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Interview with Easy Star All Star Producer Michael Goldwasser

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Posted by shore On September - 28 - 2009

michaelgoldwasser @AndyShore I had the opportunity to chat with Easy Star All Star’s producer and sometimes guitar player, Michael Goldwasser, shortly after missing two sets of theirs at Summer Camp. It was quite interesting to pick the brain of a man that has successfully reworked some of the most renown music known to man. Goldwasser, being the producer, offered a view through the looking glass of what goes through his mind as he prepares a tribute album. I figured I wouldn’t be the only one who thought this was as interesting as I did, so I’m providing you guys with the transcript of our full interview.

Starting with how you choose the band or album, what is the process for creating an album for you guys step by step?

Back to Dub Side of the Moon, we wanted to do an adaptation of a rock album. The inspiration for that came from one of my partners at Easy Star Records, Len Oppenheimer. He was a big fan in high school of Pink Floyd. He had been working on and listening to a lot of reggae, and heard it through that prism. He brought it to me and I whipped up some quick arrangements to see if it could work, and in that process I realized that it could. The rest is history. That one we weren’t thinking lets develop a series of reggae covers of classic rock albums, but because it was successful and popular and critically acclaimed we decided to do another one.

We knew we wanted to do the album concept. The reason we finally decided to do OK Computer, was that it is a great album and has a great cohesiveness to it. You want to listen to it all the way through. Radiohead themselves are often compared to Pink Floyd. Likewise, OK Computer has been compared to Dark Side. They’re both albums about the human condition. Spin called it the greatest album of the last 20 years. We knew it would be a great challenge. We also knew that Radiohead were likely fans of ours. We had heard from several people they were playing Dub Side of the Moon on the PA before their live shows. All that added up to choosing OK Computer. We knew nobody would have expected us to do that album.

All that time we were considering OK Computer, we were considering Sgt. Peppers Lonley Heart’s Club Band, because that was the ultimate concept album. It fit the criteria of cohesion and not just a greatest hits. When we were considering what to do next, we kept revisiting that idea. Sgt. Pepper’s is much more upbeat and pop instead of dark and brooding. Putting our concept to a different type of album that has so much depth musically.

Once you’ve begun arrangements, how do you decide on the artists for each track?

Some of the artists it feels obvious to me, when I start to work on the song. Some artists we work with a lot, Sugar Minott, Frankie Paul, Kristy Rock and others. When I was writing an arrangement for “When I’m 64,” the idea of Sugar Minott came to me right away. Working on the arrangements, I was just thinking about what could sound good. The Beatles were high tenors themselves, so I knew I had to get singers that could do that. I didn’t want to change the keys of the songs. I couldn’t get a singer that I knew had a lower range to do a certain song. Some things, for example, “Within You, Without You,” I thought it would be cool to have Matisyahu because of his spirituality and the spirituality of the song. There are lots of artists out there, and artists I’ve never worked with before and wanting to work with. Mighty Diamonds have been one of my favorites. Steel Pulse are very cool too.

Is there a struggle or fine line you feel you tow on how to make the album your own?

It doesn’t feel like a struggle to me. The way I envision this is “what if this album was recorded in Jamaica in the late 70s/80s.” I put myself in that frame of mind. I don’t feel I could go wrong with that. The sound itself, I’m not necessarily striving for a reggae sound, I guess it’s just the stuff that I like as the producer. I choose the musicians that can get that sound or that vibe.

Are there any albums you’ve tried to do that just haven’t worked out?

There are albums that I’ve started messing around with arrangements, just to see if they’d work. I don’t want to name them, in case we decide to revisit them. We’ve never decided that this is definitely our next album, and then six months into it decided no. I can tell pretty early if it’s going to work or not.

What other albums would you like to do?

The touring band is always trying out new originals live. At some point in the near future we’ll have enough to do another EP. I got into music to record original material. We’ve found this niche, and have been successful at it, but you always want to be able to create something original too.

How much of a band’s persona do you take on when you’re creating an album?

I don’t think about the original band, or what they were striving for. I think of it like, this album has never really been made before, but I happen to be in Jamaica. That’s not to say I don’t study the original material, very, very, very much. I spent 6 months listening to Sgt. Pepper’s and arranging and recording demos. By doing that, I am somewhat in their frame of mind.

Have you ever attempted to collaborate with any of the bands or band members when recording an album?

We’ve never requested collaboration, but we’ve hinted at it. You don’t want to be too pushy in that regard. As a producer I’m always like “damn man, if we got Paul McCartney that would be hot. Paul McCartney should have the CD by now. We’ve gotten positive feedback from Radiohead and Pink Floyd. At some point it would be great to work with an artist on something.

Are there other artists you’d still like the chance to work with?

It’d be an honor to work with any one of Bob Marley’s sons. That would be cool because of Bob’s place in reggae history. I’m very lucky. I’ve worked with most of the artists I’ve ever wanted to work with. Not just as a producer, but as a fan. I’ve worked with people I’ve idolized since a kid.

Do you play the songs in album order live?

No, It’s going for the flow. Once in a while we do an entire album, but it’s kind of more fun to mix it up. It’s less predictable. People don’t know what’s coming next. On this current tour we’re featuring a lot of the new material. We did Dub Side in it’s entirety at Summer Camp with members of Umphrey’s McGee and we’re gonna play all of it at Glastonbury. Some time in the future we’d like to Sgt. Pepper’s in it’s entirety, but it would have to be a special occasion.

How was it playing with the guys from Umphrey’s?

It was great. It was really, really cool. I’ve known those guys for a little while now. When you have a guest musician at a show, it’s usually guitar or keys. The focus is on melody or soloing. For this show we had Andy [Farag] on percussion, Kris [Meyers] on drums and Ryan [Stasik] on bass, so it was more about the rhythm section. I appreciated that as a different approach to guests.

How does the show vary at a festival?

In general it’s a shorter set. Our live show is an hours and a half, sometimes longer. At a festival, you have exactly so much time and you can’t take the set on the same journey.

Do you feel a different vibe from the crowd sometimes?

A show at a club, the people are coming to see us. At a festival, people are there to see other bands, and not just us. In general, the crowds seem to love us. We expose ourselves to people that would not come to see us otherwise. They’re there to see music anyways, and have a good time.

Do you produce anything else besides dub and reggae?

I do quite a bit of R&B, pop music, and some rock music. I do music aside from Easy Star All Stars. I write music for TV and Film. All different types of things.

Have you considered moving outside of the dub genre for a tribute album?

That’s a good question. At this point, what people seem to be expecting and wanting is the reggae interpretations. It’s the reason behind the series. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to do another style at some point. I hope we’ll be able to do many more. It’s still early on in the process. If one day it happens that we do a different genre, I wouldn’t be surprised.

2 Responses

  1. Festival Crashers » Blog Archive » Easy Star All Stars @ OC Great Park Said,

    […] For more on the Easy Star All Stars, check out my interview with producer Michael Goldwasser. Reviews […]

    Posted on September 28th, 2009 at 12:49 am

  2. Festival Crashers » Blog Archive » Festival Crashers 1,000th Post Said,

    […] Interview with Easy Star All Star Producer Michael Goldwasser […]

    Posted on January 21st, 2010 at 3:55 pm

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