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Thread started 09/17/12 4:09am

funkaholic1972

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Interview with Michael Leonhart (producer) about Donald Fagen's new album "Sunken Condos", plus track preview!!

On Steely Dan messageboard "The Blue Book" that I regularly frequent I found a link to an interview with Michael Leonhart (Donald Fagen's co-producer). The questions were made up by forum members and were compiled by one of the regulars ("Fagenism") at The Blue Book (http://www.dandom.com/bb/index.html). Many thanks to all involved!

It provides some very interesting facts/insights about Donald's upcoming new album "Sunken Condos". Here the link to the actual interview: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7...erview.pdf

And this is the interview sort of copy/pasted:

MICHAEL LEONHART ANSWERS FAN QUESTIONSABOUT UPCOMING DONALD FAGEN RELEASE SUNKEN CONDOS

Could you give us an idea about the time frame between Don first mentioning the idea of Sunken Condos to you, and the album being in the can? What were some milestones along the way?:

In February 2010, Donald mentioned he had enough finished songs for a new solo album. In March 2010, we got together to listen to the rough demos and to throw around some ideas. The record was “in the can” (mastered and sent to the plant) in early April 2012.

Milestones along the way (dates not 100% exact):

APRIL-JUNE 2010 (BASIC TRACKING)

JUNE-AUGUST 2010 (“DUKES OF SEPTEMBER” U.S. TOUR)

AUGUST-DECEMBER 2010 (MORE BASIC TRACKING)

JANUARY-JUNE 2011 (VOCALS, SOLOS, HORNS, BVOX, PERCUSSION TRACKING)

JUNE-OCTOBER 2011 (STEELY DAN WORLD TOUR)

OCTOBER-DECEMBER 2011 (MORE SOLOS, HORNS, BVOX, PERCUSSION)

LATE JANUARY-EARLY FEBRUARY 2012 MIXING

EARLY APRIL 2012 ALBUM MASTERED

Would you call Sunken Condos a concept album? If yes, mind elaborating on that concept?:

Initially, it was quite clear that Donald was thinking of this new album as a clean break from the Nightfly Trilogy. In the end, we wound up with some tracks that feel lyrically and musically connected to Donald’s early albums, but that was just how things naturally evolved.

Concept album? NO.

A set of songs written to exist as a cohesive album? ABSOLUTELY.

Were any of the usual suspects from the Steely Dan orchestra involved in this? Any special guest appearances?:

Many of the “usual suspects” from Steely Dan were involved in this album. In fact, all current Steely Dan members with the exception of Keith Carlock and Jim Beard make an appearance on “Sunken Condos”.

The only reason Carlock and Beard are absent is because

a) Donald and I were pleased enough with my initial drum tracks (credited to “Earl Cooke, Jr.) that we decided to keep them all.

b) Donald and I had a “lock out” at a studio with a room full of our vintage keyboards, synths, organs and pianos and played all the keyboard parts ourselves.

JON HERINGTON is featured quite heavily throughout the album.

FREDDIE WASHINGTON

WALT WEISKOPF

JIM PUGH

ROGER ROSENBERG

CAROLYN LEONHART

CATHERINE RUSSELL

CYNDY MIZELLE

Other guest appearances:

LARRY CAMPBELL, KURT ROSENWINKEL, GARY SIEGER: GUITAR

WILL GALISON: HARMONICA & BASS HARMONICA

JOE MARTIN, JAY LEONHART: ACOUSTIC BASS

HARLAN POST, LINCOLN SCHLEIFER: ELECTRIC BASS

CHARLIE PILLOW: TENOR SAX, BASS CLARINET

JAMIE LEONHART: BACKGROUND VOX

AARON HEICK: BASS FLUTE

ANTOINE SILVERMAN: VIOLIN

Did Donald bring all the songs to the sessions fully developed in terms of melody, lyrics, chord structures and detailed arrangement ideas? If not, to what degree did he / the two of you work things out as you went along in the studio?:

The songs were 95% complete melodically and lyrically by the time we started the sessions. The rhythm arrangements were also 95% fleshed out.

Since my earliest days working with Donald (starting with Steely Dan in 1996), he has always been extremely welcoming of my feedback and creative input. This was never more apparent than during the extensive sessions for this album. As we recorded each of the nine songs, Donald or I would inevitably discover a melody line, lyric, chord or rhythm arrangement idea that needed a little nuancing and refining. We always took whatever time was needed to turn a “good idea” into a “great idea”.

