I’m glad to see that the recent interview with Andy Paley proved so popular. I also appreciate the very positive comments some of you left at the blog post. Thank you for the nice feedback.
If you haven’t read the first interview yet, go here:
As it turns out, Andy has kindly agreed to answer questions for a second interview that picks up from where we left off the last time.
And as you will learn, and hear via youtube clips, Andy’s work from recent years often adhere to the classic, warm pop sound of the 60s L.A. scene that is at the heart of what this blog is all about.
Listening to Andy’s productions, I pick up lots of subtle influences from the very best, sparkling pop by the likes of Brian Wilson and Phil Spector; influences that Andy brilliantly puts his own interesting spin on.
Here is ‘The Andy Paley interview, part II’, – enjoy!
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Andy, we ended the last interview discussing your work with Brian Wilson. As a major fan of Brian & the Beach Boys, I’d like to ask you a few more questions about this part of your career.
First off, my favorite track from Brian’s first solo album, ‘Brian Wilson’ from 1988, is ‘Meet Me in my Dreams Tonight’ which you and Brian co-wrote. To my ears, that song can be heard as a premonition of all the wonderful, unreleased work the two of you were to record later on that harked back to the classic pop sound of the 60s, yet still sounding fresh and vital. Could you share some recollections on this specific song and your production choices on it?
I remember that we wrote it and recorded it fairly quickly. We talked about the idea of a guy and a girl who want to hook up but for some reason they can’t actually physically get together so they decide that they’ll meet in their dreams. It seemed like a very romantic idea.
We recorded that song the day after we wrote it. The thing about that album was that the key to doing anything really good was to do it fast before other producers could get their hands on it. There were a lot of cooks around!
The first interview prompted me to re- listen to the unreleased songs from your sessions with Brian. That material is so good! Do you have a particular favorite of the songs that have been bootlegged? If so, please elaborate why this particular song is especially dear to you?
So many songs have been bootlegged. It’s a drag that we never finished the recordings because the songs aren’t being heard the way they were meant to be heard. On the other hand I’m very fond of the songs in general.
I love ‘Marketplace’. I love ‘I’m Broke’. I love ‘My Maryanne’…. I love both bridges in that one. ‘It’s Not Easy Being Me’ is a really good song. So is “Must Be A Miracle”. I came up with that chorus. I think that’s a really pretty song. We also wrote a cool one called “Frankie Avalon” which kind of blew me away!
Would you say that these songs were written for a possible Brian Wilson solo album or rather for a potential Beach Boys album? ‘Soul Searchin’ and ‘You’re Still a Mystery’ of course got the Beach Boys harmony treatment and saw release on the lovely 2013 ‘Made in California’ Beach Boys box set.
We were writing and recording for no particular reason back then. I think we would’ve been happy to finish the stuff either way.
How would you describe the general work ethic you and Brian had in the studio? Did you mostly develop the songs together ‘on the spot’ or did you rather bring each other near-complete songs that the other then helped tweak into its final form?
Sorry for nitpicking about this, but I’ve always been fascinated by the twists and turns of the creative process in the studio and it would be interesting to learn how it evolved between you and Brian?
Brian’s a great collaborator. I’m very good at it too. We’re both adaptable to any situation that might come up. The best songs just happen. An idea will hit you when you least expect it and you’ll write it down…. or maybe you won’t write it down…. and you’ll just store it away in your memory to use it some other day in the future.
When you get together with someone to collaborate you might have a storehouse of ideas in your head that might fit with your partner’s ideas. That’s how it worked with me and Brian. We both wrote lyrics. We both wrote melodies. We both came up with chords. We both came up with general concepts to throw back and forth. We both came up with hooks.
It was a true 50 / 50 collaboration in every way including production. There were a few exceptions but in general that’s the way it worked. Brian told me that I was the only writer he ever worked with who wrote music as well as lyrics. By the way I think Brian is a great lyricist.
