The SoundBard Interview

Heart of the Surround Rise: Steve Howe on Relishing Yes in 5.1, Playing Full Albums Live, And What to Expect From Heaven and Earth

30th April


“Yes likes challenges.” So says Yes guitarist Steve Howe, and the proof is in the output. The band has been out on the boards in the U.S. and Canada playing a set comprised of three full albums: The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One. On their upcoming summer tour in July and August, they’ll be doing two full albums: the first-ever full run-through of Fragile and Close to the Edge, in addition to an encore centered on the band’s greatest hits. Plus, an album with new lead singer Jon Davison, Heaven and Earth, is slated for a July release. And, of course, there are the sonically brilliant 5.1 mixes of Close to the Edge and The Yes Album on Blu-ray as masterminded by Steven Wilson — and more are on the way, with the band’s blessing. Howe, 67, and I … Read More »

The Rhythmatist’s Method: Stewart Copeland on Restoring the 1925 Silent Film Ben-Hur, That Snare Drum Sound & a Few Police Matters

18th April


Never let it be said that Stewart Copeland has idle hands. The innovative Police percussionist and ace composer has been working tirelessly on composing a soundtrack to MGM’s 1925 silent film Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which, in addition to being a legendary broad-sweeping and groundbreaking epic tale, is on record as being the most expensive film made in the silent era. Copeland’s score receives its world premiere Easter weekend on April 19 at the Virginia Arts Festival in Norfolk, Virginia, where it will accompany his 90-minute edit of the movie.

Recently, Copeland, 61, and I discussed how restoring Ben-Hur was both invigorating and taxing, his philosophy about surround-sound scoring, some of the secrets behind his infamous snare drum sound, and a few Police-related matters.

Mike Mettler: I’m extremely fascinated about your Ben-Hur restoration.

Stewart Copeland: Well, it is a humdinger. It all began with an … Read More »

Sunshine of Your Groove: Jack Bruce on Getting Silver Rails on Track, Recording at Abbey Road Studios & The Essence of Cream

17th April


The bottom end has never been quite the same since Jack Bruce picked up his first bass over 6 decades ago. The vaunted Cream bassist wrote the book on the art of the low-end hook, as his syncopated approach to playing bass helped shift pop music’s bottom-end emphasis away from just laying down root notes and fifths, in turn opening the door to a more adventurous yet melodically inclined style that laid the foundation for the rock explosion of the ’60s. Turns in both Manfred Mann and John Mayall’s bands set the table for Bruce to connect with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker and forge Cream, wherein the super Scotsman set the heavy-blues power-trio standard with epic runs and full-band interplay in songs like “I Feel Free,” “Spoonful,” “Politician,” and “Sunshine of Your Love.”

Once Cream curdled, Bruce delved further into … Read More »

Mono a Mano: Retro King Nick Waterhouse on His Love of Vintage Vinyl & Mastering in Mono

9th April


Call him The King of Retro Cool. You may have seen Nick Waterhouse wondering “where you think you’re gonna go/when your time’s all gone?” in the current Lexus CT Hybrid “Live a Full Life” commercial campaign, but his super-snazzy brand of modern jazzabilly rock extends well beyond that 30-second snippet. His second full-length LP, Holly (Innovative Leisure), builds on the retro-rockin’ bed of 2011′s Time’s All Gone. Waterhouse and I recently convened to talk about Holly‘s sonic merits, his favorite vinyl reissues, his playback gear, and the benefits of recording in mono.

Mike Mettler: Was Holly recorded direct to tape?

Nick Waterhouse: It was! I did the record at Fairfax in Van Nuys, [California], which is where the Sound City studios used to be. Kevin Augunas was my co-producer on the record. We used four Scully 16-track recorders gotten from A&M Studios, so they’re really … Read More »

Tiers of Actual Sighs: Richard X. Heyman Puts The X in Songwriting & Pop Rocking Excellence

3rd April


Richard X. Heyman is a rock & roll lifer. I first became exposed to his indelible brand of garage pop on his 1990 solo album Living Room!! (Cypress), instantly falling for the hooks of “Union County Line” and “Local Paper.” (And, yes, I do have it on vinyl, folks.) Soon thereafter, I learned of his pioneering role in nearby Plainfield, New Jersey’s ’60s garage rockers The Doughboys, who continue performing live and releasing top-notch music to this day. (“Black Sheep,” “Why Can’t She See Me?,”“It’s a Crying Shame,” and “YOYO” are but four of my favorite modern-era Doughboys tracks.)

