ECHOES – ANCIENT & MODERN Trevor Horn
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- 1Swimming Pools (Drank)03:56
- 2Steppin' Out04:23
- 3Owner Of A Lonely Heart03:42
- 4Slave To The Rhythm04:13
- 5Love Is A Battlefield03:31
- 6Personal Jesus03:25
- 9White Wedding04:33
- 10Smells Like Teen Spirit04:31
Info for ECHOES – ANCIENT & MODERN
Influential, innovative and idiosyncratic – producer Trevor Horn is credited with creating the sound of the 80s. For Echoes – Ancient & Modern, his debut album for Deutsche Grammophon, he has taken 11 iconic tracks – from that decade and beyond – and reinvented them with different vocalists and brand-new orchestral arrangements.
Horn himself sings vocals on a Roxy Music classic as well as producing Marc Almond, Tori Amos, Rick Astley, Andrea Corr, Steve Hogarth, Lady Blackbird, Jack Lukeman, Iggy Pop, Seal and Toyah Wilcox & Robert Fripp in tracks originally performed by Pat Benatar; The Cars; Depeche Mode; Frankie Goes to Hollywood; Billy Idol; Joe Jackson; Grace Jones; Kendrick Lamar; Nirvana and Yes.
In conversation with Morley, Trevor Horn discusses how he chose the tracks to rework – and the artists to help him transform the familiar into something magical and new. “Finding the right singers was as important as finding the songs, probably more so,” he recalls. “It’s an album by me, as a kind of auteur. I’m the artist commissioning other artists rather than them hiring me.”
Horn hasn’t just produced Echoes – Ancient & Modern, he sings backing vocals, plays keyboards, bass and/or guitar, and spins musical gold from his fellow instrumentalists, including another old friend, Lol Creme, and a string orchestra. “Building a feeling into a song is a tricky, intangible thing to do,” he says. “There are lots of technical and psychological short cuts to recording a song, but none to actually make it feel real. That remains a studio secret.”
Echoes – Ancient & Modern opens in the 21st century with Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pool (Drank)”. Its potent lyrics appealed to Horn, who worked with singer-songwriter Tori Amos to create this cinematic cover in which Amos’s vocals, underpinned by subtle string writing, totally transfigure the rap original. As the producer notes, “It sets everything up like it’s the beginning of a song cycle.”
Aware of a certain expectation that he’ll revisit his back catalogue on an album like this, he reworks three of his biggest 80s hits here. Rick Astley’s rendition of Yes’s US number one “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is newly endowed with a dance groove. Lady Blackbird successfully takes up the challenge of reinterpreting the inimitable Grace Jones’s “Slave to the Rhythm”. “She sings it on her own terms,” says Horn, “and takes the song somewhere else.” Last but by no means least, Toyah Wilcox is the vocalist in an unexpected 21st-century version of “Relax” – “The pure joy of Toyah, which also means her husband Robert Fripp and his fantastical guitar, seemed about as wonderfully distant from Frankie Goes to Hollywood as it’s possible to get.”
Staying in the early 80s, Horn pairs the “ineffable cool” of Seal with Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” and the “wounded but undefeated” voice of Marc Almond with the Pat Benatar hit “Love is a Battlefield”. Marillion lead singer Steve Hogarth sings The Cars’ “Drive” – “It’s a sad song,” says Horn, “and I tried to make it even sadder.” Meanwhile, the “effortless” Andrea Corr is joined by fellow Irish singer Jack Lukeman to put a very different spin on Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”.
From the end of the decade we hear Iggy Pop’s version of Depeche Mode’s game-changing “Personal Jesus”. “Iggy adds another truth to whatever he does,” notes Horn. Jack Lukeman returns, this time on solo duty, for the album’s one 90s original, Nirvana’s legendary “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and Trevor Horn himself supplies lead vocals in Roxy Music’s “Avalon” of 1982. He’s chosen to end the album with this track: “It’s a little like at the end of the show I’m saying this is me – the producer, the band leader, but also the performer – signing off. For now…”
Please Note: we do not offer the 192 kHz version of this album, because there is no considerable or audible musical content. Hence we offer 96kHz.
When Trevor Horn became a record producer in the late 1970s and was poised to create one of the most distinctive and compelling sonic signatures of the 1980s, he had, one way or another, assembled the perfect ingredients to become a modern producer.
Born in 1949, he was the perfect teenage age to become a Beatles fanatic and become consumed by the music in the early 1960s. After following his bass-playing father in dance bands as a teenager, he performed as a Bob Dylan impersonator and, at 19, realizing a day job wasn't for him, began life as a professional musician. His sight-reading ability as a bassist meant he was in high demand for both live and session work, and while working in recording studios he developed a love for that environment as well as the rapidly evolving technologies and the opportunities that this presented. Recording gradually replaced constant touring as his main goal, although it took some time for him to realize that he actually wanted to be a producer.
Living in Leicester and too poor to rent local studios to experiment with production, he built his own relatively sophisticated 8-track studio with a friend. In an effort to get work, he recorded demos for local musicians and produced a football song for Leicester City. He was made aware that he was producing, and that seemed to suit his temperament - working with musicians, equipment and songs, putting everything together, machines and personnel, and figuring out how to make a record along the way. If possible, a great one.
He gained further necessary experience with music and the music industry when he was promoted to musical director as bassist for disco queen Tina Charles, the British Gloria Gaynor, who topped the charts in the 1970s. This led to meetings with equally forward-thinking musicians such as Hans Zimmer and Thomas Dolby, and in the late 1970s he formed the Buggles with Geoff Downes - frustrated with working for other artists, Horn and Downes decided to join Zimmer and another musical band traveler, Bruce Woolley, to become an artist himself. They invented their idea of an ideal pop group from the future, the Buggles, a slight distortion of the name of Horn's first favorite band, the Beatles.
Years of experience on the road and constant testing in recording studios and the use of electronics flowed into their meticulously compiled and forward-looking first hit "Video Killed the Radio Star". The song, which already demonstrated the technological ambition and perfectionism for which Horn would later become known, was inspired by a 1960 story by J.G. Ballard, The Sound-Sweep, about an opera singer who is overtaken by musical progress and lives in a bleak recording studio. It was the first UK number one single for Chris Blackwell's legendary Island record label and created its own history - its own future - by becoming the first video played on MTV in August 1981, thereby opening up a new world of pop.
A brief, problematic collaboration with prog rock legends Yes and the lack of a successor to the huge success of the first Buggles single led Horn to return to production. He transformed the light-pop duo Dollar by presenting them as an offshoot of Kraftwerk. Additionally, his groundbreaking work with Sex Pistols manager and cultural conqueror Malcolm McLaren on Duck Rock, a mix of proto-hip-hop, early sampling and deviant world music, stands out. He was also a conceptual partner on Brian Enos and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
His hyper-glamorous, hi-tech production of Sheffield pop stylists ABC's debut album The Lexicon of Love in 1982 made Trevor Horn the most sought-after producer of his time, uniquely incorporating cutting-edge electronics, live instruments, orchestral arrangements, dance rhythms and the knew how to combine the new art of sampling.
Always keen to create worlds and imagine possibly impossible pop fantasies, Horn, along with his manager and wife Jill Sinclair, took over Chris Blackwell's famous Island Studios in west London, home to classic records by Bob Marley, Free, Led Zeppelin , the Rolling Stones and Roxy Music were responsible. Renamed Sarm, it also became the home of the innovative record label Zang Tuum Tumb and the playground of a classic-futuristic house band, Art of Noise, with musicians, arrangers, engineers and technicians that Horn had used on the ABC and McLaren albums. It was also the studio of choice for the likes of George Michael and the Pet Shop Boys.
Relentless perfectionist Trevor Horn and ZTT became a sensational hit machine in 1984 with a record-breaking run of million-selling Frankie Goes To Hollywood records, including the infamous "Relax" and the apocalyptic pop epic "Two Tribes."
With the postmodern musique concrète of Art of Noise and the dark pop hits of Germany's "Abba aus der Hölle", Propaganda, the label had groundbreaking singles in the top 30 every week in 1984, and Horn also returned to Yes as a producer, with He used the Art of Noise sounds to create a new kind of prog-tech sound and an unlikely American number one, "Owner of a Lonely Heart".
