Saturday, August 3, 2013

Production Legend Bob Ezrin On 11 Career-Defining Records

In his remarkable 40-plus-year career, one which has resulted in touchstone hits for upstarts and superstars, shock rockers and progressive pioneers, producer Bob Ezrin has invariably taught more than a few artists a lesson or two. Asked to recall the biggest kernel of wisdom he's ever gleaned from his years in the studio, the record maker sums it up by insisting that the art of music is all that matters.

"When your motivation is to simply be successful and sell records, you’re going to fail," Ezrin says. "But if you’re interested in doing something excellent and producing work that matters, you’re going to succeed. The best artists I’ve worked with have always obsessed over their work; they’ve paid very little attention to the market that it goes into. They know that the art is all that counts."

Barely out of his teens, Ezrin absorbed the ins and outs of record making from Jack Richardson, the late Canadian music giant who helmed a string of hits for The Guess Who and started the Toronto-based Nimbus 9 Productions. While Richardson's protege, he received a full year of training that involved everything from how to wrap a mic cable to writing string charts. "Jack taught me everything there was to know about recording," Ezrin says. "He kicked my butt before he turned me loose on the world with Alice Cooper. But at that point, I was a pretty knowledgeable, confident guy. I'd gone through my apprenticeship."

Along with Richardson's son Garth, himself a noted record producer whose credits include Rage Against The Machine and Biffy Clyro, among others, Ezrin started the Nimbus School Of Recording Arts in Vancouver in 2009. The motivation for establishing a teaching institution was not altogether altruistic, as Ezrin explains: "Garth and I were talking about the number of people we had to fire, which was pretty incredible. We kept finding that so many young people were lacking in some areas and had an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. We need good people to work with, and we figured, if can’t find them, we should develop them ourselves."

Already, Nimbus is turning out success stories (a number of graduates now work at Richardson's Vancouver facility, The Farm), but its young alumni will have a ways to go to match the achievements of its co-founder. On the following pages, Ezrin takes a look back at his times behind the studio glass and shares stories behind the making of some of rock's greatest masterpieces.

KISS, "Destroyer"
“I didn’t know who KISS were, but there was this little kid in Toronto who used to phone me – this was back when my number was listed – and he would tell me what was hot, what was not, what I should be listening to, what I should be producing. He was like my own personal fanboy. He called to tell me about KISS. ‘They’re amazing, but their records suck. You should produce them.’

“Their records didn’t suck, but I understood what he was saying – they could have been more sophisticated. It was pretty prescient of him to say, and he was dead right – we should be working together.

“When the song Beth was first played for me, it was bouncier, with almost a country or rockabilly vibe to it. It was also a little chauvinistic, like they were saying, ‘Me and the boys, we got something going on. You can sit there and wait.’ It was also called ‘Beck.’

“I asked them if it was OK for me to take it home to mess around a little bit, and Peter [Criss] said it was fine with him. I came up with the piano thing, which started to define it as more romantic and sensitive, so I changed the lyrics. First, I called it ‘Beth,’ and then I added stuff about ‘our house is not our home,’ along with a sense of sadness and loss about the death of the relationship. But that line ‘I hope you’ll be all right’ – that was important.

“I played it for everybody, and they thought it sounded good and that we should try it. I don’t think they realized how important it would be for them until they heard it being recorded during the orchestra date. I played piano on it – they’d heard my piano part before. But the orchestra really made them think, ‘Wow, this is going to be important.’

“And it was. When I had first gone to see the band in Saginaw, Michigan, they were playing to 15- and 16-year-old boys. It was amazing – hardly a girl in the place. I thought, ‘Here’s a great opportunity.’ Their whole show was so dick-swinging macho that I couldn’t see girls getting into it. I told them that I wanted them to be the bad boys, but they should be the bad boys that every girl wants to save. There had to be a little bit of vulnerability.

“The whole idea of the album was to show some sensitivity; it wasn’t going to all be cock and balls. One of the first songs to come up was Do You Love Me? For me, that was the best symbol of what I was hoping to do with the record. As it turned out, that one never became a hit single, but it did inform the project.”

Read the entire list HERE: