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Legendary producer Larry Klein: my 12 career-defining records

(Image credit: James Minchin III)

American production legend Larry Klein began his musical journey as a bassist, and played with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Peter Gabriel, Don Henley, Lindsey Buckingham, and Randy Newman. As a producer, he's won Grammys for his work on albums by Joni Mitchell, who he was married to between 1982 and 1994, and Herbie Hancock.

I suppose that my episode of “12 Career-Defining Records” is going to be different in one respect to many of the others that have been done, in that I haven’t had the huge hits as a record producer that many of the other producers who have done this have had, nor have I really used that success as a compass for deciding which artists to work with, or which records to do. 

Joni [Mitchell] said something many times that has always stuck in my mind: “A hit is the kiss of death.”

That’s not to say that I am not as happy as anyone else when a record that I produce, play on, or write a song for is successful, but I have never guided my career by the pursuit of this kind of success. 

I feel fortunate to do the job that I do, and I am passionate about making records that are up to the standards that I hold myself to, but my decision process is guided more by curiosity, and which way the “wind” of serendipity is blowing in my life than by choosing projects that I think will be huge hits. Joni [Mitchell] said something many times that has always stuck in my mind: “A hit is the kiss of death.” 

In saying this, she was saying that when you have a hit with something people will expect and need for you to do the same thing again and again. She never wanted to be put in the box of a specific “thing,” as her nature was to always be moving forward and exploring new ideas and ways of approaching music. 

(Image credit: Alan Shaffer)

By the same token, as a producer, if you have a big hit, you can be sure that most of the projects that you are subsequently offered or pursued for will be very similar to the record that you had a hit with. 

One of the things that I love most about producing records is that it is a way of learning and exploring new areas of music and the art of making an album each time you do it. Being able to break the pallet that you work with to some extent is one of the most exciting things about the job. 

So my list will be a group of albums that have had an impact on my way of approaching music and producing records because of the artists involved, and the music that we endeavored to create.

1. Benjamin Orr - The Lace (1986)

Ben Orr was the lyrical voice of The Cars, and really had a distinctive voice as a songwriter.

I produced this album with the great engineer, and my dear friend, Mike Shipley. Ben Orr was the lyrical voice of The Cars, and really had a distinctive voice as a songwriter. His voice as a writer was often eclipsed to some extent by his bandmate in The Cars, Ric Ocasek. 

There were similarities in their writing; both were prone to working with short and clipped phrasing, simple clarity in their harmonic language, and a somewhat skewed sensibility regarding simple matters pertaining to the human experience. I had loved the records that The Cars had made, as well as their voice as songwriters, for quite some time.  

Though prior to this, a lot of my energy had been directed toward jazz, I have always been a musical omnivore, so I was always cognizant of what was going on in all areas of music. Around 1982 I began to tire of a certain narrowness that I perceived in the jazz world, and concurrently energized by some things that were going on in the pop, rock and alternative areas. 

The Fairlight CMI - which was the first integrated digital sampling instrument, had recently come out, and I jumped on learning how to program and operate it right away. My interest had shifted from being a musician to finding a way that I could integrate ideas that I had regarding arrangement and musical architecture into what I did, as well as using the studio as a musical instrument, and I perceived that the way that I could do that, as well as maintaining more control over how the final product of the recording process sounded, was to begin to produce records, as well as play and write on them.  

When I heard Ben’s demos, I was really excited about what he was up to, and before long Mike and I were off to The Wool Hall: a residential studio in Somerset, England, where we camped out for a number of months making this record. It proved to be a great year of my life, as in addition to making Ben’s record, I ended up playing on the Peter Gabriel album So, as well as touring with Peter, and beginning on a record with Joni that ended up becoming Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm. 

Though Ben was the bass player with The Cars, he really was only interested in being a vocalist on the album, so I ended up playing many of the instruments on the album, programming the drums, playing all of the keyboards, and playing bass. The album was a stimulating and fun record to make, and ended up yielding a single that was a pretty big worldwide hit called Stay The Night.  

I have all kinds of great memories of making that record, including Mike and I going into the studio at night and surreptitiously listening to the T. Rex multi-tracks that were stored at the studio; throwing up the faders on records that we both had been religious fans of, and seeing how Tony Visconti and Marc Bolan had put those records together.  

2. Joni Mitchell - Night Ride Home (1991)

This album is one that stands out for me as one of the highpoints of the work that Joni and I collaborated on. The records that I worked on with her were really intense creative learning experiences for me. They serve as both chapters of my development as a producer, songwriter and musician, and personal diaries, in that a great deal of her writing on them is drawn from autobiographical experience. 

We always had an understanding from the beginning of our relationship and marriage that there were no forbidden areas in terms of the writing.

We always had an understanding from the beginning of our relationship and marriage that there were no forbidden areas in terms of the writing. To have it any other way always seemed doomed to me, as every aspect of our lives were intertwined, and to put restrictions on the writing process would be crippling to all concerned.  

Whenever I describe the role of the producer on records, I always clarify that the role can be anything from being an auteur for someone who needs a project built around them, but has no idea of what they want to do, to functioning in an editorial capacity, and as someone who helps the artist prioritize their ideas and determine how best to execute them, and everything in between. In Joni’s case, she always had more ideas than could be used on any given project, so my role was definitely toward the latter side of the continuum. 

On this album, we collaborated on everything from songwriting to arranging, and in determining how the musical architecture of each song would be approached and executed. The drums and percussion were a blend of sequenced sampled material and played parts. Our goal in putting the rhythmic fabric together in this manner was to get at a blend where there would be the clarity of precision melded with the elasticity of human looseness; and in doing so that we could create a fabric that was dense, yet still spacious enough to have each element speak in a clear but warm way.  

The songs were a blend of descriptions of effortlessly happy times that we spent together, (Night Ride Home, The Only Joy In Town, a collaboration with David Crosby), along with incredibly arduous and painful crises that we were encountering together (The Windfall, Come in From the Cold, Nothing Can be Done), existential philosophical pieces examining the human condition (Passion Play, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a re-framing of the Yeats poem The Second Coming), and autobiographical stories from her early life (Cherokee Louise and Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac). 

The editorial process that I helped her with on these songs was the best songwriting school that I could have ever longed for, as was the creation of the musical architecture on the songs. The album was to a large degree layered together, and the process was a beautiful exposition on how asymmetry can yield the most poetic and affecting musical design. It still sounds fresh and beautiful to me, as well as being a very emotionally intense album.

3. Tracy Chapman - Our Bright Future (2008)

I was overjoyed when Tracy asked me if I would collaborate on producing this album. I had worked with her on a few of her prior records as a musician, including her first and second albums, and we had always had a great rapport regarding structure and arrangement ideas. 

She is a pretty stark minimalist, as I am in most cases, and she is capable of the writing at the very highest level where simplicity meets seamless sophistication, both lyrically and musically. When I worked with her on her first album, she was almost incapable of playing with a rhythm section, as she had been spotted while busking in Boston while she was attending Tufts University. 

When songs are this good, one feels an intense obligation to do everything one can to make them speak powerfully...

She, Denny Fongheiser and I, along with the producer David Kershenbaum, worked assiduously to create a way of playing together while not inhibiting her ability to not 'think' about rhythm and time.  

When she approached me about working on this album together, she had already assembled and written all of the songs. She came over and played me some of them by herself, and I remember having tears in my eyes. This was an incredibly powerful group of pieces, darkly intimate, hopeful yet laced with foreboding prescience of the times that we are now going through. 

I had a great deal of latitude in picking most of the musicians that we worked with, so we were surrounded with players of the highest level, where there is no one thinking of anything except finding the right sounds and parts to make each song speak in the most intimate and powerful sense. When musicians are capable of living in this place, one can tell from their personalities as well as their playing. They have reached a level in their musicianship and thinking where they don’t feel that they have anything to prove. 

