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RS: Jeff, it’s a real honor to meet you! I’m a long time fan of ELO who had the first album as an import on Harvest back in ‘71. Zoom is yet another great musical accomplishment. It blends the best of the vintage ELO ‘70s sound with that late ‘80s Traveling Wilburys sound. Interestingly, Zoom features both George Harrison and Ringo. After working with Paul, George and Ringo on The Beatles’ "Real Love" and "Free As A Bird", I guess it was only natural to hook up with both George and Ringo on the new ELO album?
JL: Having George and Ringo playing on it was a special treat for me. In fact Ringo asked me, while I was recording, he said, ‘I wouldn’t mind playing on one of your tracks.’ And I said, ‘Really?’, ‘come on over’. I said ‘Come over tomorrow’. And he said, ‘okay’. And he came and he played. I’ve got a studio in me house (Throughout the interview Jeff would often refer to himself as 'meself' in his charming and sometimes thick British accent - editor) you see, so the whole house is a studio actually.
LA: Everything’s wired!
JL: Everything’s got eight mic lines. And two video lines go in to it. So you can record anywhere in the whole building. Probably in like twenty different rooms or something. So Ringo came over and played the drums on two tracks. George came over. I always ask George to play on stuff. And he usually says, ‘No, do it yerself’ (laughter). He says ‘You can do it!’. And I always say, like ‘George you don’t get it. I can’t do it like you do it! That’s why I want your sound on it. Not me.’ And then he sort of gives in after a bit. He says, ‘Go on, ya bastid’ (more laughter).
LA: But you’ve always had a such a great guitar sound. Even on the new album, it’s obviously you.
JL: Oh thanks. Me quirky style I suppose. I’m back on me old Telecaster again. The one I got for 30 pounds in 1966. I use it for the whole album for lead guitar except on one song where I use a Strat.
LA: I always associate you with a Les Paul.
JL: Yeah I used to play a Les Paul alot. That’s why I’ve got this back problem (grimacing in pain)...(more laughter). It weighs about eighty pounds!
LA: Are you doing the bass work as well?
LA: And what are you using for that?
JL: Fender precision bass.
LA: Yeah it sounds like it. Sounds great. All the instruments sound really wonderful.
JL: Thank you. Thank my engineers Marc Mann and Ryan Ulyate. I’ll thank ‘em.
RS: You play everything on the album just about. It’s so well done. Did you consciously set out to do it all on your own?
JL: Yes basically, because I enjoy playing all those instruments. So to be able to play the bass and the drums is real fun for me. I just love it. And I like playing the piano. I like playing keyboards. I like messing around, getting sounds, funny sounds on things. Screwin’ things up. Seein’ what happens, y’know. Plugging things in twice. Having it come through feedback. See what happens, ‘Oh, that’s a weird sound!’. Even if you don’t use it on that particular song, you know how to get it the next time if you ever want that sound again. So we were talking about George? (laughter) George, actually on this album he said, ‘yeah, sure I’ll play’. I’ve got this little Gibson Les Paul Junior, jacked up nice and high for him. And he went straight into it, played it first take.
LA: Your work on Cloud 9 was wonderful.
JL: Thanks very much.
LA: It had your signature all over it.
JL: Well I hope not too much because it was my, sort of first outside production. I’d only done meself and ELO at that point. And so when George asked me, I’d already disbanded ELO by then. And George got in touch with me to come work on Cloud 9. I was over the moon! I was thrilled to bits and we had a fantastic time making it. Really wonderful and the songs were good, everything was just perfect. A lovely place to be...just what I wanted to be doing, with the guy I wanted to do it with. It came out really well because it was so much fun and love went into it.
LA: Obviously, if you go back. If we go back thirty years in your music, there always seems to be alot of Beatles influences, vocally. Obviously you like The Beatles. What was it like, suddenly... you’ve got to work with Harrison, you worked with Ringo, had The Wilburys, then you worked on Flaming Pie. Basically, all the survivors you’ve worked with it must be an amazing...
