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Interviews

Burt Bacharach: At This Time

By Published: October 31, 2005
AAJ: I would agree that the music is romantic but as you say these are not romantic love songs in the sense we are talking about. You maybe had to work with a tension between form and content that you never had to work with before?

BB: And freedom, too—it didn't matter whether it ran five minutes or seven minutes, and nobody's looking over my shoulder. Nobody saying, "Hey, we can't get this played on radio. It'd be too tough to do.

A writer for the Irish Times, I believe, had talked to me on the telephone and said to me, "I like this album. What it feels like to me is like a clenched fist in a velvet glove. That's a good one.

There are no songs here. There are vocal interjections and observations. Was it intentional? It just came out that way.

AAJ: Who played keyboard and piano—was it you?

BB: I played all the keyboards. Did I have a second keyboard? Yeah, I did, someone else played some synth elements, you can see from the notes who played second keyboard on a couple of tracks. But everything featured—"Always Taking Aim, that's me playing. You know what I do: I conduct from the piano.

You'll appreciate this, I think: Everything's live. We put all the strings in one room, in the same room with the brass, the drums and the singers. Except for the Dr. Dre stuff, which was really very...You work with a loop, that in itself was an interesting aspect, to go to these drum loops that Dre had given me and build from there harmonically and stay melodic over it.

You look at a thing like on "Danger —that's Dre's title, "Danger —and it is dark, the bass line, man, it's just very ominous. And within the confinement and restriction of working with a drum loop, a bass loop, and that's what you're stuck with, and make something rich happen over there, put real instruments, strings, and then maybe the strings build and the orchestra builds but the drum loops, as you know with all drum loops, they stay constant, right? So what you do is, you bring in a great drummer like John Robinson in certain places, let him give you a downfill, go to the ride cymbal, whatever, so there's a humanistic thing coming in that also goes with the flow of the music.

AAJ: Knowing that Andrew Hale has been a lifelong member of Sade helps place the sound of this music in context...but what exactly does an "A&R project director do?

BB: He's a very terrific musician. He was there on all the dates, I played him the material. He's a great buffer, even when he ended up in the studio and didn't play on anything. He's a great keyboard player. To have Sade's top keyboard player in the band, and Andrew did the vocal for me with Rufus because the only time they could do it was in England, he can do things like that. He's a plus, you know? You can say to him, "What do you think about the eight bars here? I think we have little bit of excess fat. And he would say, "Try to leave it alone, live with it for a day. That sort of thing is really valuable.

It's not the same way that I worked with Hal, you know: He's in the studio, we wrote the things together, "Are the strings working on those eight bars? I don't know. What do you think, Hal? "Yeah, it sounds a little funny or something. Then you go into the bathroom and figure it out yourself—sorry!

I'll tell you one thing Andrew did that was immensely valuable: I said, "Listen, we have a terrible sequence, a terrible running order. It's your ballpark. You figure it out—it's your sequence. And he came up with a great sequence, what can I tell you.

AAJ: Opening up the record with "Please Explain sure seems like genius. The way it opens softly but yet jumps directly into your themes, even your vocal, presents a great opening to the rest of the music.

BB: It was the last thing I recorded, the last thing I wrote. This last thing is very important: It's the first time I've ever written my own lyrics, though they were mostly written with Tonio K. What else can I tell you except that I am really proud of this album. I think it's as good as anything I've ever done, and I hope it's successful. It's going to ruffle some feathers, I'm already seeing that!

AAJ: How does Dr. Dre end up contributing beats and loops on a Burt Bacharach abum?

BB: With Dre, it was very basic. Dre, three years ago or about then, was starting his last album. A mutual friend thought we should get together and introduced us. We got together, talked about what his album might be, he gave me seven drum loops and said, "See what you come up with. I did three of them like Polaroid pictures, I didn't finish them, forty second things, no real instruments, just going into a garage band studio. Went into the studio and played them for Dre and he liked it, he thought the one thing that turned out to be "Go Ask Shakespeare —there were no words at the time—it could be a hit, he thought.

But he wasn't ready to start his album. He still had Eminem to go, he still had 50 Cent, so everything was on hold. He kind of just gave me his blessings. So I played some of those tracks for Rob Stringer, who was interested in making this album with me and runs BMG Sony in England. And we did that. And Rob said: "This what I want. Don't give me ten pop songs. I never wanted that from you. I know that you can take some chances. I know you can take some risks.

He said, "I remember 'Wives and Lovers' that you did, that seven-minute version where you have a big band with a string quartet inside and time signatures are changing, I think Grady Tate was playing drums, and it was just, on account of everybody interacting... A record that I'm very proud of, you know. So Rob said, "Take some chances. Take some risks.

So I started to develop the Dre things, and then we got to where they were longer pieces, some ran four or five minutes. And we drop the loop out sometimes, like in "Danger, you go to a middle section just with violin, viola, oboe and piano, and then you return to the loop. There's kind of like darkness about that loop and when Dre added the title "Danger, nothing could be more dangerous than the way that sounds. But it also sounded very "street-y to me, you know what I mean? It sounded like my familiarity with the urban market, which I've always been comfortable with. Always comfortable with these artists whether it was Aretha, whether it was Patti Labelle...


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