The goal is eloquence, elegance, and concise musical expression. I gather these kinds of people and players from around the world. They are the kindred souls that I keep around me in both life and work. We did a lot of the album live, so there is a natural and warmly intertwined quality to the playing. Playing with and producing this album with Tracy has profoundly affected my aesthetic and the way that I approach creating music. 

When songs are this good, one feels an intense obligation to do everything one can to make them speak powerfully, and to not obscure the smallest bit of their beauty. After the album was released I remember being in Paris and hearing it everywhere; coming out of cafes, on car radios, in stores, and feeling immense satisfaction with how it sounded and felt.

4. Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters (2007) 

feat. Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Corinne Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza, Leonard Cohen, Wayne Shorter and Joni Mitchell

When Verve suggested the idea of doing this album, it seemed like a gift from above. The further I got into it, the more it seemed to tie together so many threads that were part of my life. When I first got together with Herbie to discuss it he said, “I never listen to words in songs!” I laughed and replied “Well, you’re going to have to start now!”  

I came up with a somewhat workable large group of possible songs out of Joni’s repertoire that I felt were ripe for re-imagining in this setting, then sat down with Herbie and listened through to them, explaining and distilling what I thought were the meanings and central dramatic allegories of each one. I explained to Herbie that our job in re-framing these songs was really to provide an underscore to the poetry of the lyrics. 

I knew that this idea would be familiar to Wayne Shorter and Vinnie Colaiuta; Vinnie had worked with Joni and I on other records of hers, and had also been on tour with us. Wayne had always thought like this when playing on tracks that had vocals on them. He had always been a musician who played music visually; in fact, I had really learned and distilled my own way to do this by working with and listening to him along with Joni.  

It was both excruciating and a certain kind of rite of passage for me.

I could easily fill an entire long essay with a description of the revelations and high points of working on this album, but it was also quite a difficult and challenging album to make for me. I had to serve many masters in how I thought about every aspect of it. 

This was in some ways the culmination of the work with, and the life that I had shared with Joni, so I always had her voice, and her sensibility in my head, braided together with my own high standards of what a project that intimately involved a number of the most important people in my life would be. When we finally got into the studio at Avatar Studios in NYC and began doing takes of the songs with a band that included Herbie, Wayne, and another longtime hero of mine, Dave Holland, I realized how in order to do the job that I needed to do on the album, that I would have to have these role models of mine on a level where I could challenge their normal way of thinking about making a record. 

I would print out the lyric to each song and give it to them as we began thinking about it, then after running it down, I’d invite them back into the control room to discuss the storyline of the lyric, and talk about how best to serve the poetry involved. These guys, as well as Vinnie and Lionel Loueke, were guys who were used to doing one take of most things in the studio! 

They generally were adherents of the 'first thought - best thought' philosophy, and I had to be the guy who pointed out what we were missing as we worked on creating a backdrop for this great poetry. It was both excruciating and a certain kind of rite of passage for me that I could never have gotten from working on another album. The fact that it ended up winning the Grammy for Album of the Year, and that it was only the second Jazz album ever to do so, as well as winning the Jazz Album of the Year, was beyond any experience imaginable.  

I had started out, after playing in pop and rock bands through grammar and middle school, becoming obsessed with jazz in high school, and once out of school, pursued my dream of playing with all of the people that were the formative icons in jazz for me as a musician. 

I had begun my career as a producer in part as an act of moving away from the narrow and restrictive thinking of many in the jazz world. Now I had come full circle with the masters who don’t think in that restrictive manner, and who had been such inspiring forces in my early years.

5. Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro - Billy Childs (2014) 

feat. Renee Fleming, Rickie Lee Jones, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Shawn Colvin, Dianne Reeves, Alison Krauss, Becca Stevens, Susan Tedeschi and Ledisi

It’s fitting that I list this album in close proximity to River: The Joni Letters on this list. This album was also one that was culminating of, and a braiding together of many important threads that had run through my life. I had first really encountered Laura’s music while in my teens, listening to and playing with one of my oldest friends, the pianist, composer and recording artist Billy Childs. 

