Danny Reisch is our guest contributor for this interview. Reisch is an Austin, TX based musician and producer (Suzanna Choffel, White Denim, Okkervil River, Shearwater) and runs his own studio Good Danny’s.
You might not know Ken Caillat by name, but you’ve most definitely heard his work. Caillat co-produced and engineered of one of the greatest selling records of all time: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours – a record that has sold over 44,000,000 copies over the past 35 years. I had the opportunity to talk to Ken about his new book Making Rumours, in which he chronicles the process of making this ground breaking record – from the technical to the emotional and interpersonal. Caillat puts you right in the middle of all the drama, hurdles, heartache and successes that he and the band experienced throughout the year they spent crafting Rumours. It’s a fascinating must-read for any Fleetwood Mac fan.
Danny Reisch: Rumours sold 44 million copies, yet this was the first big project you worked on only a few years into your career. Were you aware of what you we’re making at the time? Did you have any sense that what you we’re creating would have the impact that it did?
Ken Caillat: Not really, I didn’t know the band that well and they didn’t know me. We just started trying to figure out what we were doing. Everyday I’d say “what do you guys want to do today? who’s got a song?” …and Christine would say “I’ve got one,” and Stevie would say another day “I have a song, I’ve got an idea,” and everyone would gather around and we’d just start working on the song. We were all pretty young and innocent and many of us were fairly fresh in the business. Despite all the turmoil around us, we learned to be family – we lived together and we didn’t really think about anything else. I must have loved it, because we went on for 12 months and I never questioned “why are we doing this, is it worth it?“ We were all dedicated to every little lick that went into that record; every guitar line – every lyric. I knew every single one, I knew exactly where it was. It was every bit mine as it was anyone else in the band’s.
That’s really the great thing about being a record producer – you kind of inherit this ownership. It’s like being a father or something, like adopting a child. It’s not really yours, but it kind of is – or it becomes yours. It’s an interesting concept – how you get personally involved (and of course I always want to). I wouldn’t want to work on something that I didn’t care for.
DR: Were there any other records in particular that you and the band were listening to that were used for inspiration or reference – musically, sonically, for production ideas…or did this all just sort of happen?
KC: Well for the most part it just sort of happened. Everyone had their own inspiration. Lindsey Buckingham, of course, was a huge Brian Wilson fan – Beach Boys fan. I was listening to a lot of Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell. The Brits – I’m not really sure what they were listening to. That’s really the interesting thing, we had 3 Brits and 2 hippies. California hippies, so we had folk music mixed with blues that kind of melded together. I think everyone was kind of going “you know this is a really interesting mix.” “Is Lindsey going to be playing too many folky licks? Is Christine going to be doing too much blues?” …so everyone was trying to meet in the middle. I was just a young engineer, I remember the first thing I ever recorded was actually a Polka a few years before. It was Polka music for a wedding, and of course I had the drums up in your face and the accordion screaming solos…everything I did, I was just ready to make it rock n roll. It was the same with Richard [Daschut, Rumours other co-producer], so really I think everyone was trying to meet on whatever common ground we found and we all surprised each other with our contributions.
The first day I worked with them, I just did my thing and Stevie was just dancing around and twirling in the room loving what I was doing to her songs and Lindsey was really pleased as well. There was just no effort – no one really thought about it. It was really just a comfortable thing. It was a natural thing. That’s really kind of why I wanted to write the book. I wanted people to know what it was like to live in the studio with these superstar musicians and make a record. It doesn’t just happen in one or two days! It’s quite a process.
DR: You tell the story well, the book reads almost like you’re in the room watching it all unfold. It must have been just the right combination of people at the right time.
KC: I’ve always said that that’s exactly what it was. If you had changed any one of the ingredients it wouldn’t have been what it was. I was doing an interview with the BBC and they asked if I thought all the drugs and alcohol had taken it’s toll on the recording and I said, “well it sold 44 million copes, so I don’t think so!”
I’m not a really aggressive producer – I’m more of a “go-with-the-flow” kind of guy and so is Richard [Daschut]. I think if they had had a producer like their last producer – Keith Olsen [Fleetwood Mac LP, 1975], who was sort of an outspoken guy, it wouldn’t have worked out well. Really, if anything had been different it would have changed it all. I was in the right place at the right time and I feel very fortunate.
DR: Rumours has been heralded as being the “perfect record” by critics and audiophiles alike. The record has 10 hit singles. Is there anything you would change about it personally? Any little details you still hear that still stick out to you?