We crafted the background vocal and horn arrangements together once the rhythm section tracks were cut.

Is there a particular song on Sunken Condos that is in a style old school Steely Dan fans might not have been exposed to before?:

Three tracks in particular:

“Out Of The Ghetto” - an Isaac Hayes cover.

“Slinky Thing” - an acoustic bass-driven, snaky minor groove.

“The New Breed” - a mid tempo love-triangle song about “a man, a woman and an I.T. GUY” peppered with prophet-5 synth, acoustic bass playing a rhythm guitar/solo part, bass harmonica and even a hint of mellotron.

Could you share some lyrics from Sunken Condos that, for whatever reason. stand out to you?:

There are some incredible lyrics on this album. Many lines stand out to me. That being said, I will let you all hear the songs first before separating the lyrics from the music.

Did Fagen give you any reference music to listen to while working on Sunken Condos? As in, certain tunes that have a sound he was going for?:

We briefly discussed the drum feel, style and sound of Al Jackson (Booker T and the MGs).

Other than that, ZERO.

Once all the tracks were recorded and set in stone, we did a few short pre-mix listening sessions of a handful of albums on which we liked the sound of reverbs, stereo imaging, eq and compression (or lack thereof), but overall, Donald and I were on the same page from the beginning as to what the album should sound like, so reference music didn’t enter into the equation.

I've read that this album uses modern recording techniques more so than past Dan/Fagen albums (e.g. sampled drums instead of live drums). When using stuff like programmed drums and other synthesized instruments on Sunken Condos, are you trying to make stuff sound as live and organic as possible, or are you embracing the "studio as an instrument" model (e.g. Radiohead) where synths and programmed drums are unapologetically synth-y?:

The idea with Donald is always to make everything sound as hyper-real and natural as possible. On a few rare occasions, we used a synth setting on the PROPHET-5, JUNO-6 or MINIMOOG that was unapologetically synth-y, but only because it blended so well with the other natural instruments and helped to create a richer timbre.

With respect to the drums on this album, we took a unique approach to recording. The drums were all played live by yours truly (credited to “EARL COOKE, JR.”) taking great care and time to select just the right vintage snare, kick, hat, etc.. for each song. Donald and I then sat and put together the ultimate hyper-real drum track using all available modern techniques. The goal was always “hyperreal” and never synthetic, programmed or sequenced.

We have been hearing that the drums on the album are sequenced. Donald, in a relatively recent interview, stated that he regrets the use of Wendel and drum machines on albums like Gaucho, and that he would have been better off bringing in a real drummer for those tracks. With so many greats out there, guys like Vinnie, Erskine, Keith Carlock, as well as so many young up and commers who can bring a fresh feel to the table, why did Donald decide to go back to drum sequencing?:

I think it’s safe to say that the use of WENDEL and other drum machines was an expensive and time consuming affair. The results are glorious, but Donald always prefers a “flesh and blood” drummer with an incredible feel to a machine. Indeed, there are a handful of great drummers out there as well as some “newbies”, and my initial idea, as well as Donald’s, was to bring in a few drummers for the final drum tracks. Donald had been a fan of my drum feel and sound for many years now and said “why don’t you lay down some drum tracks at your studio”. After hearing these initial drum tracks, Donald said this was the sound and feel he was hoping for so we decided to use this approach for the whole album. As stated above, the goal was always “hyper-real” and never synthetic, programmed or sequenced.

How was working on Sunken Condos different from being involved with Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go?:

My work on Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go entailed about 2-6 weeks of sessions total and perhaps 2-4 weeks of Horn Arranging. Working as co-producer, multi-instrumentalist and engineer on Sunken Condos entailed almost 2 years of work. I was present for every single session.

Is it true that Donald has an uber-human ear for pitch and harmony?:

Donald has a highly developed and unique sensitivity to pitch and a hyper-awareness to the nuances of “groove”.

Given the age gap between yourself and Donald Fagen, would you say you lean on different musical influences and vocabularies? Or have you established a sense of musical common ground throughout your long working relationship?:

From the first time Donald and I met, we have had a common musical vocabulary. As we’ve worked together over the years, this common ground has expanded and grown. Yes, we lean on different musical influences from time to time, but this only adds to the richness of the collaboration.

