Power Cuts (part 1)
Andy Taylor put the power chords into The Power Station. Here's a few leads towards making modern Metal.
Like it or not, the supergroup is back.
The signs have been evident for sometime — the sub-Moody Blues album cover that concealed a project by Dali's Car, ex-stars of Japan and Bauhaus; aerial enigma Gary Numan and Shakatak's master of the 4/4 obvious Bill Sharpe nestling up together; Nik Kershaw and Elton John collaborating in a small way...
But now, the ultimate, the Cream of the '80s (with added Funk) — The Power Station.
Named after the expensive and prestigious studio in New York where much of it was made, The Power Station is four men (plus their producer) who got together initially socially, then consolidated that musically.
The stationmasters? Robert Palmer sings in his experienced smooth white Soul style and wears very smart suits. John Taylor plays bass, more Funk styled than his Duran Duran lines, and looks prettily debauched. Tony Thompson does the same as he did for Chic and David Bowie — put crisp, concise and very Funky drums everywhere it's possible and some places where you'd swear it isn't. Bernard Edwards produces, giving the project the same sharp dance feel as his Chic classics.
And Andy Taylor plays guitar, covering the spectrum from mental Metal to clipped choppy chords. He also tells people about the Power Station, guitar playing and gear. But let's start at the beginning.
"The whole thing is a sort of extension of the original concept behind Duran Duran, which was to marry the feel of Chic with the aggression of the Sex Pistols. For one reason and another, Duran ended up quite different... but this project has got to be about the nearest you could get to that idea," explained Andy.
"We'd all met before socially and got on really well. And that, I think, comes through on the record. It came together over a period of years, really; John and I had the idea for ages, we mentioned it to Bernard, who loved it, and then we met Tony and he wanted in too."
"So we laid down the basic tracks to quite a high level. It was all quite aggressive, spiky — everybody was playing really pointy, strong and concise. And we still didn't have anybody to sing the melodies or put lyrics to it. So we called Robert, sent him a tape of the rough mixes and suddenly he was walking into the studio, taking his coat off and singing this great vocal. Originally the idea was to use different singers, but Robert's voice just goes so well with the songs. He's got a very mature style and a very smooth voice which blends in with anything, goes across the top of the mix and takes the edge off... you know, like when you get wired and take a Valium..."
What about the other members of the band ?
"Tony has a very precise, tight R&B, Funk feel — you have to slip into that mould when you're playing with him. Him and Robert worked together really well, because they've both got such a tremendous feel for rhythm that they were playing off one another's lines all the time."
"Bernard is a great producer and a man who knows all about Funk. He explained to me once that on a lot of Chic records it wasn't the notes they were playing but the rhythm they were playing them in, and he taught me all about that aspect of playing; where to put the notes. That's also good when you're playing Rock — it's a great feel if you play Rock with that tight, precise Funk style."
"The reason that the Power Station came out as it did is totally due to our own musical personalities coming through, and Bernard's production is behind that. He was very precious about getting personality rather than nice playing or melodies and therefore the fact that there are singles on the album is only because John, Tony and I had played commercial music a lot before, so obviously it was going to go in that direction."
The Power Station is also (and firstly) a studio. Why there?
"It's just a great place to work in. They've got some of the finest engineers and some of the finest producers in the world, and indeed some of the greatest records have come out of there. So it's got a definite atmosphere and reputation, built purely on its expertise and professionalism. And you often bump into Diana Ross or Mick Jagger in there, it's that sort of place. You wouldn't even know it's there from the outside, there's no sign or anything."
"It's a great place to use, technically. If you want anything at all, they'll hook it up for you — everything's interlinkable between the three studios and if you want to try something really different technically they'll organise it."
"Like when we were doing Wild Boys with Duran Duran, we had four Studer A800 multitrack tape machines running in sync — 96 tracks. Nile Rodgers was producing, and for the vocal chant on that he kept double-tracking things, slowing them down, speeding them up... so the vocals were absolutely huge, massive."
"They have loads of Pultec Eq machines everywhere as well which are really good — racks and racks of them. They're great when you want to fatten bottom, middle or top and still have it nice and clear rather than woolly."
Hasn't the Power Station got a world-famous drum sound?
"Err... well, actually we cut six of the eight tracks in Maison Rouge studios in London. Now our engineer Jason Corsaro wants to build a drum room like the Maison Rouge one in the Power Station so he'll be able to choose between that sound and the one he normally gets here. It's just a big stone room with glass windows, very very live-sounding."
"Jason was using 38 mikes on the drumkit. God knows what he was doing... actually I think only God did. No, I'm joking, actually he's really good. He's the Power Station's number one engineer and he worked on Mick Jagger's album and Madonna's one... all the big stuff."
So what did you do in the Power Station, Daddy?
"I suppose you could describe my role as like the chili in the sauce. The guitar has always had that edge to it, and this LP definitely has a meaner plot to what I'm used to working with. I've really enjoyed it, letting rip with blistering guitar solos. But I also play some choppy Funk rhythm stuff."
"You have to do that if you're playing with Tony, because the way he plays makes it natural to slot in and play precise rhythmic lines. Like the rhythm line on Some Like It Hot, I rest the palm of my hand on the bridge to damp the strings and use the left hand to invert the chords. You can damp by pulling your left hand off the fretboard to cut the note short or by damping with the right, and I prefer the latter. It's just part of my style.
"That's caused me a lot of problems with tremolo arms, though — I have a particular dislike of the Floyd Rose because you can't rest your hand on it properly. Whereas the one that Schecter make you can, but it's not as durable. They gave me one and I broke it, but my roadie figured out why and they strengthened it so it all works really well."
What other tricks did you use?
"Well, I use different tunings quite a lot — they're good for coming up with different melody lines or chords, ones that you wouldn't normally find."And I've sussed out a way to do that finger tapping stuff, the Eddie Van Halen trick, much more easily. I was getting frustrated trying to learn how to do that but if you tune the guitar to a scale, all tones or half-tones, using just the light strings, Es and Bs, you can hammer on with the left hand and pull off what sounds like a really fast two-handed solo. But it isn't. It sounds really good, you can't tell the difference."
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