KC: You know I don’t think there’s much I’d do differently. It’s funny though, I was listening to Colbie’s [Caillat, Ken’s daughter and Grammy winning artist] last record and I was thinking it was seemingly so perfect at that time, but now I hear it as having a lot of gaps and a lot of things that could have filled in more space. You know you hear about John Lennon talking about The Beatles stuff and he always said he would have done things a lot differently. For me, I can’t say that I would. I mean we had 12 months to try throwing everything and the kitchen sink in there and pretty much did, so I’m pretty happy.
DR: How would you have made the record differently if you were to make it now, in 2012 vs 1976. What is different about how you approach making records now?
Ken: One thing I will say is the difference between then and now is taking the time and listening. For example, making my daughter’s record now I don’t really get a chance to sit with her in the studio ever and talk to her about “do you like this part or that part, do you want to hear anything different?” I send her mixes through email and all I get from her is that she either does like it or doesn’t like something about it, but we never really sit around and collaborate together. And I’d like to do that with all of my artists, but it’s harder to now. When we did Rumours we were working on 2” analog tape [not a computer] and the 2” tape took about 3-4 minutes to rewind after we got through the end of the song, so we were all in this small room together – all of the band, myself and Richard – and we had 3-4 minutes to kill while the tape was rewinding. So we were usually talking about the song, who thought what about each part, talking about the recording, the performance, would you have done something different …was it the right tone? …how could we improve it? So really the biggest difference is that we had more time just to talk about it. Now with today’s Pro Tools systems [computer based recording], I don’t even have time to say one word between the end of one take and the beginning of the next take. I often have to tell my engineer to stop and slow down, because you can just start hitting play and record again and again and there’s no time in between to talk about it and try to make it better or stop and recognize when something really special happens! I guess really it was more of a group effort back then, it made the music better. I think if you want to make a good record, you really need to try to slow it down a little bit, talk and work together.
DR: It’s interesting that the new technology in recording has really changed the pace and the communication in the process of making music; it’s changed the way people collaborate. It’s more work for the producer to get everyone in the room engaged. People are much more glued into the world of their smart phone than the music they’re making together.
KC: You’re 100% right. Why is that? People just can’t wait to get on their phones – tweeting, texting. It’s like, “hang on, am I by myself here?” You need all that communication and collaboration; that was the beauty of Fleetwood Mac, we just collaborated for 12 months and it was this huge democratic effort with the most creative people in the world.
After I did Rumours, everybody thought that I could make them sound just like Rumours. And honestly I did too, because I knew exactly what I did on the record and thought I could just take the same approach. The next project I worked on though I had a big lesson to learn, I did exactly what worked on Fleetwood Mac, but one big thing was lacking: talent. I needed someone good to produce and these weren’t the guys. I realized that I needed something good to start with – talent and creativity. I couldn’t play all the instruments and tell them exactly what to do and make them geniuses. One of the most important parts of being a good producer is knowing who to produce. …and getting everyone to talk and participate in what’s going on.
DR: How have you seen the culture change in the way people listen to music with the advent of ipods/earbuds etc… contrasted with the hi-fi era of the 1970s?
Ken: It’s changed so much. The way people are with HD TVs now is how they used to be with stereo systems. People took pride in it. I’m advocating getting back to caring, taking pride in the fidelity, creating music with dynamics and advocating people listening to good speakers and seeking out better sound. Once a week, buy a new album and sit with your significant other and listen to it, as an entire piece – just like you’d go to a movie. Really enjoying the experience – getting back to enjoying listening again, because we’ve all forgotten how to do that. I’m guilty of it as well, the only time I hear music really great is when I’m in my studio. Just have a listening night, play Dark Side Of The Moon and Abbey Road on some humongous speakers with your friends and just sit back and have a beer and enjoy listening to these great records in all of the fidelity they were made at instead of those ear buds!
DR: Maybe people don’t know how bad what they’re listening to is because they don’t really know how good it can be…
KC: Yeah, people have gotten so used to listening on earbuds, which not only sound pretty bad but it’s also an isolating experience. Like we were talking about, music is about sharing something together. Now you might have a family or group of people all in the same room with earbuds in, all listening to their own thing. That’s when it’s time to turn up the stereo and blast everyone out! Listening together is important! Enjoying the experience of listening is important!
– Submitted by Danny Reisch, Musician and Producer