JL: It’s quite an amazing feeling, working with them. Especially on the anthology, all three of them at once... when I worked with all three of them at once. That was a very scary thing (laughter) to say the least. Cos’ y’know the lead vocal’s on this cassette! With a piano on it and stuck together in mono. So that was it. That was all the lead vocal was. And we had this great big track with lead vocal on a cassette. It was very, very difficult.
LA: How long did something like that take? It had to be a real labor of love.
JL: "Free As A Bird" took about three weeks. A solid three weeks.
LA: Zoom - where’d the name come from?
JL: I think it came basically from the fact that I hadn’t had an ELO record out since 1986 and here we are now and here is one.
LA: It just zoomed by the time I guess.
JL: It zoomed right on by.
LA: How long have you been working on it?
JL: It took about two years, but obviously not continuously. It probably took six months out of two years.
RS: I think the songs on Zoom feature some of your best lyrics to date. One of my favorites is "Melting In The Sun".
JL: It was like a picture I had in my mind of California being this golden place under the sun. And then out of the relationship that goes wrong and all your left with is the sun.
RS: "Ordinary Dream" sounds very Lennon-influenced. How many vocal tracks are on that?
JL: It’s basically two part double tracked. Two separate parts double tracked on each one.
RS: Also "Stranger On A Quiet Street" is another one of my favorites.
JL: It’s got a funny story. That was when I first met Rosie Vela, who is in the group. She was living right next door to The Wilburys house that we’d just rented to record Wilburys’ Volume 2 (actually called Volume 3 -ed.). It was on a very quiet street actually, I should have said very quiet street (laughter). And there was nobody there except for The Wilburys and Rosie Vela! And she came in and played these beautiful songs, and looking like she did, it was like man, well this is pretty unbelievable! And she’s great. She plays the piano like a really gifted player.
RS: So she was the stranger on a quiet street?
JL? Yeah, and now she’s me girlfriend! So that was the story of meeting Rosie really.
RS: And the song "Moment In Paradise" with Ringo. Another great song. Again, the lyrics are so great on this album. They just hit you.
JL: I wanted them to. And they came quite easy to me. In the old days it was more like a factory. Y’know you gotta have this album done in two weeks, put you on tour, and you gotta do this TV show. So it was like, ‘I don’t wanna do that’, ‘I wanna get it right’. So we used to get it right, as good as I could get it. But this one, I had much more time to do it. Even though the lyrics came quicker on this one than it did when I was backed up the wall. These came quicker than trying to force them. They just came very quickly.
RS: There’s some hard meanings in there.
JL: Yeah, because I based them more on what happened in the last fifteen years. Y’know, I didn’t have much experience of anything but hotel rooms, airport lounges. I didn’t have much of a kind of social existence. It was more traveling. It was just doing tours.
LA: We were told outside that the band’s together and you guys are hitting the road.
JL: Oh yeah I got the band. We’ve been rehearsing for a month and it’s been a real pleasure. Got some great players. Richard Tandy’s in it. Y’know from one of the original lineups. We’ve had quite a few lineups in the group but this is the latest one.
LA. Very exciting. Are you guys going out in the Fall?
JL: I believe so yeah.
LA: From what I understand it’s going to be a fairly extensive production, a pretty big stage production.
JL: From what I gather, yeah. (laughter)
LA: I thought you did those things!
JL: No, I have a look at it. I don’t have time to do those things.
LA: I guess not. How many pieces?
JL: Two cellists.
LA: It’s a wonderful instrument.
JL: Yes it is and these are great players too. From the highest echelon of the Royal Academies.
RS: I guess you’ll be primarily focusing on the new album. Will you be playing some of the old ELO music?
JL: Well for this TV show we’re doing, Storytellers, if we can get in three new ones that’d be really good. We’re gonna try and get three new ones in. We’ll do about ten songs.
LA: How far are you going back (on Storytellers). To the first album?
JL: I’m not sure. You just do a set of songs. And they ask questions about the songs. I’ve never been on it. I’ve seen it.