Billy and I met while attending Community Schools at USC, a school where students who were in middle and high school could study with university level professors and instructors. We were two of the relatively few students who were musically omnivorous, and who were especially interested in jazz. We spent countless hours playing together in our respective bedrooms, then in the bands of our role models on stages around the world. 

As we developed in our own careers, our musical sensibilities began to bifurcate. He became, as he expressed it, a 'maximalist', and I became more and more of a minimalist as I became interested in the craft of making good records. I became interested in space and contrast in using the studio as an instrument, and more interested in making music that delved into the pursuit of lyrical and emotional intensity, as opposed to music that challenged the limits of technical virtuosity. 

We had evolved into musical creators who spoke different languages. The idea of working together on this ambitious project would mean that we both had to lean into each other and challenge ourselves and each other to explore common ground between us that could serve Laura’s great music and poetry.

I had also met Laura toward the end of her life. She was playing in LA, and we discussed the possibility of making an album together. I had gone to see her with Joni, and sadly, a relatively short time after that meeting she had gotten ill and passed away. So I felt that this album was also a way for me to explore her music in depth with Billy, designing the arrangements, casting the vocal and solo spots, and distilling the musical language that we would use. 

We were extremely fortunate to be able to work with vocalists who had an intimate connection to Laura’s music, like Rickie Lee Jones, as well as artists at the top of the musical worlds that they occupy, like Renee Fleming.  

For me, music is my life, and vice versa. When I think of my life chronologically, I think in terms of records that I was either producing or playing on when other things occurred.  

Music has always been the most immediate way that I relate to the world.  As my friend and mentor Wayne Shorter said, “Let your humanity be your instrument.” I believe that for people who have the obsessive and intense relationship with music that I have, this is the ultimate challenge; to let your humanity inform your music, and vice versa.

6. Careless Love - Madeleine Peyroux (2004)

Madeleine Peyroux is one of the most interesting artists that I have been fortunate to work with. She began her career as a singer busking in the streets of Paris, after running away from home. 

She fell in with a group of buskers and eventually was spotted by an A&R man and producer from Atlantic Records. I met her in 2003 when Rounder Records asked me to meet with her to explore the possibility of producing an album for her. She had just come off of an ill-fated attempt to make a record in Nashville followed by a hiatus caused by problems with her voice. 

I immediately liked her, and was intrigued by the shape of her talent and what she did both on guitar and as a singer. The first thing that people generally notice about Madeleine’s voice is that she sounds a lot like Billie Holiday, but to simply identify this as the attractive thing about her is to miss about ninety percent of what is distinctive and special about her talent.  

As we began going through potential songs, I was struck by the unusual way of approaching accompanying herself on guitar that she had crafted, and also the delicate nature of the quality of her performance. I found that she sung differently when she was playing guitar than when not, and also that the harder she concentrated on getting a good performance, the less honest and sincere the quality of her performance was. 

When we began making the album, I discerned that one of my jobs as a producer was to keep her from focusing too intently on the task of getting a good vocal. I would do whatever I needed to do to distract her from the job at hand; make jokes, jump around, dance around the studio… I’m serious! And it got us to where we needed to go; she apprehended a certain insouciance in her singing that worked beautifully on the songs that we had decided to do.  

One of Madeleine’s goals was to develop herself as a songwriter. I felt that although her talent as a songwriter was relatively undeveloped, that she certainly had the soul of a writer, but that we couldn’t include a newly written song unless it measured up to the previously written material that we were covering. 

We ended up co-writing one new song with Jesse Harris that sat beautifully on the album called Don’t Wait Too Long. The song was a beautiful fit for a certain vague yet wise simplicity that I felt in Madeleine’s spirit, and went on to become a bit of a hit, as well as a stylistic trademark for her. I made a deal with her that our goal would be to have four newly written songs on the next record, and an album almost entirely composed of new songs for the next after that. 