What are some important things you have learnt from working and touring with Donald for all these years? Also, is it ever intimidating working with a living legend?:

The most important things I have learned from working with Donald are to be very patient, never rush (a groove or otherwise) and not worry too much what other people think. Yes I respect the hell out of Donald, and am also quite at home and relaxed working with him. I would be completely useless as a collaborator, sounding board and producer if I was intimated by him.

Will Don do a solo tour to promote this new album, and possibly come across the pond to the UK?:

You never know. Could happen!

If you were to write one promotional tweet (140 characters or less) summing up the essence of this album, what would it read like?:

A new collection of Donald Fagen original songs (and one Isaac Hayes cover) that represent an exciting new chapter in this iconic artist’s career. Harkens back to such classic albums as “AJA” and “THE NIGHTFLY”.

Enjoy the album & thanks,

Michael."

[Edited 9/17/12 4:11am]

[Edited 9/17/12 6:20am]

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #1 posted 09/17/12 5:47am

funkaholic1972

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Have you seen the vinyls already? Damn!!! drool

http://donaldfagen.shop.musictoday.com/

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #2 posted 09/17/12 5:49am

Stymie

Awesome!! Thank you for posting this. biggrin

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Reply #3 posted 09/17/12 6:20am

funkaholic1972

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You are most welcome, Stymie!

While we are at it, here is a link to a preview track:

http://www.rollingstone.c...u-20120917

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #4 posted 09/17/12 6:22am

Stymie

funkaholic1972 said:

You are most welcome, Stymie!

While we are at it, here is a link to a preview track:

http://www.rollingstone.c...u-20120917

Thanks again!!

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Reply #5 posted 09/17/12 7:46am

theAudience

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Good info. thumbs up!
Haven't seen a 3-sided vinyl release since Johnny Winter's 1969 Second Winter album.

Speaking of Keith Carlock, i'm going to be seeing him play with guitarist, and Donald Fagen alumnus, Wayne Krantz in a few weeks.



Music for adventurous listeners

tA

peace Tribal Records

"Ya see, we're not interested in what you know...but what you are willing to learn. C'mon y'all."
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Reply #6 posted 09/17/12 9:00am

funkaholic1972

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theAudience said:

Good info. thumbs up!
Haven't seen a 3-sided vinyl release since Johnny Winter's 1969 Second Winter album.

Speaking of Keith Carlock, i'm going to be seeing him play with guitarist, and Donald Fagen alumnus, Wayne Krantz in a few weeks.



Music for adventurous listeners

tA

peace Tribal Records

Lucky you! That is a gig I would love to see...

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #7 posted 09/18/12 1:23am

funkaholic1972

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What do you think of the first track that has come available? Is it up to standards? Do you like it?
RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #8 posted 09/18/12 4:42am

ForgottenPassw
ord

Think I just came...

... yep, I did.

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Reply #9 posted 09/18/12 4:46am

ForgottenPassw
ord

funkaholic1972 said:

What do you think of the first track that has come available? Is it up to standards? Do you like it?

Thumbs up. Can't wait for the other eight. biggrin

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Reply #10 posted 09/18/12 6:10am

funkaholic1972

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ForgottenPassword said:

funkaholic1972 said:

What do you think of the first track that has come available? Is it up to standards? Do you like it?

Thumbs up. Can't wait for the other eight. biggrin

Same here! Glad that Donald still has it...

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #11 posted 09/18/12 7:54am

pippet

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WOW !! This is wonderful.

Thankies

rose

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Reply #12 posted 09/18/12 1:08pm

JoeyC

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funkaholic1972 said:

Have you seen the vinyls already? Damn!!! drool

http://donaldfagen.shop.musictoday.com/

^That's Beautiful. Im going to invest in a nice record player just for Sunken Condos.

Im so stoked about this new release.

Good looking out funkaholic !

Rest in Peace Bettie Boo. See u soon.
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Reply #13 posted 09/18/12 1:41pm

Stymie

funkaholic1972 said:

You are most welcome, Stymie!

