Wednesday, 28 December 2011

THE PRODUCER

We reach a stage in life when it's sometimes hard to remember when we first met someone, or how, or sometimes even who they used to be.  They re-cross your radar, or you cross theirs, and the collision sends the mind scatter-gunning as it strains to reconnect the wires. 

Then there are the Unforgettables.  People like Steve Levine.  The kind I call constants.  Stalwarts of a music industry in such turmoil, confusion and disarray that at times you wonder how it still survives.  Despite the Cowell-ness and Karaoke-ness of the great business of making commercial music, however, it does survive - thanks to the modest handful who do it right.

I first met Steve in 1984. He signed a recording contract with Chrysalis, where I was working at the time.  The single was 'Believin' It All', co-written by Boy George, and featured John Alder as lead singer and Bob Marley's widow Rita on backing vocals.  By that time, Steve, then 26, was already a studio veteran with major awards under his belt, who had produced Culture Club, Bob Marley's children The Melody Makers, and even the Beach Boys. 

He'd begun on the bottom rung, arriving at the old CBS studios aged 17 with no experience and little knowledge.  His first job was as a tape-op, working on demos for new bands.  It was producer Bruce Johnson who hired him as an engineer.  Seduced by Steve's infectious enthusiasm and tireless dedication to the job, he took him to Los Angeles and encouraged him to become a producer himself.  Back in London, Steve signed a deal with Rondor Music, which paid him enough to buy a Linn drum computer.  One of the first in the UK, it instantly became part of the 'Steve Levine Sound'.

His turning point came in 1981, when he was approached by an oddball bunch who asked him to work on their demos.  They had a great image and some innovative ideas, but were all over the place technically. They needed someone to pull the sound together.  Shaking off a precarious start, the band signed to Virgin Records, and Steve set about turning the best song from their first proper session into a hit.  'Do You Really Want to Hurt Me' shot to Number One in the UK charts, and in a heartbeat the  world was in love with Culture Club.

Steve's done everything since.  These days, he runs his own label Hubris Records, is Chairman of the Music Producers Guild, and is still asked all the time what a producer actually does.
'In the old days there was no such term', he laughs.
'The originals, like Beatles producer George Martin, were called 'Artiste and Recording Managers'.  They did everything under the sun, down to telling the lads what to wear.  But the record industry has come a long way since then.  As a producer, you are responsible for what the finished record sounds like - but every producer has his own way of achieving that.  There's no right nor wrong way. We all find our own way.  Having said that, it's dangerous to become too recognisable in terms of sound.  It restricts you, and limits your range'. 

What goes around.  It was a thrill for me to learn, a year or so back, that Steve had taken under his wing a delightful band calling themselves Daytona Lights.  Their guitarist, Louis Souyave, has been a fixture at my kitchen table since he was about 12 years old.  Their debut album, 'This Modern Landscape', is out today, on Steve's label, Hubris.  It's sensational.

Many are already familiar with the Daytona sound through their enthusiastic live following on the London circuit, and through Channel 4's teen soap 'Hollyoaks' - on which the boys play themselves as the resident band.  Yep, there's quite a splash to come on New Year's Eve.  But why on earth Hollyoaks?

'There are two worlds out there - the X-Factor and the Indie world, which is being completely ignored by TV and many radio stations', says Steve.
'Bands like Daytona Lights don't have any way of having their music played on the mainstream.  So if you're an Indie band, there is no chance of getting your music out.  There is no Old Grey Whistle Test nor The Tube anymore'. 

What's the music like?  'Intense, infectious and emotive shoestring-pop', enthused one reviewer.  You'll hear shades of Cocker and the Beatles - footage of them wandering around Abbey Road Studios, where they recently got to work, melts the heart.  You'll get flashbacks of Dahl. It's melodic and harmonious stuff, which resonates deeply.  Daytona Lights are bright sunshine in this grey, post-Christmas lull.  Go listen.

www.daytonalights.com
www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wLQcV9ff08&list=UU9MYx4cfYeUsVyokt5xmVaA&index=1&feature=plcp

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