LA: They’re great shows. The Storyteller shows. The BeeGees did a great one.
JL: Yeah I know. I saw that one.
RS: Jeff, I gotta tell you that the two Traveling Wilburys albums were two of the greatest albums ever made. I thought "Handle With Care" was one of the great songs of the post-Lennon ‘80s. I know you’ve spoken about this before but could you tell me how the band came together?
JL: Yeah, The Wilburys sort of came together at night time in George’s studio. We’d talk about it every night after we finished a mix or finished working for the day.
RS: During Cloud 9?
JL: Yeah, during Cloud 9. And we kept saying, ‘We can have a group’, ‘And who would you have in it?’. I said, ‘I’d have Roy Orbison in it’. Just as a...
LA: A wish list?
JL: Exactly! I’d say, ‘I’ll have Bob Dylan in it’. And we both got to know Tom and he seemed like the ideal guy. So we had Tom in it as well. Tom Petty. And that’s the group. So we phoned them up and they all want to be in it. (laughter) It was as simple as that really. We went into Bob’s studio to record "Handle With Care" one afternoon. It was gonna be like an extra throwaway track on one of George’s singles. A fourth track or something. And then Mo Ostin said, ‘No you can’t do that. That’s got to be the first Wilburys record. Why don’t you go in and make the rest of the album?’ So we went in and made the rest of the album. Wrote one song every day. We’d get there, sit round the table, make up the chord sequence, singin’ and getting in tune, and have dinner and over dinner we’d write the words and after dinner, sing ‘em. And it was one every day for ten days. It was pretty amazing really. I’d never done anything like that before.
RS: After Roy passed away, was there any talk about bringing somebody else in? I mean you couldn’t replace Roy...
LA: I think Carl Perkins was bandied about. Or was that just press talk.
JL: I think it was press talk. We never really discussed anybody because how could you follow Roy Orbison anyway?
LA: Hard to do. I think the coolest thing about The Wilburys was, being a guitar fan, I love guitars, the Gretsch’s. You had the coolest Gretsch’s. I don’t know if you used them or not, but the pictures with everybody standing with their Gretsch guitars had a great look.
JL: Oh yeah, we used them quite alot. Yeah it was fun. And having five rhythm guitarists as well was good. (laughter) On acoustic. Just five sitting around in a circle with five mics doing the backing track. And then I’d have a listen to it, and I’d say ‘Why don’t we just double it? It might sound bigger.’ Then there’d be ten rhythm guitarists! (laughter)
RS: That was your guitar on the intro to "Handle With Care"? That cascading guitar figure?
JL: The twelve string? It’s a Fender 12 string.
RS: I’ve gotta go back also to Cloud 9. Your production on that album gave George’s music a whole new rhythm, a whole new spirit. Was there a conscious attempt to give George this new sound, mixing a little Beatles and some ELO?
JL: No, there was no conscious effort or anything like that except...the only thing I can say, it was to remind George who he was. I mean George was always great. All I was there for was to try and make the arrangements good so his voice sounded good in there. Get him to sing like he does. Basically not to alter it in any way at all, just put him in a good setting.
LA: Does he need pushing? He’s the most unprolific Beatle if you will.
JL: I don’t know. He did have a triple album after they broke up!
LA: You thought that was the sign of things to come and then there was little production from him.
JL: Well George is, y’know...he’s quite prolific. He’s got lots of songs that he hasn’t recorded yet And they’re all really good.
LA: Do another album with him!
RS: On Cloud 9 you had so many great players. Elton John, Ringo and George and Eric Clapton played guitar. Did you play guitar on there too?
JL: Yeah, that’s how Cloud 9 was.
RS: Do you have any favorite tracks from Cloud 9?
JL: I like all of them. (laughter) ‘Cos it was the first, like I said, outside production thing I’d done apart from producing meself. And so, it was sort of a strange thing, having not ever done that before. So every track I hear off that, I really like, ‘cos I remember it vividly.Click here to read more