Okay, don't flip out. I have a good reason for being the only one in the music business who feels that way, I promise. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
I love music. I always have, and I've spent the better part of my career seeking to work with the artists I love the most. I've been pretty lucky, too; I've gotten to work with most of them. (Truth be told, I have already worked with Alison as well, but more on that in a moment.)
Here is the problem: making music is a complicated process. Stuff happens — it's impossible to avoid that reality. Even if it's a great experience, we take memories away from every project we do. Sometimes the memories are bad — like the artist is a total jerk, or their manager is a tool and I get stiffed for my work. Other times it is all good except the A&R guy gets into a huge row with the producer. Or maybe everyone is cool, but my gear gets damaged in shipping and insurance will not cover it. My point is that there is always some experience that you will remember long after the project is finished.
You are probably saying, “Well, of course.” But the thing is, it is almost impossible to listen to that artist again without thinking about your experiences — good or bad — with them. And no matter what the experiences are, they change your ability to hear their music the same way. Even stuff they did before you worked with them. When you hear that voice, you see that person, and all the feelings you had when working with them come back. That experience has the ability to make music an anchor of emotion as opposed to offering unlimited possibilities. It seems that when we fall in love with an artist's work, it's because of what their work means to us, not who they are or what they believe.
So why Alison? I have been listening to her quite a bit lately, and, well, I think she is the best singer I have ever heard — as close to an angel as can be found on this earth. She could sing the phone book to me.
I was able to work with her on a Trio album once, as well as on a Lyle Lovett project. But I was really young during the first one, and the second one was quick and I had little responsibility. I escaped unscathed.
Well, I think I want to keep it that way. In my opinion, there is no working experience that would be satisfying enough to risk tainting the enjoyment I get from listening to her voice. Not one.
So there you have it — my totally bizarre justification for never wanting to record with my favorite singer. Now of course this is kind of a moot point, as she has never expressed any interest in working with me. But for the first time in my life, that might be just fine.
(Oh, who am I kidding? If I got that call, I would be there in a hot minute. Damn it. What's a music lover to do? In the end, saying no would be like keeping myself from air.)
Nathaniel Kunkel (studiowithoutwalls.com) is a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer, engineer, and mixer who has worked with Sting, James Taylor, B.B. King, Insane Clown Posse, Lyle Lovett, I-Nine, and comedian Robin Williams.