MIZELL BROTHERS ( redbull academy interview pt. 2 )

RBMA: »Time to open it up to the floor. I’m sure there are quite a few questions to come, so don’t be shy.«

Participant: »Two questions really. Since you’ve got an array of hits, do you have any tips on how to avoid being thrown in the one-hit-wonder bin? Also, from your long array of tracks how do you choose what goes onto an album and what gets thrown away?«

Larry Mizell: »Would you repeat the first question?«

Participant: »How do you feel about one-hit-wonders? Do you have any tips on how not be a one-hit-wonder and is it bad to be one?«

Larry Mizell: »We’re not big fans of one-hit-wonders, longevity is the name of the game in the music business. What it comes down to in our trade is the songs themselves. You’ll see songs lasting way after the artist has faded away and when you think of certain artists you usually think of a song. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of that artist is a tune. Only a few artists have surpassed that level where just their touch makes the song a classic: people like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra. It’s just their thing, they’ve risen above. A Streisand. But it’s the song for us, make sure your writing is speaking on many levels. Then it’s the arrangement, how it’s presented.«

Participant: »And when it comes to picking what you put on the albums?«

Larry Mizell: »Creative choice: you’re feeling one, you’re not feeling another. That’s the main thing. A lot of times we wanted to put songs on an album that we just didn’t have room for, so that came into play as well.«

RBMA: »Are there any tracks that didn’t make it to the album where you look back and say, “Wow, we really should’ve put that out. That would’ve been the one.” Are there any tracks you can think of on any of the records that stand out that way?«

Fonce Mizell: »There was one where we went back in and changed the whole groove of a song. The name of it was ‘Mrs Kane’.«

Larry Mizell: »Oh right, we did several versions of that. The thing about it was we’d just finished that ‘Mizell’ album for Blue Note and they sent us a whole catalogue of things we’d written, but we really didn’t remember the tunes we’d written that we didn’t use. We really had no idea of them and we’d have to go back through them because we’d cut so much. So we just moved on after that.«

RBMA: »You know, most of the people in this room would kill to be able to hear those tunes you just forgot (laughter).«

Participant: »A question for Fonce with the Jackson 5. Someone told me the lyrics of ‘The Love You Save’ were about traffic safety. Is that true?«

Fonce Mizell: »No, no.«

Larry Mizell: »That was a metaphor. The light you save. Stop signs.«

Fonce Mizell: »That’s where we got the idea from, the old saying. There was a commercial back east about traffic safety. But ‘The Love You Save’ was about a chick who was too loose with herself.«

Larry Mizell: »She wants to stop doing that.«

Fonce Mizell: »Yeah (laughs).«

Participant: »My second question is about the Rance Allen Group. I believe around the same time there was a man named DJ Rogers selling Gospel music. Did you ever work with him?«

Larry Mizell: »No, we never worked with him, we ran into him mixing songs at the same studio. He was a big fan of Rance’s and we liked what he was doing, too. But he knew all about Rance.«

Participant: »Do you think you will release the songs you did with Marvin Gaye one day?«

Larry Mizell: »Hope so. We’ve talked with Universal about it. The tune they released was ‘Where Are We Going’; strangely they’ve released it three different times on three compilations, but still the creative is not releasing ‘Woman Of The World’. It could be they feel the track wasn’t finished, needed sweetening or whatever. We liked the rawness of the track anyway, so hopefully they’ll come to their senses.«

Fonce Mizell: »That tune, we were thinking about putting it on our album, do ‘Woman Of The World’ with a different arrangement. It would’ve been slower, I don’t know how slow.«

Participant: »On the Blue Note album that came out last year there was a tune called ‘N R Time’, which I listened to a lot, and I know that some elements were re-recorded. I know the incredible drum track with Harvey Mason, I just wondered if you could speak on that tune. What does ‘N R’ stand for?«

Larry Mizell: »That was a track that Blue Note sent us to remix for this album and we got the Pro Tools tracks and basically stripped it down to just drums and re-wrote the whole groove on top of it. We overdubbed the parts, brought people in, put vocals on and reconstructed ‘N R Time’ from just the drum groove. What we heard on the multi-track convinced us why we never released it in the first place, it just wasn’t really cutting it, we thought. It was all done last year, all the overdubs, except the drums.«

