Friday, February 15, 2008

Classic Rock Article - Part Two


New Eyeballs in a Secret Club

Zutaut then had to prove that he could help in the studio.

"Here was the Axl that I met in 1985 again," says Tom.

"A guy that had a vision and wanted to make the best record that had ever been made. And we talked and he said,

'I go to the studio - I tell 'em what I want - and they tell me that they've got what I want - and then when I listen to it - I'm bummed out'. He goes, 'Nobody seems to understand my language."

The two men sat and talked for six hours straight as Axl filled him in on the state of Chinese Democracy. Fully briefed, the next day Zoot entered the studio without Axl.

The first task set him by the singer was to help with the drum sound for the album's title track. Axl had told the studio guys that he wanted the same drum sound as Dave Grohl on Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The production crew would claim they had it, but Axl wouldn't be satisfied. Zutaut asked Roy Thomas Baker and the engineer to play what they had, and found himself agreeing with Axl.

"I'm gonna take a break but I'll be back," Tom told them and then he did the only sensible thing: "I went and bought Nevermind at the local Tower Records." Back in the studio, they compared the two and set to work making the GN'R drummer sound exactly like Grohl. "I guess maybe they heard the Nirvana hits on the radio and they just thought that they knew the sound, but none of them had thought to just go buy the album and listen to it."

They sent the finished thing over the Axl who called Zutaut straight away:

"I've only been asking for that for, like, six fucking months!" he said. "You don't understand: I've been losing my fucking mind! I ask you for something, I get it. I've been asking other people and they can't get it?!"

Zutaut had passed the test. "I wish I'd called you a couple of years ago," Axl told him. 'Can you come out here and do this?" Zutaut said he'd talk to Interscope/ Geffen about it – he would, after all, be working for them, not Axl – and just two years previously he'd left them in less than amicable circumstances.

A week later, the two parties were still trying to agree on a fee when Axl phoned Zutaut:

"He said,'I don't give a fuck about the money, whatever it takes. I just know I need you here to move forward, 'cos I've been spinning my wheels for at least six months. I'm gonna tell 'em they have to give you the money if they want the record,"' He was true to his word.

"The only compromise I made," says Zutaut, "was that I deferred some of the money to being able to deliver the record by a certain deadline – which of course I lost.

"But back then, I felt that I could get it done no problem. It was like Use Your Illusions and Appetite all over again. I know what Axl wants, I can get it out of the crew that are in there now, RTB [Roy Thomas Baker] and I worked at Elektra records for two years so – y'know – no problem"

So by deferring some of the money to a trigger date on delivery of the record, Interscope saved some money and they got my services and everybody was happy.

The admin side apart, 95% of Zutaut's job was to listen to all the songs.

"There were probably 50 or 60 songs on four or five CDs with 12-15 songs a piece. I had to go through those songs and then sit with Axl and work with him directly to pick and choose which songs would he worth finishing."

A nocturnal worker, Axl was sent a stack of tracks that they'd worked on during the day for him to listen to during the night. Then, when he got up at two or three in the afternoon, he would call Zutaut and RTB and go through what he liked and what he didn't like. Slowly, the album was coming together.

"We were finishing tracks," confirms Tom. "Doing overdubs with Buckethead and Robin Finck and some stuff with Tommy Stinson. I felt we had a well finished version of “The Blues”, “Madagascar”, “Chinese Democracy”.

“Atlas Shrugged” was pretty good. We replaced a lot of drums. Because of Axl's belief that the record is supposed to be the energy of the people involved in creating it, we had to replace Josh Freese's drumming. And his drumming was spectacular. I would not have wanted to be in Brain's shoes. Basically we were saying to him 'We have got a brilliant performance of this and now we need you to recreate it'."

Does he recognise some of the work he did on any of the leaked versions?

"Some of it's the same and some of it's different. For instance I have heard a leaked version of “Chinese Democracy” that has some really weird keyboards in it and I don't like the sound of that at all. The stuff that we worked on back in '01 smoked its ass. But it's pretty dicey to try compare what's been leaked: we don't know if it was intentional, we don't know who leaked it. It could be a board mix that was meant for a keyboard player so he could learn his parts..."

One song causing problems was “Madagascar”, which samples Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech - a sample for which they didn't have clearance during Zutaut's time on the album.

"Axl feels that particular speech is at the core of the message that he is putting across in that song," says Zutaut, "and he told me that if the Martin Luther King estate would not give permission for that to come out on the final record - that track would not be on it without it.

I subsequently found out that the recorded rights to that speech belong to Universal so I figure that- Coretta King [wife of Martin Luther King] is dead now- so unless her kids are violently opposed to him being associated with Axl Rose, Universal should be able to work that out."

And the project rolled on, and on, and on... Some people now think that Chinese Democracy – with with it's very title – is intended as a never-ending project. Does Zutaut think Axl intend it as an in-joke, one of those things are never going to come to pass? "No," he says. 'And let me put it this way: it would appear we would almost have democracy in China. Certainly in terms of capitalism they are right up front..."

Not only was there a clear intention to finish the album, but the vast majority had been finished, he claims: "By the time 1 left f felt that there were probably 11 or 12 tracks that just needed need final mixes. We could have had a record out for September 2002. I don't think it would have been an issue. would have given it another three months for a few more overdubs and three for mixing and worst case scenario out Spring of '03."

Negotiations could include the release date (Zutaut says that he'd release it at the end of the summer so that it would be a big Christmas album) or something more novel – in an age that sees Radiohead giving albums away free online, is it enough to launch an album like Chinese Democracy in the 'traditional' manner?

And, even if they wanted to, does the album have the hit single it would need to get global airplay? ("It's a great GN'R record," says Zutaut, "but is there a hit single? Cos without the hit, you can't sell 20 million')

PART I

SOURCE: Classic Rock

4 comments:

Unknown said...

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Anonymous said...

"It's a great GN'R record," says Tom Zutaut, "but is there a hit single? 'Cos without the hit, you can't sell 20 million"