We ended up fulfilling this plan on the next two albums; the two of us collaborating on the songwriting as well as bringing in a number of great third-wheels in Jesse Harris, David Batteau, and my dear friend and co-conspirator Walter Becker, who loved Madeleine’s talent, and accompanied me to the first gig that I ever attended of hers in NYC.  

I believe that when you take on the job of being a producer for an artist that you assume a very important role in their development as, not only an artist, but as a person. I always hope to help an artist open a new chapter in what they do and who they are; not only as a musician, writer and artist, but as a person as well. It sounds perhaps haughty and self-important, but my aspiration is always to help someone go beyond where there talent lies at a particular juncture.  

I want to help them make an album that is better than what they are capable of at that moment, and learn a lot myself in the process.

7. Desfado - Ana Moura (2013)

In 2011, I somehow developed a taste for, and a great curiosity in the fado tradition of Portugal. It started with me coming across a couple of the most prominent artists in the genre on Spotify; Ana Moura and Mariza. As I listened to more and more material, I thought that perhaps I would contact the management of a fado artist to express my interest in working on an album. Serendipitously, it turned out that the same idea had occurred to Ana Moura and her management.  

Being a musical omnivore by nature, producing has always been a means for me to explore artists and music from different cultures and areas of the world. When I went to Lisbon and Cascais to meet with Ana and to do pre-production, I was able to immerse myself in the history and specifics of fado; both in the present conventions of the genre, and in the generational progression of the genre. 

The more that I learned, the more that I felt that the time had come for an important artist in the genre to break a lot of the rules that had served to somewhat calcify the records that were still being made by fado artists. This same spirit was afoot in Lisbon, as there was a new crop of songwriters who were working in the medium who were tackling themes and topics that were outside of the normal confines that had developed.  

It turned out that Ana and I were completely on the same page, and we began to develop the album as a tool to somewhat blow up the rules that had developed regarding instrumentation and song content in fado. The record company expressed great trepidation, but Ana and I were off and running with this idea. 

While fado traditionally was only accompanied by the 8-string Portuguese guitar and perhaps a nylon string guitar, we would end up using drums, percussion, keyboards, electric guitar, upright bass and other instruments, and would end up with a great array of songs, including the title song which was called Desfado which translates to Not Fado.  

The album vaulted Ana forward in her career, becoming the best-selling album made by a Portuguese artist in Portugal. I ended up teaming up with Ana to make another album which took us further in the direction that we had plotted out in 2014 called Moura.

8. The Imagine Project - Herbie Hancock (2010)

Every time that I’ve worked with Herbie on anything it has been a learning experience for me.

The first time that Herbie Hancock and I spoke about the central theme of this album - the idea that we discussed was an album that traced the path of man; from Northern Africa up through Spain, into Asia, then with streams spreading out north into Europe and into India, Southeast Asia, then down to Australia. 

He had seen a PBS special that was actually called The Path of Man that was a documentary of the how scientists had used genetic markers to trace the exact migration patterns of early man, as the homo sapiens began to spread across the planet. A rather lofty plan for a single album, right?

Well, we quickly discerned that it would take about 10 albums and a few million dollars to actually make this idea a reality. We decided that we would have to pointilistically plot out selected points in the journey, using the songs and the musicians involved to communicate a thread of unity that runs from place to place and culture to culture. 

The first collaborative artist that I found that felt like a great candidate for performing on the album was the Congolese ensemble called Konono Nº1. Initially, we thought to go to the home location of guests from around the world to record, but when we began looking for an adequate studio to record in The Congo, we quickly changed our plan to one where we would find a hub where we could snag various artists, but that was also cosmopolitan enough to serve the endemic need that we had for a good piano and the equipment that we were used to working with to record. The ideal spot would be Paris, so we ended up doing a lot of the record at Studio Guillaume Tell in Suresne, a suburb of Paris.  

This kind of album involves the ability for both the artist and the producer to think very quickly on their feet. In many cases, we never were able to really define what we were going to do with guest artists until we were in the studio with them. On this level Herbie and I were ideally paired in that we both function well spontaneously. We often had one plan in mind, then had to switch gears and change the arrangement, instrumentation, and even the song selection at the moment that we all first entered the studio.  