While we are at it, here is a link to a preview track:

http://www.rollingstone.c...u-20120917

Love this. cloud9

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Reply #14 posted 09/18/12 6:26pm

purplethunder3
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cool

"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything." --Plato
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Reply #15 posted 09/19/12 2:23am

funkaholic1972

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JoeyC said:

funkaholic1972 said:

Have you seen the vinyls already? Damn!!! drool

http://donaldfagen.shop.musictoday.com/

^That's Beautiful. Im going to invest in a nice record player just for Sunken Condos.

Im so stoked about this new release.

Good looking out funkaholic !

I am thinking of upgrading my record player, just for this album. I have a really cheap one now, and I think Donald's music deserves a better one! lol

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #16 posted 09/20/12 4:25am

funkaholic1972

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Stymie said:

funkaholic1972 said:

You are most welcome, Stymie!

While we are at it, here is a link to a preview track:

http://www.rollingstone.c...u-20120917

Love this. cloud9

Although I really enjoy the new song, after many repeated listenings I have to admit that "I'm Not The Same Without You" doesn't bring any new elements to the Donald Fagen/Steely Dan idiom. It sounds like an outtake of the "The Nightfly" album, an album that was recorded over 30 yeas ago. Which could be seen as a good thing perhaps, as it means his style and songwriting are still there. It is just that I was hoping for some new angles, especially now that he is working with a different producer. Something with bit more of an edge maybe?

In the interview with Michael Leonhart it was mentioned though that there are 3 new songs that bring new elements to the DF sound, so there might be a few more surprising tracks on the album.

What I do really like about "I'm Not The Same Without You" is the vocal delivery, his voice is really on point. It sounds even hoarser than normal, and the vocals seems to have a bit more energy and bite than usual. Donald sounds really vital, he even gives us a bit of vibrato here and there!

I love the bit at 01.31 minute where he sings:

"I can hold my breath for a really long time now

I can hold my own"

Anyway, I regard this first single as a reintroduction to Donald's signature sound, a nod to his most successful album "The Nightfly". A way of saying "hey people, I am still here making enjoyable music that is comparable to my heyday stuff", perhaps gaining back some old fans that lost track of DF/SD since 1981. I am still hopeful though there will also be more leftfield material on "Sunken Condos".


I would like to add that I still take songs like "I'm Not The Same Without You" over 99% of music that is released these days. If the whole new album was in the same vein as this tune I would still be a happy man, there would plenty of stuff to enjoy.

Can't wait until the 16th of October to hear the other tracks!

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #17 posted 09/20/12 7:25am

Stymie

I am okay with it not being anything new actually. Listening to this song was like slipping on an old shoe. cloud9

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Reply #18 posted 09/20/12 7:31am

2freaky4church
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I'm sure it's an album of bomb after bomb since Fagen is one of our more consistant geniuses. Gotta love that droll, pop/jazz/rock.

All you others say Hell Yea!! woot!
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Reply #19 posted 09/20/12 8:24am

funkaholic1972

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Stymie said:

I am okay with it not being anything new actually. Listening to this song was like slipping on an old shoe. cloud9

Slipping on an old shoe, that is exacty what it is! That's what I like about it, and at the same time dislike about it.

There is far more to like than to dislike though, I'm still thoroughly enjoying listening to it...

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #20 posted 09/20/12 8:25am

funkaholic1972

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2freaky4church1 said:

I'm sure it's an album of bomb after bomb since Fagen is one of our more consistant geniuses. Gotta love that droll, pop/jazz/rock.

That is true. I have good hopes as well!

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time...
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Reply #21 posted 09/20/12 8:46am

Stymie

funkaholic1972 said:

Stymie said:

I am okay with it not being anything new actually. Listening to this song was like slipping on an old shoe. cloud9

Slipping on an old shoe, that is exacty what it is! That's what I like about it, and at the same time dislike about it.

There is far more to like than to dislike though, I'm still thoroughly enjoying listening to it...

nod

I think I'm going to get the vinyl and burn it onto CD for my car.

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Reply #22 posted 09/20/12 11:31am

theAudience

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funkaholic1972 said:

What do you think of the first track that has come available? Is it up to standards? Do you like it?

I posted my thoughts on the track here:http://prince.org/msg/8/385750


Music for adventurous listeners


tA

peace Tribal Records

"Ya see, we're not interested in what you know...but what you are willing to learn. C'mon y'all."
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Forums > Music: Non-Prince > Interview with Michael Leonhart (producer) about Donald Fagen's new album "Sunken Condos", plus track preview!!