Billboard, v. 106, no. 13 (Mar. 26, 1994)
submitted by Sally Tseng
Lillywhite moves beyond
the Drum Thing.
Producer Brings Vocals-First Approach To
NEW YORKSteve Lillywhite
doesnt do that drum thing anymore, he
explains by telephone from his home in London.
Its kind of a Lillywhite handle-or was:
that wallop heard to great effect on albums by
the likes of U2 and Marshall Crenshaw in the
The subject in play is producer trademarks, and
if that drum thing once qualified as
Lillywhites, it has long since ceased to,
and hasnt been replaced by anything, well,
definable, he admits.
"What a producer should be able to give to a
project is something you cant necessarily
define," he says. "Its difficult
to explain. I mean, you want to notice a
production, but in a way have it not be noticed.
You want to bring out exactly the best of what an
act has to offer, and just that. And for me, with
a well-produced record, the first thing you say
isnt, wow, thats a
well-produced record. You say,
thats a great record, and you
only discover the
productionmaybeafter a few
Its safe to say Lillywhites
production has been discovered often, and with
delight, throughout his 15-year career. Since
moving from tea boy (American translation:
"gofer") to tape op to engineer and
producer in the 70s, he has racked up an
enviable resume that ranges from first-credit
Siouxsie & the Banshees in the late 70s
through XTC, Peter Gabriel, U2, Simple Minds,
Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Kirsty MacColl,
the Pogues, David Byrne, and World Party Most
recently, he wrapped Morrisseys latest,
"Vauxhall And I," due March 22 from
Sire. And next up is an English country music
If theres a common thread tying that
timeline together, Lillywhite isnt looking
to unravel the mystery, although he agrees with
the assessment that he likely gravitates toward
artists with strong voices. "Theyre
not fools," he says.
Literally speaking, recording vocals is one thing
Lillywhite will admit to doing well, or at least
to especially enjoying doing. That feel shows in
his sure handling of "Vauxhall And I,"
which lets Morrisseys vocal and lyrical
subtleties shine in a lush, but uncluttered,
"I thought when I took on Morrissey, what do
people buy a Morrissey record for? They buy it
for his voice and for his wonderful lyrics,"
Lillywhite says. "And this was my main
concernto get the singing right there. I
think, on Morrisseys new album, what
youll find is that theres a real
improvement, or rather that the singing just
sounds very good. I think the previous Morrissey
album, Your Arsenal was a great
record for getting up and going out, but
Vauxhall And I is more of a sit back
and really get into it affair. Im very
pleased with the result."
The recording process itself was "just real
pleasant," Lillywhite says, and exemplified
his approach to preproduction and production.
"We started with demos, and wed record
the songs and then wed do the vocals, and
then realize that maybe we needed to change all
the music," he says. "So wed keep
the voice and change all the music, and then do
the voice again. So the preproduction was all
part of the recording process. Because we had
copies of the demos of the songs, but we
didnt know what Morrissey was going to sing
on until I got him in to sing, and then wed
reevaluate and see what we needed to do on top of
that. It worked."
"Vauxhall" was recorded analog,
Lillywhites preferred method. "To be
able to immediately cut a tape and join it onto
another piece of tape is just very
satisfying," he says. He doesnt have a
preferred studio"Im happy as
long as theres a mike and tape
recorder"but has found a new favorite
in the new Eventides, the DSP 4000s, through
which hes been getting "some really
interesting stuff coming out," he says.
"You can gang up on it, and use lots of
different sounds with each other."
And speaking of interesting stuff and different
sounds, what about that country act? "His
names Bo," Lillywhite says. "Bo
Walton. And yes, thats his real name.
Hes a kid whos English but signed to
Arista Records, and hes got a great country
voice. Youll be hearing a lot about him
later this year."
Walloping fiddles? Well see.