Heyman’s solo career has careened more toward the melodic side of the pop dial, though he does keep his garage roots intact. Last Fall, he conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund his tenth solo record, naturally dubbed X (Turn-Up Records). … Read More »

Mad Dogs and Shelter People: Leon Russell Looks Back on an Amazing Life Journey

2nd April


“I’m basically what is known as a talented illusionist.” So says piano wizard Leon Russell, but the Oklahoma native is being more than somewhat modest. His C.V. is as impressive as they come: First-call member of the legendary ’60s L.A. studio collective known as The Wrecking Crew, co-founder of Shelter Records in 1969 with Denny Cordell, spearhead of Joe Cocker’s infamous 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, and beneficiary of a revived recording career by teaming up with Elton John on 2010′s T Bone Burnett-produced The Union. On his just-released Life Journey (UMe), Russell comes full circle to show his mastery of the form on tasty covers like his piano-vamp stab at Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen,” a slip-slidin’ romp through “Fever,” and a swing-sational full-orchestral take on Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.” … Read More »

Go Ahead and Spin It to Me: Benmont Tench Breaks Down Why He Loves Lucky on Vinyl

26th March


“I don’t want to stop anyone from getting the CD, but vinyl is the truest way to hear this record,” says Benmont Tench about his new solo album, You Should Be So Lucky (Blue Note). “When you have Glyn Johns [The Rolling Stones, Eagles, The Who] recording something to tape, you really want to hear it on vinyl.” It’s hard to argue with the longtime Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers keyboardist, stepping out to be a frontman for the first time in his five-decades-long career. And spinning Lucky on 180-gram vinyl very much tells the tale of the details: the delicate brush drumwork and resonating bass on “Ecor Rouge,” the placement of the string quartet behind Tench’s organ lines on “Hannah,” and Tench’s deft touch on the ivories while a guitar solo caterwauls in the left channel on … Read More »

You Gotta Serve Somebody: Tony Hale on Taking Care of Veep Business, Every Day

24th March


Don’t mess with a man who knows how to guard a bag with his life. In this case, that would be Gary Walsh, the body man/personal aide played by Tony Hale on HBO’s Emmy-winning Veep, which sees its second season out on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download on March 25 and its third season premiere on April 6. Here, we talk about Gary’s undying love for VP Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), what’s ahead for Season 3, and how he would handle Frank Underwood from House of Cards.

Mike Mettler:  First, congratulations on your Emmy win. [Hale won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Veep in 2013.] The obvious and most important question is: Where do you keep it?

Tony Hale: It is in my kitchen. My wife, who’s a makeup artist, also has an Emmy. Hers is on … Read More »

Days of SQ Surpassed: The Timeless Flight of Justin Hayward and The Moody Blues

12th March


“I didn’t have the courage to go back to any of the masters and try to recreate those beautiful, real echoes,” says Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues about the surround-sound mixes he supervised for six of The Moodies’ “Classic Seven” albums: Days of Future Passed, On the Threshold of a Dream, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, A Question of Balance, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and Seventh Sojourn. (In case you were wondering, there weren’t any multitrack masters available for In Search of the Lost Chord.) All six of those 5.1 mixes — done by Paschal Byrne and Mark Powell and built on the original quad mixes supervised by producer Tony Clarke and constructed by engineer Derek Varnals — appear in Timeless Flight (Threshold/UMC), the band’s mighty, 50-year-career-spanning 17-disc box set. Yes, there is a more economical 4-disc version … Read More »

Not Like Everybody Else Does: Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs Totally Cover the ’80s

10th March


“The thing that was so interesting about the ’80s was that it was very diverse,” says Susanna Hoffs — and if anyone should know, it’s the longtime Bangles lead singer/guitarist who saw much Egyp-she-an-fueled success in that decade. “It was a smarter, cooler time, and it’s good to see that it’s more popular than ever,” says Matthew Sweet — and if anyone should know, it’s the multi-instrumentalist/songwriter who’s long mastered the tone of that decade and added a few twists of his own to boot.

And if there’s one thing I, like, totally know for sure is that Sweet and Hoffs got their take on the decade just right with their latest collaboration, Under the Covers, Vol. 3 (Shout! Factory). Vol. 3 was one of my favorite albums of 2013, and it continues to connect with me — from … Read More »

Total 5.1 Mass Retain: Steven Wilson on Mixing Yes’ Close to the Edge in Surround Sound

26th February


“On the surround mix, it sounds just like you’re in the room with Steve Howe while he’s playing those guitar harmonics.” Steven Wilson is describing the clarity of the gorgeous acoustic intro to “And You And I,” the second track on Yes’ groundbreaking 1972 LP, Close to the Edge. (Said intro is keenly accented by Rick Wakeman’s understated organ fills that lightly season the rear channels.) And I hate to sound like a broken, er, record, but the one true king of transformative surround-sound mixing (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, XTC) has raised the all-channel bar yet again, for Wilson’s transcendent 192/24 5.1 CTTE mix is as pure and true as you’ll ever hear it on Panegyric’s Definitive Edition Blu-ray/CD combo package.

