By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Skinny but muscular, Lou Reed‘s looking good these days, and I’m telling you, close-up, that crosshatched, open-minded face reeks experience. The notorious former leader of the, you know, seminal late-‘60s avant-garage pop band the Velvet Underground has undergone a radical series of changes throughout his solo career following the Velvets’ breakup, from snarly glitter rocker to noise nihilist to bespectacled strummer to bar-band guitar basher and back and forth again and again. His most recent enterprise is the Hal Willner--produced double CD The Raven, on Reprise Records, a star-studded (Ornette Coleman, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi, Amanda Plummer, others) work inspired by and quoting from the works of Edgar Allan Poe incorporating spoken word, rock & roll and balladry, and all manner of just plain beautiful and often pretty ferocious electronic interludes. Substance-wise it‘s deep and endlessly rewarding, like a real cornucopia for Lou Reed fans. And boy, does it sound good. I shot the breeze with the poet, the towering figure, the really influential Big One on the patio at Warner Bros. in Burbank, sipping Starbucks and smokin’ cigs.
L.A. WEEKLY: Lou, what‘s the story behind The Raven?
Well, yes, I know who Bob Wilson is.
Okay, so then they gave him the opportunity for an open-ended project, and he got in touch with me and said, ”We should do a play that revolves around Edgar Allan Poe, and you should write it.“ So I did. And we toured around Europe. We went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for 11 days, and then back to Europe.
And then I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I rewrote it as a record experience.
How long did that take?
In the end, because of the rewriting and then going back, then getting other ideas and going back and turning something around or that way didn‘t work and going the other way with it -- in the end, it took a while.
What was your thinking about the musical settings? You could plan things in advance, but things must’ve changed a bit when you were in the studio with your band.
You know, these days, mostly everybody‘s recording things separately, like with ProTools and not with a live band. We’re a live band, with real players, so we went over the basic arrangements before we ever went in. It‘s too expensive to be in the studio and figure things out.
Once we went in, things adjusted themselves. I mean, all of the guys have a great sound, so we weren’t wasting time trying to get a good sound out of someone who may or may not have a good sound. We knew what kind of mikes we needed, we knew what kind of a board, we knew what kind of a room. There‘s no losing any time over that.
But then ideas present themselves. ”Oh hey, did you hear that thing over there? What’s doing that? A-ha. Can we get more of that?“ Or, ”Hey, we don‘t have the time, we don’t have the money, but keep going, quickly!“ And then, ”Wouldn‘t it work better if it started three seconds later?“ Or, ”Wouldn’t it work better if it started three seconds earlier?“ Or, ”Shouldn‘t it drop out over there?“ Or, ”What happens if you put Program 900 in 2, just let it run over that word over there and then get it out? That’s cool there.“ Stuff like that. You know. Without beating it to death.
How‘d you get Ornette Coleman to play on your record? And what did he bring to the process?
That happened in the studio. I was playing bass and Mike Rathke was playing guitar, and we got lucky, ’cause we thought it needed one more thing: Ornette. It‘s very hard to get Ornette. I hope your readers know who Ornette Coleman is.
I think a sufficient number of them do.
We have seven versions with Ornette. He did one and I was practically in tears, it meant so much to me; it was so beautiful what he did. I said, ”Well, you know, you could stop there.“ ”No no no,“ he said, ”now we’ll do another one, and this one‘s gonna be with that guitar player, then I’ll do another one and it‘ll be the bass player, then I’ll do another one, it‘ll be just with the drummer, then I’ll do one with the vocalist. The last one I do will be with everybody.“ And that‘s exactly what he did. He has very long thoughts, so it’s not like you can take a piece out of take six and put it with take four, ‘cause unless you really pay attention to what he’s doing, you could really fuck it up. So we chose which one was appropriate. All of them were there, you know. But like Willner would say, some of them would clear the room.
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