Personally, I love the ‘Rodney on the ROQ’ theme song you wrote for legendary LA scenester Rodney Bingenheimer’s long-running radio show. Brian sings the lead and Jeffrey Foskett’s on there as well, right? What a cool, classic sound! Totally in line with the Spector and Beach Boys hits Bingenheimer is known to obsess about. (Don’t we all?) How did that song come about?
Brian and I are both fans of Rodney. Brian’s known him forever. I met him in the 70s. He’s played my records on the radio over the years. He’s played Brian’s records too.
We wanted to give him something so we wrote him that song. He loved it and he used it as his theme song on the radio. Jeff did a great job on the falsetto part.
Finally, in terms of your work with Brian, what would you say you learnt as a songwriter / musician / producer from the experience? I would imagine it must have been creatively rewarding to work so closely with a musical giant like Brian, picking up a trick or two?
I’ve written songs with some really great writers. Brian Wilson is exceptionally talented. He’s also someone who I grew up listening to. Working with someone who you’re a fan of is a strange experience. You have to get over it and get down to work. Brian is a hard worker. I am too. We’re both happiest when we’re working hard on something we love.
This sounds like a cliche but what I learned from Brian Wilson is that hard work always pays off in some way. It may not be with a hit record… It may not be recognition… The pay-off may be some abstract thing… But if you really love something and you work your ass off to get it done right… there is always an upside.
I recently discovered that you co-produced an album with cult band NRBQ, ‘Wild Weekend’, in 1989. I didn’t know that. ‘It’s a Wild Weekend’, the title cut, is really cool. I hear the same kind of classic, über-catchy pop-rock that also shone on the Paley Brothers album. Any anecdotes about working with NRBQ?
NRBQ guitarist ‘Big’ Al Anderson had the idea to put lyrics to the Rockin’ Rebels song ‘Wild Weekend’. The band called me and asked me if I’d be interested in working with them. They’d been talking to various producers. They were all on the phone. I was in L.A. working with Brian Wilson. They were on a speaker phone in New York. Terry Adams from the band asked me to tell them what my fave NRBQ record was… and he said I should tell them why it was my fave. He put me on the spot and I gave them the honest answer…. which was that I actually didn’t own any NRBQ records!
I love NRBQ and I’ve played with them… I’d done gigs with them. They were friends of mine. I’m a big fan. But I really didn’t own any of the records. I mean, I don’t have lots of records. Most of the records I own were hits. Anyway, they all laughed. They loved it! They said that I couldn’t have given them a better answer!
They hired me and we made a great album together. And hard-core fans tell me that it sounds very different from their other records. So I guess that’s what NRBQ wanted.
There are some cool songs on that album. ‘The One & Only’ is one I like. ‘Little Floater’ is pretty. ‘If I Don’t Have You’ is really good. I’m still friends with them. Their drummer Tommy Ardolino died in 2012. He was one of my closest friends in the world. I used to talk to him almost every day. I really miss him.
In 1990 you produced the Dick Tracy movie soundtrack. There’s a song of yours on there sung by Darlene Love; ‘Mr. Fix It’, which undoubtedly is one of her very best performances since the Spector days.
Was that song written specifically for her? It seems tailor-made with its nice mix of both the Motown and Spector sound.
No, I wrote it for no reason at all back in the ’70’s. It was one of those songs that was just waiting for the right reason to come out.
Darlene Love has such an amazing voice. She loved the song and she really put her soul into it. The session was a blast! I recorded Brenda Lee and Jerry Lee Lewis too on that movie! I ended up making a whole album with Jerry Lee Lewis later on! Thanks to Warren Beatty!
More recently, you’ve worked extensively on songs for the SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon series. How did you get involved with the show?
Tommy Ardolino from NRBQ was a fan of the show very early. I had never heard of it. I was with Tommy at a NRBQ gig in Hollywood. He introduced me to comedian Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, and he said “You guys should write songs together!”. It’s pretty amazing that he said that.
He was 100% right too! Tom Kenny has been a fantastic collaborator. God bless Tommy Ardolino for putting me together with Tom Kenny!
I must confess I didn’t know you had written and produced so many songs for SpongeBob as was the case. I did know ‘The Best Day Ever’ though which has been much talked about by Beach Boys fans as a perfect homage to their classic mid 60s sound.
