steve and his wife at his apartment in New York, and he played me some of the banjo pieces he’d been writing. A few were ones I’d heard before, but he explained to me that he was also going back and forth with Edie and she’d come up with some ideas to turn them into full-fledged songs. He played me a couple and I loved them. I left to go back to L.A., and by the time I landed I had an email from Steve, who is famous for his relatively terse emails, which said: ‘Do you want to produce the record?’ I said ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ That was the verbatim exchange.

“The idea was not to make it a bluegrass record, though there are a lot of bluegrass instruments on there, and I wanted to use the Steep Canyon Rangers, who are fantastic, on some tracks. But I also said, ‘I’d put a piano here,’ and I had the idea of using Esperanza Spalding because I had worked with her recently and was in love with her playing. I wondered, ‘What would a great jazz bass player do with this? What would someone used to playing a harmonically adventurous part come up with?’ I also had ideas for electric guitars and even some of the electronic percussion stuff that’s hidden away in there somewhere.

“I had never met Edie before, even though I know her husband [Paul Simon]. She is so amazing. She is clearly a singer of the super high quality that I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot, whether it’s Linda [Ronstadt] or Bonnie [Raitt] or Natalie Merchant, or Diana Ross or Cher, for that matter. I’ve always loved singers where you know exactly who it is the minute they open their mouth. It was a pleasure hearing every take come out of the loudspeaker; it was that good. And more than just being a great singer, she came up with these incredible ideas for melodies and words that fit over Steve’s not-obviously-easy banjo ideas. She writes sort of conversationally, but also artistically and elegantly; it doesn’t feel like it’s been slaved over.

“I was already really familiar with Steve’s banjo playing and have played with him a lot—many a musical evening would end up with him playing banjo and me playing guitar. I remember Steve and [fellow comedian] Billy Connolly both on banjos and a couple of us acoustic guitar players trying to keep up with them.”

On the banjo-voice sessions at Filipetti’s studio.

Filipetti: Steve was amazing. I’ve worked with a lot of artists over the year and he is as dedicated as anyone I’ve ever seen. He would walk in every morning, unpack his banjo and say, ‘Let’s go!’ We’d have lunch and we’d talk, we’d have our dinner and talk, but basically he was so into the music, it was incredible to watch. He was totally focused and professional, with concentration you would not believe.

“It was an absolute joy having them here. They’re just lovely, lovely people. Steve has an amazing dry sense of humor and Edie was the sweetest person in the world to work with. And that voice, once it came over the monitors, was so incredible. I was really blown away by her. One day Edie brought in some fried chicken, another day she brought in cookies. I think everyone felt really at home here. We all had a ball.

Filipetti on his choice of the Avid Icon D-Command console.

“My first digital console was a Neve Capricorn, which was just a beautiful console and way, way ahead of its time. It did have some stability issues, no question about it, but sonically, operationally and ergonomically it was phenomenal. What I liked about the [Euphonix] System 5 when I purchased that later was that it had a similar mode of thinking and operation [to the Capricorn], and what I like about the D-Command is it also has that similar mode of operation—the ability to spill faders and do everything from the center position without having to move. That’s especially important in an environment like this—the home studio. It just simplified my life greatly. I can spill out individual groups—like 12 or 16 tracks or drums, or the guitars or the keyboard group—and feel like I’m never running out of space. I can do my entire mix with just 24 faders in front of me.”

On plugs-ins vs. outboard.

Filipetti: “My philosophy is once you go digital you never go back. The conversion is the weak link—not that it’s that weak anymore, the converters are fantastic. But whenever you take one kind of energy and turn it into something else, no matter what the transducer is, that’s the hardest part: acoustic to electric, analog to digital. So once I am digital I never go back.

“For mixing I use plug-ins, but if I want an LA-2A on it, then I’ll put it on at the front end, before it goes to the A-to-D. I’ll put on the Neve or Chandler or the Tube Tech mic pre or whatever. But once I’m in Pro Tools I never leave the box again. When I’m mixing, I use a lot of the UAD plug-ins inside the box, and that’s worked great for me. And sometimes those LA-2As and 1176s in the box sound better to me than the [hardware] units I have here. I know some people are going to disagree with that, but I find the whole issue of tools to be silly—you have to do it this way or that way. I have my way of doing things. I can’t get into this thing where you have to get this analog sound, or you can’t go in the box or you have to go in the box. It drives me crazy. It’s not the gear, it’s the people doing the gear. I was working on the best equipment in the world for 15 years as an engineer and I got my first Grammy working on an OTR in somebody’s house. [Laughs.]

On the overdub sessions at the Village Recorder.

Kunkel: “I’ve installed a lot of my equipment in the Icon room at the Village because I work there so much. I’ve got my GMLs, I’ve got my Lynx Aurora converters, my TC Electronics System 6000 and my JBL LSR6300 [monitor] setup, as well as my ATC speakers—I go back and forth between the two.

“Just about everything that wasn’t the banjo and the vocal were thought up by Peter, and we spent our time doing overdubs around the banjo and voice tracks they had already cut. It was a great way to do it because you had a vibe for what the song was going to be and you knew how it was going to work and how everything was going to fit together. There was already a real texture to the track.

“We did a legitimate track date where we had bass and drums and piano, so the songs that would benefit from having a rhythm section play behind them would have that. And then there were other songs that were such sparse arrangements to begin with that we could just do one or two players at a time. Peter played a lot of things as well.”

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