Every time that I’ve worked with Herbie on anything it has been a learning experience for me, and this album was one where I worked with musicians from the deserts of Mali (Tinarawen), the biggest musical figure in Mali (Oumou Sangare), some of my biggest musical influences (Wayne Shorter, Jeff Beck), musicians from the specific area of Los Angeles that I grew up in (Los Lobos), and many others. 

It felt like a period of accelerated growth for me; one of many that I have been lucky enough to experience in the context of albums that I’ve worked on, and it resulted in an album that I think is a diamond that will endure, as people discover it through the years.

9. Turbulent Indigo - Joni Mitchell (1994)

This album is one that, while being an important one in every aspect of my development as producer, still hurts when I listen to it.

This album is one that, while being an important one in every aspect of my development as producer, still hurts when I listen to it. It was written and made during an extraordinarily painful period of my life, when my marriage with Joni was coming apart at the seams. We somehow managed to work on it at the same time that we both were in intense pain, and while I was immensely depressed. 

Many of the songs themselves are programmatic musical descriptions of the disintegration of a ten-year marriage. Perhaps working on the music was therapeutic in some ways, but it also feels like we both finished this record with a lot of our blood and tears having been soaked into the work.

I love Wayne Shorter’s playing on the album more than I can articulate. His playing becomes a character; a Greek chorus, a narrator and a philosopher.  

As with all of the albums that we worked on together, I learned an immense amount in the making of it. By the end of work on the album, I had moved out, and by the time we won Album of the Year at the Grammys, we were both in relationships with other people. 

The record is a document of extraordinary pain that I still draw upon when I create. What doesn’t destroy you strengthens you. What would life be without love, pain and loss? The articulation of these things is what makes us want to make music and records.

10. Circus Money - Walter Becker (2008)

Walter Becker and I met at the 2001 Grammys at which Steely Dan won Album of the Year for Two Against Nature. We very quickly became friends. He was someone that I had long admired greatly for all of his songwriting, playing and production work with Steely Dan and others. We were both bass players, and I loved his guitar playing as well. 

Writing with Walter was like playing chess with Gary Kasparov or playing tennis with John McEnroe.

At a certain point Walter asked me if I would like to write a solo album of his with him, as well as produce it. I have to say that it was one of the best years of my life. Writing with Walter was like playing chess with Gary Kasparov or playing tennis with John McEnroe. He had sharpest and fastest mind that I have ever seen in a songwriter. 

We naturally came from a kindred perspective in most things, and almost always agreed on aesthetic issues. I insisted that he play bass on most of the album, as I was a big fan of his playing, and felt that it was important that people have another chance to hear him shine in that role. He had become an obsessive collector of arcane reggae records from the ‘70s - the real golden era of reggae in Jamaica, and I quickly joined him in that compulsion. 

Many of the songs that we wrote evolved from copping a bass line from one reggae record or another, which quickly morphed into something that had its own personality and very little of the germ that inspired us to set out on a particular path on a song. 

The writing of a record is incredibly intense and personal process, and through the development of this album Walter came to feel like an older brother that I never had. 

 11. New York Rhapsody - Lang Lang (2016)

feat. Jason Isbell, Jeffrey Wright, Robbie Robertson, Lisa Fischer, Madeleine Peyroux, Andra Day, Herbie Hancock, Jerry Douglas, Lindsey Stirling

Lang Lang and Sony Masterworks had been trying to put together a project that melded together his talent as a classical virtuoso pianist with elements of pop music and vocals. We ended up settling on the thematic thread of making an album about what New York City represented now, what it had represented in its history, and why it had for so long been a hub of creativity, industry, and culture. 