Could you tell a bit about that song and your general approach to this recording project? You enlisted some top-notch musicians for the ‘Best Day Ever’ album.
I wrote all of those songs with Tom Kenny. Since he does the voice of SpongeBob and he’s been involved since the very beginning he knows what the fans want. Steve Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob, modeled the character after Tom in many ways. If you look at the early SpongeBob cartoons you’ll notice that he’s wearing thick black rimmed eye glasses like Buddy Holly. That’s because Tom Kenny wears those kind of glasses.
Tom Kenny is a great singer too. He’s able to sing in tune in the SpongeBob voice. It’s amazing really! We just wanted to make records that we could listen to and enjoy. We both love old records so we imitated old-style records when we made the SpongeBob records. We ended up hiring players like Tommy Morgan, Corky Hale, Nino Tempo , James Burton , Terry Adams, Joey and Johnny Spaminato, Tommy Ardolino, ‘Big’ Al Anderson, Flaco Jimenez etc. because we had the chance to do it. It was really fun. Brian Wilson sings back-grounds on “Doin’ The Krabby Patty”. We had a great time!
Tom Kenny and I wrote a song for a cartoon called Olivia The Pig. Our song “Goodnight Olivia” is a lullaby that is used all around the world to put kids to sleep. It’s really pretty. You can go on youtube and see kids singing it all around the world. It’s very gratifying.
You also wrote and produced a SpongeBob Christmas album. One of the songs on there wouldn’t have been out of place on Spector’s iconic ‘Christmas Gift for You’ album. I can totally hear Darlene Love recording a gutsy lead vocal for ‘Don’t Be A Jerk (It’s Christmas).’
Was the Spector album, and the Spector sound in general, an inspiration for that track and some of the others on the album? I noticed there’s a concluding Holiday Message to the album much like the spoken-word message by Spector on his album?
Yes, we were inspired by the Phil Spector Christmas album… and The Beach Boys Christmas album… and Elvis Presley’s and Bobby Helms and Brenda Lee and The Chipmunks and Leroy Anderson etc. etc. etc.
The Christmas message at the end of our album was indeed inspired by the Phil Spector message at the end of his album and also by the message from Dennis Wilson at the end of the Beach Boys Christmas album. True hard-core fans will hear the references.
You’ve been kind enough to let me hear a version of ‘Snowflakes’ from the SpongeBob Christmas album with you singing a lead instead of SpongeBob. It casts the song in a much different, grown-up light and sounds really beautiful. Which makes me think – have you ever considered issuing a solo album? Judging from ‘Snowflakes’ alone and the songs you’ve recently produced, it could make for a great record.
‘Snowfakes’ is one of my very best songs. I love the recording we did. I can picture a snowy morning when I hear it! Mandy Barnett is singing with herself… three parts…. at the top; ‘Snowflakes , Snowflakes, Snowflakes , Snowflakes.’ It makes me smile every time I hear it. I’m so happy you liked it! Maybe I’ll do a solo album someday. It sounds like a good idea.
I’ll finish off with a question about the 2013 single ‘Don’t Waste her Time’ by the Explorers Club.
I was both surprised and pleased to learn that you were involved in this superb song by one of my favorite bands from recent years. How did you get to know Explorers Club front man Jason Brewer who you wrote the song with? Could you describe the collaboration? Who brought what to the table for this one?
Jason and I were brought together by the group’s manager, Marc Nathan. I knew Marc from back when the Paley Brothers were making records. He worked at Sire Records at the time. He was a great supporter of ours. Very sharp guy! He was working with Jason and the band.
I don’t know if it was Marc Nathan’s idea or Jason’s idea to work with me. He flew here from North Carolina. Anyway, Jason came over to my house in L.A. and we wrote a few things together. We both wrote music and we both wrote lyrics. We made rough demos in the Capitol tower which is where Marc worked at the time. Jason did a great master recording later on!
He sure did! I really dig this song. Nice, classic sound.
Thank you once again for answering questions for Cue Castanets, Andy.