Participant: »One more thing; do you think before the lecture ends we can hear the Marvin Gaye tune one last time (laughter)?«

Larry Mizell: »Sure, sure.«

RBMA: »There’s another question this way I think… no? Anywhere?«

Participant: »I just noticed your next collaborations coming up are with 4 Hero and Madlib and I was just wondering how did you get together with those guys, whether you jam with those guys the same way as you did back then?«

Larry Mizell: »We met Dego, he would come to the States because he had a friend who was an acquaintance of ours. He was a fan of some of our music so she put us together, a lady by the name of Felicia. Dego came up to the house and we really didn’t talk about too much, we just went for dinner and he left some of his CD’s and I liked what he was doing because he was using live strings. That’s refreshing. Live, period, the musicality of it. They would go on to take a groove and lay on it, it was great. We were in London in December with them doing some mixing for a single that’s coming out at the end of January.«

Participant: »And how did you get together with Madlib?«

Larry Mizell: »The same way. He had been sampling some of our music and had been doing a lot of work with Blue Note, remixing some of our tunes. Eli Wolf, who A&R-ed our record for Blue Note in New York, connected us up and we actually hung out for a while. We’re still talking with Madlib about how we’re going to do it. We want to do something really different: not a typical Madlib record and not a typical Mizell record. So we’re still talking and we’ve both been travelling like crazy this past year, but we talked before we left so hopefully soon we can nail down the parameters.«

Participant: »Cool, I’ll be looking forward to that.«

RBMA: »We’re actually trying to find the 4 Hero track here. Benji has it and we had it a minute ago, when we find it again we’ll drop it on.«

Participant: »Hello, first of all thanks for everything you’ve done, all the tracks and lyrics. I know that Carl Craig and his Detroit Experiment has taken a very special part out of ‘Think Twice’ and I was wondering, did he call you to ask permission, and what’s the financial part of such remakes? If I’m an artist and I want to use one of the best parts of your song, what are the financial considerations?«

Larry Mizell: »As far as Carl Craig, we don’t really know him, we know of him through a friend back in Detroit. The procedure is basically to get clearance from the publisher and the record company. It’s different if you’re just going to cover the song, then you just need to contact the publisher and if a song’s been released already you don’t even need to do that. It’s called statutory copyright, where you just record the tune and the label pays mechanical rights to the publisher.

But in the case of sampling you have to make a deal with the publisher and also the record company, because they copyrighted the master recording and they have certain rights to that. It’s good to have somebody who knows the in’s and out’s of it to do that for you, because different publishers and record companies have different procedures. They try to anticipate whether it’s going to be a big record and other kinds of things to decide what the parameters of the deal should be.«

RBMA: »Anybody want to hear the 4 Hero track (hands go up)? Okay.«
(music: music: 4 Hero with Larry Mizell and Talita Long ‘Play With The Changes’)

RBMA: »Any more questions?«

Participant: »Yeah, I’ve got a technical question. Obviously, coming from an era when synthesizers were really new and you were the first ones to introduce them to Pop music, did you still keep them around at the beginning of the 80’s or did you go into a shop to trade them for a digital piano? Do you still have that equipment?«

Larry Mizell: »Some of it. We had a fire in our studio ten years ago and we lost a bunch of our vintage stuff, as well as outtakes from Byrd and J5, irreplaceable stuff. And some of our vintage stuff, D6 Clav, Arp Odyssey. Actually, we’ve put together a few of them and with the help of eBay we’ve got a Fender Rhodes and so on, but we’ve been impressed with where the new software stuff is coming from. You can tell the difference. We do have some vintage stuff still around.«

Participant: »So you’re not entirely looking back at this time and thinking we lost a really good sound and everything today sounds really plastic?«

Larry Mizell: »I don’t think it’s as warm, it’s not as warm. It’s very detailed and we’re still waiting to see with Pro Tools now at the high limit, 192K, which uses a lot of memory, people say 96K sounds good, 192K is even better. But the more we approach an analogue curve the better it sounds, some of it sounds pretty good. Along those lines, it’s a conflicting concept when you use this high technology to produce a super fidelity product and then it gets transferred to an MP3 and everyone has the iPods and they download from the internet and it’s not a full wave file; it’s counter-intuitive actually.«