The idea that I initially came up with as an example of what I thought that we could do was to create an operetta that would meld together the Lou Reed song Dirty Boulevard with Somewhere from the Leonard Bernstein musical West Side Story. Both songs are placed in New York City and we could fashion it into somewhat of a Romeo And Juliet scenario. My idea was to use orchestra for the central musical material of the track, with electronic elements driving the track at the bottom, and Lang Lang and the vocalists soaring in a dialog over the overall structure. 

I recruited my good friend, the aforementioned Billy Childs, to work on the orchestra elements and Lang Lang’s piano voice, and I proceeded to build the electronic rhythm elements. I discerned that the only way to really show Lang Lang and the record company what I had in mind was to build a model of the first portion of the piece. Billy and I worked together to assemble the material for that section, and I met with Lang Lang to show the results to him. He sat down and sight-read the incredibly dense piano part that we had assembled while we played the synth demo, and we were off and running. 

This was another very complex album in regard to guest artists, and I could write an essay about the process of casting this project alone, but suffice to say that the actor Jeffrey Wright, the incredible vocalist Lisa Fischer, Jason Isbell, Madeleine Peyroux, Kandace Springs, Herbie Hancock, Andra Day, and especially Robbie Robertson’s contributions, along with the outstanding work that Billy and Vince Mendoza did, enabled me to make an album with Lang Lang that I am very proud of, despite the fact that it sits in a genre (Classical Crossover) that I have never been drawn to at all.  

My challenge with this record was to make an album that I loved in a genre that had never yielded an album that I could even stand to listen to. succeeded in this endeavor, and again, it was an experience that I grew from in my craft, and in meeting the challenges that I had to surmount. That feeling of achievement is what I live for in what I do. Billy and I ended up getting a Grammy nomination for the arrangement that we collaborated on for Dirty Boulevard / Somewhere.  

12. What’s Left Is Forever - Thomas Dybdahl (2013)

When Universal Music offered me the opportunity to have my own eclectic imprint in 2012, I was posed with a dilemma. I had always wanted to have a home in a label, where I could bring artists that I was passionate about, and do projects that excited me, without going through having to get a committee of people to grasp my vision and approve of the idea. The only person that I had to get approval from was my longtime friend and manager for a period of time, Max Hole, who was then the VP of Universal Music International. Max was a dynamic and perceptive record executive who had a very sophisticated aesthetic as well as good pragmatic instincts, so the idea of being able to do a project if I could convince him that it was a good idea seemed like an ideal situation.  

My dilemma was the question of who would be my first signing. A close friend had sent me a track a couple of years earlier called Lovestory by a Norwegian artist, and at the time I thought that though I couldn’t think of why at that moment, I felt that this artist’s talent was incredibly special, and that I would want to work with him at some juncture in the future. The track had sat on my computer laptop for about two years, but I immediately thought of it at that moment. It turned out that serendipitously (serendipity has always played a very big role in my creative process; the same element that Carl Jung referred to as synchronicity), Thomas had just gotten out of a previous recording contract that had been problematic. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Norway to see him play live, as the other records of his that had achieved some success in Norway and Scandanavia only fueled my enthusiasm more when I listened to them.  

After signing Thomas, we set about making his inaugural album for Strange Cargo/Decca, which was my home imprint. We co-wrote with someone who I had worked with many times, a great songwriter named David Baerwald, and assembled a group of outstanding songs that Thomas had written, and we set out to formulate a musical language with which to work on the album.  I have to say that the album still sounds as fresh to me as the day that we finished it, and my creative relationship with Thomas is still as vital as it was at that time.

In conclusion, I have to say that I am a person who thrives on constant growth in my craft and my life. I suppose that this is akin to a fish; that the key to survival is constant motion for me. The artists that I love the most, and who serve as inspiration and stimulation to me are cut from the same cloth, or at least are similar in nature. Commercial success, while certainly being welcome when it occurs, has never been a paradigm-changing factor for me. It’s coming up with a new way to get at something that makes me feel something intensely that changes me and gives me the thrill that any artist lives for. I suppose that in concluding it would be appropriate to include my favorite Franz Kafka quote: “Art is the axe for the frozen sea within us.”