One of Horn and ZTT's most sublime achievements, combining technology and spirit, was "Slave to the Rhythm," which centered on the original Grace Jones, with Horn employing musicians, studio engineers and other staff with whom he worked from the Buggles to had worked with ZTT. It confirmed him as an extreme master of the recording studio, with an unparalleled talent for getting the best out of studio, song and singer.
Horn's inspired, long-standing partnership with Seal, which began with the strange, beguiling swing of "Crazy" on the ZTT label in the 1990s, is the ultimate testament to his commitment to making great records through immense attention to detail creating the conditions for exceptional singing performances. That's why singers such as Godley and Creme, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Tom Jones, Robbie Williams and John Legend - and, underlining his penchant for the unorthodox, Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian - have worked with him over the past few decades delivered some of their best vocal performances.
In his fifth decade as a producer, it is this enduring, unstoppable fascination with the mysteries of the studio, the song and the singer that has led to Echoes - Ancient and Modern. Horn is still researching what a great pop song is and how it is made in the studio, still searching for secrets and insights as enthusiastically as he did 50 years ago in his self-built studio in Leicester. He's still working on figuring out what attracts him to singers.
"I love hearing people sing. I love recording singers and helping them sound the best they can. That's why I've been doing it for so long and still want to do it. It makes me feel useful. For me, the best way to make a track sound better is with the voice. The instruments take care of themselves, but if you take time with the vocals you can really make a song unique . That's where everything begins and ends."
Echoes is the follow-up to Trevor Horn's 2019 Reimagines the Eighties and expresses the producer's love of pop songs, producing pop songs he loves and creating a beguiling mix of styles and sounds with singers he has worked with has worked with - Seal, Tori Amos, Marc Almond, Marillion's Steve Hogarth, Billy Idol - as well as some he hasn't - Iggy Pop, Rick Astley, Lady Blackbird, Toyah Wilcox.
"I haven't given up producing other people's records, but it's just hard to find anything that's worth the effort I used to put in. It's a different time and I'm in a different phase of my life Life. It's an album of me, as a kind of writer, but with different performers. I'm the artist who hires other artists instead of them hiring me. The production of this album gave me problems to think about , without being involved in a complicated, time-consuming project where I'm responsible for someone else's career. I'm still obsessed with a voice, a song, a production, a mix, but not to the same extent as I used to , when there was even more at stake."
The album showcases the Trevor Horn sound that has evolved over time as it is now.
"The first idea was to be less orchestral than Reimagines, much more minimalist. In the end I realized that I don't like stripped down covers, they can seem too obvious and formulaic. If you think about each of these songs in a similar, minimal way If I interpreted it, it would seem like a gimmick, especially coming from me. That's just not my thing. I was more interested in finding something new in songs that are mostly very familiar. I'm known for that "I like to exaggerate, but I think it's always in the service of the song. Sometimes you have to go overboard to make a song take off and be magical. That's what the recording studio is for."
He also returns to a trio of his "biggest production hits" by revisiting "Relax," "Slave to the Rhythm" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Now that they've been so long, he doesn't feel as emotionally entangled with them as he once did.
"Originally I didn't want to go back and do songs that I'm known for, but you feel the pressure to do them. It's an album under my name, so there's a certain expectation of doing the big hits. At some point I started Wondering if I could find another direction for my old productions. Relax' almost killed me the first time, I was so anxious to create something unique. This time I knew when to stop. The The task was simply to create another pop fantasy, as part of an abstract song cycle. "I don't have to prove anything anymore, like I did back in the early 1980s."
As an echo of the time when Horn formed the Buggles because he didn't always want to just produce other acts, at the end of the record he shows that he is a producer who sings, and therefore was the singer who produced.
"I joke that I sing 'Avalon' because we ran out of money and I'm stingy. But it's more than that. I'm constantly collaborating with other people, I need the other people, but there's always something personal in the records that I produce. 'Avalon' is about different things than the pop romance that Bryan Ferry was able to convey so well, the pop romance that I want to celebrate. There are memories from my own life, love and loss, a wistful idea of how great it would have been if I had been a frontman as cool as Ferry. It's like the end of the show. Here I am. The producer, the bandleader, but also the dreamer, the performer . I'm logging out for now.
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