In advance of today’s show at the 9:30 Club with Gregory Isaacs, I spoke with Easy Star All Stars co-founder Michael Goldwasser [pictured above, seated]. Goldwasser, as producer, musical director, arranger and guitarist, has been the driving force behind the Easy Star All Star tribute efforts. Those releases have included Radiohead and Pink Floyd tributes, and their recent Beatles tribute, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band.
Black Plastic Bag: You’ve covered 3 albums by British groups. I’m assuming that its a coincidence, but do you intend to cover say an American group? If so, anyone in contention so far?
Michael Goldwasser: It is a coincidence on one level – we didn’t set out to adapt albums by British groups. But there is a strong connection since Jamaica is a former British colony and is very influenced by that in some ways. Also, a lot of my favorite reggae is from the UK. In terms of adapting an album by an American group, that certainly could happen, but we are more focused on finding the right albums to work on and are less concerned with the group behind the album.
BPB: Do you think your method could work in reverse, say a straight up rock band covering Bush Doctor or Catch a Fire?
MG: I’m sure that it could work, and I’d love to see someone take that on. A big part of our mission is bridging the gap between cultures, and a rock band covering a reggae album could go a long way towards that, especially if it was a major act. But I think that a lot of the power of reggae comes from the actual music, so I’m not sure how compelling Catch A Fire would be without those reggae vibes. But I’d like to find out.
BPB: Do you start on an album to cover and find later it’s uncoverable and ditch it?
MG: I’ve started working on the arrangements for some albums, only to find that they were not working well enough to go all the way with. We don’t want to settle for OK; we only want to do these albums if we feel that they can be really great.
BPB: Did you listen to any previous Beatles covers to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t?
MG: No, I didn’t want to influence myself, even subconsciously. Luckily, most of the songs on Sgt. Pepper’s had not been covered in reggae yet anyway.
BPB: Did the success of Dub Side of the Moon give you confidence to continue along the path of covering classic records?
MG: Yes, definitely.
BPB: Any word from Sir Paul, Ringo or Apple? What about the other bands you’ve covered?
MG: We’ve sent out to everyone in the Beatles camp, but no word back yet except from their publishers, who really love it. We’ve had positive reactions from David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and all of the guys in Radiohead. Thom Yorke even gave us props from the stage during a Radiohead concert, which was really great. As the producer, it’s very gratifying to know that the original artists like what we’ve done with their music.
BPB: What was the hardest element to convey from Sgt Peppers?
MG: I was concerned with doing justice to the orchestral parts in “A Day In the Life” – that’s some pretty iconic stuff right there. But by adding a string section to the rest of the band, and then overdubbing them many times, I think that we pulled it off. A lot of people have told us that it’s their favorite track on the album.
BPB: The attention to fidelity and high quality sound is a hallmark of your recordings. What steps are taken in the studio to produce such rich sounds?
MG: Thanks! Well, we operate in a somewhat old-school manner when it comes to recording and mixing. The basic tracks are all recorded to 2-inch tape, and we take care to use as much analog equipment as possible. We do a lot of the recording at Capture Sound in Brooklyn, which has a great live sound. I do dump the tracks to Protools for ease of editing, but the mixing is all done live through a great board with a lot of vintage outboard gear. This album was mixed at Studio G in Brooklyn, which had everything that we needed in that regard. We also use a great mastering engineer, Jeff Lipton at Peerless in Boston. But maybe the most important aspect is that we really try to take our time to get things to sound right. Even with the limited budgets that we are working from, I know that if I plan well and have as many things worked out ahead of time as possible, then we’ve got a good shot of achieving what we need.
BPB: Circling back to the first question, can you give any hints on what album is next for the Easy Star All Stars?
MG: Sorry, I really can’t. We want to surprise everyone when we finally announce the next one to the world. But rest assured, we’re not going to do another one of these albums unless we find the right album to do.
The Easy Star All Stars perform with Gregory Isaacs Thursday night at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 7:00 pm and tickets are still available for $25.
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With a Little Help From My Friends – Easy Star All Stars