His wholly immersive, ear-boggling 5.1 mix achieves total mass attainment, highlighted by Wakeman’s uplifting, fully enveloping … Read More »

The Only Way to Travel: Flying Solo with Former Moody Blues Mellotron Maven Mike Pinder

12th February


“We would have done surround sound at the time if it had been available.” Original Moody Blues keyboardist Mike Pinder is discussing the always-enveloping signature orchestral sound of the band he was a part of for its first 15 years. Much of the Moodies’ core “Classic Seven” catalog has since seen a series of 5.1 releases in the interim, and Pinder’s innovative usage of the mellotron helped take many of those mixes (“Higher and Higher,” “Watching and Waiting,” “Legend of a Mind”)  to the threshold of aural perfection.

Pinder cut his first solo album, The Promise, in 1976, while the band was on a break. After leaving the group 2 years later and concentrating on computer-related projects in California, Pinder eventually followed it up with Among the Stars in 1994. Both releases, along with a behind-the-scenes DVD, are part … Read More »

He’s a Hi-Res Star: Engineer Steve Hoffman on Remastering Four Deep Purple Classics

29th January


“I want to hear what the band heard during playback in the studio. And I want to respect the sound that the engineers and producers tried so hard to capture.” It’s a mantra engineer Steve Hoffman follows whenever he remasters classic, iconic albums, and perhaps those words should be etched between the monitors perched above the mixing consoles in every mastering studio across the globe. One recent labor of reissued love is near and dear to Hoffman’s audiophile heart – namely, The Audio Fidelity Collection limited-edition box set that houses four classic Deep Purple albums he remastered: In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971), Machine Head (1972), and Who Do We Think We Are (1973). All were previously released individually on 24-karat gold discs by the Audio Fidelity label (and are all now quite hard to find). While Hoffman, 57, … Read More »

Slidin’ Onto Wax: Guitar Prodigy Derek Trucks Spins LPs Wherever He May Roam

20th December


“That’s the cartridge you want — the one that’ll get you kicked out of the house!” And that’s Derek Trucks, empathizing over the price of high-end audiophile gear, both in terms of how it affects your wallet and your personal life. “I’ve had that conversation too,” he adds with a chuckle. The good-natured Trucks drenched his sweet-toned slide-guitar stamp all over one of 2013’s best albums, the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind (Masterworks; you can read my 4 1/2-star review of it in the Discs & Downloads section on the Sound & Vision website.) Here, Trucks, 34, and I commune over his favorite gear and LPs, the albums that made the deepest impressions on him growing up, how good Mind sounds on vinyl, and its thematic album parallel. (Hint: “Darling, won’t you ease my worried mind” is … Read More »

The Healing Hands of Musical Love: Justified’s Walton Goggins and His Sharp Storyteller’s Ear

17th December


“For me personally, I like the singer/songwriters who tell stories,” says Walton Goggins, and if anyone knows how to get into a character and tell a story and tell it damn well, it’s him. In Season 4 of Justified, out now on Blu-ray, Goggins’s character, the perpetually morally challenged Boyd Crowder, found redemption in the arms of love — specifically with the feisty and unbendingly loyal Eva Crowder (Joelle Carter). But Boyd also found that such deep love can come at a terrible price. Hmmm… that scenario sounds like a few lines pulled straight out of a U2 song or two, doesn’t it? And that’s quite fitting, since, according to Goggins, one of the iconic Irish band’s albums “changed my life.” Earlier this year, Goggins and I discussed things like shooting in high-def, long-term character development, and his … Read More »

The Once and Future Analog King: Boston’s Tom Scholz and the Tales of His Sacred Tapes

5th December


“Pretty much everything that goes into the music is as analog as I can make it,” says Tom Scholz, chief sonic architect of the longtime rock powerhouse known as Boston. It’s taken him 10 years to deliver the band’s sixth studio album, Life, Love & Hope (Frontiers) — “But who’s counting?” he chuckles — and discerning audiophiles know it’s well worth the wait. Signature stacked harmonies, lovingly layered guitars, emotionally uplifting vocals, sheaves of killer riffs — what’s not to like? (And, yes, Virginia, there will be vinyl, sometime in early 2014.) “All I can say is the tone, the sound, and the way it’s all put together is the way I like it,” Scholz admits. “And I’m just lucky there are other people who like the same things I do.”