Participant: »You’ve been prolific songwriters and musicians for other artists. Were you ever tempted to use this material for yourselves?«

Larry Mizell: »We did an album on ourselves, I played on a cut from it, it was for Warner Brothers and it’s still never been released. We enjoyed it and we did play on all of the tracks on that album, but we did play on some tracks ourselves for other artists. We enjoyed jamming and we were thinking of coming back here tonight at 8.00, jamming keyboards, bass and drums (applause).«

Participant: »Studio’s ready!«

Larry Mizell: »Studio’s ready, let’s get it on. We need one or two guitar players and percussionists and whoever else needs to join in up there. I can play the Marvin Gaye after the next question.«

Participant: »You mentioned your man Chuck Davis, who built the Sound Enhancer for you, and you also said you guys were fortunate in that you had great engineers. Was there ever any blurred line when you guys stepped from producer into engineer mode, you wanted to move the mics around, hit the faders? And also if any of your engineering background came in and you find yourself tweaking the box and getting your own space age sound?«

Larry Mizell: »We didn’t really blur the line other than fader levels: more snare, less kick, EQ it a bit. But the processing, the types of reverb, plates, EMT’s or natural chambers, we left that to the engineers because we wanted to concentrate on the music. We kept that line, we were on a creative lean. As far as my engineering background, I kept it out of the engineering part. It really wasn’t that interesting until today. Today, you need to have a grounding in electronics, physics, not necessarily a degree, but there’s a whole lot you need to learn just to understand these programmes of today, so I find it very interesting today engineering-wise.«

Participant: »A philosophical question. Listening to most contemporary producers and albums, from Rock to R’n B, every time you listen to a new album there’s something that reminds you of the past. I have a feeling that I haven’t heard a single album that was completely new, and I feel there is nothing new nowadays being composed. So, the question is why, after twenty years, are we sitting here and talking about your heritage that you’ve given us rather than the new producers? Is it that the creative potential of new producers, musicians is so low that there’s nothing completely new?«

RBMA: »We have Skream this afternoon.«

Larry Mizell: »There’s a commercial aspect. There are only four major record companies now. All the independent labels that existed in the 60’s and 70’s, they nurtured artists stretching out. Now it’s bottom line, if you’re not selling enough you get dropped, and a certain amount by a certain time. They don’t just stay with an artist. You have those factors, so people are chasing hits and are unwilling to step up. You have more business-minded A&R people.

This is on the major record labels. Where you guys are coming from is totally creative, there’s not a sense of commercialism. What we’ve seen this week is totally inspiring, the mixing and matching of musical styles. So we see hope. And not only that, the major labels that are out here right now, that whole model is changing, because now we’re going over to internet distribution and the labels are scrambling to figure out the point of their existence. Now they’re just becoming distributors, but they’re not as relevant as they were. Hopefully you guys can change that.«

Participant: »When we heard ‘Think Twice’ with different layers and you talking about how you would cue different sections with your cards, A, B, C, D, the change up from the alto solo from Gary Bartz on that tune to the change that I think is possibly my favourite eight bars in music. I was wondering if you could talk about that specific chord progression and possibly even demonstrate it on the Rhodes (applause).

Larry Mizell: »That would be somewhat difficult, I’d have to look at the charts, I’ve got a lot of chords in my head. Which particular section are you talking about, when Gary comes in?«

Participant: »The B section actually happens at the start of the song, but the extended part at the end, which was famously sampled by A Tribe Called Quest, that’s where I discovered it. But perhaps any other famous signature Mizell chord progression which you could lay on us.«

Larry Mizell: »We had a lot of minor chord progressions which we favoured and we’d throw different modulations in in the minor keys. It would vary.«

RBMA: »The Fender Rhodes awaits.«

Larry Mizell: »But we can get into that tonight, let’s show up tonight.«

click below to listen

DONALD BYRD – Wind Parade


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