Scholz, 66, and I have spoken a few … Read More »

King of Hertz: The Continuing Saga of Tony Levin’s Low-End Progressions in the High-End World

25th October

Above, an exclusive YouTube clip of Levin Minnemann Rudess jamming on “Marcopolis”


“I work hard on the music end of things, and record my bass parts as high quality as I can.” That, in a nutshell, is the mission statement for Tony Levin, noted bassmaster and Chapman Stick innovator known for his sharp-fingered low-end work with the likes of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel. At present, his holy mission specifically applies to the down-low flavors he’s concocted for Levin Minnemann Rudess (Lazy Bones Recordings), a 60-minute ride through quite progressive waters. His LMR namesake triomates are drummer Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, UKZ) and keyboardist extraordinaire Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, Dixie Dregs). LMR is on CD, but you should only be interested in obtaining the Deluxe Edition, which contains a separate DVD with filmed interviews, improv sessions, … Read More »

The Vinyl Brothers, Session 1: Tommy Shaw & The SoundBard on Eric Clapton’s Underrated Clapton LP

21st October


Get Tommy Shaw and me, Mr. SoundBard, in a room talking about music, and chances are you’ll have to drag us out by our respective ears to get us on the way to our next destinations. (Just ask Styx’s ever-patient, ever-gracious tour manager and assistant tour manager.) Tommy and I bonded over a mutual passion for music, and especially vinyl, years ago, and we share our LP love regularly in text, photo, and email. A typical message might begin along the lines of “Look what I found!” and subsequently “You won’t believe how GOOD this album sounds!” — followed soon thereafter by a fervent discourse on all of the aural subtleties and production nuances that cause us to pick the needle up and play that record again and again and again.

That’s my ’round-the-bend way of saying welcome to … Read More »

Harmonic Converger: Graham Nash Unveils a Life Full of Wild Tales

15th October


“Music is astounding, isn’t it?” Graham Nash is genuinely enamored with the wonders of sound — and so am I. There’s always a special twinkle in his eye whenever we get together to talk about the indelible music he’s made since the early 1960s, the new music he’s planning to make next, and how he plans to have it all, both new and old, sound even better. I had just gotten back from Denver when I met Graham, 71, at the Broadway HQ of Random House publishing arm Crown Archetype in New York City on Monday, September 30, 2013 to dive deep into his just-published and quite revelatory autobiography, Wild Tales. After marveling at the shadows and shades present in some amazing NYC skyline photos he had taken earlier in the day on his ever-present camera, we got … Read More »

Rock of Ages: The Band’s Robbie Robertson on Finding the Balance in Live Mixing and Playing With Bob Dylan

10th October


“Everybody loved it — except me. I was so not satisfied with it. It was my fault.” That’s Robbie Robertson, telling it like it is back in August about the original mix of The Band’s acclaimed 1972 double live album, Rock of Ages (Capitol). It only took 40-plus years for Robertson to get his wish to remix — and expand — that music to his satisfaction by culling the best performances of The Band’s 4-night stand at New York’s Academy of Music on December 28-31, 1971 for a stellar five-disc box set, Live at the Academy of Music 1971 — The Rock of Ages Concerts (Capitol/UMe). Audiophiles take note: Disc 5, a DVD, is mixed in surround sound by Bob Clearmountain under Robertson’s supervision, and it gives the proper dimensionality to an important live recording that’s simply been, … Read More »

Flaming Lips Frontman Wayne Coyne Finds His Groove on Vinyl

9th October

In the above YouTube clip, Wayne Coyne and I discuss “You Are Alone,” the song that opens Side C of the 2 LP set of The Flaming Lips‘ latest full-length aural delight/challenge, The Terror (2013). Notes Coyne of the song, “it consists of a strange emotional chord that was the true spark for the album.”

The Lips frontman and I were in the Lips’ dressing room at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, New Jersey right after soundcheck back on May 16, and, inevitably, our discussion turned to collecting vinyl and how to store it all before it completely overruns our respective households. “Wasn’t it Charles Bukowksi who said, ‘Find what you love and let it kill you’?” he wondered. “That’s pretty much what we’re doing, right? Yeah, I like the big format. I like all the nuances. The distortion, the murkiness, … Read More »